Scourge 19.2

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I wanted nothing more than to stop, to look after Grue and lick my wounds, but I couldn’t let the heroes come to one of their deeply misinformed conclusions at my expense.  Not when they were talking about murder.

It took me two attempts to get to my feet.  I didn’t like looking anything less than my best when surrounded by so many people who were judging me, and I felt pretty far from my best.  My bugs formed a cloak, strategically covering me much in the way that Grue did with his darkness.

I noticed how Miss Militia and Weld went silent as I approached.  Other heads turned, but nobody moved to stop me.  If anything, they edged out of my way.  They didn’t clear a path, exactly, but a number of them found reasons to walk away, shift position or avoid looking at me as I moved through the perimeter they’d formed.

For an instant, I felt like I was among the students at the school.  Only this time, instead of drawing attention, with people approaching me and bumping into me, I was pushing them away.  Instead of that incessant tolling, there was only quiet, the sound of the wind, a vehicle in the distance, and the buzzing of the insects that cloaked me.

A part of me wondered how much of that was my reputation beyond Brockton Bay, and how much was my innate creepiness.

“Skitter,” Weld said, when I reached him and Miss Militia.

“Thank you for the rescue,” I said.  “I can’t really sum it up in words, but… it was pretty damn heroic.  I owe you.”

“Imp got in touch with me, with a message from Tattletale.  The two of them made a pretty convincing argument.  You’re okay?”

I offered a curt nod.  I wasn’t, but it wouldn’t do to say so.  Silence was a very effective tool, I was finding, because it spoke volumes and rarely put me into a less advantageous position.  The more I talked, the more I risked revealing just how exhausted and battered I was feeling.

“Catastrophic, was the word Imp used,” Weld said, “when describing just what might happen if a clone got your power without any of your restraint.  Not to mention the issues posed by the psychotic Grues.  Your clones could commit mass murder on the scale of hundreds, but his threaten to lose us the battle.”

“And we suspect at least one survived,” Miss Militia said.

I nodded.  “There’s other capes who are just as dangerous as us.  Think in terms of the damage some heroes could do.  You?”

Weld looked at Miss Militia.  She nodded.  “If anything, this situation is very illuminating, in terms of how bad some parahumans might be in a worst case scenario.  There are some powers that are tame at first glance, but utterly disastrous if left unchecked.”

“I take it I have one of the tame powers?” I asked.

“No,” Miss Militia said.  “I wouldn’t say that.”

There was a pause in the conversation.  I wasn’t going to argue with or agree with her point, and neither she nor Weld were volunteering further information.

“Your team took off your armbands,” Miss Militia said.

“Yes,” I replied.

“You’re playing very loose within the scope of the rules, with the consequences I outlined.”

“That’s somewhat related to what I came here to talk to you about,” I said.

“Go on,” she said.

“The clone told you things,” I ventured.  “I wanted to address them before you jumped to conclusions.  Or, at least, I wanted to address one major point.”

“You were conscious?”  Weld asked.

I nodded.

Weld spoke, “I understand if your clone was lying.  Psychological warfare, creating division in the ranks.  I’d be willing to believe the clone is capable of it, in light of our past experiences with you.  No offense.  But I still had to tell my boss.”

I didn’t respond right away.  He was giving me a way out.  I tried to get a sense of Miss Militia’s body language, using just my bugs: her arms were folded.  It was a moment where I desperately wished I could see and get a better read on her.

I’d always hated those parts in the TV shows and movies, where everything could be resolved with the simple truth.  It was why I’d never been able to watch romantic comedies.  It grated: the sitcom-esque comedic situations which would be resolved if people would only sit down, explain, and listen to one another, the tragedies which could have been prevented with a few simple words.

I didn’t want to be one of those tragedies.

“Thomas Calvert was Coil,” I said.  I kept my voice low enough that only the two of them would hear; I didn’t need to provoke a riot.

“Beg pardon?” Weld asked.

Miss Militia’s arms unfolded.  She hooked her thumbs in her belt, silent.

“Thomas Calvert got powers,” I said, “The ability to create a parallel reality where he could nudge things to unfold in different ways.  He used those powers to make a lot of money with no risk, hired high power mercenaries, and then hired both the Travelers and us.  The Undersiders.”

Miss Militia shifted position, leaning against a wall with her arms folded.  “A lot of what you say fits with what we know about Coil, but I’m not seeing where Thomas Calvert comes in.”

“His power meant anyone working under him could operate with less risk.  Our plans were that much more likely to work, because we got two chances any time he was able to give us his attention.  With that, we took over the city.  At that point, he’d exhausted the use of the ‘Coil’ persona, so he staged his own death.  He staged the deaths of those reporters, rigged the whole scene and set it up so it would play out like it did.  And in the end, a body double was set to die in his place.  His hired woman gets elected mayor in the aftermath, Piggot loses her job, and Thomas Calvert becomes head of the PRT.”

“You’re giving him a hell of a lot of credit,” Miss Militia said.

“He’s spent years rigging this.  If you dig, you’ll probably be able to find some traces of it.  Maybe the reporters who were on the scene only started working at a certain point, after he put them in position.  Maybe you can follow the money trails.  But he set everything up.  Think about it.”

I raised one hand, counted off my points.  “Through the Undersiders and Travelers, he would control all illicit activity in Brockton Bay, slowly moving on to the neighboring cities.  Through his money, power and his activity as Coil, he would control local business and industry.  Most of the construction companies that are rebuilding, all of the areas that are being bulldozed and rebuilt, he owned the land, he owned the businesses.  He could do it all at a loss because he was able to get money in other ways.  He was prepared to control the government through his puppets, and he controlled the heroes through his newly acquired position in the PRT.  All in all, he was set to have an absolute grip over Brockton Bay and all of the major aspects of the city.”

“And you murdered him?” Miss Militia asked.  “Your clone was telling the truth?”

“I think,” I said, and I had to pause to get my thoughts in order, “that this dialogue of ours is going to play out far better if I don’t answer that question.”

“Because you murdered him,” Weld said.

I didn’t answer.

“I’ll have to discuss this with the higher-ups,” Miss Militia said.  “The de-facto truce we’ve formed should protect you until this is all over, but I’ll make a strong recommendation that you be left alone for the time being.  It might help.”

“I wouldn’t,” I told Miss Militia.

“Wouldn’t what?  Make my recommendation?”

“I wouldn’t tell the higher-ups.  We took off the armbands because Tattletale had a feeling… complicated to explain.”

“I would really like you to explain,” Miss Militia said.

The problem with explaining was that it threatened to offer insight on Tattletale’s power.  Worse, it might get the Chicago Wards in trouble, and they’d been decent.

Maybe changing the subject… “Tattletale had ideas that Eidolon’s motives weren’t entirely pure.  And I don’t think they were.  When we got closer, I overheard Eidolon talking to Noelle.  He knew a few things that suggested he already knew what Coil was doing.”

Eidolon?” Weld asked.

Miss Militia put a hand on my shoulder, and ushered me away from the perimeter where the heroes were walking around and getting prepared.  I was pretty sure nobody was able to hear, but I didn’t object.  She leaned close and spoke an order in my ear, “Explain.”

This explanation was having the opposite effect I’d intended.  It threatened to get me and the others in deeper trouble.

“Do you know what Cauldron is?” I asked.

“A rumor,” Miss Militia said.  “It was an idea that cropped up around the time the first major parahumans did, and occasionally a person or group will use that idea and claim some greater conspiracy or a power connection.  In every case, it is investigated and thoroughly debunked.”

I frowned behind my mask.  “If you don’t think Cauldron’s responsible, how do you explain the monstrous parahumans?  Like Gregor the Snail or Newter?”

“Or me?” Weld asked.  He was just behind us.

“Or you,” I said.  “I’ve run into too many situations that involve Cauldron to buy that it’s a series of hoaxes.  The Merchants had vials that granted powers, and a suitcase detailing some contract with Cauldron.  I read some of it, before Faultline’s crew absconded with the rest of it.”

“Did you actually see someone drink and gain powers?”  Miss Militia asked.

“No.”

“It’s a name that’s acquired enough momentum and prestige that people will occasionally use it to their advantage.  Nothing more,” Miss Militia said.

“Then why did Eidolon say that Coil was involved with Cauldron, and that Cauldron was responsible for Noelle?”  I asked.

Miss Militia pursed her lips.  “I don’t know.  It could be that you’re lying.”

“If I was going to lie, I’d pick something more believable.”

“Or you’re picking something so unbelievable that it’d take ages to sort through the data.  In the meantime, this situation gets resolved and we let you walk away unharmed.  I have talked to my team, and I’ve seen your records.  You tend to do that.  Protect yourself in the present with details and arguments that would take a long time to verify.”

“I’m not looking for an argument,” I said.  “If you don’t believe that Calvert was Coil, then that’s fine.  I just wanted to put all my cards on the table.”

“Except for actually admitting to the murder,” Weld said.

“Right,” I said.

“Assuming we believed you, what are we supposed to do with this knowledge?”  Miss Militia asked.

“For now?” I asked, “Nothing.  Operate as you would otherwise.  But keep your eyes open, with this information in mind.”

“And if we do?  If we keep our eyes open, thoroughly investigate this allegation about Calvert and Coil, and we still decide to arrest you, will you agree to come peacefully into custody?”

I shook my head.  “No.  I don’t think so.”

“So it’s really selfishness that brings you here,” Miss Militia said.  “You don’t expect to change the way you operate, and you expect to get away with acknowledging that you murdered a man, if not outright admitting it… but you want us to change how we handle our end of things, based on your hearsay.”

“If you want to see it as self-serving, that’s your call,” I said.  “Maybe that’s how you work.  But I don’t have high aspirations, now.  I saved Dinah.  I want to protect the people in my territory, and stop the forces that might hurt them, be it the Slaughterhouse Nine, Coil or Echidna.  Maybe you won’t believe me when I say so, but I’m not trying to argue in my own defense here.  I won’t confirm or deny what the clone said, but nothing I’m saying here really gives me an alibi or leverage to escape this situation.”

“You’re giving us excuses to soften the impact of the crime you committed,” Miss Militia said.

“I’m not admitting to anything,” I pointed out.

“You know what I mean.”

“Maybe they are excuses, kind of.  It’s one way of looking at it.  Another way is that maybe now you can maybe be more wary when talking to Eidolon, or pay more attention when you start looking into Calvert’s daily life, see if anything points to Coil.  He wasn’t stupid, but you don’t devote that much time and energy to something without some blurring of the lines.  I don’t gain much if you do that, but you could stand to benefit.”

“Maybe,” Miss Militia said.

“Are you speaking from experience?” Weld asked.  “When you talk about blurring the lines between identities?”

I turned toward him, remembered that he’d seen my face.  “That would be telling.”

“Could be,” he answered.  “It’s something I’m interested in.  I never had the benefit of a secret identity.”

“Overrated, as far as I can tell,” I told him.  I thought of my dad.  Was he the victim of a blurring of the lines?  Or just a casualty in a long series of events that had affected the whole city?  Or both.

“This seems like a good time to cut in,” Tattletale said.  She approached from around the corner, turned her head in Miss Militia’s direction, “May I steal Skitter from you?”

Miss Militia waved a hand to one side, silent.

Tattletale was leading me off when Miss Militia spoke up.  “I don’t know if you’re speaking the truth…”

She trailed off.  I opened my mouth to speak, then shut it.  Silence was safer.

“…But if you are, I appreciate it.  It’s not like me, to demand evidence, to suspect everything, but I have to.  My teams can’t afford for me to give anyone or anything the benefit of a doubt.”

“Being in charge is hard,” I said, without turning her way.

Tattletale gestured in the direction we were going, then walked beside me as we left Weld and Miss Militia behind.  Whatever warped disease Noelle had dumped into me to weaken me and leave me unable to fight back after I’d been vomited out was steadily wearing off.  That was only a part of the overarching problems, though, and I still felt drained.  My stamina was pretty rock bottom, and the recent fight hadn’t helped.  I was hungry, thirsty, and I wanted to crash for fifteen or thirty minutes.

Oddly enough, though she no doubt felt far more spry than I did, it was Tattletale who fell a half step behind me as she walked to my left, and it seemed very deliberate in how she did so.

She’d done something very similar when we’d been on the rooftop, a subtle maneuver to help portray me as the leader and as someone to be respected.  Tattletale was scary in her own way, in a very different way than I was scary, but scary.  That she was showing deference or whichever would suggest something, even if people didn’t consciously realize it.

The alternative interpretation was that she’d been hurt more in the fight than she was letting on.

“Skitter,” Tattletale said, “Meet Scapegoat.”

My bugs passed over the young hero, and he didn’t flinch.  He would be one of the Wards, unless his stature was misleading.  His costume was a robe, though closer to Myrddin’s in style than Panacea’s.  My bugs traced beneath the robe to detect armor that suggested the costume was intended to be worn into a fight.  He wore a mask attached to his head by a band that felt like metal, apparently designed to flip up.  Two curling horns were attached to the band, at the sides of his forehead.

“Scapegoat?” I asked.  “A healer?”

“No,” Scapegoat said.  “But I can fix you.  Sort of.”

“What do you mean by ‘sort of’?”

“What I do is fragile.  It’s not healingYou’ll stop hurting, the wounds will disappear, but it’s a delicate balance, and the duration is limited.”

“I’ll take what I can get,” I said.

“When the duration expires, unless certain conditions are met, the injuries come back.  Sometimes not as bad, sometimes worse.  And they’re usually slower to heal.”

“What’s the duration?” I asked.

“Anywhere from one hour to six hours.”

“And the condition?”  I asked.

“Longer you go without breaking the effect, the better the chance the injuries stay gone.”

“Sit,” Tattletale said.  I sat.

Scapegoat touched my hand.  I felt a wave of sensations rushing over me.  Being hot, being cold, vibrations, the feeling of different fabrics and skin contacting mine, all at once.  The feeling of my costume against my skin became intense, sharp, even overwhelming.  I jumped and pulled away.

“It’s okay,” Tattletale said.

I nodded, gave Scapegoat my hand once again.

Tattletale explained, “Scapegoat’s effect operates on a quantum level.  He’s digging through potential realities to find unhurt versions of you, versions of you that are close enough to who you are right now that everything fits together seamlessly.”

“Except the injuries,” I said.  Sensations were rippling over me, each simultaneous, and the simple contact of my costume against my skin or the ground under my feet was so intense that it felt electric.

Tattletale nodded.  “Except the injuries.  For the time being, he’s patching you together with unhurt parts from the versions of Skitter from the other realities and other possibilities, and his own body serves as a bridge for that.”

“Is this safe?” I asked.  I had to grit my teeth as the effect continued to intensify.

“Relax,” Scapegoat said.  “More agitated you are, the weaker the effect.”

Relax.  I reached out to my bugs, trying to feel what they felt, see what they saw, hear what they heard, and displace myself from my body.  It was a method I’d tried many times before, almost meditative.

“It doesn’t take much for the effect to break,” Tattletale said.  “A heavy impact, a new injury or a major shock.  If that happens, all the injuries come back.  Probably worse.”

I’d planned to comment on how hard it was to relax and distract myself from the sensation when the meaning of Tattletale’s words struck me.

“How the hell am I supposed to fight if I can’t get hurt?”

“Play safe.  And stay within a hundred and fifty feet of Scapegoat.”

I frowned.  “I don’t think I can operate like that.”

“I can stop,” Scapegoat said.  “If you’re feeling ungrateful.”

“You’re barely functional,” Tattletale told me, ignoring him.

“A lot of it’s just the way that her puke makes you feel sick.  It’s wearing off.”

“You’re saying you’d rather keep going the way you are?” Tattletale asked.  “Ribs, lungs, exhausted, battered…”

“If it means being able to fight without having my hands tied, maybe.” I said.  And not feeling like this.  Scapegoat’s process sucked.

“But you can’t fight.  Not in this shape.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” Scapegoat said.  “It’s too late to undo it.”

All at once, the sensations stopped.  My entire body seemed to vibrate like a silent tuning fork might, in the absence of the sensations.  My ears were ringing, and spots swelled behind my eyelids.

I opened my eyes, and I still couldn’t see.  No.  It was different.  There wasn’t a white haze.   I wiped at the lenses of my mask, and dried bile and blood flaked off, leaving them more or less clear.

I blinked a few times, then took a deep breath.

I could see, and I could breathe.

“She’s fucking blind!?”  Scapegoat yelped.

I looked down at Scapegoat.  His costume was all white and gold, his mask an alabaster goat’s head fixed to a golden band, his robe white, and the chain around his waist more gold, with a goat’s head buckle.  He was on his knees on the ground, and the yelling had elicited a coughing fit.

“Could’ve sworn I mentioned it,” Tattletale said.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“Oh.  He takes on whatever injuries he removes from others.  The eyes you’re using right now are essentially a blend of his eyes and the ones he was able to find by paging through alternate Skitters.  Kind of.  Hard to explain.”

“How the fuck am I supposed to operate like this?” Scapegoat rasped.  He started coughing again.

“You visit my other teammates, make sure they’re ship-shape,” Tattletale said, “Then we accompany you, and we create a situation where you can use the offensive effect of your power.”

“Fuck me,” Scapegoat said.

“It’s temporary,” she said.  In a lower voice, she added, “And I’m paying you well.”

A corrupt hero?  Or just an enterprising one?  I wondered.

I was also wondering if Tattletale had the funds for this.  She’d just paid off Coil’s soldiers, and as far as I knew, she was committing to keeping his enterprises going, but she wouldn’t have all of his funds, nor all of his contacts.  It came perilously close to emulating Coil’s fatal mistake.

Other junior heroes were gathering around us, as Scapegoat continued coughing and wheezing.  The one that caught my eye at first was a girl with a flower motif to her costume, her hair pink and styled in waves like a rose’s petals, which was impressive given how she’d probably just gotten out of bed before arriving.  Others included a boy in green with a sledgehammer, a guy with plate armor with fins at the side of the visor, a boy with a candle on his tan costume, and a pair I recognized as Grace and Wanton.

“Problem, S.g.?” the girl asked.

“Hate my power, hate my power, hate it, hate it, hate it,” Scapegoat rasped.  Wanton and Grace gave him a hand in standing.  He was still making his way to his feet when Grace turned to me.

“You’re blind?” she asked.

“I was,” I said.

“It happened after we parted ways?”

“No,” I said.

She gave me a funny look.

I kept my mouth shut, deciding to let her draw her own conclusions.  She looked down at Scapegoat, and I changed the subject.  “You’re okay?  No lasting effects from Noelle?”

“Ship shape,” she said.  I wasn’t sure she was telling the truth; Grace looked a little worse for wear.  Her hair looked wet, and the fluids that Noelle had been spitting out had congealed into the cracks and folds of her costume, with colors ranging from black to red to bilious yellow.  I wasn’t sure how she’d looked before, but she looked tired.  Was it waking up before sunrise, or had she been affected emotionally?

I probably didn’t look much better.  At least my costume was black and gray.  The muck wouldn’t stand out.

I felt better, though.  Enough that I felt almost euphoric.  Aches and pains I’d stopped paying attention to long ago were gone.  It did a lot to help me disassociate from the images and scenes I’d seen inside Noelle.

Tattletale might have been right.  Maybe working with Scapegoat was necessary.  If making this permanent was an option, I was willing to do what it took to preserve the effect, keeping Scapegoat close and keeping myself in one piece.

It wasn’t something I had a lot of experience in, playing safe.

“Let’s go find the others,” I said.  I didn’t like how Grue was acting when I left him behind.  “Grace, Wanton, are you coming with?”

“The orders we got stand until we hear different,” Grace said.  “We’re supposed to accompany you.”

“Good.  Then let’s see about getting Bentley and putting him on the dog’s back.”

Tattletale shook her head.  “Too many impacts, with him lumbering around like he does.  Either you or he take too heavy a hit, and we’re back where we started.”

“What if we find a containment van and put him in the passenger seat?” I asked.

“The last van didn’t fare too well,” Tattletale said.

“We’ll use containment foam to keep him safe and in one piece if we have to,” I told her.  “I hope it doesn’t come to that.  Let’s go.”

I started to move to pick Scapegoat up off the ground, but Tattletale stopped me, putting one hand on my wrist.

“Treat yourself like you’re made of glass,” she said.  “No heavy exertion, don’t get hurt, don’t strain yourself.”

“That’s a little extreme,” I said, but I didn’t touch Scapegoat.

It took two people to help Scapegoat to walk.  Grace walked on one side of him, Tattletale on the other.  When he’d taken on my injuries, had he received a more crippling variation?

I was hungry to observe and absorb every tidbit of information I’d been missing.  I could see the heroes gathered, all eyes on the wreckage of the building.  PRT officers were treading the perimeter, spraying volumes of containment foam onto the rubble.

Eighty heroes, if my bugs were counting right.  Maybe eight in all were in the air.  It made it easy to find Eidolon.  Like Grace, his costume had been tinted by the film of dried fluids.  He was a few stories above the ground, and his cape flapped around him in the strong winds.

It was hard to make capes look good.  They had a way of clinging to the body, or flowing the wrong way, getting caught around an arm… it took a measure of majesty to make it work.  Eidolon could pull it off.

Ironic, that the slang for a parahuman was ‘cape’, and so few of us wore them.

I’d worn a short cape, not so long ago, barely long enough to reach the small of my back.    I’d adopted it more for utility than style, to give me more concealed area to hide my bugs and for the marginal extra protection it afforded me.  I didn’t have it now, and I was somewhat glad.  I might have felt more self-conscious, seeing Eidolon up there.  I’d wind up worrying if I really had the ability to make it look good, when I needed to focus on projecting confidence.

There weren’t many villains here, and now that I could see, I was getting evidence to my previous concerns about being watched.

We reached the Undersiders, and I knelt beside Grue.  Imp was beside him, and both Regent and Bitch were standing nearby.  Regent gave me a nod, and I nodded back.

“Sorry to do this,” I said.  I looked at the three heroes that had accompanied us, “But I’d like to have a private conversation with my teammates.”

The bugs flowed from my costume and the surroundings, forming a moving curtain that separated me from Grace, Wanton and Scapegoat.  I gradually widened it, forcing them to back up.

Wanton let Grace support Scapegoat and tried to venture forward into the swarm.  He snorted and backed up as bugs crawled into his nose, ears and mouth.  I gave him a few seconds to experience the sensation, then removed them.  He didn’t try a second time.

“What’s going on?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

“He’s gone quiet,” Imp said.  “Not responding much.  He flinched when I tried to touch him.”

“Being inside Echidna, you see things,” I said.  “Variations on your trigger event, or ugly moments from your life.”

“Oh,” Imp said.  “Oh.

I looked at Grue.  He was staring off into space, with darkness gathered in thick ropes around him, to the point that I couldn’t make out how he was sitting.  He did that instinctively, I’d noted.  The more he withdrew into himself, suppressed his emotions, the more his darkness manifested around him.

If it was this bad, then I wasn’t sure what I could do.

I knelt beside him, and even with the darkness that wreathed him, I could sense him pulling away.

“Imp,” I said.

“What?”

“You should take him home.”

“But… I can help.”

“I know,” I said.  “You’ve helped a lot already.  But he can’t stay here.  Not like this.  If he relived his trigger event, he’s going to need reassurance from you.”

“His other trigger event was about you,” Imp said.  She sounded almost accusatory.

“Maybe,” I said.  I stared into the black lenses of her mask.  “Do you want me to take him? Because I will.  I’ll leave, Tattletale can lead the Undersiders, and you can stay and focus on assassinating clones.”

She drew her knife, turned it around in her hands, as if she were considering it.

“Whatever you do,” I told her, “Make the call fast.  If you aren’t staying, I want to get moving fast.  I need to collect bugs before the fighting starts up again.”

She glanced down at Grue, then she looked at the others.  Regent and Rachel were watching us carefully.

For my part, I looked at Grue.  I wanted nothing more than to walk away.  I’d be okay being partially blind, waiting weeks or months to see if maybe my senses came back, if it meant holding him, helping him through this, giving him whatever support he needed so badly.

I could so vividly recall the vision I’d seen of Mannequin, and all the people I’d cared about struggling to get to safety.  Everyone had been counting on me, and I’d been failing them.  Odd, that the recollection was somehow reassuring to me in this brief moment.

In the same moment, I turned to Imp and Imp turned to me.  The black lenses of her mask met my yellow ones straight-on.

“You’re the leader,” Imp said, and that was answer enough.

I reached out and took Grue’s hand.  He flinched, trying to pull away before I got a firm hold.  I managed it anyways, seized his hand between mine.

“Grue,” I said.  I kept my voice firm, but quiet.  “It’s Skitter.  Taylor.  I need you to listen.”

He didn’t budge an inch.  I squeezed his hand.  “Listen.  You’re going with Aisha, understand?  I think I know the kind of thing you saw.  What you experienced.  But you need to remember the important part, okay?  You didn’t fail.  You did what you wanted to.  You saved her, you saved me, and you saved yourself.”

He tugged, trying to pull his hand away, and I held fast.  The darkness was swelling around him.

“There’s only one more part left.  Just like you did then, you need to walk away.  Leave the scene behind.  It’s the best thing you can do.  You turn your back, and you walk away from where all the ugliness happened.  Understand?  Go with Aisha.  You two go home together.”

I stood, and I pulled on his hand at the same time.  He resisted.

“Take her home,” I said.

This time, when I pulled, he worked to climb to his feet.  I took his hand and placed it firmly in Aisha’s.  I watched them walk away, hand in hand, and when I couldn’t see them with my eyes, I sensed them with my power, followed the movements with the blotchy vision of my bugs.

The bugs I’d formed into a barrier drifted in my direction and congregated on me.  The younger heroes were a short distance away, and Tattletale was with them.

They were watching as reinforcements arrived.

Alexandria and Legend had joined Myrddin, Chevalier and Eidolon.

The big guns.  We were finally treating this like a class S threat.

When I approached Tattletale, the other Undersiders followed me: Regent and Bitch with a litter of dogs of varying size trailing around her, chains clinking where they were attached to collars and harnesses.

Tecton was on the other side of the crowd, looking somewhat worse for wear.  Grace and Wanton started making their way toward him, and I followed by necessity, because they were helping a blind Scapegoat hobble along.

Our trip led us past the collection of major heroes, and the crowd that had gathered around them.  Glancing at them, I could see Tattletale in my peripheral vision, a smile spreading across her face.

I felt a moment’s trepidation.  I’d seen that kind of smile, had seen it on Emma’s face, often enough, just before she pulled something.  It wasn’t directed at me, though.  I reached out for Tattletale’s arm, but she was already speaking.

“Cauldron,” she said.  The word just loud enough for the heroes to hear.

Eidolon managed to feign ignorance, not even moving a muscle, and Alexandria barely moved, nothing out of the ordinary for someone who’d heard a voice calling out.  Legend, though, turned our way, looking straight at Tattletale.  His lips pursed a fraction, and then he looked away.

Tattletale’s grin widened a fraction.  She murmured to me, “All three know.”

In which case we just added three people to our list of possible enemies.

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184 thoughts on “Scourge 19.2

  1. Apologies for any typos/awkwardness/unfinished sentences. I did my best to proofread, but my three week trip ended today and I wrote most of this on the train. Not the best environment.

    Thanks for reading, as always, and if you’re so inclined, please do vote on Topwebfiction & tell your friends about Worm.

      • That’s an interesting question, but here’s an answer:

        People reading fiction online are a small group (unlike web comics). As a result, Topwebfiction is a small site.

        How do we change that? By promoting works we like to people who will enjoy them, and if authors continue to point people at Topwebfiction (and Webfictionguide.com), those people will become aware of works they might not have seen normally.

        Plus, the people who know about Topwebfiction are more likely to take a chance on a new serial than most, so it’s a good idea in that sense too.

      • There’s a few reasons at work, really.

        One is fairly selfish for me as an author – it’s one of the best ways to illustrate to non-readers that there’s an invested, interested readerbase. I was having a conversation with someone who works for Wattpad, some time ago, and being able to say I’ve been in the #1 spot on such and such a site (sometimes by a margin of 100 votes) for some time sort of woke her up and got her paying more attention (I also mentioned that I was #2 in overall rankings for Webfictionguide – I’m #1 as of a few days ago).

        I joined the Canadian Author’s Association, which has several benefits, and being able to network with other authors, editors and publishers is one of those benefits (whether to collaborate, find work or get advice) and just like with the woman from Wattpad, I can get more people listening more seriously to me if I can indicate that I’m not just some schmo that’s putting his stuff up in some dark corner of the internet and getting 5 readers a day. Everything helps on that front, whether I’m talking about daily readership, unique visitors, donations, reviews, ratings or a consistent standing on a voting website.

        Second, I do get a steady stream of visitors from Topwebfiction. It’s not on par with Webfictionguide or TVtropes, but having a strong standing and maintaining that standing is showing me a steady increase over time.

        And, as Jim suggests, I’m most definitely not adverse to having my readers look & come across other stories they might want to read. Jim mentioned a few weeks back that he’d seen a bump or that people were voting on his story too, giving him more exposure. Which is great. Too many, I think, have the impression that a reader another author gains is a reader they’ve lost. But I feel that a reader I gain is potentially a reader of others (and vice versa) – said readers will be making recommendations to friends and family, and there’ll be an eventual but undeniable turnaround as word spreads and we see a slow but steady growth in attention to webfiction as a whole.

  2. But now the Eidolon, Legend and Alexandria know Tattletale knows. That can’t be safe. I am feeling like Tt may have bitten off more than she can chew this time.

    • Entirely possible.

      Particularly since she apparently had an audience with Alexandria after the Endbringer fight. I would be prepared to believe that Alexandria may have figured out Tattletale’s power.

      • Oooh yeah. I forgot about Alexandria’s secondary power. I know Tattletale likes to get into fights with people who are better resourced and more powerful than her, but I think she might be underestimating Cauldron.

        • hey don’t mob tattletale, she even mentioned why her actions are perfectly reasonable.
          quote from the last chapter:
          “Fuck. I really wanted an evil mastermind headquarters of my own. It’ll be years before I can build one for myself,”

    • The real question is: Did Miss Militia notice? Confirmation is good, but giving potential allies first hand evidence is important, too.

    • A bit of a tactical error on her part. Was it so vital that Skitter know that Tattletale would need to let them know she knows?

      Although, I guess the statement alone was enough to likely clue them in. Alexandria’s a Thinker, after all, and the others aren’t idiots.

  3. Well, so much for not getting that kill order.

    Also, wow, it’s really easy to forget how much like Taylor’s former bestie Tattletale is when she hasn’t been cheerfully hurting others and casually endangering them all.

  4. Its always nice to see tattletale picking up the slack for regent when he isn’t around. Its good to see that Grace, Tecton and Wanton seem to be none the worse for wear, especially since the former two were Echidna victims and the latter may have just broken his personal record for staying non-solid.

  5. If Tattletale doesn’t learn how to be less smug and shut the @#$* up she’s going to get her team killed. She’s becoming too, I don’t know, impervious. I’m starting to really like Jack Slash because he just up and cut her face in half for being too mouthy.

    Tattletale used to be one of my favorite characters in this series. Now she’s really more of a know-it-all with a plan for everything. Earlier being cocky like that was more dangerous for her, remember Glory Girl at the bank?

    And while I’m complaining might as well point out that Worm occasionally suffers from the Flat Featureless Plane of Dialogue (most notably and recently in the Clockblocker interrogation).

    Staying up past midnight has apparently made me negative and cranky. Sorry ’bout that wildbow.

    • First off, I totally agree with you on Tattletale getting too mouthy. In story, she may be trying to cover for the lack of funds through seeming overconfidence and using her power to get out of situations where that would be revealed. Out of it, the writing could improve to show more consequences of it.

      That said, I feel the dialogue here perfectly shows everyone coming off the adrenaline high of battle, feeling worn, sore, and hurt. Even during that Clockblocker interrogation, that fit with the situation. Maybe its just that the story doesn’t show that much downtime and people having fun, anymore.

        • I don’t think she’s getting mouthy, I think she’s just getting overconfident (and hence less inhibited against mouthiness).
          Think: In the past, what, 12 hours, she’s defeated and supplanted the top supervillain in and effective ruler of her hometown, played a pivotal role in preventing Noelle, an Endbringer-level threat, from going unnoticed for a significant amount of time, and executed a plan to impair said threat better than anyone and everyone else had. She also uncovered several secrets of varying degrees. And she still knows everyone better than their best friend does. Overconfidence still isn’t good, but it’s understandable.

    • …When has Tattletale NOT been smug and mouthy? One of the first things she did in the story was guess that Taylor was posting from a public library computer, and rub her face in it just because she could.

      • Actually since Random Lurker at least agreed with me it is demonstrably NOT just me.

        Besides, every story has its flaws. I was just in a bad enough mood to talk about them instead of gushing about Worm is all.

    • You really think this isn’t intentional? I’m pretty damn convinced right now that Tattletale’s is heading towards a situation where her habit of working behind her teammate’s backs is going to bit her in the ass. This has been foreshadowed as early as the last fight with the Chosen.

      Tattle’s either going to end up captured by Cauldron, giving Taylor direct reason to work against them. Or less dramatically she’s going to have to go full disclosure with Skitter.

      Tattletale kinda treats Taylor like a little sister, doing what she thinks is best for her without seeing the need to explain herself, and she’s going to end up in a situation where she needs to depend on Skitter just like Grue did.

      • Note: Taylor did the -exact same thing- by mouthing off to Miss Militia.
        Taylor picks better allies, and isn’t starting… much trouble.

        But, jesus, they’re both fools.

        • In Skitter’s defense, the heuristic she used (“tell them the truth and trust them to act appropriately”) is *usually* a good one when dealing with heroic types – and, fortunately, they actually are heroic types. The real risk is that they’ll leave some kind of clue on a Protectorate-accessible computer.

    • Can’t help but find it odd that you describe the discussion in the van as a “flat featureless plane of dialog”, it was one of the most compelling parts of the story so far. Sometimes people just talk without moving around or physically emoting in obvious ways. Such as when they’re all wearing costumes that hide much of their body language, and have to sit still because they’re wedged into the back of a van with hostile(s).

  6. Oh man. Poor scapegoat. And I feel bad for all the other Skitters who just got bits stolen.

    ” to Noelle. and he” Missing caps.
    “injuries come back.” Extra spaces.
    “come back. probably” Missing caps.
    “”If you’re feeling ungrateful.” Missing closing quotes.

  7. It feels like a send off for Imp and Grue, the last time we see them have a major influence on the story proper. Whether they skip town, retire from the cape scene, or die horrifically, this chapter seems to quietly let them go. I hope I’m wrong, as some closure to their stories would be nice.

    Tattletale’s drawn the attention of some deadly enemies, now. She just acted like Taylor there – no consideration for personal safety. Maybe she was always acting this way, but we never noticed it under her poker face. I wonder even more about her backstory and trigger event.

    Skitter getting her sight back is wonderful, though horrible for Scapegoat. He likely will end up transferring those injuries to someone else soon. Who that will be is anyone’s guess. Storywise, it’ll let Wildbow go back to visual descriptions. The worst part, though, is breaking the terms and maybe having a permanently blind Skitter. I hope it doesn’t come to that.

    Like I figured, Miss Militia had the knee-jerk reaction of dismissing all claims from the Undersiders as lies. The last comment from her, thanking Skitter, was unexpected, but nice and in-character, considering her background. That quiet line about being in charge was a great piece of writing, connecting the two in a way people wouldn’t expect, especially Miss Militia.

    The hero of the moment here is WELD. He’s like what Harvey Dent would be if he actually returned to heroism, with powers. Moreover, he actually connected with Skitter, and seems to understand her on multiple levels. Wildbow, you may have just started your first shipping debate (disregarding Gecko’s ramblings about orgies, of course).

    Random comment: Looks like 9 out of 10 Wormverse people agree with Edna Mode about super costumes. NO CAPES!

    Great writing! Can’t wait for next Tuesday!

    • I don’t think Miss Militia was saying Skitter was lying, more that what Skitter was saying wasn’t verifiable in a useful time frame and therefor wasn’t something that could sway her actions.

      To her credit she didn’t cherry pick which things to believe either. Skitter effectively admitted to killing Coil/Calvert, but Miss Militia was willing to accept her story about who he was to the extent of not violating the de facto truce, or pushing for the kill order then and there, both things a less reasonable person might have done.

      • I already liked Weld but this chapter gives me alot of respect for Miss Militia. She will look into Coil and Cauldron and actually gave Skitter, at least to me, the benefit of the doubt. I also hadn’t realized just how vital the truce was that she feels the need not to call Skitter on it.

  8. Uh… Miss Militia touched Skitter’s shoulder. Through the carpet of bugs. I have to give her kudos because that has got to be creepy.

  9. i am surprised that Scapegoat didn’t transfer the injuries to guru, who than copyed the best regeneration around
    (the way over guru, and not directly to the next regenerator, becaus we do not defenetly know if he can transfer to others, so if necesary with guru copying his power it would work

    • What regenerators are around?

      Also, Grue. You are likely to be taught by a guru, but you are likely to be eaten by a grue.

    • Dammit, you made me OC.

      Guru: a thinker 8 with the power to intuit an understanding of other capes’ powers and other people’s psyches. Also a stranger 4 who appears differently to each individual. Secretly the leader of the rogue cape team The Mystics.

      Formerly known as Sasquatch, a brute 1 stranger 1 who was hard to get a good look at and always appeared blurry in photos. Had a second trigger event when he got his team killed, giving him his thinker power and thereby letting him perfect his stranger power.

  10. I love how Taylor underestimates her sheer toughness here. Lady, in the last twenty-four hours, you’ve been caught in an explosion, shot, trapped in a burning building, dropped out the window of said burning building, kicked in the chest, shot again, and *then* fought what is probably the fourth-most-dangerous creature on the planet. And you’re surprised that a guy who picked up all those hurts at once is having a little trouble walking? Not everyone undergoes major surgery with nothing but local anesthetic, you know!

    • I know, right? Taylor receives what, for most people, would be a life-changing disability, and proceeds to give not even the vestigial shadow of a fuck.

            • From one troper to another: Good job, Robin! I’ll be reading your work once I catch up (I stopped after I discovered that Armsmaster became Defiant by glancing at…A Day in the Limelight).

              Also, gosh darn it, I just found out about Lisa’s brother. Almost makes me want to turn spoilers off.

              • Sorry, sorry! I had to turn “Show Spoilers” off myself — I’d only flipped the switch on because it was more convenient when iPhone-browsing, but there were too many times I accidentally learned plot twists I didn’t want to know.

                If you spot any places where there are non-hidden spoilers, let me know — I know I’ve screwed up a few times in that regard.

              • I will.

                Don’t expect anything soon, I’m still reading 19’s first Donation Bonus interlude. I have other things to do on the internet…

          • I split everything into folders – open them up, and most of the tropes should still be there. I say “most” because I have moved a few tropes over to Characters – there are still quite a few on the main page that belong there, but there are too many characters not yet represented to justify going through the whole page.

          • …does anyone think Gecko should get his own entry on the Character page? He certainly is a fixture here, and in his own story.

          • @Packbat: I’d need Gecko’s permission for that though, which is why I asked. Besides, I don’t have a TvTropes account.

          • I give my permission.

            I just hope Wildbow doesn’t mind me riding his or her coattails yet again. It’s not too hard to get an account on TVTropes though. Easier than figuring out how to make it work, and you’d better use that preview button or you wind up looking like an idiot as you edit it over and over again.

    • To be fair to Scapegoat Taylor has had time to acclimitize to her injuries. I don’t think any of the cast of the series would handle suddenly having all of those injuries appear at once very well.

    • I’ve kind of had a theory going for a while now (since Taylor went blind) that she is more powerful than we (and she) thinks. It’s easy to be fooled about her level of power when the story is told from her point of view and she may not fully understand her own level of power.

      There are a few reasons I think this. First, the whole time Taylor was blind she seemed to handle it almost too well (as many of you pointed out to Wildbow). I like to believe at least some of that was because she was getting more than just physical touch input from her bugs. She was getting audio/visual stimulus from them as well and just not quite fully aware of how much it was happening and making a difference.

      Then you add to this the amount of abuse she has taken lately as Packbat points out. You always expect the protagonist of a story to be like Rocky Balboa and just keep getting up, but even I have found myself wondering how Taylor is still moving. Any normal person would have long been out of commission, but she keeps going. Rather than blame the story, I prefer to think that this points to some level of increased toughness or durability. It’s not part of the narrative, because Taylor herself isn’t aware of it. You could argue that it is mental fortitude (increased by her power) allowing her to override the pain, but I think it’s more than that even.

      The strongest indicator I have that my theory is correct came from Noelle. Noelle described Skitter’s ‘smell’ as being in the same category as Eidolon and just a handful of other capes. “A smell that set them apart from the other parahumans in the same way that the other parahumans were set apart from the people who could have powers but didn’t. An intensity.” She put’s Grue in this category as well, for what that’s worth with his second trigger and all.

        • It happens. Care for a drink from my cask of amontillado sometime? Never could figure out if that family crest was sympathetic to the snake biting the foot stepping on it or the man stepping on the snake that’s biting him. If only the snake had its tail its mouth, we could go on and on about it forever.

          I wondered, since it was talking about trigger events, if fight with Mannequin was being brought up while she was caught by Noelle to represent when the second occurred. After that it was the fictional Nine fight that never happened. What would make it even more plausible is if trigger events could be long, drawn out affairs rather than only a sudden trauma.

          • As usual, Gecko, your puns are painful. You still haven’t told us how you weaponize them in your little blog about your nefarious activities.

            As for trigger events, there probably are drawn-out trigger events, given Bakuda’s event. But how that meshes with the visions of the creature doesn’t fit well. IMHO, that’s how we would know if Taylor had a second event back then (Note: she didn’t, and neither did Mannequin).

  11. I love Skitter. How do I love her? Let me count the ways:
    – Refuses to pick up the idiot ball and instead goes to talk to Miss Militia and Weld. God it’s nice to see a writer refuse to use the “pointless lack of communication” crutch.
    – Wants like hell to quit. Doesn’t.
    – Sees that the guy she cares for needs help badly. Wants to give it to him badly. Steps aside and lets the person who will probably best be able to help him do so, while also ensuring that he gets the hell out of harms way since he’s not fight-capable anymore.
    – Side benefit there? Also gets the child assassin out of combat. That wasn’t her goal but still, not a bad thing in the long term at face value.
    – Beat to hell. Thinks about others more than herself.
    – Doesn’t take the easy lie, doesn’t blindly believe that truth will conquer all. Finds a 3rd path to take.
    – Has just got to be inspiring at least some of the heroes she’s meeting. (Yes she’s scary, but come on she went into battle freaking blind because people needed her. Even if you hate her you’ve got to give some respect for that.)

    I continue to like Weld in this chapter too, though I can also easily see he and Skitter remaining on opposing sides. He might respect her, and she might be grateful to him, but at the end of the day he believes in the system and she actively doesn’t. That kind of dynamic, where both sides are sympathetic and yet understandably not able to bridge the gap that divides them, is so rarely even attempted much less done well like this.

    I also think this chapter shows something important that a lot of writers tend to miss. Killing characters is sometimes effective drama and sometimes just cheap, but in either case it misses a a whole world of possibilities. The Undersiders have all survived the first battle with Echidna despite several of them being consumed by her. Or did they? Grue’s not dead, instead he’s in a much more interesting state, one that’s in some ways crueler than death.

    I recall the DVD commentary for the Incredibles where one of the writers was talking about how “they needed to have a character die here” but the scene got scrapped for time.

    What struck me as off about that comment is that killing a character is simply one way to help the audience buy into the seriousness of the situation. It’s an easy way but that can also work against suspension of disbelief since it can feel very artificial too. Injuring a character, either physically or emotionally can serve the same function and tends to open up possibilities rather than close them off.

    That’s not to say it’s always bad to kill characters. Sometimes it’s the right answer, but when it becomes the predictable mile makers of a story, that’s probably a sign that it’s lost its effectiveness. Which (to be clear) is why I’m happy to see something more interesting happened to the Undersiders.

    • While I agree with you on almost all parts, especially that killing characters can be a crutch to develop drama, you have to admit that the Undersiders are starting to develop some form of plot armor, making them immune to death in the story no matter what happens. This seems to especially apply to Tattletale, who should have pissed off enough people to have been given a kill order many times over. It’s a delicate balance, which Wildbow has so far pulled off, but I feel he may be stretching it. It may be time for someone to kick the bucket.

      • Except, it’s not plot armour. It’s knowledge armour in which Tattletale girds herself. You’re missing the point of Tattletale’s power. She’s not just cocky — she KNOWS what she’s doing, and how other people will react. Not only does her power give her access to facts that she wouldn’t normally know, it also gives her the ability to read both people and groups at a level that would astound Patrick Jane.

        Remember, powers in the Wormverse are not just powers. They also integrate with the user in highly functional ways. Wildbow explicitly said so, both in-story, and in the comments section. So Lisa’s brain is functionally able to integrate all of this information, synthesize it, and produce new ideas that can then be used as starting points of exploration for new information. And she does this in hyper-parallel processing. She is literally super-intuitive. Not only that, but she clearly has memory systems that give her access to all this information in O(n) time. (For the non-computer types here, that means it doesn’t matter how much information she has, she can access any portion of it at roughly the same speed.) Sherlock Holmes could only wish his brain was that powerful.

        Hg

        • While I understand some people would be scared of killing Lisa, for fear of what Thanatos Gambits she may have in play, I doubt everyone would see it that way. Some people TT pissed off may just want her dead to prevent any further leaks. Also, Tattletale does have hear limits. People she doesn’t know about may want her out of the picture, and she’ll have no way of knowing that. And as mentioned before, Tattletale is not always right; when she’s wrong, she’s very wrong. Who’s to say that one mistake won’t lead to her death? Even worse, it doesn’t have to be Tattletale who dies. I’m just saying that certain things people have pulled, especially Tattletale, should have got SOMEONE in the main cast killed by now. Coil kept that from happening at first, but now they don’t have that protection. Skitter is the only one who we can be sure survives due to Dinah, but realistic drama would probably need some more personal mortality. I was just responding to dreamfarer’s comment anyway. Just my opinion, in stories like Worm, there needs to be a balance between too much death and too little in the main cast.

  12. Considering Tattletale, I think Taylor would have considered it a bad time to say it, but I think her inner superhero would appreciate it. I actually like TT all the more because of it. Cauldron are evil sons of bitches, with the possible exception of Legend and they have gotten away with it for far too long. They think they are untouchable, and I LOVE it when people call the “heroes” on their shit. To quote Flashman, ” As you know, I’m a cruel bastard, and if there’s one thing I enjoy it’s seeing another cruel bastard get his cocoa.” I greatly enjoyed Coil getting what he deserved, and Cauldron definitely deserves worse. Miss Militia proved that they aren’t taken very seriously as real, but Dragon knows about them. If she publicly accuses them, even without evidence, it WILL get people talking. Especially because Tattletale already has a reputation of being right. We also don’t know Tattletale’s plan. She had a counter for Coil after all, so I am giving her the benefit of the doubt. My theory is she is creating insurance. Whether or not they send a kill order, or send their own assassin, the Undersiders KNOW something. This doesn’t seem to have ever happened before. Dragon will definitely want to talk to them, and they have proved they aren’t exactly easy to capture. Cauldron was responsible for Noelle becoming what she is, so that little factoid could change the game. This isn’t mentioning all the case 53’s who will hear about this, and now have someone to blame/gun for even without evidence there will be some blowback. This isn’t even mentioning Coil, shadowstalker, or Armsmaster. Face it the PRT already has an image problem, which is probably about to get worse from Coil alone. I figure Tattletale wants a deal with either the PRT, the government, or Cauldron. They don’t reveal what they know, in exchange for no kill order and maybe something extra. Though take that with a grain of salt because I can never guess what crazy shit Wildbow will do next.

  13. I absolutely love this part: “It took two people to help Scapegoat to walk. Grace walked on one side of him, Tattletale on the other. When he’d taken on my injuries, had he received a more crippling variation?”
    No, Skitter, I’m pretty sure he didn’t. You’re just that badass.

  14. “Whatever warped disease Noelle had dumped into me to weaken me and leave me unable to fight back after I’d been vomited out were steadily wearing off.”

    Was instead of were, I think.

  15. Bad communication kills. Like others, it’s nice to see Taylor be better than that.

    We already knew Taylor was badass. Now the heroes are starting to get an idea about it. Because not only has she unveiled the Coil Conspiracy, the Coilspiracy, to Miss Militia and Weld the Suspiciously Suspicious, she also revealed she ended it. Informally. She was well within her rights to refuse to answer that question, though. That’s the power of da fif! But ultimately, I felt she was able to talk as an equal with Miss Militia. Now that was an important point to reach.

    Then, on top of that, she reveals to the other heroes that she’s been blind since before they met her. They sure as hell didn’t figure it out due to lack of effectiveness.

    My guess on why Scapegoat had trouble standing is that he also got Skitter’s pair of enormously large balls out of the healing thing.Tis a heavy burden to bear. Probably has to do with the bugs again. Keeping your mind busy can keep you from registering the pain so much. Some people do it through cussing, Skitter uses bugs. Either way, it’s clear she doesn’t give a flying, buzzing swarm of fucks.

    You know what would be pretty good towards saving the world? Eidolon, Alexandria, and Legend all getting swallowed up by Noelle just in time for Scion to fly in and laserfuck that supermonster to Hades.

    • …I forgot Scion had been ordered to shoot to kill. Damnit, you’re almost making me feel optimistic about this fight!

      That said, Legend seems like a legitimately decent guy who just happens to have been totally used, judging by his interlude. Let Tricksy take that hit.

    • Yeah that sure wouldn’t doom humanity next time an endbringer showed up while Scion was saving people from an earthquake on the other side of the world.

        • Having the big three superheroes die would gut the anti endbringer defense. These three together provide alot of the muscle for stopping them, even if they still require a bunch of fodder heroes as backup to see things through. If the world’s three heaviest hitters that routinely show up all die then the next endbringer attack without Scion is a guaranteed loss for humanity.

          • To be fair, they had the Eidolon, Alexandria and Legend there for the fight against Leviathan and they basically accomplished nothing in terms of preventing him from destroying the city.

            Even with time to prepare and a huge host of heroes and villains helping them, the “big 3″ are pretty much irrelevant when it comes to Endbringer attacks from what we’ve seen so far. It’s basically “the monsters will rampage and destroy your sandbox until Scion shows up, then the show’s over.”

            Maybe you can make a case that E,A,L mitigate more property damage than the “lesser parahumans” but the only one who’s actually saving the world is Scion.

          • Well, technically, there’s a “Big 5″.

            Narwhal is the leader of the Toronto Protectorate, essentially the leader of all Canadian superheroes, and she seriously kicked ass against Leviathan — and we know she’s super-super-powerful, because we know she’s a double-trigger.

            Dragon, as well, was a force to be reckoned with in the Leviathan battle, and everyone acknowledges her as not only the greatest Tinker on the planet, but also as one of the most powerful people on the planet.

            Hg

          • I think you are very wrong about Eidolon at the very least. Iirc he was doing a pretty solid job of blocking out alot of the damage from Tidal waves. Also, Wildbow told us in an earlier comment that Scion only dominated that fight so effectively because the capes had caused so much damage. If Scion hadn’t shown up, and he frequently doesn’t, it basically comes down to the big name heroes to cause enough damage to force it away. If you kill the three biggest capes in Anerica then the next attack in their response radius is going to go very very poorly.

  16. Good to see Skitter laying everything out, while it won’t (and shouldn’t) absolve the Undersiders of their crimes in the heroes eyes, it’ll atleast give Miss Militia some perspective. Both the villains and heroes were being played by the same guy, and the perception of the Undersiders as these devious masterminds was blinding them to a lot of things.

    Honestly, I agree with Taylor that people fucking themselves over by not communicating is an annoying trope. Paranoia can turn people into jumpy idiot scaredy-cats who see shadows in every corner. Also known as McCarthyists.

  17. So yes, Skitter is tough, but she seems a bit too self absorbed. Or it felt like some things were missing in this chapter.

    She does not really acknowledge Wanton’s return or ask him how Raymancer is doing, which seems like it should be common courtesy after what they went through together. She also barley acknowledges Bitch and Regent.

    The lack of interaction with Bitch is especially troubling as I think there would be some need for reassurance, praise or gratefulnesses there. Rachel and Taylor had a rocky start especially after Rachel ended up sacrificing most of her pack to help Taylor against Leviathan and then ended up feeling betrayed. Since then Bitch seems to have accepted Skitter as a member of her pack and even her alpha and now she was again forced to risk the lives of her dogs to rescue Taylor. The least Skitter could do at this point is tell her that she appreciates it.

    I would also have liked some more info on the heroes who were casually mentioned as ‘fallen’ in the previous chapter. Is Clockblocker dead? What about the other capes that Noelle absorbed, what happened to Leet, Uber and Circus? what about the Texas wards?

    I can understand that Skitter is a bit jaded and traumatized by recent events and that her primary concerns are avoiding a kill order and seeing to Grue and that perhaps she expects Tattletale to keep an eye on the big picture, but for someone who is supposed to excel at multitasking she appears to be rather single minded in the chapter.

    Another thing that I saw was that Myrddin and Chevalier were described to be part of the nearly arrived reinforcements when they were supposedly in the fight all along.

    • Regent’s general lack of involvement has been frustrating for me, but then, he’s kinda useless for the most part lately. As far as saying thank you to Bitch, has that ever had the desired effect? She doesn’t want to be thanked (“Words,” you know). You just confer your respect to her. To continue your ‘alpha’ analogy, Bitch did what you do for your pack leader, nothing more or less.

      • Yeah, it’d be nice to see Skitter paying more attention to other members of the team, but Bitch really doesn’t need (or want) to be micromanaged. In this situation, it’s forgivable, because Grue was seriously fucked up and took priority. Would be nice for her to check on Wanton (did he endure log enough to dodge the radioactive poison?) and Regent, who also got eaten.

  18. I think there’s a contradiction in when Scapegoat got up between:

    ““Hate my power, hate my power, hate it, hate it, hate it,” Scapegoat rasped. Wanton and Grace gave him a hand in standing. He was still making his way to his feet when Grace turned to me.”

    and:

    “I started to move to pick Scapegoat up off the ground, but Tattletale stopped me, putting one hand on my wrist.”

  19. I may be being too optimistic here but I think what Tattletale did was a decent move. At this point, Legend is having serious doubts about Cauldron but he doesn’t have the proper skills/powers to investigate without tipping someone off. I can see Legend reaching out to Tattletale to help him out.

  20. “Another way is that maybe now you can maybe be more wary when talking to Eidolon, or pay more attention when you start looking into Calvert’s daily life, see if anything points to Coil.”

    Was that “maybe” redundancy intentional?

  21. Why does everyone forget Vista?! When will we finally know whether she’s survived this or not?

    As to Tattletale: I do think that she is much too smug for her own good, but really, I totally saw this coming. It’s so in-character for her, how could anyone expect her to do something else? I mean, really, Tattletale is a Troll. Only on a much higher level. Of course she is going to troll the triumvirate, even if it is stupid!

    Furthermore, remember that especially the mental powers tend to change a persons brain. we see this with skitter, we know about bitch, why should tattletale be different? She may NOT BE ABLE to not troll people with her power! I never got the impression that she was completely sane, you know…

  22. First things first i ve been reading Worm for a while and since this is my first time commenting: I love your writing.
    Regarding Tattletale:
    Is it smug?
    Yes but like some people here stated and i agree its in character for her and maybe even due to her power having influenced her thinking processes.
    Is it dangerous to address the triumvirates involvment with cauldron?
    Yes and regarding how they take that comment there certainly will be some kind of fallout comming from that. I will not try to guess at what kind exactly since wildbow has surprised me time and again and i see the futility of that.
    But here s the thing: Is it wrong to bring that up now? I think not because they ll now go out and fight whats basically an Endbringer. We have seen in the fight before and the one against Leviathan that even with these many heros and villains helping there can be many casualties. So taking that into account it would make sense to me to make sure at least my teammates know of my suspicions and confirming them at the same time in case she dies. Thats why i think its not only her being smug but at same time being careful.
    Well that were my thoughts to that i ll now return to lurking and eagerly awaiting the next installment have fun y’all

    • I am still not completely convinced that Tattletale is not more sinister than we think. We see her as someone on Taylor’s side, but in reality, isn’t it Taylor that is on Tattletale’s side? Taylor, awesome though she is, was/is a really insecure and easily manipulated girl. Taylor’s entire physiological profile is so transparent to someone like Tattletale that she likely just lights up with target locations marked: “Push here for obedient follower, here to induce self harm, here for eating disorder”. Taylor has traded her old Queen Bee best friend for a new, and much more dangerous one.

      Tattletale still reads her like a book, and she has pushed or influenced all of Taylor’s decisions to date….and now she is setting Taylor up as the leader of the Undersiders, while at least to me it is apparent that it is Tattletale that pulls all the strings both in this relationship and in her “friendship” with Taylor. She has more in common with Emma than Taylor thinks, is my guess.

      But she is still my favorite!

      • That’s why she’s such an interesting character to watch. Personally, I really think tipping off the Triumvirate is going to bite her in the ass. These people have an utterly enormous amount of political/personal power. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that Cauldron rules the world, or is at least within a couple paces of doing so.

        • If this was like any other novel, Tattletale would almost get killed by the Triumvirate and Cauldron, only to be revealed to be a bad guy who manipulated everyone with plans within plans, only to turn out to be a good guy through heroic sacrifice and revealing her true history a la Professor Snape, leading someone on the other side of the apparent moral divide to name their kid after her.

          But Worm is not the typical novel, and Wildbow not the typical writer. We’ll just have to see.

  23. I really like that it’s now been explicitly mentioned that Tattletale is *extremely* similar to Emma. It’s very interesting that Taylor has been drawn to such a character twice–first with Emma, now with Tattletale/Lisa/Sarah.Tattletale’s seeming inability to resist telling people what she knows is either part of her power or, more likely, the fact that she’s kind of a bully.

    I’d love to see a confrontation between them, and I think Wildbow’s been dropping hints that one is brewing. Also, all Skitter has to do to be healed is…stay out of trouble.

    Welp, looks like she’ll be blind permanently.

      • Skitter has an amazing range and her best attacks are from a distance.
        With so many capes around to restrain Noele, perhaps Taylor can keep her distance.
        On the other hand, someone that faced an Endbringer one on one …

        • Yeah I can’t really get why she thinks she needs to be on the front lines. Her power is all about distance. Maybe she’s taken too many knocks to the head and thinks she’s a frontliner.

          • I’m not sure it’s about “needs to be on the front lines” — how many fights has she been in and *not* ended up going toe-to-toe with at least one opponent? Two? Three, if you count curb-stomping random completely-unpowered Merchants who wandered into her territory? I don’t call that “thinks she’s a frontliner”, I call that “thinks there’s no such thing as a rear”.

          • For there to be a front line and a rear, you need to know A. Where the enemy is, B. Where the enemy’s territory is and C. that the enemy can’t easily bypass your frontline ( all armchair general speak ofcourse, fucked if I’m an expert). Very few of the superhero fights we’ve seen so far have had any of that in play, too many people with wildly varying capabilities. It’s more like guerrilla warfare, frankly.

            Noelle can move fast, can find out where Skitter is, and wants her dead. She’d be stupid to think she could avoid getting into the thick of things.

          • As a relatively normal teenage girl, with no real super-defense or attack besides her bugs, she should really put more effort into not engaging the enemy directly. Sometimes the enemy gets the drop on you (Mannequin), or maybe your ranged attacks don’t affect them (Siberian, Mannequin again, even Noelle/Echidna). All I’m saying is that when many of your enemies could easily snap you like a twig and you have an amazing ranged power it’s better to actually use that power at range instead of in the thick of the fighting.

            Skitter did this pretty well against the Merchants, yes, but also against the ABB when they were out raiding with the other villains and during the bank robbery fighting the Wards. She was doing pretty well in the latter two encounters up to the point where Kid Win’s cannon blasted through the wall and Lung and Glory Girl burst into close quarters.

            There is something to be said for a person who seems to specialize in range to also have good melee abilities, throws the guy charging the “squishy” off when the squishy busts his shins with her baton (Triplicate Girl… yeah I can’t remember her name but she’s more or less the League of Superheros character anyway).

            I think Skitter’s won too many close fights by the skin of her teeth. Her luck has to run out eventually, and she really shouldn’t be relying on it in the first place.

        • There was alot of similar talk when she fought Triumph, STH. Basically she needs something as backup for the situation when someone DOES get close or is resistant to her bugs. While she wiped the floor with him, If Triumph had gotten close enough to shout at her, it would have been a game over. Some common ideas were bugs carrying bombs/being bombs. They are strong enough to carry small amounts of explosives in swarms and they would have made the mannequin fight much less risky. The other idea was to take advantage of the fact that she doesn’t really need to see to navigate around. So carrying smoke bombs or having blinding lights built in/on her mask she can blind anyone close while still being able to fight. If she really wants to fight dirty, take advantage of the fact that she seems to be immune to infections, poisons, and viruses as we saw when Panacea turned the air around them lethal. Only an idiot brings a gun to a biological weapons fight.

          • She’s not at all immune – the only reason Panacea didn’t kill her was that Bonesaw’s fumes killed Pan’s viruses, and last chapter she was practically paralyzed from Echidna’s diseases.

          • I could be wrong, but I read it as bonesaw’s sterilization fumes only work near the body. Otherwise her bugs would have died long before they could get near them. So while Jack was protected, Skitter wasn’t and Pan didn’t know why Skitter wasn’t dying. This implies that she might have some kind of immunity. Plus the fact that she can have bugs all over her with no ill effects.

      • I’d say Hobbes is anticipating Taylor violating the terms of the deal with Scapegoat and ending up with permanent blindness as a result.

        Of course, we don’t know that her blindness wasn’t *already* permanent. She hasn’t really had time to have it properly looked at.

  24. Anyone thinks that Bitch developed a crush on Weld since he did heroicly carve his way into Noelle to save her dogs & her friends?

  25. “Skitter,” Weld said, when I reached him and Miss Militia.

    “Thank you for the rescue,” I said. ”I can’t really sum it up in words, but… you were a big damn hero. I owe you.”

    “Imp got in touch with me, with a message from Tattletale. The two of them made a pretty convincing argument. Also, your clones were kicking our asses. You’re okay?”

    I offered a curt nod. I wasn’t, but it wouldn’t do to say so. Silence was a very effective tool, I was finding, because it spoke volumes and rarely put me into a less advantageous position. The more I talked, the more I risked revealing just how exhausted and battered I was feeling. It was better not to let them know that Mongo was just pawn in game of life.

    “Catastrophic, was the word Imp used,” Weld said, “when describing just what might happen if a clone got your power without any of your restraint. Not to mention the issues posed by the psychotic Grues. Your clones could commit mass murder on the scale of hundreds, but his threaten to lose us the battle while wearing Sailor Moon outfits. It really bugged all of us.”

    “And we suspect at least one survived,” Miss Militia said.

    I nodded. ”Hopefully my family won’t be killed while I save the day. There’s other capes who are just as dangerous as us. My power isn’t to turn bugs into bullets or rockets. You?”

    Weld looked at Miss Militia. She nodded. ”If anything, this situation is very illuminating, in terms of how bad some parahumans might be in a worst case scenario. There are some powers that are tame at first glance, but utterly disastrous if left unchecked. Remind me to tell you about Herpes Boy some day. It’s also a cautious tale about going so hard you burn out. Or Big Dick McGee. He stuck his nose where it didn’t belong.”

    “At least more people didn’t get their powers,” I said.

    “No,” Miss Militia said. “I wouldn’t say that.”

    There was a pause in the conversation. I wasn’t going to argue with or agree with her point, and neither she nor Weld were volunteering further information. Weld just stood by, one hand rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. The other rubbed his ass, as sheepishly as and sheep ever rubbed their ass.

    “Your team took off your armbands,” Miss Militia said.

    “Yes,” I replied.

    “You’re playing very loose within the scope of the rules, with the consequences I outlined.”

    “We’re rolling stones. Lone wolves. Cuddly baby tapirs,” I said.

    “Go on,” she said.

    “The clone told you things,” I ventured. “I wanted to address them before you jumped to conclusions. After all, I don’t want a hero trying to put a bullet in me for once again trying to save this city.”

    “You were conscious?” Weld asked, probably worried about that feel he had copped.

    I nodded.

    Weld spoke, “I understand if your clone was lying. Psychological warfare, creating division in the ranks. I’d be willing to believe the clone is capable of it, in light of our past experiences with you. No offense, but you have a ranking of Bitch 1. I had to tell my boss.”

    I didn’t respond right away. He was giving me a way out. I tried to get a sense of Miss Militia’s body language, using just my bugs: her arms were folded. It was a moment where I desperately wished I could see and get a better read on her.

    I’d always hated those parts in the TV shows and movies, where everything could be resolved with the simple truth. It was why I’d never been able to watch romantic comedies. It grated: the sitcom-esque comedic situations which would be resolved if people would only sit down, explain, and listen to one another, the tragedies which could have been prevented with a few simple words. Like that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer tried to be a comedian and got heckled.

    I didn’t want to be one of those tragedies.

    “Thomas Calvert was Coil,” I said. I kept my voice low enough that only the two of them would hear; I didn’t need to provoke a riot.

    “Beg pardon?” Weld asked.

    Miss Militia’s arms unfolded. She hooked her thumbs in her belt, silent.

    “Thomas Calvert got powers,” I said, “The ability to create a parallel reality where he could nudge things to unfold in different ways. Set wrong what once set right, hoping each leap was the leap home. He used those powers to make a lot of money with no risk, hired high power mercenaries, and then hired both the Travelers and us. The Undersiders.”

    Miss Militia shifted position, leaning against a wall with her arms folded. “A lot of what you say fits with what we know about Coil, but I’m not seeing where Thomas Calvert comes in. Other than, you know, you saying he’s the same person and winding up taking control of the PRT.”

    “His power meant anyone working under him could operate with less risk. Our plans were that much more likely to work, because we got two chances any time he was able to give us his attention. With that, we took over the city. At that point, he’d exhausted the use of the ‘Coil’ persona, so he staged his own death. He staged the deaths of those reporters, rigged the whole scene and set it up so it would play out like it did. And in the end, a body double was set to die in his place. His hired woman gets elected mayor in the aftermath, Piggot loses her job, and Thomas Calvert becomes head of the PRT. Though he didn’t have to put much work in on Piggot.”

    “You’re giving him a hell of a lot of credit,” Miss Militia said.

    “If you would stop assuming I’m lying for once, you’d realize it’s actually the right amount of credit. If you dig, you’ll probably be able to find some traces of it. Maybe the reporters who were on the scene only started working at a certain point, after he put them in position. Maybe you can follow the money trails. But he set everything up. Think about it for once. Don’t just be some reactionary force that swoops in and beats someone up once the genius plan has been thought up, the money raised, the materials acquired, and the weapon put together.”

    I raised one hand, counted off my points. “Through the Undersiders and Travelers, he would control all illicit activity in Brockton Bay, slowly moving on to the neighboring cities. Through his money, power and his activity as Coil, he would control local business and industry. Most of the construction companies that are rebuilding, all of the areas that are being bulldozed and rebuilt, he owned the land, he owned the businesses. He could do it all at a loss because he was able to get money in other ways. He was prepared to control the government through his puppets, and he controlled the heroes through his newly acquired position in the PRT. All in all, he was set to have an absolute grip over Brockton Bay and all of the major aspects of the city, all while your side was worried about patrols and PR.”

    “And you murdered him?” Miss Militia asked. “Your clone was telling the truth?”

    “My clone can’t handle the truth!” I said, and I had to pause to get my thoughts in order, “This dialogue of ours is going to play out far better if I don’t answer that question.”

    “Because you murdered him,” Weld said.

    “There are so many amendments in the Constitution, but I can only plead one. I plead da fif.”

  26. A thing just occurred to me:

    What sort of trauma would be involved in a trigger event that could produce Scapegoat’s powers (assuming they weren’t purchased from cauldron)?

    I can only think of him perhaps having been a helpless witness to a loved one’s suffering or even darker acting as a target of someone venting all their own pain and frustration…

  27. “I started to move to pick Scapegoat up off the ground, but Tattletale stopped me, putting one hand on my wrist.” I think he was helped up before this line. Grace and Wanton a few lines above this one. Moved to help support him would work?

  28. I have a question in regards to Clockblockers power and the Manton effect. I don’t know if this has been stated in another place so sorry if it has. The Manton says that a power can either effect organic or inorganic matter, so how come Clockblocker can put paper and people on pause?

    • Probably because his power only actually deals with time and not with the object being paused. Its a bit of rule lawyering but hey it works.

      • Oh now this is a very interesting thing to find out. I’ve been recently rereading the series and taking copious notes on the differences between the Wormverse and this one. I am planning on making a game for me and my buddies to play and it is set in your universe. I’ll send you the finished product when it is done if you would like.

        • Please announce this to the rest of us commenters as soon as it is done. I know that I personally would find this very interesting and would be glad to help if I could.

          • Oh, didn’t think anyone else would be interested in it honestly. It’s looking like it will be a semi free-form RPG with a few stats in the ways of strengths, knowledges, and uses d100 for random chances. I making this because I want to write up a story based around my players exploits.

          • Things like this always interest me, because it helps me understand balance and how other people think about game design.
            For instance, I agree with your choice of large scale randomization as the Wormverse demands it. However, I would most likely make use of physical and mental health stats, as well as primary physical offensive, primary physical defensive, primary mental offensive and primary mental defensive stats.
            I would also choose a random method of general power selection unless the characters decided to go the cauldron route, in which case they would have a random percent chance to become monsterous. If a leveling system was to be implemented, it would likely be capped at three to five, though given the nature of the Trump powerset, using Eidolon as a template, I’m not sure if it would be feasible.

            • Agreed.

              In case it hasn’t already been made clear – I wasn’t one of the ‘cool kids’, and wouldn’t be such even now. I remember a skit that was on TV when I was a kid, where people were labeled geeks, nerds or spazzes. I was (and to a large extent still am) a strong case for the trifecta, favoring the spaz. I was a daydreamer and I’ve since channeled that into my writing.

              Anyways, I like video games, and to a lesser extent, non-video games. And just like how I tend to analyze a story when I’m reading it, I like to follow a game’s design, oftentimes more than I like playing the games themselves.

              In short – I’m quite interested to hear how it goes and how it plays out, Jguy.

          • Well I’m a huge nerd myself and a big fan of D&D, hence why I am making this game. The stats will be very sparse and skeletal, just there as a base for RPing. For powers, it will just be what the character wants to have and then they need to give a detailed backstory on how they got it and such (trigger event, 2nd gen, or cauldron) with GM approval. Applying the Manton effect to make it interesting and hashing out what it can, and cannot, do.

            Already from a game perspective I’ve had to remove Thinker as a power classification and I’ve added in Senses in its place. It would be hard to roleplay a guy who is even a Thinker 5, as that would be so far beyond what we as normal people can even conceptualize without the player saying “Hey, give me the solution since I am smart enough to figure it out.” Senses took it’s place since a few characters in the story seemed to have enhanced senses tacked on to existing powers without a firm explanation as to why. Lung being the first that comes to mind, no offense Wildbow.

          • Thinker powers that work in a game sense could include Victor or Über’s. For the former, draining skill points/imposing a penalty for nearby opponent’s best skills, simultaneously adding to his own. For the latter, simply a pool of skill points that could be allocated at will.

            But for the likes of Coil, Contessa, Tattletale or Dinah, you’d be facing a bigger hurdle in trying to make the powers work in terms of gameplay.

          • Oho, so the mysterious Contessa is rated as a Thinker? We can add that to the very short list of things we know about her.

            Regarding the game, I’d definitely be interesting in knowing more about it as well; more Worm-related material cannot possibly be a bad thing.

          • Well Jguy, if you are going for the free form, I might have to try and codify a rigid rules Tabletop system. It will never be able to represent the full limit of parahuman capabilities, but I think I could probably get close given enough time.

        • Thinkers allocated a certain number of thinker points to be used somewhat flexibly given the situation, limited in number relative to their rating, with point discounts for something related to their specialty. At certain points where they can work, can use some of those points to build equipment, with built or acquired tools making it easier to build more.

          Or maybe it should be something like Fallout’s AP system where it’s a smaller amount of points that recover relatively briefly. Probably wipe out the whole bar for awhile when Thinkertech is built with lesser costs when thinking is done elsehwere for non-building purposes. Have a recovery bonus for sitting on a toilet.

          But then, I have no hands on experience with tabletop games, unfortunately.

          Just curious, what would the power classification be for a tactile technopath whose powers only work on something more or less computerized?

    • This also makes me wonder how does Clockblockers’ powers interact with Scapegoats’. If C.B touches S.G, would it be counted as a disruption, pause the time limit or stick the injuries permanently on S.G?

      • This is the part in DF where we yell “FOR SCIENCE!” and trap them in a crawl space together via directed magma flows and judicious hell spawn rampages. Something interesting is bound to happen.

  29. …I just realized: Skitter still had Flechette’s dart stuck in her shoulder. Brooks only removed the tips.

    Scapegoat’s life is sucking even worse than I thought.

  30. Belated note: I still love this bit right after Scapegoat finished:

    I opened my eyes, and I still couldn’t see. No. It was different. There wasn’t a white haze. I wiped at the lenses of my mask, and dried bile and blood flaked off, leaving them more or less clear.

    A nice touch, acknowledging that being blind means not noticing being blinded.

  31. The “mistake” is by a wide margin my most loathed of narrative clichés. After that partial reveal in the previous chapter seeing Taylor just waltz up and more or less cop to murdering Calvert was unspeakably cathartic.

  32. Uh, so just to confirm, at any point at all ever Skitter could have her heart replaced with one with a bullet through it by a Scapecoat in an alternate dimension? Cause that’s what’s happening in those dimensions right, Skitter is about to beat Noelle or whatever then boom they’re now blind…

    Great story telling mechanic that is, how lucky I bet that there’ll never be any Endbringer/alternate universe suddenly killing Skitter or something to that effect

    • Also I forgot to mention ages ago but where the fuck was Wanton during the Endbringer fight? All he had to do was fly into Leviathan and that would have been it over.

        • Being really useful there again, he turns into something that sucks all matter inside it, not really seeing how Endbringer’s are dealing with that when simple nano tech can beat them. Nanotech that works by removing atoms (made of matter)

          • 1) The nano tech could only penetrate so far into the “flesh” of an Endbringer, so sadly, that point is debunked.
            d) Wanton turns into a telekinetic storm, not a floating black hole of matter annihilation. Also, I don’t recall any passage saying he sucks all matter inside of himself. Please feel free to provide corrective evidence to prove me wrong, so I can join your side. As it stands, if he flies into Leviathan’s face, Leviathan will drown him.

            • “1) The nano tech could only penetrate so far into the “flesh” of an Endbringer, so sadly, that point is debunked.”

              The point was that they were made of matter, not that the nano tech could cut completely through it.


              d) Wanton turns into a telekinetic storm, not a floating black hole of matter annihilation.”

              My bad then

              “Also, I don’t recall any passage saying he sucks all matter inside of himself”

              Seem to remember all the radiation went inside him. Doesn’t really make sense if he is a telekentic storm

              “As it stands, if he flies into Leviathan’s face, Leviathan will drown him”

              How do you drown a telekinetic storm?

              • “He wouldn’t trust the nano-thorns to the same extent; they apparently couldn’t cut through the entirety of an Endbringer, but he’d do the same thing again.”

                Colin/Defiant: Interlude 16 (Donation Bonus #2), Monarch Arc.

              • I know but it’s not relevant if he turned into a black hole (which you said he didn’t so it doesn’t matter) since earlier on it was said that the atoms in the centre of the Endbringer were too dense for the nanotech too work. Beyond universal laws, so I’m assuming no electron cloud and just raw nucleus.

              • “How do you drown a telekinetic storm?”

                How do you kill an unkillable, physics-breaking, 30 foot tall, water-manipulating, death lizard with a guy who turns into a “shitty tornado” (as someone so eloquently put it)?

              • Throw it into the sun? Put it in a volcano? Put it in a black hole? Put it in the bird cage? Surround it with those nano tech things so that only it’s core is left? Have Fletcher have a reverse mace with spikes on the inside that open and shut completely immersing him? Also if you put the word unkillable in front of it that’s cheating and makes the rest irrelevant. Also “unkillable” beside “30 foot tall” is kind of silly. 30 foot tall is not really a big deal beside unkillable and physics breaking.

                If he’s just a tornado then I totally misread it as I already said but I’m sure Taylor said something about galaxies but whatever it’s no biggie.

    • Also: Uh, so just to confirm, at any point at all ever Skitter could have her heart replaced with one with a bullet through it by a Scapecoat in an alternate dimension? Cause that’s what’s happening in those dimensions right, Skitter is about to beat Noelle or whatever then boom they’re now blind…

      This is drunk people talk. Stahp it.
      Powers have been shown to have a Manton effect, preventing powers from harming the owners of said powers as well as limiting them. The whole “light a fire in your stomach” thing. I believe it’s fairly easy to see that the Manton effect is at work with Scapegoat’s power, allowing him to provide restorative effects and/or shoving off the accumulative agony onto another. If Skitter didn’t have a bullet in her heart when he touched her, no dimension where she had a bullet in her heart would be bothered with. That’s silly talk.

      • I think the argument is that Earth X has Skitter get shot in the heart. She needs healing so she asks Earth X’s Scapegoat. Earth X’s scapegoat proceeds to grab Skitter and swap her heart randomly for a safe one to heal. This swaps her heart with Earth Aleph’s Skitter. I want to say that this is as unlikely to happen as the Wanton soloing Leviathan thing…. but I can’t actually think of any reason why it couldn’t given what we know. (Aside from noting that the infinite set which contains possible worlds where Skitter is healed by Scapegoat is far far smaller than the infinite set containing all possible worlds with Skitter.)


      • Powers have been shown to have a Manton effect, preventing powers from harming the owners of said powers as well as limiting them. ”

        Not sure how the Manton effect is applicable here, that’s about powers being categorized by effecting living or non-living things.http://parahumans.wikia.com/wiki/Manton_effect

        Since Scapegoat can affect living things it’s not relevant.

        “. I believe it’s fairly easy to see that the Manton effect is at work with Scapegoat’s power, allowing him to provide restorative effects and/or shoving off the accumulative agony onto another.”

        His power was explicitly explained as taking the healthy bodies of quantum Skitter’s and replacing “real” Skitter’s injuries with it. Combined with Tattletale’s whole revelation about things being shunted in and out it means in another universe a Taylor who avoided having cracked ribs suddenly gained cracked ribs when Scapegoat works on “real”-Taylor. This could of course happen the other way, a random quantum-Taylor gets shot and quantum-Scapegoat heals her by switching with real-Taylor, I see where you might not be understanding as the end of your post seems to think that Scapegoat was bringing in a shot heart to the real Taylor when you’ve got it backwards.


        Tattletale explained, “Scapegoat’s effect operates on a quantum level. He’s digging through potential realities to find unhurt versions of you, versions of you that are close enough to who you are right now that everything fits together seamlessly.”

        “Except the injuries,” I said. Sensations were rippling over me, each simultaneous, and the simple contact of my costume against my skin or the ground under my feet was so intense that it felt electric.

        Tattletale nodded. “Except the injuries. For the time being, he’s patching you together with unhurt parts from the versions of Skitter from the other realities and other possibilities, and his own body serves as a bridge for that.””

        Also wtf out of the woodworks, where y’all been for the last 20 arcs

        • Point taken. Who says that he sends the injuries to the other realities? The entirety of the “have to stay close to me, can’t let me get hit or you’ll get all of this pain back” etc crap indicates that the injuries don’t leave this reality. Find an unhurt Skitter, use her as a template to rebuild Bet!Skitter. If she moves too far away, the template shatters and the injuries return. If he is hurt, the template shatters and the injuries return.

          • “Who says that he sends the injuries to the other realities?”

            Tattletale explained about the shunting with Scrub so I can’t see why it wouldn’t apply here. Scrub is replacing ground in this world with ground in anther world, air in this world with air in another world. So shouldn’t it be the case with this healer?

            “The entirety of the “have to stay close to me, can’t let me get hit or you’ll get all of this pain back” etc crap indicates that the injuries don’t leave this reality.”

            I’m assuming it’s to do with the incompatibility of parts, as similar as the two Skitter’s are, they’re going to have different things in their blood streams, different blood oxygen levels, etc. So he’s keeping it together. Not sure.

            >Find an unhurt Skitter, use her as a template to rebuild Bet!Skitter.

            But you could just use the DNA to rebuild it, you wouldn’t need to find a quantum clone, and the way Tattletale explained it it was definitely like he was pulling the healing in instead.

  33. “That she was showing deference or whichever would suggest something”

    “whichever” –> “whatever” … I would think.

  34. Still waiting for Skitter to read Chekov’s Prophecy, now that she can read again. Wouldn’t it be a darn shame if that paper in her belt’s too soaked with gore to read anymore?

  35. “I was hungry, thirsty, and I wanted to crash for fifteen or thirty minutes.”

    I stalled at this sentence and started to write this comment. Given what has happened to her in the last WEEK, I would recommend crashing for 15-30 DAYS. If she too has some kind of ‘super-power recovery’, it still seems reasonable to WANT more like 15-30 hours!

    That’s the biggest sticking point, to me, in the plausible deniability part of staying immersed in the story. Getting beaten, kicked, burned, thrown, bones broken, etc. and getting back in the saddle so fast for ALL of them. I know the S-level threats force them to keep going, but nobody seems to do much more than LIMP for more than a few minutes. Skitter has finally shown ‘some’ breathing and sight restrictions, but it doesn’t seem in proportion, yet.

    Then I read the rest of the post, with the ‘Scapegoat’ intervention. That definitely improves the ‘believability’ (and solves the problem of writing ‘blind’ Skitter’s POV — nice!), but I would still do a rephrase of the 15-30 minutes bit (too jarring). As the author, you’ve improved the writing relative to showing them ‘feeling it’, but I think you should expand that in some of the earlier chapters, too.

    Still — I mean this only as potentially helpful critiques for the eventual publication of your VAST limited edition hardcover set! This is AMAZING story-telling, overall!

    (Let’s see: Proust ~1.5MM words; JK Rowling ~ 1.1MM words & 8 movies; Diana Gabaldon 7+ novels [word count?- big as HP] & TV series in production … ) WB — Got an agent yet?

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