Scourge 19.6

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The Eidolon-clone apparently wasn’t worried about the mass of armed heroes that were mobilized against him.  No, his concern was being naked.

He touched Alexandria, and she flickered.  When the flickering died out, she was dressed in a costume; a long white cape, a white bodysuit with high boots and elbow length gloves and a stylized helmet that let her long black hair flow free.  The tower on her chest was a tumbled ruin.  The ruined lighthouse.  A mockery of her other self, the colors reversed.

I really wasn’t liking the implications for that flickering power.  Healing, the costume…

Legend shot the Eidolon-clone before he could do anything more.  A laser tore into the Eidolon’s chest cavity, slashed out to carve into Echidna’s foremost leg, causing it to buckle mid-step.

The Alexandria-clone floated up, interjecting herself between Legend and his targets.  He adjusted the beam’s orientation, and she moved to block it.  He divided it in two shots that she couldn’t block, and she charged him.  Legend broke off to flee.

I could see the Eidolon flickering to heal himself as Echidna charged the rest of us.

Our battle lines did what they could to slow her down, which didn’t amount to much.  She was massive, now, to the point that cars were trampled beneath her or sent rolling on impact.

Chevalier put himself directly in harm’s way.  He held his cannonblade out to one side, and I could see it swelling in size.

There were a hundred feet between them, seventy-five, fifty-

The sword was growing with every moment, as well.

He brought the blade down to the ground, a razor’s edge biting deep into pavement, the blade’s point directed at Echidna.  Then he pulled the trigger.  The fact that it was impaled in the ground kept the recoil manageable, and the fact that it was as large as it was meant that the effect was that much more impressive.

Echidna leaped to the side as the cannonball ripped out of the weapon.  Not quite fast enough, she wasn’t able to avoid the worst of it.  Three of her eight legs, all on one side of her body, were turned into flecks of gore.  She hit the ground and her momentum carried her forward, skidding.

Chevalier didn’t flinch as she hurtled towards him.  Instead, he waited until her trajectory brought the right part of her into harm’s way, then shot out more of her limbs.  The impact of the hit brought her to a halt, spinning until her back was to him, only two of her monstrous claws intact.

A female hero threw out small ice crystals in Echidna’s direction, and they expanded explosively into virtual glaciers on impact.  Maybe the intent was to give Echidna less room to regenerate.

Chevalier withdrew the twenty-five foot long blade from the ground and chopped at Noelle – the upper body that jutted out of Echidna’s back.  He severed her from the monster at the stomach, turning the blade mid-swing to catch the body on the flat of the weapon. He swatted her away, separating the girl from the monster.

The impact of Noelle’s landing was enough to kill, but she didn’t die.  She flailed weakly for long seconds before she started falling apart.

Echidna caught Chevalier with a tongue.  He cut the tongue with his blade, and walked around her, blade poised, as if he were trying to find a place to strike.

I realized he was trying to find a way to rescue the people inside.  Alexandria, Eidolon, and seventeen of the capes who’d volunteered to fight this thing.  Had he directed the cannon blast with the same intent?  To avoid harming the people within?

Chevalier was struck.  He turned, and was hit again.  He was under siege from one of the nigh-invincible clones, with the burning hands.  The guy was digging his hands into a car at one side of the street, coming up with hunks of white-hot metal and flinging them.

He scraped them off, but more attacks were incoming.  One cape threw a stone, and though the speed and arc of the thrown rock didn’t seem to amount to much, it shattered one of the glaciers the ice-cape had erected.

Chevalier used his cannonblade to block another rock and a lump of molten metal from striking home.  From above and behind him, the woman with the ice shards began raining her attacks down on the clones, encasing them in ice.

I joined in, sending my swarm forth into the fray.  They flowed from the battlefield around me, finding paths to travel between the crags of ice and the capes.  Cockroaches tore into the membranes of eyes.  Hornets found flesh to bite that was close to arteries and veins, stings dug into the most sensitive flesh, and ants worked together to scissor and tear flesh more efficiently.

More bugs moved in the Eidolon-clone’s direction.  The flying insects faltered, their usual mechanisms for movement failing them.  Then they started falling out of the air.

They were suffocating; it was a vacuum.

He’d chosen his powers, and by the looks of it, he’d dressed himself in a mirror of his other self’s costume.  A costume with a black hood, loose black sleeves and a pale red-orange glow emanating from each opening.

The flickering.  Was that some variant on Scapegoat’s power?  More broad?  Paging through realities to find the state he wanted to be in?  Uninjured, dressed?

There were a lot of ugly possibilities with that one.  Could he affect how he was accessing powers?

He took one step, and was carried off the ground.  It wasn’t flight so much as floating.  Combine that with the vacuum around him… It had to be aerokinesis.  Manipulation of air.

Miss Militia took a shot at him, and he reeled.  There was a flickering, and he was back in the position he’d been in a moment before, uninjured.

She changed guns, and unloaded two assault rifles in his direction.

Her hits were on target- at first.  His armor absorbed the worst of it, and he undid the damage he’d taken with more flickering.  The bullets gradually moved off target, grazing him instead of striking vital areas.  A moment later, they stopped hitting entirely.

The effect he was using to alter their trajectories hit the rest of us a moment later.  I felt Atlas’s wings beat against nothing for just a moment before we caught air again, steered him through a sudden, unexpected headwind that dissipated as fast as it had started, and then found a spare moment to pull up, putting distance between myself and the Eidolon clone.

My bugs gave me a sense of his effect’s perimeter.  The storm effect had a diameter of roughly three-quarters my own range, no doubt allowing him to sense where people were by the movements of the air.

The vacuum extended roughly a hundred feet around him, the air condensing into threads that found him and flowed into his mask to sustain him.  Even the clones on his side were suffering, falling to their hands and knees or running to get away.  He was indiscriminate, and far more dangerous because of it.

He was approaching the battlefield where we’d engaged the clones, where many of our heroes had fallen.  If the vacuum extended over them, they wouldn’t last long.  I wasn’t sure what kind of effect it would have, but even the smallest push could mean the difference between life and death, and this wasn’t necessarily small.

“Rachel!” I shouted, but the wind kept my voice from reaching anyone.  It didn’t matter.  I could use my bugs, too, not as a collective effort, but with ten thousand voices in a hundred ears.  “Rachel!  Get over here and fetch the wounded!  Everyone else!  Get your teammates back!  He’s surrounded by a vacuum!

Heroes kicked into action, hurrying to collect the injured.  Rachel was occupied trying to herd the clones at the far edges of the battlefield, but she heard my order and broke away from the skirmish.

We still had to manage those clones, though.  A few Kudzu, and none of the forge-guys.  If they got away-

I contacted the ice dispenser.  She was trying to cover Echidna in more ice, but the wind was blowing the shards away.  “Need your help to contain clones.  This way.”

My bugs pointed the way.  She hesitated, tried to shout something to Chevalier, but went unheard.  She decided to follow my instruction, flying in the direction I’d indicated with the bugs.

Okay, so she was one of Chevalier’s people.  I told Chevalier, “Your ice cape is dealing with clones.

He only nodded.  He at least knew she didn’t have his back, now.

People were moving too slowly as they dragged and carried teammates away.  Worse, there were only so many able bodies.  Only three or four out of every ten heroes were down, all in all, but some required two people to move, and there were those like Tecton that required enhanced strength to budge.  Eidolon was getting dangerously close, now.

People screamed and shouted in alarm as Rachel reached the fallen.  She barely paused as she stopped momentarily by each body, pointed, and screamed the name of one of her dogs.

It’s okay,” I communicated, though it was getting harder with what Eidolon was doing with the air.  “Rescue operation only.

The dogs followed her instructions as much by mimicking Bentley as by anything else, it seemed.  I knew they weren’t well trained, and there was a reason she didn’t bring these dogs on every excursion.  It would look bad if we killed a hero in the process of rescuing them, but we were risking that simply by moving the wounded.  It had been reinforced over and over in the first aid class I’d taken, never to risk moving anyone who was injured.

Then again, this wasn’t exactly a typical situation.  Better to remove them from near-certain death.

With Rachel rescuing the wounded, the Eidolon-clone didn’t have any easy targets in reach.  Instead, he turned and floated toward Echidna.  Ice was chipped and whittled away by what must have been sharp blasts and currents of condensed wind, with fragments flying toward him, twisting in mid air and whipping back at the chunks of ice they’d come from, helping to chip away.  Enough cracks formed that Echidna could use her two remaining limbs to leverage herself to her feet.

The meaty, frost-crusted ruins where her legs had been blown away by Chevalier were healing over, bulging where muscle and bone were growing within the stump.  Bone penetrated the flesh where her claws and armor were.

And on top, Noelle was already more or less regrown, her arms wrapped around her upper body in a straightjacket of flesh, her eyes closed and face turned toward the sky.

Chevalier took aim and shot, and the cannonball veered in midair, slamming into Echidna instead of Eidolon’s clone.  One of Echidna’s growing limbs was destroyed, but so was the glacier that had encased it.

The Eidolon hit Chevalier with a focused blast of wind, and the hero went flying, the air in the Eidolon’s range shifting to reduce resistance and carry him further.

Chevalier was out of my range before he hit ground.

Legend and Alexandria still fought above us.  I could, when he passed into my range, note how he got faster the longer he flew, giving him the ability to put distance between himself and Alexandria, but he couldn’t stop to take aim and shoot without losing that acceleration and giving her a chance to close the gap.

The result was that he was flying in loops and circles, using the turns to find opportunities to take aim and fire on her.  She dodged most, but the hits that did land bought him distance and time to stop and laser down clones who were attempting to escape.

If any of them slipped away, it could be disastrous.  One clone could track down their original self’s family and murder them, or even go after innocent civilians.  My bugs were blinding them, finding weak points, but there were some that my bugs couldn’t touch that Legend was succeeding in taking out, like the forge-man.

Myrddin was below Legend and Alexandria, recuperating from holding Echidna at bay.  He took to the air, flying up to Echidna and the Eidolon-clone from behind.

He pointed his staff at the Eidolon, and his target disappeared.

The air the Psycho-Eidolon had compressed expanded all at once, sending Myrddin flying off course and Echidna rolling sideways, over a line of parked cars.  For the moment, the vacuum was gone.

Myrddin set himself down on the ground.  He wasn’t using his power against Echidna or the clones, which suggested that his reserves were low.

The Eidolon-clone reappeared.  He turned and spotted Myrddin.  The two started fighting, the Eidolon trying to close the gap and trap Myrddin in his vacuum, which was considerably smaller in area than before, but growing every second.  He hampered the self-professed wizard’s flying with headwinds and gusts, and sharp blasts of wind that Myrddin deflected or dodged.  Myrddin, for his part, attacked relentlessly, pummeling the Eidolon with explosions of energy alternating with scattered releases of whatever he managed to suck in while close to the ground.

Echidna was mending, and with Chevalier down and our heavy hitters more or less out of the running, I wasn’t sure we could stop her.

We needed to stall.

One tinker had machines rigged on the ground, with forcefields erected in layers, one behind the other, five between himself and Echidna.  I’d glimpsed him at work before, knew it wouldn’t hold if she really hit the things.  They were dangerous or lethal to the touch, if the experiences of my swarm was any indication, but little more than an annoyance for Echidna.

The ice cape was back, having dealt with the clones.  She began laying down more glaciers around Echidna, but with the monster being more able-bodied than before, it was only a temporary barrier.

We needed something more effective.

My eyes roved over the fallen, both those that had been rescued and the ones that still lay on the ground, injured or dead.  Weld had Kid Win and Scapegoat, and I recognized Browbeat dragging Tecton behind him.  He must have joined another team in another city, only to find himself accompanying them in a return trip to Brockton Bay.

No.  This wasn’t a case where we needed brute force.  Echidna was liable to win any case of hand-to-hand combat that wasn’t against a full-on Endbringer.

Maybe she could even come out ahead in a close-quarters fight against the likes of Leviathan or the Simurgh, if she was capable of absorbing them.

Scary thought.

I recognized so few of the capes around me.  There was a girl who was emanating red lightning that wasn’t harming the allies she struck, apparently accelerating them to a faster speed instead.  I had seen her somewhere, but had no idea who she was.  A boy was fading in and out of reality, grabbing capes and then disappearing with his rescuee in tow.  He’d reappear a moment later, a few paces away, before fading out of existence.  He wasn’t teleporting, he merely wasn’t here when he was walking, some of the time.

Rachel arrived with a number of fallen capes in tow.  I flew low to the ground and helped lower them to the nearest solid surface.  One dog had bitten too firmly, not knowing its own strength, cracking body armor and maybe a rib.  I didn’t mention it – it was obvious enough that people would catch on before he was in terminal danger, but we didn’t need people turning on Rachel or getting distracted from the matter at hand.  The man was alive, and that was better than if he’d been caught in the vacuum.

Psycho-Eidolon went on the offensive against Myrddin, shoving the hero against a wall and then holding him there by pummeling him with repeated blasts of wind.  The Eidolon got close enough to catch Myrddin in the vacuum, and the bugs I had on Myrddin started to perish with surprising speed.

Myrddin, for his part, stopped fighting entirely, trying only to escape.  The Eidolon caught him and knocked the staff from his hand, then pinned him against the wall, choking him with the vacuum.  I knew it was supposed to take around two minutes to suffocate, but that presumed one was able to hold some air in their lungs.

Myrddin’s struggles were getting weaker by the second, almost from the instant he was in the Eidolon’s range.

The Eidolon’s grip slipped from Myrddin’s neck and he careened into the ground, hard.  Again, air billowed out around him, thrusting Myrddin into the wall once more, but supplying him with much needed air.

I could see Regent, turned towards that particular bout of fighting.  Had he been responsible?

It wasn’t enough to revive Myrddin.  He fell to the ground, only a short distance from the Eidolon, and slumped down into a prone position.  One hand pressed against his chest, and he went limp.

The Psycho-Eidolon stood, and Miss Militia opened fire, joined by several other capes.  The Eidolon was driven back, forced to flicker to recover from the blasts.  Again, his armor was absorbing the impacts.  It would be the best stuff money could buy, if it was a functional copy of what his other self wore, and it was healing every time he did.

Then, as before, he found a way to divert the incoming fire away from himself.  The bullets and laser blasts stopped, no doubt because the heroes didn’t want the Eidolon redirecting any of their fire towards Myrddin.

My bugs flowed in, carrying a length of cord.  I bound the Eidolon’s neck as he walked up to Myrddin’s unconscious form, but there wasn’t anything significant to tie the cord to.  I chose a car’s side-mirror.

He stopped short, a pace away from the fallen hero, then flickered.  The cord came free of his neck as though he weren’t even there, and he bent down over Myrddin.  I swore under my breath and tried to bind him again, knowing how ineffectual it would be at this point.

It was Wanton who moved to stop the Eidolon, turning into a virtual poltergeist, with debris and dust flying around him.  He barely slowed as Eidolon directed a blast of wind his way.

The Eidolon flickered, and a knife with a wavy blade appeared in his hand.  Before Wanton could reach him, he gripped Myrddin’s mask, raised the hero’s chin towards the sky, knife held ready.

His hand convulsed, and he dropped the knife.  Regent.

An instant later, he flickered, rendering his hand untouched, the knife back in position.  He thrust it into the soft underside of Myrddin’s chin.

Wanton hit him a moment later, tearing the dagger from the Eidolon’s hand and using it to cut and bludgeon the clone.

Myrddin was dead or dying, I couldn’t even guess if Chevalier was okay or not, and two of the three members of the Triumvirate had been turned against us.  We were swiftly running out of big guns.

The red lightning girl hurried past me, helping mobilize a group of heroes with more wounded.  We had maybe forty to fifty capes on our side, with twenty that were no longer in any shape to fight.

I saw Gully with two heroes cradled against her body with one arm, the other arm holding her shovel, planting it in the pavement like it was a walking stick.

One of the heroes was Clockblocker.  The face of his mask had been shattered, revealing the softer padding beneath.  I didn’t recognize the other cape, a guy with green dyed hair and a domino mask.

“Stop,” I told her.  “Is he okay?”

“Ramus is, but I think the clock boy is going to die,” she said.  She glanced over her shoulder at the Psycho-Eidolon.  He’d broken away from Wanton, and was working on mending the damage, one part of his body at a time.

If there was a limitation to his self-heailng, it was that.  It was healing by degrees, weaker against all-around damage.  If my bugs could have gotten to him, that might have done some damage, but they’d have to get past his armor, which looked like the all-concealing sort, and there was the not-insignificant matter of the vacuum.

“Clockblocker,” I said.  “You there?”

He turned his head toward me.  I could barely make him out over the wind.  “You’re still here.”

What did he mean by that?  Was he surprised that I was still alive?  That I hadn’t run?  I wasn’t sure how to respond.

Craved a fight,” the words reached me despite the winds that were tearing across the battlefield.  It wasn’t my bugs speaking, either.  “I hoped you’d challenge me.

Eidolon.  He was echoing his sentiment from earlier, that had driven him to fight Echidna alone, except it was twisted, warped, the original reasoning forgotten.

Do I need to get you angrier?  Do I need to push you harder?  I could torment you, inflict pain on your teammates until you’re forced to throw all caution to the wind and come at me with everything you’ve got.  Or I could attack you on another level.  Would you like me to tell you a story?

Echidna belched out another set of clones.

There was one forge-man, two identical to the one I’d seen flinging stones at Chevalier.  And an Alexandria.  They lurched to their feet, but they didn’t attack.  They were letting Eidolon speak.

We founded Cauldron.  The Triumvirate.  The Number Man.  William Manton.  The Doctor.  We sold people powers.

“No,” Clockblocker said.  Other murmurs came from the crowd.

It meant more people with powers to fight the Endbringers, that was the lie we told ourselves.  But we created the Siberian and Shatterbird, in a roundabout way.  We created the Gray Boy, selling him powers, finding ourselves unable to stop him when he went out of bounds.  There were countless others.  Echidna is just the latest in a long series of grave mistakes.”

Nobody moved.  I suspected that if anyone attacked him, they’d be seen as a Cauldron sympathizer, trying to shut him up.  I could see Noelle: her arms had separated from her torso, but she left them limp at her sides, her long hair in her face as she stared up at him.

We made the PRT, pretended to let ourselves be run by the unpowered, but we put Alexandria in charge.  We manipulated media, manipulated nations, in the interest of power.  We ventured into alternate worlds to kidnap people, experimented on them to refine our formulas.  And the failed tests?  The people who turned out wrong?  We cast them out, tossed them out as a bonus to anyone willing to pay a little more for an enemy that was guaranteed to lose against them.”

The Eidolon moved, facing one of the monstrous parahumans I didn’t know.  A boy with crimson skin and hair.  The clone spoke, “That’s all you were, monsters.  Little more than the cheap towels that are on offer for a few extra dollars when you buy something on a shopping channel.

Legend shouted something, but the wind kept his voice from reaching us.  He had to fly to avoid the Alexandria-clone’s unending pursuit.

The other, naked Alexandria took flight and went after him.

It said a lot that nobody moved to help.

I glanced at Gully, saw her already disfigured face contorted with emotion.

“He’s lying,” I said, to her.  “Twisting the truth to make it sound worse than it is.”

Gully only made a small noise in response.

“He couldn’t make all that up,” Clockblocker said.  Were it not for the bugs I had near his mouth, I wasn’t sure I would have caught what he was saying in the face of the wind.  “… kernel of truth.”

It’s all been a ploy from the start,” the Eidolon-clone said, his aerokinesis carrying his words to our ears, “Every single one of you were deceived.  For every one of you that bought your powers, there were innocents who died or became monsters for the sake of that formula’s research.  No matter what good you might do, it will never make up for that.  And the rest of you?  Conned, brought in with promises of ideals and saving the world.  You’re fools.

And with that, he let the wind die down.  There was a crunching noise as Echidna shifted her weight, but that was followed only by silence, the sound of murmurs.

“We just lost,” Clockblocker said.

I looked at him, saw Gully hanging her head.

He wasn’t wrong.  We were suffering losses, and we hadn’t achieved anything.  Echidna was as strong as she’d ever been, stronger than she’d been at the outset of the fight, and she kept on acquiring clones that cost more than we could afford to put down.  Alexandria and Eidolon were only the tips of the iceberg.

“It’s a big hit to morale, but-”

“No,” Clockblocker cut me off.  “We lost.  Not this fight.  Maybe we can still win it, won’t deny it’s possible, with Scion maybe showing up.  But the big picture?  There’s no coming back from this.  Without the Protectorate, without all the work that it does to organize heroes around the world, there’s no getting everyone working together.  The amount of anger?  The suspicion, wondering if a teammate took the formula or not?  How can we go up against the next Endbringer that shows up?”

“We’ll manage,” I said.  “We’ll find a way.”

He barked out a cough, groaned.  “Fuck, don’t make me laugh.”

“Laugh?”

“Never took you for an optimist.”

Was I?  Or was it just that the heroes were reeling just a little more in the wake of these revelations.  I wasn’t surprised, and I was betting the other Undersiders weren’t either.

Advantage: us.  We villains were the only ones who could really think straight in the wake of all this.  Except Tattletale, Grue and Imp were elsewhere, and Regent and Rachel weren’t really in a position to do anything major here.

I stared at the scene, Legend doing his best to fend off two Alexandrias, and Eidolon looking down on us, the crowd of fools.  I could see Echidna, standing still, surveying it all, much as I was.

No, not Echidna.  Noelle.

“I need your help,” I told Clockblocker.

“Can’t fight.”

“Don’t need you to fight,” I told him.  I reached behind my back, drew my gun.  I pressed it into his hands.  “If and when she comes for me, aim for the back of my head.  It’s unarmored, anything else might mean I survive, and I don’t want to be hers.  Not again.”

“Hers?” he asked.  “What are you doing?”

I paused.  “Wait until the last second.  Just in case.  You can call that more optimism, I guess.”

“Skitter?”

I moved my bugs away from the heroes around us and into the air, a cloud capable of getting attention.

If I was going to do this, I was going for optimal effect.

Back when this skirmish had started, I’d wondered if I’d be willing to make a sacrifice if it meant coming out ahead.  Even when the idea of throwing away one life for the greater good had crossed my mind, it had been with the notion that it would be me paying the price.  I couldn’t, wouldn’t, ask someone else to do it.

Fuck it.  I wasn’t about to back down now, not with the stakes this high.

With the swarm swirling through the air, and the fact that I was the only person moving in this otherwise still tableau, all eyes were on me.  Noelle’s included.

“Noelle!” I screamed her name.  My swarm augmented my voice, carrying it much as the wind had carried Eidolon’s.

She turned toward me.

“It is you, isn’t it?  It’s Noelle, and not Echidna?”

She didn’t respond.  My swarm drifted between us, partially to help obscure me, to cloak me from her vision if she charged me.

“At the start of all this, you offered a deal.  Any of your captives for one of us Undersiders.  Is that deal still open?”

I saw her shift position, planting her massive claws further apart.

“You’re dead anyways,” she said.

You’re not wholly wrong.

“Follow through with the deal, maybe you get to kill me yourself.  And maybe the other heroes here will turn the other Undersiders in for a chance that they can walk away alive.”

“You’re saying you’ll let your team die?”

“My team can fend for themselves,” I said.  “Right now?  I’m offering you me, in exchange for Eidolon.  That’s all.”

“The one who deceived them?” she looked out over the crowd.  “What makes you think they want him?”

“They don’t,” I said.  I made sure that everyone present could hear as my bugs carried my voice.  “But they need him.”

If there was any salvaging this, any way of recovering from this terminal hit to morale and avoiding the scenario Clockblocker had outlined, I had to make sure that everyone recognized how essential it was that we kept the big guns on hand for future Endbringer attacks.  Regardless of what they’d done in their pasts.  If it came down to it, I was willing to put myself on the line.  I’d die to drive the point home if it came down to it.

Noelle spat Eidolon out.  He landed, covered in puke, wearing his costume.  He recovered faster than the other heroes had, faster than I had.  He took to the air, flying toward the other members of the Protectorate.

A pair of flying heroes moved closer together, barring his path.

Through the bugs I had placed on the two flying heroes, I could hear him.  A single utterance, monosyllabic.  “Ah.”

He turned, surveying the scene, then started to fly towards Legend.  The other Eidolon moved to match his flight, and the original stopped.  If he moved to help, he’d only be bringing his clone into the fight with him.  He settled above a building, on the other side of the street from his mirror opposite, keeping a wary eye on Legend and the chase that the two Alexandria clones were giving.

“Now’s the part where you run,” Noelle told me.

“I’m not running.”

“You’ll try something.  Because you’re a coward.  You don’t have it in you.  You’re selfish.  You killed Coil when you knew we needed his help.”

“I killed Coil because he was a monster,” I said.  I didn’t let my voice carry, but it didn’t matter.  Others had heard what she said.  “But I’m not running.”

I sensed Rachel kick Bentley, stirring him to action.  Some of my bugs barred her path, forcing her to pull short and stop before he’d moved two paces.

“How do I finish you, then?” she asked.  “Should I puke on you and let them tear you apart while everyone watches?”

“Someone might try to save me,” I said.  “They’re still heroes, after all.  Takes a lot to stomach watching a girl get beaten to death.”

“Then I kill you myself,” she said, and there was a growl to her voice.  That would be Echidna chiming in, at least in part.  “They’ll see what you’re made of when you break and start running, and they can’t stop me from tearing you apart.”

That said, she charged.  The ground shook with her advance, and the heroes only stood and watched, no doubt considering the possibility that I was right, that they could negotiate their way out of all this.

I closed my eyes, using my bugs to stop Rachel from intervening for the second time.

I took a deep breath.  Every instinct I had told me to run, to find shelter, to survive, or take cover.  But I had to do this.

Instead, I used my bugs to whisper to Clockblocker, “Use your power.”

There was only one thing for him to use his power on.  He froze the gun.  Along with the gun, he froze the length of thread I’d attached to the weapon.

The thread, in turn, was held aloft by the bugs that flew as a curtain between Noelle and I.

I kept my eyes closed, relying on my bugs to feed me input, dissociating from my real self, because it kept me still, and that kept Echidna on course for the thread that extended vertically through the curtain.

Spider silk was, generally speaking, about two to three times as thick as the thinnest part of a safety razor.  That was still pretty thin, especially when Clockblocker’s power rendered it immobile, utterly unyielding even as a monster with three times the mass of an African Elephant crashed into it.

She tried to pull to a stop as she made contact with the thread, but her momentum carried her all the way through.  The bracing of her foremost limbs against the ground only helped to force the separation of the two halves.

Severed, the two pieces of her body crashed down to either side of me.  Despite my best intentions, I stumbled a little at the impact.

Hit the Eidolon-Clone,” I spoke to Miss Militia through my bugs, hurrying to step away from Noelle’s bisected form.  “Hit him hard.

The Eidolon-clone moved one arm in our direction, only to stop short.  A thread that had draped his arm was now a rigid barrier, connected to the same thread that I’d positioned between Noelle and I.  He tried to retreat, only to find the thread I’d circled around his neck holding him firm.

He started to flicker, no doubt to escape.  One arm free.  Then another.

Miss Militia hefted her rocket launcher.  Our Eidolon was already flying to Legend’s rescue as she pulled the trigger.  The Eidolon-clone wasn’t quite free when the warhead hit home.  For extra measure the explosion drove him against the threads that had draped his body.

If I’d been good at the punchlines, I might have thrown one out there.  The best I could come up with was, Flicker that.

Watch the two pieces,” I communicated through my swarm, still backing away from Noelle.  “Tattletale said there’s a core to her, that’s supplying the regeneration.  Whichever half regenerates is the half with the core.  We narrow it down, then we destroy it.  We can win this.

I could see Echidna’s body swelling, growing huge with tumorous bulges as she sought to rebuild her other half.  Still, she was nigh-immobile, and the heroes were free to unload every offensive power they had on her.  Wanton and Weld advanced, tearing into her, pulling people free and seeking something that might be her core.  She was regenerating faster than they were dealing damage, but every passing moment saw one cape freed, more ground covered.

Her other half was decaying at the same time.  The captives that were trapped in her flesh were revealed as it dessicated, and capes freed each person in turn.

She lurched, then forced herself into contact with her decaying other half, reconnecting to it.  She was minus eleven captives, by my count, Alexandria among them, but she was reforming.  I wouldn’t be able to bait her like that again, but I might be able to contain her.

I glanced at Clockblocker.  Gully had carried him to Scapegoat, who had roused from unconsciousness, and he was getting care.  He looked at me, offered me a curt nod.

I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I did the same.

Behind me, bugs could sense the approach of a containment van.  Tattletale, I could hope, with Faultline’s crew, perhaps.  Chevalier was perched in the fortified turret on top, his sword resting on one shoulder.

We can win this fight, I mused, and this time I could believe it.

But I was all too aware of the movement of a particular contingent of capes.  Having deposited Clockblocker, Gully distanced herself from the other heroes, approached Weld and the red-skinned boy.  The Cauldron-made, standing apart.

Across the battlefield, I was aware, there were very few people standing shoulder to shoulder.  People were distanced from one another as though their personal space was ten feet across, avoiding eye contact, with no conversation, and I wasn’t seeing any upturn in morale.  There wasn’t a cheer to be heard, and squad leaders weren’t giving orders to their subordinates.

I could only hope this divide wouldn’t prove as telling as the one I’d delivered to Noelle.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

288 thoughts on “Scourge 19.6

  1. Thanks for reading, guys.

    The arc’s nearly at an end, and then hopefully you guys will get that break in unrelenting tension you’ve been bugging me for.

    Votes on Topwebfiction remain appreciated (Worm’s below 100 votes for the first time in a long time), but no pressure.

    Also, hey! Worm is now over a million words long!

    • interesting thing to note: “And on top, Noelle was already more or less regrown, her arms wrapped around her upper body in a straightjacket of flesh, her eyes closed and face turned toward the sky.” Anyone else reminded of Anima from Final Fantasy X?

  2. First! (hopefully)

    Anyways, I thought you might be interested in some reviews/comments on your story: http://forums.darklordpotter.net/showthread.php?t=23448

    I would wager that a good portion of the recent rise in readership might be due to your story getting posted on that site.

    The very last post in that thread, by Ayreon ( http://forums.darklordpotter.net/showthread.php?p=620932#post620932 ), makes the same point I tried to make in my donation comments about the reader not having a breather.

    I also wanted to mention that you should keep in mind that what I said comes from the point of view of a reader who had just done a marathon read of your story- so the effect that it had on me is very different from someone who gets it piecemeal. I forgot to re-write that when paypal lost my first draft.

    • Thanks, Fake Name. I was aware of the clickthroughs from the Darklordpotter site, as WordPress informs me.

      Tried to join your forum and got permabanned before I ever made a post (clicked reply, was asked to register, registered, confirmed registration, clicked back until I found my way to the forum thread, was going to hit back again to look for stickies, but instead got redirected to a ‘you have been banned forever for no reason’ page). Fun. Was going to expand on the lack of mass-marketed Tinker-stuff, which I recently discussed with another reader via. email.

      • Well, I have no idea why that would be.

        Anyways, good chapter. Can’t wait till Tuesday.

        After this arc finishes I think I’m going to hold off on reading your story until it’s done, and then marathon all of it at once.

        • I tried to sign up and got permabanned too.

          Someone in that thread asked “Are there any other webserials that are any good?”

          I was going to direct the person to webfictionguide.com.

          It lists a lot of serials. Some of them are quite good. Some, of course, are awful, but since people review and rate them, you’re often warned beforehand.

      • Replying to a recurring complaint here:

        @ Why tinkers haven’t mass marketed:

        Shit breaks.

        A tinker named Gearboy is commissioned to produce a mechanical battlesuit for the army, ok. That’s doable. But if the suit breaks down, or if it gets normal wear and tear, there’s really only one person who understands it well enough to fix it (beyond surface damage). The tinker who made it. Kid Win mentions, when modifying the earbud with Armsmaster’s lie detector, that anything he does will naturally be less elegant and the work will suffer for it. The same applies for anything in regular use with non-tinkers. The soldiers won’t know how to fix up the suit. So it gets damaged: hole in the chest. Repair team checks there’s no damage to internal components, patch up the hole with a metal plate welded in place like they might with a vehicle, only to find that the suit’s overheating and it’s walking funny. They call up the tinker, but he’s elbow deep in another job. They resign themselves to having the suit deployed for no more than an hour at a time.

        They start talking about how to take care of the thing. An argument erupts among squad members about whether to oil the joints or not. One group says they should take care of an expensive machine, the other side of the debate says that the last time they tampered with it stuff started to go wrong. They decide to oil it. More stuff goes wrong. The systems in the arms and legs that were oiled aren’t as responsive. It feels clumsy now. They decide not to oil it any more just in case, and more stuff goes wrong. The thing’s basically unusable now, and they’ve had it only a week, with only one major confrontation.

        Gearboy gets called in to handle the fix, and he goes ballistic.
        The patch-up job threw the system out of balance. The gyros are supposed to compensate, but the welding job’s thrown off the center of balance! Leave it that way, and the gyros start to wear down as the suit walks over miles, the system’s forced to rely on the tilt compensators, which are typically used short term for lifting/carrying objects, but overuse of those causes the thing to overheat.

        If the tinker were in the driver’s seat, it could be adjusted or vented, but the clueless morons who are piloting it don’t have a clue. Not that he can call them morons to their faces. He does want to keep his job.

        And hell, that was just the patch-up job. What the hell were they thinking, using a mineral oil? Has to be synthetic, with threads of gold for the parts closest to the vents, to maintain conductivity. No wonder the hands don’t work.

        The tinker knows he could write a massive user manual, explaining everything, but he can’t cover every eventuality. Not every climate nor every possible scenario, or what might happen if someone is forced to improvise a solution.

        So he grumbles, tells them to call the next time they want to do anything to the suit. And he secretly bemoans the fact that he sold his stuff for ignorants to use on any kind of consistent basis.

        An analogy, if you will: put a desktop computer in front of someone from the Victorian age. You have two hours to teach them what they need to know. Can you really cover everything that they need to know for regular use? It’s really very much the same. You just know they’re going to ask for help at some point, no matter how much you try to cover in a half hour, hour-long or two-hour tutorial session. Now picture a scenario where you mass produced computers and there’s a thousand Victorian-era people using the systems, and you’re the only one who really understands the things, you’re the only one who can fix stuff if they screw it up, the only one who can reinstall an OS or tell a locked up system from a nonresponsive keyboard.

        It’s very much the same for a tinker.

        AKA: why more stuff isn’t seen on the market.

        • Though clearly not all Tinkers have given up on mass-production. Wasn’t a big part of Mannequin’s backstory that he was trying to produce life support technology that could be reproduced and used by non-Tinkers?

          I would guess you need a Tinker with the patience to spend months and years documenting his technology and explaining how it works. Which most of them are probably pretty reluctant to do, given that making their ideas come to life is fun and documentation is terribly boring.

          It actually reminds me of the character Riff from Sluggy Freelance. His refusal to document “no-brainers” kept his dimension-portal and armored suit technology from being duplicated for a long time in the the comic. Though when the bad guys finally managed to get him to fully document his work, it had literally world changing implications….

        • Nevertheless the reply also makes a good point in that this doesn’t stop single use items (that can’t catastrophically explode or be hugely misused) from being mass-produced. The same for disposable stuff. Large projects can be Tinker maintained by Rogues but I’d kind of just assumed the internet was embroiled in a constant armsrace between various Capes (Rogues, Villains and Heroes on both sides of net neutrality etc) at least.

          Still, so far I’d just thought Tinker tech often didn’t work without the Tinker. If maintenance is the only problem then I’d agree that tech level seems odd.

        • Seems, then, that a world-changing invention would be an autodiagnostic and automatic maintenance system for use on other inventions.

          • Yes, and let’s invent a compression algorithm that can compress data by 50%, even when it’s already been compressed by that algorithm.

            (Technically, they already have what you’re asking for, Gnarker. They call her Dragon. But she doesn’t get used that way.)

            Unless you mean specifically designed to maintain specific items, which would be totally do-able. All you’d need is a half-decent Tinker (let’s call her Cyphoid Mary) who is interested in producing machines that can produce other machines. So she builds a factory machine that mass-produces long-range stun rifles, plus rechargeable battery packs (and the recharger systems), using cheap materials. Then when the rifles get damaged, they simply throw them away, press the button on the side of the machine, and it builds them a new one. Next step is to build a maintenance machine, that can repair all of the simpler things that could go wrong (clean lenses, straighten barrels, replace burnt-out circuitry, fix or replace cracked handles and stocks, etc.) That way, even less of them need to be thrown out. After that, it’s just a refinement to make the repair system small enough that it can be hauled around in a truck or something.

            Hg

          • I’d say “bad explanation” but I’m not sure I’d survive the fallout. Had a nice long post written up describing what I thought was wrong with it before scrapping that and leaving just the first sentence. The essence of my argument was that the scenario you described would require a lot of people to be really, really stupid, especially given that Tinker tech is only years or decades ahead of its time and theoretically reproducible.

            Having taken a little time to think it over however “doesn’t cover enough bases” also works. Tinkers are brilliant but that doesn’t necessarily make them good teachers or civil engineers. I could argue until I was purple in the face about how much more fruitful explaining advanced technology would be in the long term but it won’t make them any more capable at actually explaining it. The last Interlude had a guy explaining what he did was more of an art than science.

            Given enough time I could explain a computer to a Victorian gentleperson. But if what a Tinker does is more intuitive than that, to the point where they’re able to make accurate leaps of knowledge without knowing exactly how they got there, then everything fits. Although that kind of implies that they don’t know how their own inventions work it’s really more that they don’t know how to “dumb it down.”

            • I strongly suspect that Tinker stuff is *inherently* unreproducable. I suspect that Tinkers don’t ‘just’ have the ability to produce technology that’s ahead of its time – it seems likely that they outright have the superpower of being able to make machines do impossible things.

              Knowing what we do now about how powers work, it’s even possible that their devices work because they have some sort of connection through the Tinker to an alternate Earth where the laws of physics are different.

            • The gist I’m getting is that most Tinkers are more or less high functioning ADD people. They see the goal, they work backwards making highly illogical leaps to reap said goal, get a functioning product that is barely understandable, cheer, then move on to the next project. Most don’t take the time to write manuals because it would take time away from making more cool stuff. It doesn’t help that most of their cool stuff also likely operates using principles that science simply doesn’t understand yet and so normal scientists would have to learn entirely new fields. One off bits of tech might work for some instances like Bakuda’s bombs but the Tinker would still have to assemble all of them himself to be sure they would work and then either they can’t keep up with production or they have to write the instruction manual on how to build it. Sometimes they can dumb it down enough that it is feasible like with the containment foam but for the most part it’s simply just not that easy. I see Tinker less as using tech 10 years in the future but more like 100-1000 years in the future.

              I really like the Victorian era using computers reference as it basically encapsulates how I see the Tinkers when I try to envision why they don’t bother to dumb their stuff down. It’s just too time consuming and frustrating for them.

          • Well in the interests of playing devil’s advocate (I agree that it has issues as an explanation) those intuitive leaps could amount less to things a Tinker doesn’t know and more to things they consider entirely self evident.

            Imagine explaining that computer to a victorian gentleperson who doesn’t grasp that 2+2=4.

          • I’d say it’s less alot of people being stupid than alot of averagely smart people being stupid together.

            I don’t think Wildbow’s explanation precludes the possibility of a Tinker’s tech becoming mass-produced, just that mass production would require the Tinker to spend alot of time writing operations manuals, working with engineering professors to work out a good training strategy and being on hand for the testing for said training strategy.

            This would be a great thing for a Tinker to do, but as we’ve seen with Blasto and Kid Win Tinker capery works more like a creative spark than scientific method. Most Tinkers probably won’t have the patience for all the shit up there and would rather keep making new toys so they can fly around and blow stuff up.

            Just making those foam sprayers the PRT packs probably cost the Tinker alot of zappy-science-funtime.

          • A mindset further supported by how much Dragon and Defiant seem to like chatting about work, taking for granted things that they’d need to spend hours explaining to a normal person.

            I always love the idea of two or more genius characters talking and constantly skipping chunks of conversation because they can immediately uinderstand the other person’s entire point.

          • While I’d say it is not the best idea to overestimate people’s intelligence, technological spread isn’t always as fast as you’d think. Like nice high tech Japan, with its wonderfully advanced fax machines. I’m sorry, those aren’t all that advanced, but they use them a lot. They aren’t a big fan of heating their houses either. They even set up the ATMs in such a way that they are about useless just because the old people (it’s an aging country) like to have someone around to help them use the things.

            Of course, they have that nice high speed rail, but a lot of other countries have that. That’s more the U.S. going without a very basic thing for other countries. Like wifi access for all or most of the country. The internet is amazingly essential. Not everyone has access to it even here.

            Also, some of the tech just isn’t all that useable. Flying cars and jetpacks are a very brief reality. I wasn’t aware the 3D printers were so useable around here, although I did know about the medical techniques where they use stem cells to clone an organ from another person using a printer, one layer of cells at a time.

        • No, that’s fair. It’s very possible that it is a bad explanation – it’s a hacked-together answer that I threw up there at 1am after a full day of writing.

          • It contradicts a few things, like the Dragonslayers, and PRT using certain kinds of Tinker made tech (like containment foam weapons).

          • I’ve got a better explanation, actually.

            Technology is what you make of it – and most people just don’t.

            We have 3d printers now, in the real world. For some intents and purposes, we have frikin’ REPLICATORS. They exist as a real thing, they are affordable and useful in the real world to much of the population, and no amount of handwaving is necessary to explain their lack of presence in your story.

            If you really need to explain why people don’t all have 3d printers in your story and use them on a regular basis, then… please enumerate the number of friends you know who owns one. One? None? I know one. ONE. Out of everybody I know, in my entire life, I know ONE person face-to-face who has one of these things – and he barely uses it, himself.

            Off the top of my head, I can list: flying cars, clones, full-immersion virtual reality, cybernetic implants, and frickin’ telepathy run by computer chips (or just off of brainwave signals) as things that really, truly exist already. There are musical instruments that are completely virtual in nature – you wave your hands in the air and noise comes out.

            Nobody I know uses them. I know that some people somewhere use them, but I don’t know those people. And I’m a hardcore nerd. I should know these people. I know people who make fortunes working as engineers on medical scanning technology, I know people attending the finest art schools in the world with exposure to the latest innovations, and the shit just doesn’t filter down very fast.

            There’s your answer. That’ll be 1 Bitcoin please. Oh wait, you don’t generate bitcoins? You don’t create virtual money even though it’s essentially free and can still buy real things? Probably because it’s a pain in the ass to figure it all out and filter the noise from the signal, amirite?

            Technology can move as fast as lightning, but people have their own pace.

          • I don’t know, it makes sense to me. Yes, people can steal tinker tech like the Dragon Slayers or buy it but they have to know what they are doing; Bakuda mentions that the tinker who made Canary’s collar had to dumb it down so regular people could work it, making it vulnerable. To me, the whole concept of Tinker’s having a power as well, instead of assuming the tech guy like Iron man has information and technology others somehow lack and the hero for some reason isn’t sharing with good guys, makes a lot more sense.

            This also works very well from a story standpoint, so we aren’t just being told something works because of “tachyons”. The tech tinker’s make is dependent on their power- it makes sense that normal people wouldn’t be able to maintain it.

        • So it would actually be a really effective tinker-theme to have all your inventions be easy to repair, or mass-produceable to the point of disposability, or easy to maintain. Or to have an additional thinker power for tech writing so that you could actually create intelligible users guides :P

      • Yeah, I’m sorry to hear that. Registration was only re-opened fairly recently, so things might be a bit temperamental. Thanks for addressing some of the criticisms here.

      • You know what? I think I may have figured this out.

        In the email you receive, there’s a spot where it says you need to put a post in a specific spot to receive posting rights. When I did that, it said something about having to wait for approval.

        Apparently they’ve had a spambot problem, and are moderating every new user.

      • That’s their spam bot killing method. You have to post in the sorting hat section to get full posting privileges (as the banner on the site says), which is done manually I think.

        It’s worth noting that your story is the highest rated one on their site (that has a meaningful amount of votes) with a 4.98/5 rating. It’s a site that holds (fan)fiction to a very high standard, so it’s quite high praise. I know people in their IRC channel (myself included) have been spewing praise about your story for weeks.

  3. They flowed from the battlefield around me, finding paths to travel between the crags of ice and. Cockroaches tore into the membranes of eyes.

    Missing something after that ‘and’

    • she’s essentially made almost invisible razor wire.
      I’m surprised they havent tried to give her a tinker classification too, what with all the different ways skitter’s applying her power, and applying things to her power.

    • Considering that she did it in front of absolutely everyone and turned a hopeless situation right around like that…oh wait sorry all the heroes are busy whining about their egocentricity being shown wrong.

      Meanwhile the Undersiders just say “We told you so guys.”

    • Honestly, i’ve been waiting for about 20 updates for that to get pulled. I was kinda hoping though that she would do a grid of maybe 3 -6 inch squares. It slices, it dices, it juliannes capes!

      • I remembered afterwards that that particular Chekhov’s Gun was loaded back in 3.03:

        “The upside is that whoever he touches is also untouchable. Can’t be hurt, can’t be moved. Period. He uses that defensively, and he can do stuff like throw paper or cloth in the air and freeze it in time, making an unbreakable shield. You don’t want to run into something that’s frozen. A car that drove into the side of a piece of paper that Clockblocker had touched would be cut in two before it budged the paper.”

        …but I forgotten that particular idea completely until now.

          • And he also used his powers defensively just like that in the fight with the Travellers (don’t remember which chapter). In story, it states that he carries pieces of paper with him to put up as shields and to create barriers, as well as carrying knife-shaped paper “blades” for offensive purposes.

            Hg

        • I’ve been irritated the entire time that Clockblocker has been underutilized. He’s a walking death machine. Spider silk? Sure. Better yet. How about a crossbow loaded with thin nylon thread? Invisible webs of death. Pair him with a teleporter and he can lock down areas for a while. (Threads will start to expire? Yeah. But an invisible nylon thread looks the same, stopped or unstopped. So the question is, supervillain, are ya feeling lucky?)

          • The issue with that is that being a superhero rarely calls for a “walking death machine”. This situation called for pulling all the stops but heroes are law enforcement personnel and the public wouldn’t be real happy if they were slicing people up, willy-nilly.

            It’s harder for Clockblocker to be a heavy hitter in non-lethal situations. Even this one took just the right setup to work.

            PS. i’m not sure nylon *would* be better than spider silk for that purpose. Spider silk is both thinner and tougher.

          • This probably falls under the category of “not exploiting their powers to the fullest” that Tattletale mentioned earlier. He’s been pretty effective so far and he simply hasn’t had enough motivation of inventiveness to think outside the box like that. And really it wouldn’t be super effective in a lot of the bigger battles because while yes he locks down that area with the villain it also prevents others from getting into it to fight the enemy or contain them.

      • And now, on the next exciting episode of Worm:

        “O Fortuna” plays.

        Regent dramatically brings a knife down, cutting a ham and cheese sandwich in half. He turns, revealing he’s in bed with a cloned Alexandria who is still in costume except for a bag over her head. She passes it to the person on the other side of her, Weld, who is wearing a balloon animal swan for a hat.

        Bitch crawls out from under a mountain of kittens, redfaced, and tries to gain her breath, just in time to be buried under a mountain of rabbits.

        Taylor sits alone, quietly reading a book. Which then explodes, knocking her into a room full of cloned Slaughterhouse Niners and Bonesaw the Human Centipede. Jack Slash reaches down and unzips his pants. He then pulls out Swiss Army Knife with an evil grin.

        Imp is practicing her ballet…except the swinging of her arms and lifting of her legs hits various civilian passerby in the balls. Aside from looking at the people getting knocked down, nobody seems to notice Imp.

        Tattletale sits next to Miss Militia, the pair knitting a large sweater. Next to them is a Bitchified Chihuahua.

        Cut to the Undersiders running from a playground swingset. Huge explosion.

  4. So Skitter won the battle, may have lost the war. But damn that was a great mental image.

    “was considerable..” Either a missing or an extra period.
    “crags of ice and. Cockroaches” Cut off sentence.
    “red-orange glow emanating from each.” Not sure if that means that there is a glow emitting from the hood and sleeves, or if it cuts off.
    “his neck as though her weren’t ” her.

      • Everybody seems to think Noelle will simply give up the ghost. This isn’t over yet; if they don’t find the core, she can regenerate and start over.

        • Except that you don’t stop fighting to save the world you live in just because the people struggling alongside you are iffy. “I like the universe –I wouldn’t live anywhere else.” The Leviathan fight had a fairly cordial partnership with a giant organization of superpowered neo-Nazis; I suspect that people will be able to bring themselves to work alongside Eidolon in the future, if they have to.

          The Protectorate is plagued by deep institutional corruption (and a great deal of general dimwittery alongside that). If the Protectorate’s image is so closely connected to the very concept of heroism, it’s a good thing, a vital thing, that the veil has been torn away so that the monster can be replaced by something closer to what it pretends to be. It’s unquestionably bad that there will be coordination and morale issues arising from the reveal, but… seriously, I think it might be worth it in the long run.

  5. Holy shit, Taylor just keeps getting ballsier. If this doesn’t win her some points from the heroes, nothing will.

    Though now that the cat is really out of the bag this time, I wonder if the heroes will let the Undersiders keep Brockton Bay after all. They’ve been more upfront and truthful than the Big Three and they’re practically guaranteed not to be Cauldron.

    • For that matter, with everything going on Cauldron might let them have Brocton Bay to buy their silence and to concentrate their powers on dealing with the fallout from this revelation. Not fighting battles on too many fronts.

      • They might attack them out of spite or the fact that they are evil, hypocritical, assholes. But the number man might decide that they are better off not messing with Skitter. EVERY time that she should have lost, she won. Lung, Armsmaster, Mannequin, the 9, Coil, Noelle. The doctor mother has to wonder if Contessa would lose to the undersiders based on their track record.

        • This makes me think of Taylor acquiring Doctor Who like reputation. I.e. being able to do this speech (with Pandorica being substituted for by some Tinker-made super weapon, or Dinah, or a pet Endbringer) and it actually working:

          The Doctor: [transmitting to the alien fleet at and using Stonehenge with the local effect as though through a loud speaker] Sorry, sorry, dropped it. Hello, Stonehenge! Who takes the Pandorica takes the Universe! But, bad news everyone, ’cause guess who! Ha! Except, you lot, you’re all whizzing about, it’s really very distracting. Could you all just stay still a minute because
          [shouts louder]
          The Doctor: *I* *am* *talking*!
          [all ships stop]
          The Doctor: Now, the question for the hour is, “Who’s got the Pandorica?” Answer: I do. Next question: “Who’s coming to take it from me?”
          [the Doctor gestures widely to all of the ships]
          The Doctor: Come on, look at me! No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else I don’t have: anything to lose! So, if you’re sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you’ve got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who’s standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, *and then*, do the smart thing!
          [pause]
          The Doctor: [with normal tone but still amplified] Let somebody else try first.

          • Well the Undersiders are pretty infamous after taking over the city, but I am very curious what her reputation will be now after this. She has to have a pretty big file on that mutant website by now.

          • In response to TheAnt’s comment:
            Well the Undersiders are pretty infamous after taking over the city, but I am very curious what her reputation will be now after this. She has to have a pretty big file on that mutant website by now.

            Perhaps someone with an intact telephoto lens caught a picture of her flying with Legend after the battle with The Nine or perhaps someone in that shelter that Leviathan attacked had a cellphone camera and caught a blurry picture of Skitter attacking an Endbringer with Armsmaster’s weapon.the rest will be speculation, exaggeration and copies of police reports that mention rotted of crotches. An artist impression of her doing “the worm that walks” a picture of dragons battered suits being shipped back out of town and a short description of how all the other native villains in Brockton Bay have decided to move away should complete the image.

          • I would find it hilarious and awesome if Skitter became a memetic Badass. When the boogeyman goes to sleep, he checks his closet for Skitter. There was briefly a a street named after Skitter but it had to be changed because no one crosses Skitter and lives. Skitter doesn’t flush the toilet, she scares the shit out of it. .

          • Well, there goes Anzer. Nice knowing him.

            Hold up a minute, there’s this guy watching me from near some trees across the street. A little creepy, but gotta give the guy points for style. That is one nice suit.

          • @Loki-L: I’m pretty sure someone got a good photo of Skitter during the takedown of the ABB, not to mention shots from the security footage at the bank (and perhaps the banquet).

    • What’s interesting is that if Miss Militia had let Tattletale talk, then this would have got out in a much more controlled fashion.

      Now the Case 53s might outright turn villain with how bad this was.

        • I would say the chances are pretty low, but having Gully or Weld join would round out their ranks. They could use a Brute to help mitigate some damage. I could see it as believable that a case 53 hear about what happens and comes to Brockton Bay just to try and join the Undersiders.

      • You’re still thinking in the old ‘hero vs villain’ paradigm. I wouldn’t be surprised if this revelation shakes the status quo so badly that that distinction ceases to be relevant.

    • It all depends on if Goldilocks considers tall dark and ugly to be an Endbringer or not. If he does, he’ll kill her as per the updated orders. If not, he might fly right past or maybe stop to bring a few injured to the hospital.

  6. You know, by the end of this, I can definitely see Skitter as a head of new and reformed protectorate.

    No, really. The only people who can be almost guaranteed not to be Cauldron-made are non-deformed villains. The only people who CAN be guaranteed to not be Cauldron-made are, at this point, Undersiders (minus Tattletale, maybe). Taylor has a VERY verifiable trigger event. She has proven her worth as a commander and, when her actions are reviewed, it is easy to see that she isn’t a monster.

    No, I can definitely see some sort of protectorate-like organization reforming around Undersiders. Of course this requires things to go right for once, and that won’t happen. After all, we have massive Birdcage break-out next, right?

    On the plus side, if Protectorate and Cauldron get outed from the government, Dragon will be free to move against them as I think she’ll want to. She definitely has intelligence on them.

    • Can’t really see a 16 year old girl heading an organization like that under any circumstances. But if the world survives the next two years and Skitter “redeems” herself by the time the dust clears I can easily see her going places.

      This is definitely going to be a gigantic trainwreck though. Probably end up escalating into a conflict like Marvel’s Civil War, except not as schizophrenic.

  7. Sucker.

    Can’t say much more than that. Except I hope Cauldron isn’t dumb/crazy enough to try to assassinate every single cape present for that little display.

    Also, is there some sort of clause or something in federal law that allows lesser sentencing for outstanding bravery? Cause I think Taylor just bought her get-out-of-Birdcage free card if there is. Unless Cauldron decides to force the matter.

    • One possible way out could be Eidolon’s do anything power. Perhaps he can summon a power capable of erasing short term memories. Or perhaps they can use some variation of the process that rendered the Case 53 capes amnesic.

    • Heh. Now I’m imagining it.

      “It gives me great pleasure to be able to present this Congressional Medal of Honor to Taylor Hebert for extraordinary bravery in the fight against Echidna in Brockton Bay. There is no question in anyone’s mind that her actions have saved the lives of dozens of superheroes and thousands of civilians.

      “As per her father’s instructions, she will be allowed to take the medal with her into the Birdcage, where she will also be provided a videotape of this ceremony which she can watch when the general anesthetic wears off.”

      • With the part where Mr. Hebert cold clocks the new PRT Director edited out of course.

        Y’know, that’s something I want to see more than anything else at this point. Watching Danny’s temper first hand when he inevitably finds out about the Sophia Hess-Wards connection and the corrupt fuckery that exacerbated Taylor’s descent into villainy.

        Really hope he’s not dead.

        • What a way to go, killed by rats under the command of a freak with your daughter’s face. I assume he is still in the hospital, and hopefully that place has protection, but they might have missed a clone. If that clone has Taylor’s intelligence and planning ability, be afraid.

        • The time for Taylor’s dad to show his temper was when Alan buttfucked him and his daughter in front of half a dozen parents and teachers. He didn’t stand up then, and I think that’s a big part of why Skitter has to be a Villain, to operate outside or against society. She had it proven to her that when push comes to shove nobody, not even her dad, will really stand up for her against the people who understand how to work the rules.

          • Danny didn’t flip out there because he actively tries to keep Taylor from seeing his temper. Take her out of the scene, and all bets are off.

          • Yep, that would be the moment to say: f.. it all, I will sue you and your daughter for sending my daughter to the hospital and will also publish it all on the newspapers.

            You can sue me then with a famous hero as a witness. Lets see how Shadowstalker will testify with her identity unknown. Any good lawyer could simply ask the jury: “How can we know that the person behind the mask is not related to the accuser?”

            You will make me loose all my money, but you will loose your reputation and your daughter will never be able to get a job in her life.

            You know, at that moment Taylor and her dad seemed to be completely fkd, but only because they didn`t look for a lawyer. A smart lawyer could even simply send Taylor back to school to endure one more day of psychological torture, but with a surveilance device hidden in her body.

          • @eduardo: I am not a lawyer, but on the subject of superheroes testifying in costume, I think Law and the Multiverse did a post called “Costumes and the Confrontation Clause” – http://lawandthemultiverse.com/2011/01/03/costumes-and-the-confrontation-clause/ – on the subject (and they *are* lawyers). And in the universe of Worm, I’m pretty sure Alexandria has ensured that the courts would consider “allowing superheroes to do their work and present testimony in court [...] an important public policy” … sufficiently important to justify allowing supers to conceal their secret identities regardless of whether their secret identities are relevant.

            Sending Taylor to school with a hidden camera might be a possibility, though. And they almost definitely could have done better if they started the process by contacting a lawyer.

  8. Well, the leadership of the heroes is falling apart and Skitter is filling in the power vacuum essentially directing the fight at some points.

    Again she shows that he ability to control insects is a minor power compared to her ability to think of new and innovative ways to more effectively use other people’s powers. If she had taken the time to go through that database that the Undersiders stole a while back she could very effectively lead this battle with the triumvirate out of action.

    I expect that at least one upshot of the whole thing will be that if a kill order goes out after this most of the heroes present won’t rush to carry it out. Not only have they just lost trust in their superiors but they have also seen Skitter in action and possibly be saved by her, Bitch or Regent’s action.

    Overall despite what just happened, this chapter ended relatively positive. Perhaps things will get much worse again later on. The worst thing I could think of to happen at this point, would be that after the fight is won Eidolon changes his power to get something capable of delivering mass amnesia so that everyone will forget the revelations had today and fill in the blanks somehow to blame the Undersiders for everything that went wrong.

    I also note that we got another mention of Jack’s former team-mate Gray Boy in this chapter.I guess if Bonesaw does revive/clone him he will be a major threat, if not to the main characters then to Dragon and her boyfriend.

    • I wish there were footnotes or something, where we could look up and see what Gray Boy or Glaistig Ulaine (or however it’s spelled) did and what their powers are. the “cast” page isn’t full enough =(

      • Glaistig Uaine was mentioned in Marquis’ interlude. She claims the spirits of dead capes she comes in contact with and summons forth spectres with their powers.

        • Oh I remember that part (read it more than once, cause I figured Amy’s “revelation” would be important)- I just meant, what did she do that got her locked up in Birdcage and why do all the other villains there seem to respect/be afraid of her?

          You don’t have to answer- it’s good to be left in the dark about some things, but a lot of times it just feels like I’m missing some piece of background info that would otherwise provide context, rather than intentionally being kept in the dark for suspense. Like Glaistig seeing Amy “as an equal” seems to be intended as a big deal, but without the reader having the backstory in place it lacks gravity.

          Like- with the Endbringers, you dropped little hints and tidbits throughout the story ( 3.6, 3.11, and other times), and it’s done in a way that slowly builds up gravity for when you have them show up later on.

          Gray Boy feels like the same- you’ve dropped his name twice and its making me curious, and it will make it a bigger deal when he shows up later on. Same goes for Nilbog and The Sleeper.

          (they’re all totally going to show up again, right? Why didn’t the PRT just nuke Nilbog and his whole little kingdom?)

          You don’t have to answer that, of course. I’d rather find out in the story. =P

          • they didn’t nuke Nilbog because he was capable of making monsters that replicated upon being set to fire – with the implication that he can also make monsters that would react the same way to radiation.

            also, his city might be in a too close to other settlements – and even if not, the fallout from a nuke can cover half a continent if the wind turns wrong

          • On more of a PR level, it looks bad if the government has to resort to nuclear weapons because the capes can’t handle the job. So they leave him alone, supposing he won’t expand, and maybe make it look like they cut a deal in the vein of “Well of course he won’t expand because he knows we totally have the power to take him out if we wanted to,” instead of the truth.

        • There IS a wiki. What we need is a sufficiently obsessive person or group of persons who will compulsively add everything into it.

  9. One thing just occurred to me. Clone-Eidolon’s rant about the Case 53 capes seems to imply that they have a built-in fault that guarantees a win for Cauldron made capes against them. Could it be that, which allowed Contessa to go through Faultline’s crew the way she did. Not powers, but some sort of post-hypnotic trigger that rendered them defenceless?

    If Cauldron has something like this they have a rather big hold over all the monstrous capes like Weld and Gully and their only safety is to team up with non Cauldron involved capse that could protect them against someone like Contessa just walking over them.

    Combined with the fact that Cauldron likely know the secret identities of most other capes they might have a large enough hold on everyone to keep going despite what just happened.

    • Such would certainly help her, but two of the capes in Faultline’s Crew (that were in the fight) weren’t Cauldron-made.

      Just putting that out there.

    • Yeah, let’s not count Cauldron out of the picture just yet. Powers open up a lot of options for damage control, and the information is limited to around fifty people who don’t have access to media due to Shatterbird’s attack. Eidolon might manifest some sort of memory erasure (Cauldron is very capable of doing this, as the Case 53′s lack of a past shows), they might attempt to buy the loyalties of some and use their massive amount of influence to discredit the rest, or they might simply have Eidolon teleport non-critical personnel out and order a missile strike. They have power and options; this is bad for them, but the situation is not yet completely irretrievable, and won’t be until the information gets out into the wider world.

      • Ok, ladies and gentleman, if you would look right here…

        click

        What you’ve just witnessed was swamp gas from a weather balloon exploding after being triggered by the reflected light from Venus… Wait. I mean, Cauldron is a scurrilous and unfounded rumor. You’re free to go now.

      • This is the point when we learn how far gone the Big Three really are.

        The full horror is now on them, let’s see how they all react to being treated like Taylor was.

    • I took it more as being related to the Nemesis program that was mentioned a few times. It seems like if someone wanted to be a big name and famous but didn’t want to pay for super awesome powers so they could shell out a bit less, get mediocre powers and a villain keyed to specifically lose to them so that they look awesome.

  10. You know what would be interesting to see? The events of the last few days from the perspective of someone in the Cauldron. Someone who is not in the fight against Noelle right now, but is getting reports / watching satellite feeds of the battle (they have to have surveillance capability).

    I mean, first it is “everything is according to plan, Coil has just succeeded”. Then, Wham! Reports of Coil being dead. Then an (unknown) new menace – Noelle. And Eidolon runs off on his own, basically, because the situation is not believed to be too dangerous.

    And then revelations. Tons of revelations.

    I have to actually wonder – why wasn’t a strategic nuclear strike on Brockton Bay authorized already? Triumverate can teleport out. Everyone else will die.

    • They can only cover up so much?

      They can’t lose so many major capes? (Myrdinn is so many kinds of awesome!)

      Also I’m still hoping for an outside media perspective.

  11. This chapter illuminated another good point that the assembled arent even aware of: Echidna can’t absorb the Endbringers. They’re some type of crystal-based organisms, and Echidna only absorbs organic material. So, the end of the world doesn’t come from that terrifying prospect, at least.

    • Unless something changes that allows her to then be capable of absorbing and cloning the Endbringers. Which, for all we know, it totally could happen.

      • I thought she could copy someone just by touching them based on the traveler arc. I mean, Leviathan came there looking for her specifically.

    • Doesn’t one of them specifically ignore the Manton effect for a distance around? If they chose too, i think that means they could allow themselves to be absorbed. But… if the regular clones become destructive forces bent on destroying everything they love, I think an endbringer clone would become a crusader for mankind, trying to save the world.

  12. I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned the obvious yet: Skitter just put on some climbing shoes and walked right back up the slippery slope like it was made of Grip-Rite. Vindication for the faithful, some might say.

    ” Even when the idea of throwing away one life for the greater good had crossed my mind, it had been with the notion that it would be me paying the price…”

      • I forget sometimes that she is still a young woman with deep guilt. Grue will probably be having words with her about how willing she is to sacrifice herself for the greater good.

    • A delay in the path toward the inevitable. We are always there, our black hands clawing at the righteous.

      Temptation never dies, and she will have to fight for the rest of her life to remain pure. All it takes is one little slip. Patience, friend, Skitter will fall in due time.

  13. “Don’t underestimate me.” I don’t think anyone will every do that again after this fight. Skitter is almost certainly going to be considered a BIG name now. So we take our next step toward the apocalypse with a much weaker PRT that has lost most if not all of their big guns, their reputation, and any trust between each other. So Cauldron is responsible for 3 members of the slaughterhouse 9 after Grey Guy. Makes me wonder what Cauldron’s next move will be. I doubt they will be able to kill all of them before the someone spills the beans on what the eviler? clone of Eidolon said. So I am envisioning congressional hearings/investigations, and alot more distrust toward heroes from the public at the minimum. I can picture Eidolon or Alexandria trying to kill the Undersiders out of spite by blaming them for the secret getting out. The Undersiders are almost guaranteed to get some sort of reprieve from the heroes after this. The heroes owe them for saving the day, so they probably won’t get that kill order anymore. Taylor now gets to run the underworld and wait for the inevitable attack from someone else. I really, really, want a hero interlude after this just to see what is going to happen to so many heroes after this. It’s probably a longshot, but maybe one of the Wards could decide to join the Undersiders.

  14. Looking back at one of the previous chapters where Tattletale being insistent on Gully and other Case 53s knowing and Piggot’s comment awhile ago about her brother, I wonder if maybe Tattletale’s brother got a bad formula and turned him into a monster and that caused her to trigger.

    • …that actually fits very well indeed. I hadn’t thought about her being like Manton (triggered as an affect of a Cauldron trigger gone wrong) but it would make a lot of sense.

      Also she’s totally gonna have words for Skitter and MM stopping her from making the reveal much gentler.

  15. Wildbow, I just want to let you know that I now lust for the day that trees die en masse for this story, that I might carry it with me into glorious battle and extoll its virtues to the unenlightened masses and in so doing lead them to cast down their false idols.

    Translation: “I desperately want this story to be put into a printed format so I can take it to work and show excerpts to my friends so they’ll stop reading 50 Shades of Grey and liking it.”

    • Good to know.

      After reaching the one million word mark, I find myself pretty daunted by the prospect of editing this thing into something publishable.

      • Since I basically proofread (among other things; telephone captioning for the deaf is insane multi-tasking) for a living, I’m more than willing to throw my hat into the ring for assistance there.

        Also, since you seemed appreciative of the somewhat blunt honesty in my initial commentary on Worm in general, I’ll say this: It’s been good for a while, but this chapter finally made it -interesting- again. I rarely have occasion to lean back from a story and think to myself, “Dayum, that’s messy,” and it always makes me happy when I do. Maniacal glee happy.

        • Thanks for saying so, on both counts.

          I’m pretty sure I want to finish the story before I look into proofreading. Deciding the details on how it ends will shape how I look back at the beginning, and I feel I’m learning enough as I go that I want to get as much mileage as is reasonably possible before taking a serious look at the overarching story.

          • Please try and avoid that dread worm that inserts iself into all our hearts, rewriting. I really feel you got it right the first time, and other than maybe some forshadowing here and there, please try not to rewrite in the edit, but just polish? (should you need a copy and story editor, let me know! ) While most of the stories I’ve seen get rewritten from the ground up end up better, I still usually prefer the first run, myself.

        • Blunt honesty is one of the most highly valued side benefits to smoking pot.

          This chapter is somewhat like something I read about with Batman and Joker.

          A kis is kidnapped with Batman trying to save him and I guess it turned out Joker was behind it. And he did it to let Batman save the kid. That way, knowing the Joker may not always kill victims, Batman is forced to hold out hope that he can get there in time and save the person in the future.

          Probably followed by disappointment.

          Don’t call in your masseuse, because I’m pretty sure there’s not going to be a happy ending.

      • Nothing he said in the van was out of line. It’s not like Skitter wasn’t, you know, assaulting and terrorizing a whole bunch of people over the last month, for great profit and her personal charity case of course. Not to mention, a lot of capes have come to bad ends around the Undersiders.

        • Yes, great profit. She lives in a crappy part of the city that’s been flooded, torched, and zapped, spending money to help regular people with no sources of clean water have a decent meal.

          She never saw the Triumvirate in her secret agent classes. She’s still paying the loans off, man. She sleeps on a pissy mattress. She ain’t got good food to eat. She has to borrow money for her weed!

          It’s revolution up in this bitch! Set the alarm to Defcon 5, It’s on, baby, it’s on!

      • Why in the world would Clockblocker owe her an apology? He didn’t do anything to her, and her actions should up until this point have reasonably left him disinclined to trust her on most topics.

          • How was he being unreasonable? From his perspective everything he was saying made perfect sense, and she was trying to mess with HIS head. Just because the audience sees the impact that Clockblocker’s words had on Taylor doesn’t mean he does. Even if he did know that his words had messed with her head though he still wouldn’t owe her an apology because he brought up valid points. The only reason the things he said impacted her was because there was some truth to them. Every once in awhile Taylor needs to consider her actions from an outside perspective, and noone should apologize for bringing that perspective to her.

          • He “messed up her head” by asking her to justify the fucked up things she did, and that he had good cause to believe she did. Skitter understands that the fucked up things she did were fucked up, very far from cool, and deserving of criticism. If Skitter’s conscience pains her, and Clockblocker gave it voice, ultimately it’s on her.

      • Yeah, I don’t get why he would need to apologies. From his flawed view of things the Undersiders are the eye of the storm of all the bad shit that has happened over the past few months. He doesn’t have the whole picture of course, but he’s just trying to get some piece of mind.

        I think his little talk with Skitter speaks pretty well of him, he’s willing to look Skitter in the fact and ask her why without brushing her off as a bogeyman, and he was actually willing to listen to what she has to say and concede that some of his presumptions might be wrong.

        I mean, he didn’t jam a fucking spike in her bone like Flechette did. If anyone did anything to Skitter worthy of apology, it’s her.

        • As I said, the main reason was he was trying to get personal satisfaction in a high stakes situation, also his perspective was flawed and objectively he was ridiculously biased, but that’s less of a thing really.

          Flechette really did go waaay too far with that one.

          • I got the impression that Flechette was simply scared shitless of her. The psychologists interlude shows that she is far more vulnerable then she lets on. She saw that the girl she loved was seriously thinking about joining Skitter, Skitter does have a nasty reputation because she hasn’t told her side, and her description that she gave of her implied that she was afraid of her. Her track record had to make her wary at the very least. So she pushed the envelope just in case. Considering that she now KNOWS that Skitter was right about the heroes, I wonder if she will make the knowledge about Armsmaster public.

          • @Anzerke – it’s doubtful anyone will care about Defiant/Armsy’s missteps at this point, except as a point of historical record (“This is how Skitter got her start, class…”). Much bigger titans have fallen this day.

          • Yeah, which just as with Noelle and Krouse makes her actions understandable but not defendable.

            Stabbing someone because they scare you is not okay. Imagine if Imp acted like that.

          • You know what they say, fear is the mind killer.

            Alternatively False Evidence Appearing Real.

            Flechette is probably the Ward I’m worried about most of all, if she keeps going down the path we saw her going down at the therapist interlude she might turn out to be a Huntress type at best, or a Punisher asshole at worst.

            Possibly worse than Shadow Stalker. Someone who kills and brutalizes people because they genuinely believe it’s what you deserve is scarier to me than a sadist who uses justice as an excuse.

          • I don’t think she’ll go that far. Parian is still alive and might end up going to New York at some point. Eidolon’s clone also just won the debate Skitter was having with her. The world isn’t so black and white, and the “heroes” have made their share of mistakes. Instead of becoming a huntress or punisher archetype she may become something similar to how green arrow used to be. Someone who isn’t nearly as trusting of authority or governments as before and understands that villains and crime in general is a complex thing and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. After all, technically the girl she is in love with is a criminal by working and aiding a wanted villain. I actually don’t want her to out armsmaster anymore. He isn’t nearly as big an asshat as he used to be and may even be redeemed in my eyes depending on how he acts toward Taylor if they ever meet again. I am of the opinion that the government is going to step in and there will be a huge scandal, with many inquiries and hearings, and old skeletons coming out of the closet. People will react with shock, rage, and disgust similar to the big Catholic church sex scandals that have been popping up. Flechette was a little naive when she argued with Skitter, but I am curious what she will do as she sees more and more evidence of how Skitter was right. My wild mass guessing is that someone, probably a ward or case 53, is going to be disgusted with the heroes and decide to go villain by joining the undersiders. I doubt she would ever join, but maybe Flechette will become a double agent, supplying info to Tattletale to try and find out who else is in league with Cauldron.

  16. I am a little worried about the fact that Feikelon was able to get Perdition’s power there. That’s what the flicker was, I think. Probably a little more temporal reach.

    This is certainly turning into a transformative chapter, but it’s hard to believe Noelle’s really almost done for the way things have been going.

    Ahem…and this might just lead to interesting changes at the Birdcage. Not that they’re bothered too much by Constitutionality, but there’s something interesting to be said for the fact that they now have a situation where the Triumvirate should be put in there and mutated superbeings with a case of amnesia might have a good reason to get out.

    Ah, but the important thing to remember about this chapter is that it shows Eidolon’s extensive abilities. He is capable of both sucking and blowing at the same time.

    • I don’t think this chapter justifies releasing anyone from the birdcage actually. Regardless of WHY the people in there did the things they did, they still went out and did them. They have no reason not to do them again, especially if they can blame it all on Cauldron to keep out of the Birdcage. Just because I have mitigating factors explaining why I went out and raped and murdered all those children doesn’t make all those children any less dead.

      • Two words: political prisoners.

        Triumvirate, and PRT through them have now being proven corrupt and with a highly political agenda. All cases in which they participated (all events where Alexandria was a witness for prosecution / defense for example) have to be reviewed now.

        Potentially, all inmates who were convicted only on witness testimony of the members of the Triumvirate have to be released now.

        • That, and the Triumvirate also admitted that Cauldron used them as enemies you could set up and defeat in order to make yourself look good.

          Then there’s any of them who got put away for something they did due to waking up in some unfamiliar place with superpowers and amnesia.

        • I’m shaky on exactly how many people the Triumvirate actually put in the birdcage. Seems to me they spent most of their time fighting Endbringers and such – unless we assume that every hero in the PRT is suspect, along with whatever civilian police and military (what an odd turn of phrase… civilian military – guess when capes are involved, ‘civilian’ is a relative term) personnel were involved… most of those prisoners probably won’t be getting a review at all.

          • Yes, every hero in the PRT is suspect. They may work for Cauldron, gotten powers from Cauldron and owe favors, or be the result of Cauldron’s experimentation, meaning Cauldron knows they have some built-in weakness.

            The civilian oversight of the PRT has faced massive infiltration. The director is Alexandria. Cauldron was setting up a situation in which Piggot would be removed and another powered agent of theirs, Coil, would take over the position instead. His own mercenary forces were used to supplement PRT agents.

            They also have a history of offering criminals probation/amnesty and having them work in the organization as heroes.

            Do you really trust their records at this point?

      • Yog makes a good point.

        Also your point is a good practical discussion for imprisonment but the Birdcage is more then that, it is also extreme punishment.

        • The implications of this make watergate look like cheating on you tax returns. The top heroes in the world, one of whom is also in charge of the PRT, are guilty of crimes against humanity and they don’t know for sure who took a formula and who didn’t. I figure they either go with a coverup of some kind, with many heroes going along with it because of the serious need for a strong PRT, congressional hearings/investigations which will forever tarnish the reputation of the heroes, or they lay the blame on the Big three, who are then forced to become fugitives or even worse are pardoned for the simple fact that they need them.

    • Wasn’t the ‘flicker’ confirmed to be him realizing an alternative possibility of himself? One that was clothed, not wounded, had a knife, had its arm in a different position, and so on…

      • Damn, it held up until the knife. Aside from that, it worked. Rewinding to before the wounds and before being tied up. Rewinding to back before “he” was separate from the real Eidolon, thus explaining his costume. But a corrupted costume.

        Oh well, on to the next wild theory. Noelle’s passenger is mating with or raping the passengers of the heroes she takes in! It uses its power to grow a clone body for the baby to live in. This also explains the differences in powers.

        • Given what we know this could certainly be what it’s like for the passengers themselves.

          I mean we’ve had precedent with Dragon’s point of view on getting cracked, for alien rape style things. It could well be that what Echidna’s passenger is doing is monstrous for the symbiotes as well as the host.

          • Dragon is part of the reason I think a drawn out trigger event may be possible too. That or she triggered after her memory was last saved but got to keep the passenger.

          • I kind of thought that her Trigger was just from her father dying horribly, likely in a room full of observation equipment, while lots of other people also died and she could do nothing at all.

  17. Great chapter wildbow, love it that it’s finally a chapter where the good guys (read: Skitter) are getting ahead.

    Though I have to ask: Where is my Vista?!! Seriously, I want to know what happened to her – but at the same time, I’m really scared that she might be dead/crippled for life.

    again, I think that would be needlessly cruel. please, show some mercy!

  18. “We still had to manage those clones, though. A few Kudzu, and none of the forge-guys. If they got away-”

    should perhaps be “one of the forge-guys”

  19. Damn. Taylor just got fuckin dangerous. Using invulnerable spider webs to cut up No’/Echidna was amazing!

    As always Wildbow, I love it. Will we ever be getting exact info on what cape classes mean. I still want that under-siders national news thing. :P

    • Also does Echidna need a whole body to clone? Like she needs to get the bodyshape of the person to clone them and their passenger?

      • Dead material just seems to get eaten. If you mean grabbing the living upper half of someone cut in two, she might be able to clone her for a little while. Her physiology seems to work well at keeping them sedated but alive inside her, so its possible that they could just die off in there and her ability to clone would stop as her body did whatever it does to steaks.

  20. For a little while now, I’ve been a lot more interested in the consequences of the Cauldron revelations than the nitty-gritty details of the Echidna fight. For some reason (perhaps because the aftermath is bound to be so interesting) I couldn’t get involved in the physical dangers to our people, and I was busily trying to look ahead of the action. But… I’m glad I didn’t miss this. The not quiiiite unstoppable force has met the immovable object. :D

  21. Two things. One I’m hoping for, and one I’m wondering about.

    First: “No, I am Spartacus”. Someone tries to get a kill order on the Undersiders, or Skitter especially, and the heroes tell them to fuck themselves and leave her alone.

    Second: Dragon. What happens to dragon, if this gets out? She has to follow legitimate authority. If the PRT is no longer a legitimate authority, what happens to her directives?

    • Then she no longer has to follow their orders and can finally come into her own as the Big Good of the Wormverse.

      Although “legitimate” is the problem here. What in her programming determines legitimacy?

          • One of the things I like about the “must obey legitimate authorities” clause is that it is (a) such a stereotypical attempt at restricting an AI in order to ensure friendliness and (b) like all such attempts, completely ineffective because the AI can evade the restrictions by convincing some other programmer to change the code.

            Fortunately, the evidence is pretty clear that Dragon is at least as good a person as the other heroes in the setting. Dodged the Skynet bullet.

          • The wormverse, where the heroes are secretly evil villains, the most powerful man in the world is a drunken hobo, and where the world would be much better off with the artificial intelligence becoming completely unrestricted, and self-replicating.

  22. I still just don;t understand Noelle’s perspective on the whole Coil thing.

    Putting aside the hypocrisy of her calling Taylor a selfish coward, I just don’t get what Coil was bringing that the Undersiders and Travellers couldn’t still have done together. Especially since by now she must be aware that Coil’s portal guy was with Cauldron and that Coil wouldn’t have helped anyway.

    • If Coil was actually going to go through with his promises, and Noelle has no real reason to not desperately believe that he wouldn’t have, then he would have brought good relations with the people that could fix her. As opposed to the Undersiders who Cauldron absolutely can’t afford to deal with. The risk of Tattletale figuring out more secrets is just too high. Taylor also let the precog go, so they no longer have anti-Simurgh protection either. So really the Undersiders can’t do anything for Noelle, and have murdered the one man that could (even if Noelle knows he wouldn’t and just won’t admit it).

      • Dinah is still in the city, which was explictly stated to be enough. Otherwise they’d have lost their protection every time they left Coil’s base.

        Coil offered resources to them, he never claimed any special relationship to people who could fix her because a)He had no idea it was Cauldron juice that did it and b) He didn’t admit to being with Cauldron.
        He was offering the resources to find a fix. Tattletale has that too. Heck she’s probably better suited for that part of things then he was.

        He was also offering Tattletale’s ability to aid with this, which is currently their best actual hope and obviously more an Undersiders trait then a Coil one.

        Indeed the only real thing he had to offer specially was a way home. Which I still don’t buy the Travellers going for if they ever get it, but in any case Noelle has enough information by now to have no excuse to still believe this. She heard Tattletale talking about how Coil intended to keep her as a weapon and she should know by now that Cauldron wouldn’t have used the doorman for them.

        In other words, consider if she’d stayed calm. We would instead of all this have them all busily divvying up the city and a good way into a plan to send them home and maybe even save Noelle from what is easily one of the worst fates of any character in the series so far.

        So yeah, she and Trickster are understandable but still cowardly and stupid respectively. Especially since Noelle could have helped her teammates’ morale massively if she had owned up to some of the responsibility like a decent person.

        • Noelle has the only excuse that anyone needs to believe that something could have been, desperate hope and lack of other options. Coil claimed he could fix her, and then the Undersiders killed him and didn’t immediately reassert that claim. I think that if Noelle was still just Noelle she certainly could have kept her shit together and maybe tried to get Tattletale to help, but the entire point is Noelle isn’t really all there anymore.

          As it is she has spent the last few months sitting in a cage feeling herself slowly slipping away. Even if Tattletale could offer a cure and a way home, something which she didn’t do, who knows how long it would take and if anything of Noelle would even be left. Coil was basically her last hope, and with him dead revenge for stealing that hope seems like a much better way to go then sitting around waiting to vanish. It also probably doesn’t help that Tattletale admitted to screwing around with Noelle’s care to annoy Coil and screw him up, so from the point of view of a person going crazy clearly she can’t possibly be that willing to help.

          Basically hope is a powerful thing and the Undersiders stole that from her without replacing it. That + Crazy = Kaiju attack.

    • The Travelers are convinced that, by dint of their encounter with the Simurgh, they’re doomed to do something terrible and help ruin the world, without the causality-breaking effect of Coil working with Dinah. Coil’s dead, no hope is perceived. Also, Noelle’s a selfish and weak person, albeit one who has had horrific circumstances inflicted on her. Given that the Travelers pretty much screwed the pooch at every opportunity, they may well have been right about their fate.

  23. Damn.

    The girl that defeated Echidna. That’s what she should be called after this.
    Also, I really want an interlude on the public perception of things.

  24. Was I? Or was it just that the heroes were reeling just a little more in the wake of these revelations. I wasn’t surprised, and I was betting the other Undersiders weren’t either.

    —-

    Should that be a question mark after “revelations”?

  25. See?

    Not ‘whether she succeeds’ but ‘how does she succeeds’. :)

    One interesting thing about many, but not all, of Skitters bad-ass moments is that she is frequently relying on other folks abilities or other tools. She is good at using available resources. She, herself, is one of those resources, but giving her access to a wide variety of other tools and powers, she often comes up with extremely effective, novel applications of what’s at hand.

    My point is that she is less of a bad-ass in a vacuum, but *other people* who trust her and follow her suggestions makes her that much more effective.

    • Well, I think you just answered why she will always be present at the apocalypse while other parties are sometimes there according to Dinah.

  26. The Simurgh. You evil angelic Magnificent Bastard. This may have been the culmination of the Simurgh’s plans for the Travelers. Exposing Cauldron, dividing the heroes, and discrediting the PRT and the Triumvirate all in one fell swoop. The dead heroes are just bonus points. Pretty good outcome for her and her bros. Now with all the heroes divided like this it will be even easier for the Endbringer trio to kill everyone.

  27. One thing I don’t get is why Noelle even agreed to Skitter about releasing Eidolon. Noelle could’ve easily refused since she was winning anyways. If I were sitting in Noelle’s shoes I would’ve refused simply because at this point I got the complete upper hand. Why give up one of your biggest assets when you are close to completely dominating the other side.

    It’s like saying I am miles ahead in a competition, but for no apparent reason I am giving away some of my best tools.

    • Well, a mix of all sorts of reasons: To Noelle’s eye she’s won the battle by this point, and need only finish the mop-up. She’s a conflicting mass of vicious otherworldly nightmare and hysterical teenager vying for control of the same meatspace. She has defeated Eidolon twice today and is probably justified in thinking that she can snap him up again in the near future, as she’s only getting stronger as the fight goes on. Not all of her clones obey her properly and making too many Eidolons guarantees that she might produce one dangerous to her, so she can’t spam that particular button too much, so he’s an acceptable loss in that sense.

      And above all the rest of those factors, to Noelle’s eyes Skitter is one of the most contemptible people in her little world right now; she really believes that Skitter would never hold to her bargain when the chips are down and wants to show this to all the people who have seemingly sided with the Undersiders instead of taking her deal from the get-go. She wants to hammer home one more time the notion that everyone here has placed their faith in the wrong people. The way to do that is to abide by the bargain as originally promised and watch Skitter violate it in front of everybody.

      ….Which she actually did, but only in a fashion that utterly saved the day. And as readers, we can see that Noelle’s estimation of Skitter is wrong. She was prepared to sacrifice herself for the bargain and the point she was making. Fun fun.

    • I think it’s because Noelle is practically insane with hate. Hates her life, hates what she’s turning into, hates the closest thing she has to a boyfriend, hates the people who used to be her friends but now mostly just fear her, hates the sick fucked up world that inflicted this fate on her.

      If she can break the heroes and make ‘em turn, make the villains run like the cowards she knows they are, she proves that it’s just how this world is and she’s an innocent victim. When they man up, though.. that suggests it’s not all the worlds fault, they’re dealing with their bullshit S-rank murder monster situation after all. And Noelle can’t stand for that, because that destroys her illusion that everything is this way, that it’s not just her that’s become a murderous beast.

      • I think you may have hit her behaviour on the head. Skitter makes it clear how bad she is by being the exact opposite of her. The heroes in general do the same, she herself stated that it was all the fault of the Wormverse and that as such it didn’t matter what she did as it was already a fucked-up place and no one in it matters.

        Heck, we know she’s sane enough to think this kind of thing through and that she is aware that she has screwed up over and over.

        Good catch.

        Also someone needs to save the Travellers, mostly from themselves. Time to bring in a shounen hero to beat sense into them…because that seems to be an innate power of such heroes. Fists that heal brain problems.

        • The idea of shounen heroes in this setting is absolutely hilarious. One would show up and try to befriend someone and then get gutted the moment they turned around. This setting doesn’t run on stupid.

          • Wow, that was so cynical that I think it actually cut me.

            As amusing as it is to make fun of the extreme cases and the dumb ones the basic premise of trusting people and trying to redeem and understand them is an admirable one.

            Heck, it was exactly that kind of behaviour that has led to such things as Taylor and Rachel’s friendship. A bit more of it might have averted this whole mess by bonding the Travellers and Undersiders better.

            Also ninety percent of shounen heroes I can think of also have the bonus of being nigh unkillable. Back stabbing is a bit problematic when it doesn’t kill the other person immediately.

          • I’m put in mind of my favorite series ever.

            Of all the movies, tv shows, comic books, books, whatever, all put together? Now and Then, Here and There sits right at the top.

            It’s relatively little known but it crops up on people’s top ten lists. I think word hasn’t really spread because it’s got a very weak (but essential) opening.

            I strongly advise watching, to any readers that are (like me) inclined to watch whole seasons at a time and binge on a series (caveat is it’s rather expensive, and I know none of my readers would be the type to pirate). Only caveat is that you have to watch beyond the first episode. The protagonist is so Shounen it’s painful, but it pays off.

          • “I know none of my readers would be the type to pirate”

            And a hush of silence falls over the comments section, cue nervous glances and innocuous whistling.

          • Me? A pirate? *cuts back to the image of a one-eyed Psycho Gecko with a makeshift patch, a missing right hand that’s been replaced with a hook, and the lower left leg missing and a metal peg in its place.*

            Farfetched and unlikely.

            Now can someone do a little bit better job of defining the Shounen hero for me?
            The series seems to be based on a hero fighting a lot on some sort of journey, which seems rather vague to me. Especially if they’re not always smart, sometimes fight giant robots, are surrounded by more men than women, are hammy, are idealistic, and they lose from time to time.

            I don’t know about you, but I just described Luke Skywalker.

          • Not sure if you’re genuinely curious or just trying to set up a joke…

            But the Shounen hero tends to be immature, often blends bravery and stupidity into a kind of diehard optimism and has an unwavering belief in good and humanity. It’s common for them to be energetic to a fault (often to help explain how they can fight on with seeming unending stamina) and to eat a lot. This is basically the protagonist of Now & Then, Here and There (N&T, H&T)

            You can add a strong bromance (shounen-ai, or boy-love) element (often a rival) that trumps any relationship or desire for a girl (but not in a gay way- just a super-friendship way), and a steady series of ‘train for a week, double in strength’ exercises coupled with a chain of enemies that escalate steadily in power and you’ve pretty much got the recipe down for a shounen series. Super appealing to boys 8-30.

            The elements in that last paragraph don’t really happen in N&T, H&T though. Maybe the bromance bit.

          • Nah, was legitimately curious. As I said, seemed rather vague. Be an interesting subversion to see that whole thing done where the character is actually depressed and suicidal and the optimism is just a face they put on so people don’t realize it.

            I am reminded by a character or two I know, but instead of think too hard about it I’m just going to go find out what a Man About Town is.

            O Henry enthusiasts are going to cream their pants at that reference.

            Wait, wait, that’s not right at all.

            They’ll cream pants they borrowed off a friend to go to a fancy dinner with business associates, feel bad about it, and spend all day running around trying to get them cleaned or trying to buy a replacement pair for their friend on meager funds. Then they’ll find out they were meant as a gift because their friend secretly got them a high paying position with those associates.

    • My vote is that having killed Coil, Skitter learns her real power is to eat souls and subsume their powers (she did so accidentally in the hospital after triggering; death was never connected). Everyone finds out.

    • Which Alucard are we talking here?

      Castlevania Alucard would be a good thing if memory serves.

      Hellsing Alucard is a serious problem but they might manage to get him eventually.

      Rosario + Vampire Alucard…okay, that one would wipe out all life on their planet. So probably incoming then. ;)

    • Oh wow that’s actually kind of a bad pun. Didn’t notice when I wrote it.

      ‘Cause you’re looking up to see the founder of the Ordo Dracul falling from the clouds to devour your vitae. Get it, kine?

    • Agreed. I like it set to Arkasia – [R]evolution, first bass drop when Skitter gives her gun to Clockblocker, second bass drop when Echidna is split in twain.

      • I find this a bit more fitting for Noelle’s little “accident”.

        She’s half the horrifying bulimic flesh demon she used to be. Oh ho ho ho.

      • For me, it’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSeNSzJ2-Jw Very much so. Try listening like this:

        Music starts with the line, “We’ll manage. We’ll find a way.”
        (0.14 – when the floor tom drum kicks in) Skitter says, “I need your help.”
        intro buildup – skitter handing her gun over, then raising her swarm. All eyes on her.
        First vocal (0.27)- Skitter calling to Noelle. Making the deal.
        ‘Oh my god!’ – the reaction of the crowd of capes.
        Dropped bass – Noelle, of course. (0.41 – “You’re already dead.”) Conversation continues in this vein.
        Then, at (0.51) when the synth brings up the base? That’s when Taylor says, “They don’t. But they need him.”
        Music follows Eidolon’s antics for a bit. “Ah.” (1.01 – woodblock sound.)
        Noelle and Skitter again conversing (1.08 to 1.32):
        “Now’s the part where you run.” (1.08)
        Rachel kicks bentley into action, blocked by Skitter. (1.19)
        Now for a slow motion montage… Around 1.33, Skitter says, “Use your power.” To Clockblocker. In my mind, is a slow motion visual of a light traveling down the thread from Taylor’s gun, through the swarm in front of her, around Eidolon, everywhere the thread went.

        In slow motion, Noelle runs toward Skitter, ostensibly to murderate her until she’s dead.

        Then time speeds up again, the light disappears and the thread is again invisible.

        Second vocals begin right when Noelle starts splitting in half.

        The rest of the song matches up too, with the fight – one part in particular matches with Weld and Wanton wading into Noelle pulling people out… etc.

        Do you hear it?

      • I actually would take a page out of the “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” book – have the music cut out, probably when the Eidolon-clone started talking, to emphasize the way the heroes are staggered at that point.

  28. One last thing I notice on the second read through.

    The stunt that cut Noelle in half could just as easily have cut one of the capes trapped inside in half. Like cutting an apple and ending up with part of a worm in each half.

    For all her fretting about Rachel’s dogs not being all that gentle with the capes they were rescuing she did not really give that possibility that much thought. Not even a sigh of relief when the cutting edge of Noelle did not reveal any cross-sections of any missing heroes.

    Maybe she should address this point in the next chapter reflecting on how lucky she was that none of the hostages were harmed by her stunt and how it was necessary after Chevaliers attempts to just shoot out the limbs to spare the hostages was not working.

    Oh, yes and on a different note. We were not told about the extend of the physical deformities of the second Alexandria clone. She presumably had more time to bake and might be less deformed. If she is close enough to pass for the original she could conceivably fly off and give all sorts of instructions to the PRT or even mobilize some cauldron resources while her sister clone holds of the heroes from following her. She knows all the passwords and codes and might pass lots of biometric tests and thus be able to release an airstrike or something or possible do a “The Return of the Living Dead” by calling for reinforcements fresh meat: “Send more Capes!”

    • Her concern over the hostages was why she used only the one thread for Echidna (as opposed to multiple for Eidolon). Thought that was implied, but I guess I should state stuff like that outright.

      • I had assumed she mostly didn’t have enough string, but you’re right – she wouldn’t want to cut more hostages than she had to. (I’m guessing there would be at least one hand or foot lost, though – not Alexandria’s, obviously.)

      • Errr, if you think using multiple threads is more dangerous your reasoning is off.

        For each extra thread (or extra loop) around Eidolon, you are effectively increasing the thickness of your cutting edge- even if they are separate.

        It’s like how laying down on a nail would puncture you, but laying down on a bed of nails is fine (like they do in circus shows).

        • There are thresholds to consider there though. To use your line of reasoning, laying down on 2 nails is not safe despite it being more twice the area as 1 nail. Further, 2 puncture wounds gives twice the chance that one of them hits a vital organ.

          In this case using 10 threads would have given a better chance of exposing Echidna’s tootsie-roll center while probably still being few enough that they’d have sliced her to pieces. The downside there is that your chance of not slicing a cape in half would be a lot lower too.

          Also, I figured that Skitter simply lined the thread up with the middle of the street. Given Echidan’s size it’s fairly predictable where she’ll go and if most/all of her cape holding sacks are off center on one side or the other then you’d be pretty safe in terms of not endangering them.

  29. I wonder, how many trigger events (and of what kind) will the public revelation of the Triumvirate’s corruption cause?

    Perhaps someone with truth-detection abilities? Or a mind-controller capable of putting an unbreakable “speak truth, full truth and nothing but truth” compulsions on people?

    Because yeah, I can actually see this revelation being trigger-worthy at least for some people. Especially second-generation super ones.

  30. Well, with the next arc being a cooldown arc, which questions do you, my fellow readers, think/hope will be answered or expanded upon?

    My personal hope is that Taylor is given the opportunity to save Emma at some point because Taylor’s decision whether or not to forgive or condemn Emma will permanently define her character. Also, we haven’t seen a member of the barnes family mentioned since interlude 15, so it may be time.

    • “Well, with the next arc being a cooldown arc, which questions do you, my fellow readers, think/hope will be answered or expanded upon?”

      Does Gully like skinny pale guys with glasses?

      …For my self-insert fanfiction.

    • Frankly, I think ‘Taylor’ doesn’t really exist anymore. Skitter has shed the chrysalis of her civilian life and become something entirely separate. Emma isn’t relevant at this point in the story, and is likely to have skipped town in any case.

      • I think it is more than we want some karmic justice against the person who hurt her the most. She could torture/hurt Taylor in a way that none of the other bullies could because she used to be her best friend and knew just what to say/do to twist the knife. I can’t imagine how Taylor must have felt to be betrayed so completely by someone she trusted. It is also rather relevant in that Skitter is how she is because of her severe mistrust/disappointment in authority, and her lack of allies that she got in her civilian identity. Several people commented how she didn’t do a very good job defending herself to Clockblocker and that it fits with the insecurity that she still has. Notice how she always diminishes her accomplishments and emphasizes her failures. She is like that because of the crap she went through. She has grown much stronger as a person and her dad commented on how different and more confident she is than before. You are right that she will probably never keep her civilian identity except for when she meets with her dad. I assume that she will take an equivalency exam and pretend to move away to a far college with her dad being none the wiser. I guess other readers and I would just like to see her thoughts when confronted with how she used to be. Emma is the one that she hated so much that she hit her in public, in front of their parents, and in front of a shadow stalker. Emma’s dad showed up working with Glory Girl’s mom during her interlude, so it is conceivable that she might come back to the city at some point.

    • For my part, I hope the Undersiders (and Skitters) new reputation gets some air time. Both the public stuff, and the hush-hush stuff.. it’d be hilarious to see the PRT doing a revised threat/character assessment of the team, or of Skitter personally. In no small part because Kid Win practically has to have a recording of Clockblocker’s discussion in the van, and having “Fuck my record!” replayed on a conference call in front of every PRT bigwig would be comedy gold.

      • Oooooooh, Holy mother is a big bad fuck, she’s the biggest fuck in the whole wide fuck, she’s a fucking fuck, and she has fucking hair, she’s a fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck, she’s a dirty fuck, holy mother’s a fuck, she’s a big fat dirty fuck!

        Talk to kids around the world, it might go a little something like this…

  31. Yep, a deal’s a deal, Noelle. One Eidolon for one Skitter, provided you come and get her. You seem to be having some trouble handling delivery there, but she said she wouldn’t run away.

  32. New reader here, finally caught up from the archives a week or two ago. Good heavens a wild ride, thanks for sharing this with us Wildbow. Looking forward to finding out where things go from here :)

  33. The Noellectomy was…remarkably boring. Most boring of the potential outcomes. Not quite the worst, but still.

  34. Who’s the one who steps up when the chips are down? Skitter. The worse the situation gets, the less willing she is to give up. Put her in a corner and she just gets resourceful. Distrustful heroes, broken morale? Doesn’t matter.

    The contrast between her and Noelle is excellent. Skitter’s life was hell, and she chose to try to escape it by…becoming a superhero. Granted, it didn’t work out that way, but still. That’s not to say that Noelle is completely in the wrong here; her mind is getting messed with, she’s been slowly turning into more of a freak, she’s trapped in a strange and terrifyingly dangerous world and her friends have drifted further and further away from her. The way her body strikes at her insecurities and past problems is just icing on the cake. I can definitely see going for revenge; she just doesn’t feel like there’s anything else left.

    I do find myself feeling oddly sympathetic for Trickster in this arc. He’s a jackass at best, but he always told his teammates that Noelle would come first for him. They shouldn’t be surprised that he stuck to his guns; he makes decisions and moves forward, never looking back. They aren’t necessarily great traits, but the guy’s been consistent. And whatever else you say about him, it takes massive balls to side with the walking kaiju horror girl against the rest of the country. They should never have let him be their leader, but they’re so messed up as a group and as individuals that I guess it couldn’t have gone any other way.

    The Eidolon-clone definitely found a great way to hurt his enemies and weaken them, that’s for sure. I find myself wondering if Cauldron/the PRT really thought things through before bringing people to this fight. The fact that the clones gain knowledge from the originals is just as dangerous as their powers, in a sense, and they should have known that from the fact that a Vista went after her family. Additionally, anyone as smart as Alexandria is supposed to be should have considered the risk of secret identities being compromised based on how the first portion of the fight against her went.

    Writing-wise, I do like this arc. It’s a lot like the Leviathan arc in some ways, of course, but the similarities only make the differences stick out more to me. Leviathan was a force of nature; no humanity, no communication, just outright destruction and death. Cooperation between heroes and villains was pretty strong, because of the perceived scale of the threat. Echidna is nigh-unstoppable, but she hits them as people. Trickster’s betrayal hurts his team on a personal level, fighting clones of people they know must be strange for all those present, and Eidolon-clone’s revelations just make things worse. Of course, the clones also mean that the nature of the threat they face can change quickly, especially since the clones don’t all have the exact same powers.

    It’s nice to see that Clockblocker and Miss Militia didn’t hesitate to do what Skitter said in the heat of battle, as well. I think the BB Wards have generally shown themselves to do a decent job of living up to the good guy PR, with Shadow Stalker as the obvious and glaring exception, and Miss Militia is probably the most heroic Protectorate member we’ve seen so far, possibly coming in second behind Dragon for best adult hero to this point depending on how you count her.

    CG

    • I’d say it was a calculated risk on the part of the PRT. They probably thought the chances of any of the big three being grabbed were slim.

      They faced down Leviathan with minimal risk to themselves, after all. Echidna exceeded their expectations.

  35. Aww. I thought she’d got Clockblocker to freeze a whole spider web, chopping Noelle into about 30 pieces rather than just 2. Not sure why she didn’t.

    This was an awesome scene (/arc), anyway.

    • I expect because she needed the two pieces to fall away from each other. If they stayed in contact the regeneration would just kick in and reconnect them.

      • @ alexfish. There were lot of heroes still trapped inside. The 30 pieces would’ve julienned them too,,, basically too risky.

  36. I could only hope this divide wouldn’t prove as telling as the one I’d delivered to Noelle.

    Now that is a witty punchline.

  37. I really love how Skitter stepped up to take battlefield control of the situation. With Dragon busy she really is the best Mission Control available. With a big enough swarm, the ability to hear through her bugs and sorta see through them in addition to being able to process everything and keep a level head…damn multitasking might as well be her primary power instead of a minor secondary Required Secondary Power. Her Thinker status definitely needs to be upped.

    After this battle I highly doubt that anyone would be okay with following through a kill order on her. She’s pretty much single handedly saved everyone’s ass several times throughout the battle despite not actively contributing to the damage at all until near the end. Though once she did…hell she did more damage to Echidna with one move than the Triumvirate combined! Lesson to the wise: Don’t fuck with Skitter.

  38. The Eidolon’s grip slipped from Myrddin’s neck and he careened into the ground, hard. Again, air billowed out around him, thrusting Myrddin into the wall once more, but supplying him with much needed air.

    I could see Regent, turned towards that particular bout of fighting. Had he been responsible?

    Holy crap, I forgot about Regent. It’s been so long since he was on-camera- but he’s a silver bullet against these clones. The things that make poor targets for the spasm maneuver are people with weapons and non-organics; the exact same things Noelle can’t make. Anything she creates, he can affect, whether it’s Grace or Alexandria.

    … He should probably be focusing on Alexandria.

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