Scourge 19.7

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The heroes found positions and opened fire on Echidna.  The difference in this and the fighting as it had been before was noticeable.  Small, but noticeable.  Capes weren’t communicating and teamwork was faltering as a result.  Capes like the red lightning girl and Chronicler were struggling to find people to use their powers on.

I didn’t want anyone else running or flying headlong into the thread, so I gathered my more harmless and useless bugs in a thick cluster around each piece of thread, until each thread appeared to be a black bar a half-foot across.

Clockblocker appeared at my side.  He was in fighting shape, though he didn’t look it with his damaged costume.

“Anything I can do?” he asked.  “Anything else set up?”

I shook my head.  “She dissolves the thread if it touches her flesh, and things are too frenetic.  Someone would get hurt.”

“Gotcha,” he said.

He didn’t move from where he was standing.  A minute passed as Echidna was bombarded.  She wasn’t quite at full fighting strength, she didn’t have many capes to clone, and she was apparently hesitant to charge or make any sudden movements with the possibility of there being more thread.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  Clockblocker asked.

“That I had something in mind?” I asked.  “I guess a part of me thought that maybe if you figured out what I was doing, you wouldn’t have frozen the gun.”

“That’s not fair.  I don’t think I’ve given you any reason to think I’m vindictive like that.”

“Not really,” I admitted.  “Maybe I didn’t want you to give her a tell, or do something that Eidolon might notice.  I’m not sure why, not entirely.”

“So you’re not really doing anything that those guys out there aren’t.  When it comes down to it, you’re suspicious of us, just like we are of each other.”

“Maybe,” I admitted.  “It’s… a lot to take in.  What do you even do from here on out?”

“I don’t know,” Clockblocker said.

A series of neon green concentric circles exploded outward from a point in the sky above, rippling out to disappear over each horizon.  Eidolon had engaged one Alexandria-clone, and whatever he’d done seemed to have finished her off.  One left.

Echidna belched out a mass of clones, and I added my bugs to the firepower that the heroes threw their way.

Some slipped past the loose perimeter the heroes had established, and were promptly gunned down.

“I’m guessing Tattletale told you the particulars of my power?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“The range?  I’m surprised you knew it would work through interconnected pieces.  Hell, I barely knew I’d be able to push that far.  I guess that makes this one of the rare days my power’s working at peak efficiency?  But you somehow knew that?”

I glanced over my shoulder at Tattletale.  She was getting out of the van, and was joined by Faultline, Labyrinth, and four members of the Travelers: Sundancer, Ballistic, Genesis in her wheelchair and a blond boy who resembled but didn’t quite match Oliver in appearance.  Tattletale was exchanging words with Regent.  Getting an update?

“You’re not responding,” Clockblocker noted.

“I”m not sure what you want me to say.”

Yes, Clockblocker,” he added a falsetto note to his voice, bent one wrist to a ninety degree angle as he raised his hand to his mouth, “Of course we know more about how your powers work than you do.  How else would we kick your posteriors with such frequency?

He faked a high society woman’s laugh, where the laugh was said as much as it was uttered.  A cape nearby, one I recognized as Astrologer from the New York team, shot us a dirty look, before she returned to calling down projectiles from the sky.

“I don’t sound like that,” I commented, trying not to sound as irritated as I felt.

“I thought it fit pretty well for one of the wealthy crime lords of Brockton Bay,” he said.

I was a little caught off guard, to see this side of Clockblocker, or more that he was showing it to me.  Was it humor as a coping mechanism?  Or attempted humor as a coping mechanism, to be more on target?  I could believe it, from the guy who’d chosen Clockblocker as his cape name.  But to let me see anything other than the hard-nosed defender of the peace was something different.  A show of trust, letting his guard down some?

Or maybe it was just a coping mechanism, and he had a hell of a lot to cope with.  Only an hour ago, he’d probably felt he had his whole future laid out for him, a career in the Wards transitioning into a career with the Protectorate, with funds, fame and every side benefit and piece of paper he might need to mask his real identity.  Now nobody had any idea how that would work out.

Another circle exploded across the sky.  Alexandria-clone-two was down.  Legend and Eidolon descended in Echidna’s direction, keeping a healthier distance.

Whatever Eidolon had been hitting the clones with, considering the area it was covering and the fact that it was apparently taking Alexandria out of action, it suggested a kind of attack that couldn’t be used near the ground, because it might have leveled whole sections of the city.

Tattletale caught up to me.  The others in her retinue hung back.

“Was that you two?” she asked.  She pointed at Echidna, where the right and left sides of the monster’s body weren’t quite lined up.

“Yeah,” I said.

“You realize that if you pull off the dramatic sacrifice, Grue won’t be able to take it?  He’s relying on you to be his crutch for the time being.  You can’t kick it out from under him mid-step.”

“He’s stronger than you’re saying,” I murmured.  I eyed Clockblocker, all too aware that he was listening in.  Tattletale was aware, too, which meant she was trying to communicate something.  “Can we finish this discussion elsewhere?”

“Why don’t I just leave you alone?” Clockblocker offered.  “I wanted to make myself available in case you wanted to repeat the maneuver, but you’re saying that’s not so doable.”

“Not really,” I admitted.  “But thank you.”

“Signal me if you need me,” he answered.

Alexandria had a steel, fire-scorched girder in her hands, retrieved from a fallen building nearby.  She wasn’t flying, but she walked forward, relying on the girder’s size and sheer presence to clear her way through the assembled capes.

Her back was straight, her chin raised, as her subordinates stared.  Her black costume, it was fortunate for her, served to hide the worst smears and stains from Noelle’s vomit.

She swung the girder at Echidna like someone else might swing a baseball bat, and Echidna was knocked off her feet and into a building face.  The girder didn’t bend like the traffic light had.  This was a piece of metal intended to help support buildings.

Echidna opened one mouth, no doubt to vomit, and Alexandria flipped the metal around, driving one end into the open mouth and through Echidna, the other end spearing out of the monster’s stomach.

Before Echidna could react or retaliate, Alexandria flew straight up into the air, joining Legend and Eidolon.

As attacks went, it wasn’t a game changer.  Something else?  A symbol?  A gesture to us?

Echidna roared, lunged, only to hit a forcefield.  The field shattered and she stopped short, the girder rammed further through her.

To say we were at full strength would be a lie.  Too many had been injured.  Still, we’d pinned her down.  I could see Noelle atop Echidna’s back, craning her head to look at me.  Through some signal or some shared knowledge, Echidna was following Noelle’s recommendation, avoiding sudden movements, enduring every attack that came her way rather than risking running headlong into more frozen silk.

In fairness, she still had something of an upper hand.  None of our attacks were slowing her down, not really.  She was healing faster than we hurt her, and our side was getting tired, burning resources.  We weren’t sustaining casualties, but we weren’t winning this fight either.

With our current disorganization, it was only a matter of time before she popped out another clone that was capable of turning the tables.

“We need to finish her,” I said.

“Sundancer could do it, probably, but she would need convincing.  Labyrinth’s going to set up while we wait for Scrub,” Tattletale replied.

“Where is he?”

“Bit dangerous to have him riding along in a car.  We put him in another, and he nuked the engine.  We rigged a sled, and he should arrive in a bit, depending on how many times they need to stop and replace the chain,” she said.

“He’s going to open the door?”

Open is probably the wrong word.”

“What’s the right word?”

“I’d say it’s more like using a battering ram than a doorknob.”

“With dimensions,” I said.

Through dimensions.  Knocking down the door, not knocking down the house.”

“I’m not seeing the difference between the two,” I said.  “What’s to say a given area is one thing over another?”

That,” Tattletale said, “Is Labyrinth’s job.”

I could see Labyrinth.  Faultline was right next to her, apparently talking her through the process.  Arches and high walls rose like cresting waves, locking into place as they met one another.  It amounted to what looked like a church, if only four paces in diameter.

“You think that’ll be easier for Scrub to punch through.”

“Positive,” Tattletale said.

“How do you punch through to the right place?”

That, Tattletale said, “is something we’ll have to trust to luck and an educated guess.”

“Not reassuring,” I said.  “What’s going on?  I’m worried.  Nearly getting yourself shot, twice?  Provoking the Triumvirate?  Spending however much it costs to bring Faultline into the city, after the financial hit you took pulling the soldier gambit on Coil?  Now this?  The dimensional hole?”

“It’s how I operate.”

“Yeah, you’ve been reckless before, got cut by Jack, provoked Glory Girl.  But this is turning the dial to eleven.”

“We came out ahead in the end, both times.”

“It wasn’t necessary.  There were other ways around either of those situations.”

“Not as much as you’d think,” Tattletale said.

Echidna roared again, each of her mouths making a slightly different noise, combining into a discordant noise that made almost everyone present wince.  Weld tore his way free of her side, two capes in his grip.

Still five captives inside, I noted.  I saw Weld climb free and drop to the ground.  He wasn’t going back in for more.

Tattletale took me by the arm and led me back and away from the fighting, to where we had more privacy to speak.  I used bugs to guide some capes at the back lines toward some clones who’d flown into an alley.  It was odd, to be playing a part in a high-speed chase while standing still, but the capes were closing the distance on their quarry nonetheless.

“I’m just looking for answers,” I told her.  “This dimensional hole, provoking the heroes, apparently spending a lot of money I’m pretty sure you don’t have.  I… I can kind of get that you’re feeling a bit aimless, a bit unfocused.  Maybe that comes across as recklessness.  I’m feeling like that too.  We beat Coil, and so much of what we’ve done over the past while, it was with the end goal of doing just that.  So I get if you’re not sure of where to go from here.”

“Except you’ve been talking to the heroes, and you’ve had that to help center yourself, figure out where you stand,” Tattletale said.  “I haven’t.”

“That’s it?  You need to talk to someone?”

“No.  That’s not what I’m saying,” she said.  She sighed.  “Yes.  Kind of.  It’s only part of it.  Who the hell am I going to talk to that grasps things on a level I do?  Do you really expect me to find a therapist and sit down and not pick him apart faster than he can decipher me?”

“You could talk to me,” I said.

“Not when you’re part of the problem, part of what I’d need to work past.”

“That’s not fair,” I told her.

“No, it isn’t,” she admitted.

Echidna spat out volumes of clones at the defensive line.  The reaction was only a little slower than it should have been.  Squads still weren’t operating as squads.  Legend and Eidolon were offering support fire from above, but they were standing apart from the rest, in a much different way than Tattletale and I were.

“It’s not you,” Tattletale said.  “It’s more about my relationship with you.”

“This isn’t the point where you confess your undying love for me, is it?”

She snorted.  “No.”

“Then what?  Or is this just going to be another secret you keep?”

“All of the good secrets are getting found out anyways, or so Regent said.  I suspected they would be, for the record.  Part the reason I dished like I did was to put us in a good position in case the juicy stuff did come out.”

“Not sure I buy that,” I said.

“You don’t have to.  It was only a part of it.  And I understand if a more in-depth explanation is overdue, but I need to turn it around in my head some, get it to the point where I can share it without it coming out wrong.”

“Your trigger event?” I asked.

“That’s a part of it.  But can we please put that off until after we’ve torn a hole in reality and stopped the pseudo-Endbringer?”

“Just tell me this isn’t another educated guess.”

“It’s not.  Except for the bit where we might be able to find the right universe.”

“When you’re saying it’s not an educated guess, is that because you’re sure or because it’s an uneducated guess?”

“I’m mostly sure.”

I sighed, loud enough for her to hear.

She grabbed my hand and pulled me in the direction of the van she’d brought.  Labyrinth’s church had expanded considerably, and Scrub was very deliberately keeping his distance, keeping the company of Gregor the Snail, Newter, Shamrock and Spitfire.  They looked a little the worse for wear, with burns, scrapes and bandages.  Had Tattletale pulled them away from a job?

“Hey, F,” Tattletale said, smiling.

Faultline didn’t return the smile.  “You’re aware that I’m going to track you down, beat you to a pulp and leave you tied up for the authorities to collect if we don’t get our payment?”

“You’ll get your payment the minute I have access to a computer Shatterbird hasn’t toasted,” Tattletale said.  “No sweat.”

“I’m harboring serious doubts,” Faultline said.  She glanced at Echidna, “But I can look at this situation, and I understand if there’s a rush here.  How does this work?”

“Really simple,” Tattletale said.  “We should get Labyrinth clear, though.  Then I’ll show you.”

Faultline gave her a look, then hurried to Labyrinth’s side, dodging a wall that was erupting from the ground to fit into the greater structure.  The ground surrounding the temple-like tower had changed, with an ornate inlay of what looked to be artificial flowers.  The petals were gold leaf, the stems the black-gray metal of iron.  The thorns, I couldn’t help but notice, were real, like needles, sticking out of the ground.  Dangerous ground to tread.

As Faultline led Labyrinth to safety, I put one hand on Tattletale’s shoulder to get her attention.  “You sure?”

“I’ve got a theory.  With the clues on the passengers that we got not so long ago, about the powers, the idea of how the things work, I’m getting a sense of the bigger picture.  I think I could spend a decade working it out, but the basics of it?  I think there’s a lot of powers that are a lot more versatile than their owners are aware, because they never get the opportunity to leverage it.”

Above us, Legend followed through on one cape’s attacks, opening a wound in Noelle’s side.  Grace leaped in as the laser stopped, grabbed a cape that had been exposed by Legend’s attack, then kicked herself free, bringing the cape with her.

Another cape exhaled a cloud of what might have been acid vapor in Noelle’s direction, apparently to slow the healing of the wound.  It didn’t make much of a difference.

“Based on what?” I asked Tattletale.

“It’s all part of a whole,” she replied, absently.  Her focus was on the others.  “Scrub!  Get closer to the tower!  Everyone else, get back!  Labyrinth, don’t use your power any more!  Hold off!”

Heads turned.  People had no doubt noticed the tower, but now something was happening.

Scrub stepped closer, and one of his explosions ripped through the air.  Another followed shortly after, intersecting one area of altered road.

Like a gas in the air that had been ignited, the entire thing went up in a heartbeat.  In an instant, it was a white void, as undefinable as Grue’s darkness, perceivable by the edges, but with zero depth or dimension.  He’d shunted out the entire structure, as well as everything that had altered on the ground, but nothing had come back.

The door had been kicked out of the frame.

To look at it, I’d almost expected a rush of wind as the void on the other side sucked everything into it, like the vacuum of space.  There was only the sensation of a breeze as the air flowed into it.

Alexandria landed next to us, with enough force that I nearly lost my footing.  Every set of eyes that wasn’t on Echidna was on us, now.

“What did you do?”

“Made a hole,” Tattletale said.

Apparently.  You didn’t ask?  You didn’t consider the ramifications of this?  Close it now.”

“Who said we could close it?” Tattletale asked.

“You’re a fool,” Alexandria said.  She set one hand around Tattletale’s neck.  She could have killed Tattletale with a squeeze, but she didn’t.  A threat.

“I’d be careful,” a cape growled, from the periphery of the scene.  I didn’t recognize the man.  He wore a costume in orange with red metal claws.  Alexandria turned to look at him, and he added, “Wasn’t so long ago that your partner called us all fools.”

In the background, Echidna screeched.  She fought her way forward through the crowd, but the battle lines were holding, now.  Our side hadn’t been surprised, this time, and the only capes in her reach were capes she couldn’t absorb.  The rest were staying well back.

She wasn’t an Endbringer, in the end.  It would be impossible to trap any of them like this, to get an advantage.  They had other tools, ways to exert pressure that were entirely independent of their own abilities.  Behemoth generated storms and background radiation, Leviathan had the waves, the Simurgh had her scream.

“That wasn’t him,” Alexandria said.  “It wasn’t Eidolon who said that.”

“Close enough,” the cape said.  “Let her go.  You can’t throw around authority you don’t have.”

“As of this moment, I am still Chief Director of the PRT, and I am the leader of the Protectorate team that overlooks the second largest city in the United States.  That hasn’t changed.  At the end of the day, I’ll face any consequences I have to, but for now, I’m still in charge.”

“Your authority doesn’t mean anything if they don’t accept it,” Tattletale said, staring Alexandria in the eyes.  “Put me down.”

“I can’t let this go any further.”

“In case you haven’t noticed,” Tattletale said, “There’s no further to go.  It’s pretty much gone.  All that’s left is to find out whether this is a useful trick we just pulled or a really useful trick.”

“Useful?”  Alexandria asked.

“Worst case scenario, it’s a place we can dump Echidna.  A place where she won’t be able to hurt anyone.”

“Or?”

“Or Labyrinth figures out that she can work with this.”

The hole blurred, colors consolidating into forms.  I could see Faultline standing by Labyrinth, arms folded.

“Labyrinth… the shaker twelve,” Alexandria said.

“That’s the one,” Tattletale said.  “Mind letting go of my throat?”

Alexandria let go, but settled her hands on Tattletale’s shoulders.  The implied threat was still there, just not so imminent.

“It’s deep,” Labyrinth said.  Her voice was faint, as if from far away.  “There’s so much there.  Worlds that I didn’t make.”

“All parts of a whole,” Tattletale mused.  “Okay, Labyrinth.  The world we’re looking for isn’t very deep at all.  In fact, it’s very, very close to the surface.  When you push into that world, it’ll feel easier.  Like a path that someone’s already walked, more than once.”

“There’s two like that.”

I would have missed it if it weren’t for my bugs.  Alexandria reacted, stiffening, a slight straightening of her back.

Behind us, Echidna roared and threw herself against the barrier of ice and forcefields that surrounded her.

I turned toward Alexandria.  “What?”

“I didn’t say anything,” she responded.  Her hands still rested on Tattletale’s shoulders.

You didn’t have to, I thought.  But I wasn’t sure how to use the information, and I didn’t want to distract anyone from the subject at hand.

“Look,” Labyrinth said.  “One’s like this…”

The image shifted.  I wasn’t the only one who walked around to get a better view through the window.  The landscape on the other side the window was different, the grassy hills that had been Brockton Bay before settlement, the distant beaches.  There were houses, but they were squat and blocky, half-overgrown.

Again, the slightest reaction from Alexandria.

“…And here’s the other.”

Another landscape.  A city, like Brockton Bay, with different buildings.  Intact, undamaged.  It looked like a back road, one that didn’t get much in the way of traffic.  Apparently the streets in that Brockton Bay were in different places.

“Earth Aleph,” Tattletale said.

The Travelers’ world?

“Are you insane?” Alexandria asked.  “There’s sanctions, treaties, truces.  If you open this hole to Earth Aleph, it could mean a war between universes.”

“If that war was possible,” Tattletale said, “We’d have had it already.  The possibility of a whole other world of resources is too much to pass up.  Sure, our side has more raw firepower, by a factor of a hundred, but their side has just as many nukes.  It’s a zero sum war.”

“You don’t understand what you’re getting into.”

“What I understand is that accidents happen, and everyone in earshot will call this particular interuniversal portal as an accident, because it keeps things peaceful.  I also understand that this keeps Brockton Bay on the map.  Any other circumstance, people are going to keep trying to scrap this city, to accept that it’s too costly to rebuild, that the criminal element holds too much power.  They’ll throw bill after bill out there until the right combination of people are in power, the right hands can be greased, and Brockton Bay gets bulldozed and paved over.”

“It still could,” a cape said.

“Oh, sure, theoretically,” Tattletale said.  “But there’s really two options here.  Either we spread the word, and a whole sub-industry explodes around this simple little doorway, accessing and trading information between worlds, research, a mess of other stuff, a city full of residents who’ve put up with disaster after disaster get work, get their homes rebuilt, and ultimately get their second chance.”

“Or we keep this a secret,” I finished her thought, “And we get none of that.”

“Or we keep this a secret,” Tattletale agreed, “We do what Alexandria wants, and everything stays hush hush, just the way the big bad secret organization likes it.”

I could see the capes around us paying attention.  Ten, fifteen capes, from cities all across America and Canada.

“You have no idea what you’re doing,” Alexandria said.

“Fucking you over?”

“You’re putting everything at stake.  All of us, this world.  Even if we ignore the chance of our very first interdimensional war-“

“Traitor!” someone shouted from the sidelines, cutting her off.

Alexandria turned her head to try and identify the culprit.  I got the impression she wasn’t used to people insulting her.  There were more capes nearby.  Miss Militia had backed up, but was keeping her eyes on the spot where Echidna was trapped.  On the far side of the clearing where the gateway stood, Gregor the Snail escorted a bound Sundancer and Ballistic to the periphery of the area.

“I can’t help but agree with Alexandria,” Faultline said.  “This is reckless.”

“More than a little,” Tattletale agreed.  “But I’m not sure you heard the full story.  I only heard it secondhand, and I was with you from the time your helicopter arrived.  When we last ran into Newter, you guys were looking for dirt on Cauldron.  You still looking?”

Faultline’s eyes narrowed.  “Why?”

“No less than ten minutes ago, Eidolon’s evil double admitted full culpability.  The Triumvirate, much of the upper levels of the Protectorate.  Kidnapping people from other universes, experimenting on them to figure out some power-inducing formulas, dropping them here.  Might help you to understand why people are giving Alexandria the evil eye.”

Faultline glanced at Alexandria.  “A little too easy, to find out like this.”

“It’s not the full story,” Tattletale said, “Not by half.  But it should inform your call on whether to side with her or not.”

Faultline frowned.  “That’s not… no.  Maybe she is the person behind the scenes.  Fine.  But that doesn’t change the fact that she might be right.  Better to have Labyrinth find another universe to link to.  Maybe one where a mountain is blocking the other side of this gateway, if we can’t close it.”

“Why do you have to be so reasonable?” Tattletale asked.  “That’s the worst of both worlds.”

“It’s not war,” Faultline retorted.

“Stop,” Chevalier said.  People parted to give him room to enter the clearing.  “There’s other concerns.  The deal that was described to me was that the Travelers would do what they could to eliminate Echidna.  Failing that, we find a way to move her through the gap and deposit her in a place where she can do no harm.  That’s our first priority.”

There was a murmur of agreement.

“Want to go home, Sundancer?  B-man?” Tattletale asked.  “Genesis?  Oliver?”

Ballistic, Genesis and Oliver stared at the opening.  Sundancer was shaking her head.

“What?”

Sundancer spoke, “I… it’s not home anymore, is it?  I’m not me.  Can’t go back to the way things were.  I’ve killed people.  Accidentally, but I’ve killed.  I have powers.  If I went there, I wouldn’t be Marissa.  I’d be… Sundancer.  I’d be famous.  If anyone found out about me, or if there was something in the media that goes between worlds, that clued them in…”

“They don’t have to know,” Tattletale said.

“I don’t… I don’t know if I can.”

I spoke up, “Are you talking about going home, or killing Noelle?”

“She’s… she was my best friend.”

“She’s not Noelle anymore,” I said.

Sundancer shook her head.

“Go,” Tattletale said.  “She’s not happy like this.  You do this, then you go home.  You give your mom a hug, fabricate an excuse to explain why you disappeared, and then go back to life as normal.  Never use your powers again, if you don’t want to.  See if you can eventually convince yourself that none of this ever happened.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“No.  But it’s a hell of a lot better than staying here, isn’t it?”  Tattletale asked.

“She’s my friend.”

“Was,” I said.  “It’s a big difference.”

Sundancer looked at the mound of ice, rock and forcefields.  Echidna was thrusting her clawed hands through the barriers, only for them to be reinforced.

“Are there… does she have anyone inside her?”

“There’s-” Tattletale started.  I flew a bug into her mouth and down her throat, and she choked.

“No,” I lied.  “I’ve been keeping track with my bugs.  Weld and the others got everyone out.”

Saved everyone they could.  If Weld had backed out and nobody else was able to free the small handful that were still trapped, that was it.

Nobody was correcting me.  They knew, but they weren’t correcting me.

Sundancer hung her head.  She started approaching Echidna, her hands cupped in front of her.

“Move!”  Chevalier shouted.  “Clear out of the way!”

Capes began to retreat.  Final patch-up jobs were thrown onto the mound of rock, forcefields and ice before the respective capes turned and ran.

It took Sundancer a long few seconds to form the miniature sun.  When it was formed, she held it over her head, letting it grow with every passing second.

I had to back away as the heat reached me.  I could note how the ice was melting, even though it was a hundred feet away.

Echidna roared and threw herself against her temporary prison.  Rock and melting ice tumbled away.  She began to claw free, until her upper body was exposed.  Capes opened with ranged fire, tearing into her forelimbs and limiting her mobility.  Alexandria dropped Tattletale and cast off her cape, before flying in and helping to hold Echidna in place.

“Marissa!”  Echidna screamed, her voice guttural, voiced from five different mouths.  “Mars!  It’s too soon!  I want to kill them!  I want to kill them all!  Kill this world!  Destroy this universe that did this to me!  Not yet, Mars!”

The sun flew forward, melting pavement as it traveled, before it enveloped Echidna, Alexandria and the prison of ice and stone.

It hung there for nearly a minute, deafening with its sizzling and crackling.

The sun flickered and went out. Echidna wasn’t there any more.  Only sections of her feet were still in contact with the ground, bones and claws scorched black, crumbling and decaying like any part of her did when disconnected from the core that supplied her with power.

Alexandria was there in the midst of it, panting for breath.  Her costume had burned away, and only the metal pieces remained, including helmet, belt and metal underwear, each so hot they were melting and running over her skin.

But Sundancer was already turning away, not wanting to see it for herself.  She pulled off her mask and threw it aside.  Blond hair tumbled down around her shoulders, half-covering her downcast face.

Piece by piece, she removed her costume, not caring in the slightest about the watching crowd.  Each discarded piece sank into the melted ground around her or smoked on contact with it.  When she’d finished, she wore only her camisole and terry shorts.  The ground was still shiny and smoking from the sheer heat as she approached, left cool and solid in her wake.

She stepped into the portal, without a word, and then looked around, confused.  She took another few steps, and passed around the side of the portal as though it were merely a corner, out of sight.

The other Travelers went through next.  Oliver and Genesis didn’t look like anything but ordinary people, with no costume or monstrous form, respectively.  They merely passed through.

Ballistic hesitated for long seconds.  “Trickster?”

“We have him in custody.  He’ll go to the Birdcage,” Chevalier said.

“Good.  Because we don’t want him,” Ballistic said.

He walked through the portal, still wearing his costume.

“Can you close it?” Faultline asked, when Ballistic had disappeared from sight.

“No.  Not really,” Labyrinth said.  “I can pick a different world.  So there’s no war.  Or do like you said, find a place where a mountain covers the hole.”

“Feel free,” Tattletale said, grinning.  “In fact, that might even be more useful.  Can you imagine how significant Brockton Bay might become, if we had a whole unpopulated world to get to, harvest for resources, and Brockton Bay was the terminal you had to pass through?”

Faultline frowned.  “You used us.”

“I hired you.  Not my fault if you didn’t ask for enough money.

Faultline put her arm around Labyrinth’s shoulders.  “Can you find a world without people?”

“I… yes.  There’s one with lots of trees.  I’m looking all over, and I can’t find anyone at all.  Not even on the other side of the oceans.  Only animals.”

“That’ll do,” Faultline said.  She looked at Tattletale, “Not for you.  Only because I couldn’t stand to let her be responsible for an Endbringer finding a defenseless world.”

“Much obliged, whatever the reasoning,” Tattletale replied.  She flashed a smile.

Faultline only frowned and turned to usher Labyrinth away.

“Wait,” someone called out.

Weld, with the red skinned boy and Gully beside him.  They caught up with Faultline’s crew.

Whatever words they exchanged, I didn’t get a chance to hear.  There was no way that the ‘monsters’ could serve the Protectorate.  Faultline was a known element, someone who had, as far as everyone was aware, always been good to the people I was now thinking of as the Cauldron-made.

I couldn’t even begin to guess where they’d go from there, but they’d have stuff to talk about, no doubt.

I’d mentioned to Tattletale that I’d felt adrift, after letting Dinah go.  Untethered, I think, was the word I’d used.  Everyone here now felt like that, to some degree.  The future had never been quite this uncertain.

I saw Alexandria standing by the sideline.  Eidolon had gathered her heavy cape where she’d tossed it aside and was helping to drape it around her shoulders.  I wasn’t the only one looking, but she was oblivious, uncaring.  She still stood with all the confidence in the world.

She was barely covered, with one hand pinching the cape shut in front of her, traces of now-cooled metal lacing through her hair, the eyebrow and eyelashes of her one good eye.  It highlighted the lines at the corner of her eye, a finer metal finding its way into the crevices.  Her other eye held only a scarred over ruin with cooled metal pooled in the deeper recesses.  There were nubs of melted metal rods, no doubt there to help hold a high-end prosthetic in place.  Tinker-made, if she’d been hiding her injury to play the role of the PRT’s Chief Director.

Without Echidna to divide our number, our ranks were free to line up in a rough semicircle around Alexandria and Eidolon.

“Nobody can know what happened today,” Alexandria said, utterly calm.

Someone scoffed.  “You want us to keep your secret?

“Not the secret,” she said, unfazed by the scoff.  “Echidna.  Four capes were inside her when she was scoured away.  More were injured or killed in the course of the fight, or in Shatterbird’s attack.  We can’t cover that up.  We shouldn’t.  They were good capes.  But we can’t tell the whole story.”

“You don’t get to say that,” the ice-generating cape said.  “You have no place, saying that.”

“I won’t argue,” Alexandria said.  “Everything we did, we did for the right reasons.  I understand it’s ugly, without the context.”

Someone at the front spat in her face.  Alexandria didn’t even blink.  She let the spit run down around the ruined pit where her eye had been, much like she had with the molten metal.

“If word were to get out about the clones, the ramifications would be too damaging.  We’ve spent decades cultivating an illusion, that we’re heroes.  Decades shaking the idea that we’re killing machines.  The nature of this fight threatens to reveal just how much damage even the more mundane of us parahumans could do to the common people.  That’s not only the clones and what they did, but how we dealt with the clones, in turn.  We can’t shatter the image that the Protectorate has so painstakingly built, or the entire world will turn on us.”

“And the Protectorate?” Miss Militia asked, her voice hard.

“What of it?”

“The involvement with Cauldron.  It won’t stand, not like this.”

“It has to,” Alexandria replied.  “Too much depends on the Protectorate, even internationally.  If it crumbles, then the whole world suffers for it.  Other teams around the world would go without the resources we provide.  If it means keeping the Protectorate intact, I will step down.  I’ll tender my resignation as Chief Director of the PRT, effective the moment I can reach my desk.  I’ll consent to being watched until the moment I can step down as Alexandria, if you are uncomfortable with me continuing to serve the Protectorate in costume.  Eidolon, I’m sure, will do the same.  Myrddin’s death will be excuse enough for our retirements.”

“What about Legend?” Miss Militia asked.

Alexandria raised her head, staring up at where Legend hung in the air, unmoving.

“He was only aware of the most basic elements.  That Cauldron sold powers, but not how we tested them.  He did not know of our relation to the Nine.”

“He made excuses for you,” Miss Militia said.  “Lied.  We can’t trust him any more than we can trust you.”

“I’m aware.  But what he does next is ultimately up to him.  I am only telling you what I know, and I know he did not know as much as Eidolon and I did.”

“That’s not good enough,” a cape said.  “You’ve committed crimes against humanity.  You bastards should be tried.”

“Do that, and the whole world pays.  Every cape would come under scrutiny, both from other parahumans and from the public.  Teams would dissolve, faith would falter, and I sincerely doubt we’d last through the next two Endbringer attacks in that kind of a state.”

All around me, capes exchanged glances.  I could hear angry murmurs, my swarm could sense fists clenching in anger.

“And the captives?  The people from other worlds Cauldron kidnapped?”  Miss Militia asked.

“Anyone with clearance should know that the number of people with physical mutations has declined steeply.  We’ve stopped experimenting.”

“Or so you say,” Tattletale cut in.

“I do.  Tell me I’m lying, Tattletale,” Alexandria said.

Tattletale shook her head.

“You need us,” Alexandria said.  “If not for the assistance we can provide in the face of class-S threats, then for the image, for the idea.  I’m trusting that each of you are sane enough, reasonable enough, to understand that.  You could come after us, but I assure you it wouldn’t be worth it.”

“And Cauldron?” someone asked.

“As I said, we’re only barely involved.  If you want to try going after them and get justice for what happened to the captives, feel free.  Just know that we can’t help you there.  We can’t give you access or information, because they’re out of your reach, and in the wake of all this, they’ll be out of our reach too.”

I felt numb.  She was everything I despised.  Authority, the institution, the self-serving people in power, the untouchable.  All around me, I could hear angry voices, each trying to drown the others out.  Chevalier was among them, Miss Militia was quiet.

Tattletale was quiet, oddly enough.

“I-” I started, but the voices drowned me out.

My swarm buzzed with noise.  People startled and jumped as the bugs moved, shifting from the various positions where I’d more or less hidden them at elbows and in armor plates.

I stepped out of the crowd, toward Alexandria, and then turned my back to her, facing the capes.  So many eyes on me.

“She’s right,” I said, my swarm carrying my voice for effect.

Voices rose in anger, and again, I had my swarm move, buzzing violently, until they stopped.

“I’m not a public speaker, so I’ll make it short.  I’ve got a long history with the Protectorate, a hell of a lot more experience being angry with them.  I wouldn’t be where I am if it weren’t for them, and that’s not a good thing, not entirely.  But Alexandria’s right.  Not about Cauldron, or the human experimentation.  I don’t know anything about that.  But she’s right that we shouldn’t make any rash descisions.  Talk it out with your teammates before you make a call.  Maybe the various team and squad leaders should convene, form a unanimous decision.  I don’t know.  But… don’t let your anger push you to do something that affects everyone.  Please.”

A second passed.

“You’re not with the PRT, are you?” a cape asked.

“No,” I said.

“So you don’t have to wake up tomorrow and go to work, pretend like everything’s normal?”

“No.”

“Work beside someone, wondering if they lied about their trigger event?  If they maybe got their powers from a bottle, something made only because some psychopaths,” he spat the word out at Alexandria, “Decided to experiment on innocent people and sell the results at a profit?”

“No.  I don’t really have to wonder about that.”

“Then where the fuck do you get off, telling us what to do, then?”

“Calm down, Jouster,” Miss Militia said.

“It’s fine,” I said.  “You’re right.  It’s not my place,” I said.  I looked at Miss Militia and Chevalier.  Clockblocker was just a little ways behind them.  “Thanks for hearing me out.  Good luck.”

Atlas flew to my position.  I drew my bugs around me and took flight, rising well into the air and hiding myself in the mass of bugs before pausing to adjust to a sitting position.

I saw Legend hovering in the air.  His fists were clenched, and he was looking down.  He looked agonized.

If I’d had any idea what to say, I might have approached him.  I didn’t.

With a command, I directed Atlas away from the discussion that could decide history, maybe even the fate of the world.

I sat on the railing of my balcony, Atlas’ body hidden behind the towel-covered railing, serving as a footrest while I fed him a much-needed meal.  Unfolded pieces of paper sat in each of my hands.

I couldn’t stand to be there any longer.  I’d said what I could, for what little it was worth, but I was too tired, the stakes were too high, and Jouster had been right.  The consequences might have been world-spanning, but it was ultimately up to the Protectorate to decide what happened next.  I didn’t like feeling that helpless.

Beneath me, some kids from my territory were carrying boxes of treats I’d ordered two days ago.  They’d take more than their fair share, but they’d distribute the treats to the other people in my territory, people who had likely gone a good little while without a chocolate bar or bag of chewy candy.

There hadn’t been any clones in my range as I zig-zagged my way to the North end, no signs of swarm activity.  I’d stopped by home, checked things over with my bugs, and my dad was there, more or less fine.

I’d go home in just a little while.  It wasn’t a peaceful place, though.  This was.  My territory, being with people I’d taken care of, people I’d protected and fought for.  My heart was easier here than it was around my dad.

I was aware of the approaching figure, twisted around to get a look at Lisa.

“Can I come up?”

I pointed at the door, followed her movements as she navigated her way past Charlotte and up the stairs.  She reached the balcony and stepped out to hop onto the end of the railing opposite me.

“I own the land the hole to the other universe is on,” Tattletale said.  “Or Coil’s fake name does, and I can finagle that so I have control over it.”

I nodded.  “The meeting?  Did they decide?”

“Legend left first.  Then Alexandria and Eidolon.  The heroes were still talking when I left.”

“Okay,” I said.  That didn’t mean anything, not exactly, but it was better than the alternative.  The longer they talked, the more tempers would cool.

Perversely, I almost hoped that Cauldron had the clout to silence a few angry voices.  I could only hope that they were few and far enough between that the story wouldn’t reach the public.

“Rex,” Tattletale said.

“Hm?”

“His name was Reggie, but he got into sports in high school.  They started calling him Rex, until everyone used the name.  I don’t mean this to be insulting, but you were kind of opposites in a lot of ways.  He was this popular guy, charming.”

“Your boyfriend?”

She laughed, a short sound.  “My brother.”

“Oh.”

“My family was well-to-do, I think that’s come up.”

“Yeah.”

“When you’re that rich, when you have people working under you who do the chores and handle the stuff that you’d normally do with your family, sometimes it’s hard to stay a family, you know?”

Not really, I thought, but I nodded.

She gave me a funny look, but she didn’t call me on it.  “It gets to this point where, you know, your cool older brother only spends time with you because it’s his duty as a sibling.  And when you realize that, it sort of hurts.  Makes it insulting.  I think I caught on to that around the time I started high school.  I stopped accepting those token offers of siblinghood.  We were brother and sister, we lived in the same house, went to the same school.  Our paths crossed, but we didn’t interact.  We were strangers.  He was caught up being the popular senior, and I kind of resented him for it.”

“For not being a brother?”

Lisa shrugged.  “Don’t know.  More for acting like a brother than not being a real brother.  For being the popular kid, being the favorite child, heir to the family businesses.”

“What happened?”

“I started noticing, he was in rough shape.  The smiles seemed fake, he’d get angry easier.  Was bottling something up inside.”

“What was it?”

Lisa shrugged.  “I’ve dwelled on it so long I’ve imagined possibilities and derailed my train of thought.  Even with my power, I can’t guess.”

“And something happened?”

“He slowly got more and more distant.  He’d fake more smiles, get a little more angry, a little more reckless.  And then one day he offed himself.”

Just around the corner, some kids were screaming and shouting as they played.  One boy was pelting another with chocolate pellets.  The victim shrieked in pain.

My bugs swept over the boy with the chocolates, and the pair froze.  They looked around, trying and failing to see me, then ran for the nearest alleyway, fight forgotten.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“So am I,” Lisa sighed.  “I’ve spent so long trying to figure it out, but I couldn’t.  You’d think the star athlete might be gay, but it wasn’t that.  Something else.  I let on to my family that I’d noticed something, after, and they started blaming me.  They were grieving, but that doesn’t excuse it, does it?”

I shook my head.

“Calling me stupid, an idiot,” Lisa looked away.  “It got to be too much, like I was in a pressure cooker, everywhere I went, it was about him, and there was always this feeling, like everyone was aware that I’d known something and hadn’t spoken up, hadn’t done something to help.  I think I had my trigger event while I was asleep, tossing and turning and dreaming about it all.  And then, boom, I wake up and I start figuring stuff out, with killer migraines on the side.  Maybe if I’d caught on that it was powers sooner, I might have been more secretive, but my dad caught on.  Did a complete turnaround.  Faked affection, hid the real feelings, all to get me to use my power for the family’s benefit.”

Lisa shrugged.  “I was already seeing too much ugly, even before the powers.  Seeing more of it?  Seeing when people were being fake, when everything else was still screwy because of Rex’s suicide?  It was too much.  I took more money than I should have from my parents and I ran.”

“And Coil eventually found you.”

She nodded.  “And I eventually found you.  I took one look at you, and I had a grasp of what was going on.  Didn’t take too long for me to notice that you had that same air around you that Rex did.  Maybe I did what I could to save you because I couldn’t save him.”

“Earlier, you said that you couldn’t talk to me about the problem because I was the problem.”

“I saw it when you pulled the trigger, offed Coil.  You saved Dinah, and you described how you felt adrift in the aftermath of it.  But you found a new focus.  You could fight Echidna.  Save the city.  Me?  When you shot Coil, I realized I was done.  I’d helped you out of the same trap of despair Rex had been in.  Don’t know if the road I helped you down was a good one or a bad, but I’d finished.”

“But why be reckless?  Why take the risks?”

“Because I did what I had to do, I helped you, and I still feel like the stupid, self-obsessed little child that let her big brother die.  It wasn’t conscious, but maybe I felt like I needed to up the stakes.  Pull something dramatic.  Show that, with these crazy smart capes like Alexandria and Faultline around, I could still be the smartest person in the room.”

“And do you feel like the smartest person in the room?”  I asked.

She stared out over the cityscape.  “Maybe- maybe when the interuniversal trade takes off.  Can you imagine?  With me and you as the top dogs?  The whole world will pay attention to us.”

I hopped down from the railing, walking around Atlas as I made my way to Lisa.  I wrapped my arms around her, and she returned the hug.

I crumpled the papers in my fists.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

352 thoughts on “Scourge 19.7

  1. I have spent the last six minutes flipping out and going through the comments of 19.6 looking for a reason why there wasn’t an update at 12:01 on the dot.

    • Sorry this is a bit late. Daylight Saving’s time tends to bork up the scheduler, and it took me a minute to figure out: set new time to DST-4, chapter doesn’t go up. Go to chapter, scheduled to go up 5 minutes ago, still isn’t up. Re-input time, finally appears on front page.

    • Something I’ve always wondered: Why do people hang around websites like this at midnight (in whichever time zone) just so they can see the update the minute it comes up? Do they change after the first ten minutes?

      • The same reason people camp out outside stores so they can be the first purchaser. I think there’s a kind of excitement that comes with being on the edge of your seat, waiting to read more of that series you’ve been anticipating. I mean, I’ve experienced it myself. At times, the sheer anticipation is almost as much fun as the series itself.

        It’s like… would you want to wait a month to keep reading? No?
        A week? Probably not.
        A day? It’d bother you a little, so probably no.
        And for some people, you can go down the list, and they’re going to keep saying no. If you ask them if they have to wait 10 minutes, they’re going to say no.

        They’re enjoying it enough that they’ll read it at the first opportunity.

        • Also, some of us live in sufficiently different time zones (or on sufficiently abnormal sleep schedules) to make catching the 12:01a ET updates convenient.

          Sent from my iPhone

  2. Thanks for reading, guys. This marks the end of the arc. I’m probably going to get lynched for leaving some detail here unresolved (the papers, the heroes’ meeting), but whatev. 8k words, and I wasn’t going to try for 10k. I wasn’t hugely happy with the past two arcs. If I were writing a book, this’d be the point I went back and fixed it up so the tempo wasn’t quite so high over a 4-arc span, and so things were a bit smoother in progression. Things should chill out, in a general sense, for just a little while.

    If you enjoyed, votes on topwebfiction are always appreciated. FYI, there’s an interlude Thurs, barring exceptional circumstance (though it’ll be tough, as I have a meeting of my writer’s circle tomorrow night), and another on Saturday.

    • The heroes meeting I can understand from a story standpoint. They are villains and the next arc or two will probably be dealing with the aftermath of this chapter. But just having Skitter reading the note would have been a perfect ending and a good cliffhanger depending on what exactly it said. I’m just so curious about Dinah has written. I know you have gotten a few criticisms about the unrelenting pressure but I thought it fit very well. When it rains, it pours in Brockton Bay.

      • The notes probably weren’t THAT important. They we’re probably meant for Triumph, seeing as how Dinah can see the future and knew Skitter was blind as of writing.

        Probably something like TRUST SKITTER, or DON’T KILL THE UNDERSIDERS, THEY COOL, or THE NEW COSTUME YOU’RE PLANNING WILL MAKE YOU LOOK GAY.

        – Love Dinah :)

        • Too true, but if could also have been something heartwarming, or terrifying. TRUST TATTLETALE
          YOUR FATHER IS IN DANGER OF DYING.
          INVEST IN TOOTHPASTE
          LOOK BEHIND YOU
          MADE YOU LOOK

        • I think one is for Triumph telling him not to kill Skitter and the other one is to Skitter telling her not to press Tattletale on the fact that she is obviously lying about that undying love thing.

            • I recognize the type. This sort of shipper makes a cross between a mule and a bulldog look permissive. Even if both sides are disgusted, they will ship and maybe write fanfics to justify their points of view.

            • It would be totally viable if they were into girls and Lisa didn’t see Taylor as a sibling analogue and Taylor didn’t have trust issues with Lisa and Taylor wasn’t already dating Brian and …

      • I mean it. If my grumbling from before has any blame for causing you to alter this, this, this masterpiece into a lesser thing, I will do something stupid. Probably involving more grumbling. Ranting, even. Insane, villainous ranting.

        • Fool!

          You are unworthy of insane villainous ranting! Know this, should you dare to impose on my ranting, you will find yourself in a world of pain, orbitting a sun of despair in a solar system of crushing humiliation drifting through a galaxy of inconceivable woe that is but one miniscule speck in a universe of torment!

          Seek not these powers you do not understand, foolish mortal, lest your life leave you on the journey.

          Mwahahahahahaha!

          • Unworthy? UNWORTHY??!? Your umbrage is delicious to me, like a fine vintage of wine flavored with desperation and self-loathing, as it reveals your insecurities like a journal found beneath the bed of a high-school glee club understudy.

            Worlds have fallen beneath my sinister turns of phrase, more insidiously than towns exposed to the Yellow King’s theatre, more inhumanely than North Korean required reading lists.

            Rage on, speck of a speck in a cosmos that will never care you existed, and know that you are able to vent yourself because you are not capable of amounting to something worth destroying.

            Ha. Ha. HABWAHAHABHANLFlsplutterspit HA!

    • I think the tempo synergizes well with Taylors feelings: All the action, being driven towards a goal, not getting much rest, and suddenly, it’s over. It fits quite well, methinks.

      • Well that’s a very…artsy way to look at it.

        However I think that either way taken as a whole and without the current situation of this being the most recent chapter, having had something like 1-200,000 (thousand!) words of constant tension is too much. A break between the Coil plotline and the Travellers…but that doesn’t work with the Travellers’ character arcs…

        • Artsy? Umm… Don’t know.

          I just think that it’s like this: Taylor has just had a really, really long night, and day, she went to her limits and beyond, and again, and again, and now it’s finally over, exactly like the story was told to us. We didn’t get much of a break, because she didn’t get much of a break.

    • I, for one, had no problem with the pacing. Four chapters of spine-twisting amp-over-amp tension? Ahhhhhhhh! Refreshing.

      And topped off with a nice denouement that provides answers but still leaves one wondering…? Wholly satisfying.

      Hg

  3. I…wow. Wow.

    This chapter was really well done. Noelle’s death, the Travelers’ return home, Tattletale finally explaining her backstory…

    I think my favorite part was Alexandria’s speech, though. Skitter’s help aside, she presented herself impressively. Somehow.

  4. So now we know Tattletale’s backstory and why she did so much for Taylor. I guess we readers are the same as the characters in wondering what is going to happen next. No secret stays buried forever though. Alexandria/Eidolon’s activities will get out at some point, and the backlash will be even worse. So the PRT is going to become much weaker or disintegrate at some point. If the Endbringers aren’t dead by that point then the world is pretty screwed. But it is probably going to be child’s play for the Smurf to manipulate things so the secret gets out and there is much less resistance against them. I am a little confused about Tattletale’s statement about inter-dimensional trade though. Didn’t Labyrinth have the door connect to an uninhabited world, or is Brockton Bay about to become the most important trade city in the world with the Undersiders owning the land it is on?

    • I’m betting Tattletale has a way of shifting what world the doorway connects to and is canny enough not to let Faultline know.

    • A world of completely un-tapped resources. Want to retry exploiting the Pennsylvania oil fields with modern technology and run a pipeline through the door to Brockton Bay? Knock yourself out. Just don’t forget your, ahem, entry fees.
      Want to settle a new world away from the old? Get your covered wagon and group of like minded settlers and head out. But don’t forget that Brockton Bay does charge a fee for transit.
      Or build a resort. Or fish in unspoiled fisheries. And on and on.

    • Labyrinth connected the portal to an uninhabited world, so the Undersiders now own an entire planet of unclaimed natural resources.

        • You know what untapped wildernesses have a lot of? Dangers.

          It is known that the world will end sometime soon, and this seems like a decent candidate. If the Slaughterhouse 9 hadn’t escaped, Dragon would have been here to stop Echidna. If she had, the portal would not have been created. It doesn’t seem immediately dangerous, but appearances can be deceiving.

          • That’s kind of where my own thoughts went. But then I thought, nah. Too obvious.

            I’ll bet a Tropicana poker chip that the new world ends up playing a role in preventing or mitigating the apocalypse, though…

          • Meh, alien diseases killing off large portions of the population seems like a good bet for the apocalypse, but we’d be seeing at least some casualties right off the bat, not a simultaneous planetary culling in two years time. It’ll be really interesting to see how Wildbow handles Brockton Bay’s new role in global politics, what security precautions will be implemented to keep plagues/wildlife from killing everybody, how Tattletale will organize transportation to and from the other world (it’s going to be one hell of a traffic jam), and how the Undersiders protect their territory, which is suddenly very valuable indeed.

          • That seems a little stretchy for an “It’s him,” though. I mean, what would make Jack Slash stand out more there than Labyrinth, Scrub, and Tattletale? Or the Number Man who funded Manton who projected Siberian who kept the Slaughterhouse 9 alive to get away to draw off Dragon to facilitate Echidna to encourage the portal that Tattletale asked for Scrub and Labyrinth to make to go to the world that will have the house that Jack built?

    • Ah, now I see. So Brockton Bay is pretty much the resource capital in the world, and they can’t condemn it anymore. But Tattletale didn’t think this completely through. Yes they own the city/biggest goldmine in the world, but EVERYONE is going to try and take the place away from them. Forget Cauldron, any villain worth his salt is going to do anything they can to take over the underworld there for the potential profits to be made.

        • But a good time for Skitter to have a reputation for utterly destroying Dragon’s toys, and kicking out the Nine, and slicing a giant anime-inspired Monster in half after it took out BOTH Eidolon and Alexandria, and… Well, that seems like enough actually. But let’s add Lung, the entire combined forces of the Wards and Protectorate of Brockton Bay, the Merchants, and having a reputation for omniscience and omnipresence among the people in her turf.

          If that weren’t enough, Tattletale still has a mercenary army at her beck and call. And Grue can’t be counted out just yet. For that matter, Imp seems to be coming into her own; I feel she’ll have a bigger part to play in the future.

          All that said, I could see someone like, say, Accord deciding that he was smart enough to make a play – though he’d probably try an alliance first. He seems to favor deal-making over outright ball-busting.

    • I’m betting its either something completely irrelevant, or is directed to the poerson who patted skitter down on her way to the PRT headquarters.

    • Wild misguided speculation time – it’s not about any of that. Those papers will play a role in the end-of-the-world scenario. They haven’t been revealed because the events they affect haven’t been formed yet, story-wise, and they’d either be spoileriffic or too cryptic for them to add anything to this point in the story.

    • Just added my guess to TV Tropes — I think it’s the probabilities of various capes being alive (and/or present) before and after the disaster.

      Also betting that Tattletale’s odds are not good.

  5. Tattletale’s backstory revealed: Great.
    Skitter acting contrary to justice “for the greater good,” like Coil and Cauldron: Not so great.
    Not seeing what Dinah wrote on the papers, nor Taylor’s reaction: WTH? Why must you torture us so, Wildbow?

    Back to midterms tests and papers.

    • Its the Watchmen dilemma. SPOILERS for whoever hasn’t read it. Skitter made the choice all of the heroes except Rorschach did, that the world was better off never knowing the truth and stopping a war. But there were hints in the ending, that the truth could become known, and I highly doubt they will keep every hero form keeping their mouth shut without doing what Dr. Manhatten did to Rorschach.

      • That’s over dramatizing that a bit, yeah? Skitter didn’t really make an effectual choice, just voiced her opinion. It’s up to the heroes if they want to listen to her or not.

        • Not necessarily overdramatization. Skitter lied to the person who killed those 4 heroes, so that she would kill them. And silenced the one person with the courage (or recklessness) to speak out about it.

          That said, the rest of the ‘heroes’ present kept their silence. In a way, Skitter made their choice for them, too – given how fast events were moving, and Skitter’s uncanny ability to keep up and react intelligently to them, it’s possible that the others would have chosen differently given time to think about things. But… maybe they wouldn’t have either. Skitter made a hard choice that needed to be made, and had enough information (awareness of the heroes, Noelle’s growth rate, the state of the battle lines, hell she was even aware of the teamwork going on) that her urgency in directing Sundancer to make the kill carries a lot of moral weight all on its own.

          • As far as the Protectorate goes, yeah – Skitter putting perceived necessity over justice for the lives destroyed by Cauldron does seem a bit questionable.

            Perhaps some perspective on just how bad it is for the rest of the world might help explain that – the people in the story seem to have more concern over threats to civilization than readers can identify with, even after reading through an Endbringer attack and learning entire first-world nations have been destroyed (Japan). I mean, intellectually we know that Endbringers are bringing the end, and that prophecy foretells the end is nigh, but maybe we’re just not feeling it yet. Might be a good topic for an interlude, so we can get a feel for what’s scaring the crap out of Skitter so much that Cauldron and some truly evil acts by Alexandria and co. are worth her overlooking.

        • She did force the conflict to slow down though. If the heroes had made an immediate decision they probably would have turned Alexandria down no matter how much sense her suggestions made. Instead they ended up talking about it and will probably mostly realize that she had a valid point.

    • Man, justice is great and all, and you should pursue it, but you know what else is nice? Not getting exterminated by the Endbringers. Or the rising population of supervillains. Or… etc. I figure it’s like the pyramid of needs. Staying alive comes first.

      Frankly, if a hero selfishly decided to destroy the PRT for fleeting revenge because he couldn’t keep a lid on his anger, even though that would probably condemn a lot of civilians to death as hero coordination plummeted, I figure that would be a lot more questionable than what Skitter did here.

    • It’s the way stuff ties up that makes it feel more like an ending.

      Any evidence to the contrary aside, I’m still a novice author, still finding my way and figuring stuff out as I go. Part of that is figuring out how to wrap stuff up, so this was something of an experiment on that front.

      The arcs that follow (I’m guessing from now until Fall/Winter 2013) would be, in an ideal world, the final ‘book’ in the Worm series.

      • The greatest “masters” with dozens of books under their belt, world wide fame and adoration, still consider themselves novices. That said, the classic ideas of the RIGHT and WRONG way to tell a story are dissolving. Publishers focus on what has traditionally sold well. But a lot of things they will not touch still SELL, still entertain, just not as many people. The digital publishing revolution has done wonders for giving us stories that would not be published.

        That said, this is very much a book end. It winds us down, ties a few things together, and leaves us asking questions that we can wait for the sequel to have answered.

        • Well, they say you’ve only mastered something when you’ve invested 10,000 hours into something.

          1 million words at ~300-500 words an hour, 2000-3333 hours just spent actively writing Worm. I can’t speak for the drafts I wrote before I even started, or the drafts that I didn’t produce, or the time that goes into wondering/thinking about what I’m going to write, but I’d say I’m maybe a third of the way there.

          And I’ve made roughly three thousand dollars from donations, so that’s about a dollar and eleven cents an hour.

          Definitely a long ways from making a living doing this, but I’m going to keep at it and see if I can make it happen.

          • Well, you’re already supplementing your income by doing something you love, which is the first step. This is the best thing I’ve read in years, easily better than most of the tripe you can find on bookshelves nowadays.

            Oh, and you’ve now made four thousand dollars from donations.

          • I have no words. I feel like anything I said wouldn’t quite fit or come across as sincere (doesn’t help that it’s 2am and I spent every unoccupied minute of today writing).

            Thank you very much, Saintsant.

          • It’s supposed to be 10,000 constructive hours. Forgetting the quantity of the words, it’s a very high quality story. Good or bad this is one of the best things I’ve ever read. Some might say that a guy who writes what and like I do isn’t perhaps a very good judge of a story. Those are the people I want to beat over the head with a complete set of the Wormverse Saga 1st Edition hardcovers.

            And Alexander the Eh *wiggles his hand parallel to the ground for a moment* is right about the change in traditional ways to tell a story. There are millions of traditional books out there. Most are crap. Some of the best selling ones are even crap. Ideally you want your book to be different from them, and I can assure you it already is. Fuck convention right in its nosehole. Make something beautiful and special that’s different and you know what’ll happen? Convention will move towards you.

            Maybe this is just crazy talk, but fuck, I might as be the one to talk crazy around here. Worm is the House of Leaves of the superhero genre. You’re at the apex of a brave new world. A very dark brave new world, but that’s not a statement of quality. You’re the man now dog. Cover your nosehole, because I thrust greatness upon you!

            And Saintsant, have you no shame? Think of all the extra interludes Wibbity Dibbity has to write now?

          • I just donated tonight too, before I read this. I’m short a couple decimal places from where the bar’s just been set… feeling a bit inadequate right now.

          • Thats… a lot of time. at an 8 hour day, say 2750 hours for the midline, thats over a year at a regular job, (68 weeks). And while it seems piddly on a per hourage, as Hogarth mentioned at webfictionguide, you are certainly ahead of the curve on making money through donations. Have you thought of doing merch? theres a lot of cool stuff you could totally do. I wish I had been able to spend a quarter of the time actually writing that you have. I might have finished a book or two by now, instead of having two serial novels half done for 5 years…

          • Looks like you need to redo your math, Wildbow. By my calculations (I’ve always wanted an excuse to say that), Saintsant gave you a retroactive 65% raise.

          • did… did saintsant just donate a grand? HOLY FUCKBALLS! You deserve it though wildbow. If I had it I’d give it too. That said, at a 100 grand a book, thats ten books you’ve now written. Think of that. You’ve written, enh, say 7 novels and 3 books of short stories? That’s amazing for a year and a half (as an 8 hour a day job). And at, say, 5.99 a piece, I feel like I owe you 60 bucks. (next paycheck)

            And Alexander the Eh *wiggles his hand parallel to the ground for a moment*

            BWAHAHAHAHAH! Awesome. I love it. I need to get an avatar of someone doing that as an animated gif.

          • I almost never scroll down to read the comments, so I’m counting myself lucky I got to see saintsant’s heartwarming moment.

  6. Man, Clockblocker and Regent would be such buddies.

    And I so want to know what those papers said.

    ” flying in and help hold Echidna” Helping?
    “Her costume had burned” “pieces of her costume remained,” Probably don’t need to say costume twice in the sentence. Also, she’s lucky there are no remaining electronics around!
    “Eidolon helping her to wrap her heavy cape over her shoulders.” Would it be his cape, not hers?
    “Someone scoffed. You want us to keep your secret?“” Missing quotation mark.

  7. This arc was interesting. Some of the more complex alternate earth plot points I don’t get, but I really enjoyed the fight. Taylor and Clockblocker teaming up was really cool, and I hope he gets more focus later on. I wonder what direction the story’s going to take now, though, as I can think of at least five different major enemies to face in the next arc, and several more issues. And, as many people have been wondering where Tattletale’s getting all of this money, me included, I think she’s going to put a tax on using the portal or something.

  8. So is nobody else gonna call dibs on being the guy to take the first step into the new world? Seriously? I mean, I would.

    A new planet full of resources might just be the thing to offset the effect losing the Protectorate will have on the Endbringer war. More resources can help smooth over international relations, the ability to visit an unspoiled not-doomed earth could have a profound effect on morale, an earth with hundreds of extinct species still around might have an unexpected effect on science, and most importantly new territory that can be used as a fall back point in case things go badly.

    Just as long the portal isn’t big enough to fit an Endbringer through, they made sure of that right? RIGHT?

    Also, is Labyrinth absolutely certain that this new earth is uninhabited? Or is she just making inference based on the lack of cities? Contact with a pre-industrial civilization would be a cool story twist.

    Also, I’m pretty sure one of you jerks guessed that Lisa’s trigger involved a suicide. Nice shot Hawkeye! But you feel crappy now!

  9. Survivor’s guilt. Damn.

    Now I’m trying to figure out what tropes to add to Lisa’s section. My Greatest Failure, maybe.

    (Also, I see why she avoided talking about her trigger event for so long. She didn’t want Taylor thinking about suicide until after she had helped Taylor out of that hole.)

    (Also, I think there are at least two and a half WMGs that are Jossed by this chapter, if we assume Lisa isn’t lying.)

    • Funny thing – I was rereading the story again over the past few days, and one of the chapters I read this Monday, the day before the update, was Insinuation 2.7:

      —-

      Alec offered the slightest roll of his eyes as I introduced myself, while Brian just grinned. Lisa, though, put one of her arms around my shoulders and gave me a one-armed squeeze of a hug. She was a little older than I was, so she was just tall enough to be at the perfect height to do it. What caught me off guard was how nice the gesture felt. Like I had been needing a hug from someone who wasn’t my dad for a long time.

      —-

      …it’s like a delayed sucker-punch. Taylor *would have died* if she hadn’t met Tattletale on that roof … and not because of Lung, but because she literally had only one human being in her entire life who was on her side, and what she needed he couldn’t give her. And you can see it in almost everything Tattletale was doing for the whole story.

      Bravissimo, wildbow.

    • …This has been troubling me since it came up a chapter or so back but I’m just not seeing that in Lisa’s behaviour.

      She just doesn’t have the kind of self-loathing that such a failure breeds. She’s far too comfortable in her own skin. I guess she could just be smart enough not to feel responsible but then that feels off too for survivor’s guilt.

      My Greatest Failure does fit though. She seems to approach it more objectively. Less crippling guilt more desire to not let it slip past again. Even when she talks about it she sounds like she’s trying to prove her worth more then disprove a lack of it.

      • It seems like she was mostly getting tormented by “her responsibility” for it from the outside, though; like, she didn’t trigger *out* of crippling guilt, but as the only way to *escape* crippling guilt.

        Which I think fits her behavior pretty well— her life isn’t about making up for her brother’s suicide, her life is about proving that she’s not a selfish idiot who saw the signs of it coming and failed to do anything about it. Which is sort of a selfish motivation, but it’s also a true one— it wasn’t her fault, and she wasn’t dumb about it, so being able to hang on to a self-image where that truth is true is her right.

        The neat thing is that with all the parallels to Emma I think that one of the things her power/trigger/circumstances/history is doing is keeping her from becoming that person. Like, she could very easily have become the kind of person who bullies people into suicide, except that she now has everything vested in not being that.

        (I keep thinking that Emma must be parahuman, apropos of little— we never got a full explanation of Charlotte’s perspective on the locker incident. It’s plausible that Taylor feeling guilty for something she couldn’t remember in the Noelle-fueled re-enactment was just a delirious bullying victim trying to put the pieces together by assuming she *must* have done something wrong to cause it, but it’s also possible that something weird is going on there. I mean, it’s not that the version of events where Emma is just a big fan of Shadow Stalker doesn’t *hold together,* but there’s a sense of something more there.)

        Further random aside: Bravo, Wildbow! This is pretty awesome stuff, beginning to ending.

        • Thank you for mentioning the idea of Emma being a parahuman too. That’s been kicking around in my head for a while now and I keep forgetting to bring it up.

          I’m not sure I can point to any evidence for it, but it would help explain Emma’s otherwise inexplicable turning on Taylor.

          Granted it’s inexplicable to us because we’re seeing it filtered through Taylor’s perception and it was the thing she least expected Emma to do, but I can’t think of any outside viewpoints that have offered any insight into it either. The only thing I’ve been able to come up with is that Taylor completely misread their relationship as a close and trusting one when Emma was barely tolerating her.

          The problem there is Taylor hasn’t been shown to be all that bad at understanding people in the context of the series. I mean, she even figured out Rachel’s deal and managed to connect to her which is something even Tattletale didn’t manage.

          • I don’t think it’s entirely inexplicable – Emma’s father works with Carol Dallon, after all. She might have gotten in the habit of thinking that relations with superheroes – or perhaps I should say “superheroes” – take top priority.

            Also, I think Taylor learned a lot about analyzing people in self-defense from a year and a half of being a target.

  10. “This isn’t the point where you confess your undying love for me, is it?”

    She snorted. “No.”

    – You broke my heart, Wildbow :/

          • Yeah, speaking of that, Alexandria was pretty damned impressive. It takes balls to face down a crowd of angry parahumans who’d like nothing more than to lynch you while virtually naked and covered in molten metal.

          • Aside from the eye, I got the image of Lady Death in my head in regards to Alexandria. Few people are quite so willing to stare down the world in the buff. It’s difficult for guy because we have all the dangly bits that we don’t like exposed to violence, but women’s bodies are sexualized a lot more. Maybe, like a cat person on Improbable Island, she even gets a bonus to defense that way.

            And Sundancer? Hot. Smoking, bubbling, meltingly hot.

            In regards to the lack of undying love between Tattletale and Skitter:
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5f3-jB0-do

          • Time for some Grim Tales from Down Below, looks like Tattletale’s gonna keep it in the family. You know what they say, easier to cross the hall than to cross the street. If only they looked a lot a like I could get away with “Twincest is wincest” but I guess we’ll just have to settle imagining Taylor with a girl who will always know just the right spot to touch.

    • Well, she didn’t say that she wasn’t in love with Taylor. She just said that this wasn’t the point where she confessed to it.

      Exact words and everything.

      Also there is still Bitch. She was awfully upset about Skitter’s seeming heroic sacrifice.

      • I honestly would not be surprised if she loves Taylor. Either as the closest thing to family she has ever had, or romantically.

        • Seconded. Would not be surprised in either case. …Though I’m gonna guess Bitch loves Taylor more like a rescued dog loves its first caring master.

          • My aunt’s dog is like that. Labradoodle, born into a puppy mill and forced to repeatedly have litters from the first time she was able, while sitting in her own urine and feces in a cage. Never let out for walks, never playing with people or socializing with other dogs.

            My aunt rescued her from a shelter, and the dog is unbelievably devoted. She’s getting older now (the dog), but due to the lack of early socialization, is still very much like a month-old puppy in terms of how she reacts to people & other dogs.

            • It’s why you should always get your dog from a breeder you’ve met and (ideally) have a reference for. Pet stores get most/all of their dogs from puppy mills.

          • Don’t forget the pound. You can’t leave those furry faces behind bars! Jailbreak one of them quick before they give it a lethal injection.

            Like when I got that fun beagle named Franklin a few years back. Why, he’d most likely be dead now if not for that rescue. *pets at the empty air* Who’s a good boy?

          • Amen to that, Wildbow!!! A good pet store doesn’t sell puppies. A great pet store showcases dogs from the pound, up for adoption.

            And the area where Wildbow lives is rife with puppy mills, sadly.

            Hg

  11. So, the first world with abandoned buildings- one already wiped out by the Endbringers, before the area became more heavily settled? Did the Doctor leave as that world fell or did Cauldron test something there that wiped it out?

  12. Well it looks like Weld and the other case 53’s are going to join Faultline’s crew. Damn, I was hoping for a new Undersider. Weld seems to respect Skitter, and Gully was interesting.

    • Yeah, oddly enough, by favorite part of this chapter was the interplay between Skitter and Clockblocker. If anyone’s going to be joining the Undersiders, it seems like it’d be him.

      • Clockblocker would probably fit in very well, but he has his parents to think of. I think it was stated that he had a relapse with something and was back in the hospital. Unless the Undersiders can off him a surefire cure, I don’t think he will join. Still, more than few heroes are probably going to be quitting the PRT in disgust after this, and the Undersiders did kind of become filthy, stinking, rich. Plus they are relatively non-violent, know the truth about Cauldron, and stick it to the PRT on a regular basis. I could totally see Wildbow having a new cape ask to join the Undersiders.

    • One projection: The Undersiders make a deal with local, state and national governments to share profits and responsibility for defending the portal, while remaining in nominal ownership over it. A government task force is set up, which includes PRT forces. As part of the deal, the Undersiders retain primary responsibility over the safety of the portal and its travelers, which means… they are the reporting officers for the task force.

      So even if not one single hero defects, they still end up working for the Undersiders.

  13. “Tinker-made, if she’d been passing.”

    Seems somewhat awkward. “If it’d been passing for a normal eye,” maybe?

    “Oliver and Genesis weren’t wearing costumes, and merely strode through.”

    Do you mean her crafted body? Her actual form isn’t in any shape to be walking, and her crafted form would be useless as she’d still be in Brockton Bay when it dissolved.

  14. I find it interesting that clockblocker let slip about his power fluctuating, and that this was a good day for him. This seems to imply powers ebb and flow like tides, making me wonder what is affecting them so.

  15. “[...] Show that, with these crazy smart capes like Alexandria and Faultline around, I could still be the smartest person in the room.”
    “And do you?” I asked.

    …Do you what? Is that supposed to be “can you” (as is, can you be the smartest person in the room), or did you miss a part of Tattletale’s speech the “do you” was supposed to tie into?

  16. I absolutely LOVE that Ballistic went back in costume, that kid isn’t giving up his powers for anyone or anything. He is almost certainly to end up a high end player there, seeing as they don’t have many capes and the ones they do have are pretty terrible in comparison.

      • But don’t you see? This is even better for him than staying. On his homeworld there is NOONE to stop him. The heroes there are few and far between, and the ones that exist are garbage compared to a high end player like Ballistic. All he has to do is gather a few of the other villains, who will almost certainly be weaker than him, to keep around as lookouts for when he sleeps and he will become one of the most dangerous parahumans on the planet. If he can talk one of the other Travellers into joining up so much the better.

        • Once more I must bow before your greater ability for cynicism and evil plotting.

          For some reason I had completely forgotten that Ballistic was a remorseless villain of the bad sort.

          • I don’t know, he seemed pretty restrained during the scuffle with the Wards prior to the Nine showing up, and there was that one scene where he wouldn’t unload on Cherish. Still, going back does give him more opportunities for independent villainy than Brockton Bay, but perhaps he just wants out of this particular parallel before the world ends.

          • I think Ballistic wouldn’t unload on Cherish because she’s a walking radar set with the ability to read and skew your emotions. She sensed someone sighting in on her with lethal intent and put him in a state of mind to find any excuse not to shoot her, but wanted out of the Nine by any means at that point, so didn’t blow the ambush overall. That incident doesn’t really go to Ballistic’s own character.

            I think he’s an emotionally burned-out ronin more than he is a villain, per se. Given a fresh start, he might even try for heroism. …Ehhh, probably not.

        • That noone guy, he interferes way too often. You’d think he’d be busy loving anyone in a pretty how town, but nooo, guess noone doesn’t care about anyone after all.

  17. Hm…

    Worm has been on a roll for a while and it hasn’t stopped yet. This was some really excellent work. I really like the lack of resolution for some bits, but then again I like kind of ambiguous and slightly confusing endings. I’d be rather happy with this as the final ending, though I am glad we’re getting more of it.

    I think this was perfect. I am very curious to see what happens next. We’ve lost Coil, who’s held the story together got a very long time. This strikes me as a point that could change things as radically as Leviathan did.

    Hm, it will be interesting to see who gets the next Interludes.

  18. I can’t believe I didn’t notice it until now.

    The world’s population drops by a massive amount.

    Powers are multi-dimensional and thus can be used in any dimension.

    Brockton Bay just became a major hub for world travel.

    Honestly this chapter didn’t do much for me, it felt anti-climatic for the tension to just stop in these last two chapters and none of the resolutions went in remotely surprising directions. But then this hit me and I was back to sitting up and paying attention.

    This is why I love the setting most of all. It’s the element that is always there when other stuff seems lacking something. Wildbow you crazy genius you! I read your web serial! XD

    • I feel like I should know who you mean. I am too hooked for coincidence too… Are there $4 monthly subscriptions? ^_^

    • Ah, yes, i see what you’re getting at. Dinah didn’t say most of the world’s population would die (I think, I didn’t check), she said they would be gone. They could just as easily migrate somewhere else; say, a convenient and newly available alternate dimension without endbringers.

      • And the thing about Skitter being there but different makes a different sort of sense if you remember the recent Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland. She was not hardly the right Alice at first. By the end of the story, she was.

  19. I hope the other world is close enough so that there won’t be any invasive species on the other side.

    Without humans there is less chance of human plagues that nobody has any defence against, but there might still be animal borne diseases that can infect humans that nobody has ever heard of in this universe.

    I guess if the split that differentiate the universes and wiped out the humans is recent there might not be enough difference to make it too dangerous.

    In any case I would quarantine the hell out of that portal.

    There is also hoping that this isn’t the uninhabited world that cauldron was planning to use as an ark to escape the end of the world.

    On the other hand, nobody said that the world was a close analogue. Maybe the whole evolution of birds never happened and that world still has giant insects as a result. From a story telling perspective it gives license to just make up whatever insect is needed and say it exists on the other world.

    On a different note I liked Clockblocker’s reaction eager for another repeat of Skitter’s manoeuvre.

    • I’m betting there is something terribly wrong with it. There is a race of homicidal mermen under the ocean, a terrible plague, the world is sentient and drives people mad etc. How often does the wormverse get lucky breaks?

      • There doesn’t even have to be too much wrong with it. Just look at all the problems we have in the real world thanks to invasive species. The native Americans dying from diseases introduced by Europeans or the problems Australia had with cute little bunny rabbits despite fact that everything over there is apparently poisonous.

        That said if I was shown a world without humans I would ask to questions: “What about all the dangerous megafauna that humans killed off?” and “What exactly killed of all the humans or prevented them from evolving?”

        With a little luck the answer is giant insects, but luck seems unlikely.

        • Or alternatively, the endbringers don’t care about killing the humans so much as getting rid of them.

          Simurrgh could just be smart enough to have decided on ending the war instead of fighting pointlessly.

          At least could be if it wasn’t for Dinah’s presence guaranteeing that this had nothing to do with her predictions and plots and plans.

        • There could also be a situation where everything went according to plan, and THAT was why things went to hell.

          Imagine of what that sudden influx of new resources, specifically precious metals and oil and the like, could to do an economy if it wasn’t tightly regulated. What’re the contents of Fort Knox worth if someone suddenly introduced all of the gold from the gold rush without any regulation? Destroying currencies might not be the most exciting or dramatic of ways to ruin nations (which is why I don’t think we’ll see it happen here.) but it’d still do the trick.

          That said, I think the PRT and the government are going to be coming back to Brockton in a big way just to make sure everything stays under control. And even if they don’t, it’s an entire WORLD’S worth of resources, possibly with all it in the same places they are in the other. Wars have been fought over less abundant resources.

          • Yeah, Spain’s currency became horribly devalued and their economy was wrecked.

            I suppose this would be a good time to not have a currency hooked to the gold standard.

          • The gold standard ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Useful way to part gloom and doom people from their money while also making sure a modern day purveyor of the Southern Strategy loses millions.

            But yeah, if it’s widely known about then all the resources could lower the value in the real world. Of course, the entire world is a resource too. If you can enter it and then tear a hole into Earth Beta again at another place in the world, you’re looking at a way to infiltrate anywhere on Earth.

            It works thusly. Enter the other Earth. Travel to the area in that world that is the equivalent location of the Oval Office. Open another hole. Congratulations, you just circumvented all the President’s defenses save any in the room with him. You can even evade pursuit provided you can close the second hole.

            Got to give her this. A whole nother Earth? Tattletale sure traded up on headquarters.

  20. How about a list of loose ends?

    * What was on those papers?
    * How is Grue doing?
    * What happened to Vista?
    * What about Shatterbird?
    * Did any Skitter clones make it out alive? (Dinah said the Skitter would be there at the end of the world, but that she would be different!)
    * Did Skitter ever get her gun back? (The gun she shot Coil with!)
    * Will Bitch hit her for her stunt and making her worry?
    * What happens with Theo?
    * What is going on with the Nine and Dragon & Defiant?
    * What shape is Taylor’s dad in?
    * Will Tattletale be able to cover her debts?
    * What will Faultline think about the fact that her rival Tattletale just apparently solved her crews quest about the origin of the case 53s?
    * Will Weld return to the Wards to reform the system from the insides or will he join Faultline’s crew?
    * What will the world be told about what happened in Brockton Bay beyond the heroic sacrifice of heroes against an s-class threat?
    *What will Cauldron do now?

    • It’s unlikely that any Scurries made it out – they almost certainly would have targeted either her dad or her minions, and she would have known if either were.

      I don’t think she got the gun back – I think she left before it unfroze.

      I don’t know about any of the others.

      • I vote for a little psychological torture. First give her crabs and lice. Then have her woken up every night by bugs crawling all over her that disappear immediately when she screams. Then have atlas do a fly over where only she can see. After she is a nervous wreck, have a HUGE swarm of cockroaches chase her around. Then she can stop. Oh, and make sure she uses those tiny cameras of her to record the whole thing so she has something to watch when she is feeling down.

        • Considering how she threw her former best friend over to be best friends with the superhero and said superhero is now in a detention facilty, the best revenge might be to learn the internationally famous superviallain skitter, crime lord and undisputed ruler of the city with the dimensional nexus and overall one of the most influential superpowered beings left is her former best friend Taylor.

          She lived vivaciously through a girl that was just a minor superhero in training, while Skitter has advanced to the point where some of the biggest names left were listening to what she was saying.

          Emma bet on the wrong horse and knowing she threw her best friend away for one that turned out to be not only a failure but also as far as she knows someone who has a crush on her, will be hard on her. When skitter does not seek revenge and she realizese that she is so far below her that she won’t even brother getting back at her it will hit someone who cares about status a lot.

    • There’s also the exact details about what’s going on with the Passengers.

      We’ve had a lot of different hints that it’s Important(tm).
      * Cauldron’s research into giving folks powers.
      * Bonesaw’s research into how triggers and Passengers work
      * The ‘Cape Gap’ between Worm’s universe and Earth Aleph
      * Panacea’s revelation about the sources of powers that the Simurgh kept Dragon from finding out about.
      * Armsmaster’s discovery that Dragon had a trigger event.
      * The hints we’ve gotten *during* trigger events in the story.

      • I think it’s very much like dinahs power of sorting worlds. It’s a dual entity, the classic creator destroyer duality. At some point they split, creating the multiverse. They exist simultaneously in all universes, and are traveling back and forth, looking for something. Every time they cross boundarys, one of them collides with a mind, and alters it. perhaps something about the trigger event is like a lure, and draws them to that world. Which would mean that they are looking for stress, or at least, something that will happen around a lot of “trigger events.” I would personally wmg that they are looking for an apocolypse type event, as something will be released allowing them to rejoin.

      • I have my own theory about the ‘cape gap’.
        What if Cauldron is intercepting all of their cape potential? That’s why they only have crappy capes, because Cauldron is sucking up the good cape… juice.
        There’s probably a better reason, but that makes the most sense to me.

    • How about what exactly happened with Taylor’s injuries?

      That’s a pretty major plot point yet unless I missed something there simply isn’t any mention of it.

        • He could do that? Then why’d he make such a fuss over being careful and it likely not being permanent? I thought the injuries were just copied onto the clone?

          • Scapegoating was all about transferring sins onto a goat to be cast out. It would have worked very well if he just took them onto himself, but the name fits absolutely perfectly that he can then give the injuries to someone else.

          • The concern was if they were separated too much, or if Taylor or Scapegoat was significantly injured (or even stressed or shocked), then the connection between them would be severed, and all of Taylor’s injuries would snap back onto her, only probably worse than they had been. In the initial explanation of his power, it was indicated they had to be careful until he could transfer the damage to someone else. A disposable clone happened to be the perfect target.

            Hg

  21. I had been about to try and get some much needed sleep before a busy day when I realised (tossing and turning) what was bugging me so much about this last few chapters.

    I was thinking on how the last few arcs felt over full and almost confused with how many things were happening all at once and colliding into one another.

    So I started thinking of a metaphor of a pot boiling over, and how the previous arcs have been the stillness, then the simmer, then the roiling boil and then that explosion of fury when someone knocks something highly reactive in and the whole thing goes up in dramatic wonder and then settles back at an appropriate pace.

    Whereas this felt more like the pot came to the boil and boiled and boiled and boiled and then exploded but just kept exploding until it boiled dry and the steam went away and that was the empty feeling.

    And then I thought about that being like a pot in a room with no-one watching it and that was when I realised that for the most part our central hero had no real part in the closing of this arc. Her big thing happened last chapter, she didn’t really have anything to do with this one. She was just watching other people do the stuff and…

    Sorry, I am sure this was going somewhere to begin with. Now all my tired brain’s got is the vague worry that the quantity is too high and that’s why the story feels less elegant then it used to before there were near constant bonuses. Almost like the bonuses are taking the tempo slots from the cooldown chapters and leaving the main story without it’s cooling rods. And I’m plainly too tired, I’m gonna come back to this point after sleep. Maybe it’ll turn out to be rambling or maybe I’ll find the point somewhere inside it.

    • I’ve been thinking about this. Worm is certainly atypical on this regard and goes against conventional wisdom with regard to pacing.

      But honestly, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing. It’s intense and draining at points, but I’ve been reading this straight through (I didn’t discover it until it was already completed) and I just keep wanting to read more.

      We did have points to stop and breathe a little when Taylor was first building up her territory before the Nine hit, and when she was just hanging with her Dad before Coil’s attack during the election. And that seems to have been enough for me.

      Perhaps the time has come when people are becoming more open to different types of pacing.

  22. So can we declare Cauldron the savior of humanity yet? We now know that they didn’t bring the Endbringers here or else Eidolon would have announced it. They also created the three strongest reliable endbringer deterrants on the planet. Along with a multitude of lesser parahumans that have at the very least served as fodder against the Endbringers.

    Seeing as Cauldron’s worst fuckups (Noelle, Siberian, and apparently the Gray Boy) are at worst not destroying the world or at best dead they seem to me to be doing a decent enough job at keeping humanity alive. Without them you don’t have a huge portion of the hero population, and their entire leadership and most of their heavy hitters don’t exist.

    Taylor can think to herself that the villains are recovering better than the heroes all she wants, but there aren’t any continental villain leagues to actually gather armies to stop the things that matter. That is all on the PRT, which Cauldron invented and provided alot of the troops for.

    I am not trying to say that they aren’t doing terrible things, but saving the world and the species can balance out quite a few atrocities. Sometimes the ends really do justify the means.

    • Saving the world? They might have delayed it but they are failing to “kill” the Endbringers. For all the crimes against humanity they did, the apathy to the suffering they caused, and the lives they destroyed, it might have been for nothing. I’ll grant that they did create the PRT, but I think you will at least agree that is a far from perfect organization. Not to mention that based on what Legend said about the formula being much safer, and Shamrock not being a monster, their formula was good enough that they could have stopped kidnapping, brainwashing, torturing, and destroying innocent people’s lives. Why didn’t they simply start giving out their formula free of charge? They might have evened the odds against the villains at that point, but they kept doing it when it was no longer necessary. The big three seemed to have been created very early on based from Alexandria’s interlude, so I wonder why their haven’t been more “heroes” just as strong since then. Either they can’t do it anymore, which raises some interesting questions about their formula, or they don’t want to create heroes so powerful in case they can’t be controlled by them. They might tell themselves they are saving the world, but they aren’t saving crap. They didn’t do so hot against Leviathan or Echidna. They needed Scion and Skitter to save their asses. Their existence has only mitigated some damage and MAYBE delayed the End of the World for a little while, but it is obvious that the Endbringers are winning. If a natural parahuman like Dragon, or Skitter ever manages to kill an Endbringer, then they have no defense for what they did. All the lies they told themselves would be proven false because in the end all the terrible things they did didn’t kill an endbringer. Plus, lets be realistic here. If the Endbringers never showed up, you honestly think they would be acting any different?

      • Lets say that they aren’t there though. Poof you lose the top three combatants and a bunch of the reliable fodder level troops. Those atrocities you are so offended by certainly don’t happen, but that is because humanity died out years earlier when noone could routinely drive away the endbringers. The things are attacking every few months, and losing a city to them even half the time would destroy civilization very very quickly.

        Sure the PRT isn’t a great organization, and it certainly fails pretty badly at a local level. The thing is it is succeeding admirably at a global level. It is organizing the defense against the Endbringers, and that is pretty much all it needs to do to keep humanity alive long enough for someone with a power capable of beating the endbringers and sane enough to use it to show up.

        I feel bad for everyone that Cauldron hurt, but they can’t amount to a fraction of a percent of the number of people Cauldron has saved by keeping humanity alive.

        • Yeah, Cauldron as we know it appears to be the lesser evil, in the greater scheme of things. But, keep in mind that even we do not know everything. The Terminus Project could wind up being something even more heinously destructive than the Endbringers.

        • Based on what we know, and that prediction about the world, I honestly think things wouldn’t be that much worse without them there. That is how badly they are outmatched by the Endbringers and how much damage they have done. Leviathan wiped the floor with them, The Smurf is so feared because she has pretty much accomplished her goals at every attack, and I honestly think Scion is the only one who can really drive Behemoth off. There have already been islands sunk, multiple cities destroyed, a water crisis, and all the other damage wildbow mentioned. It honestly sounds like their presence hasn’t really bought that much time. I will grant that Alexandria has made a difference, but only by creating the PRT. I have to withhold complete judgement on them until Wildbow says for sure how much of a difference the big 3 have made on attacks against the Endbringers. But their atrocities downgraded a FEW attacks from complete to merely devastating, yay?

      • Okay, so that whole rant was really constructed only so you could mention Skitter and Scion in the same breath, wasn’t it?

        C’mon. Admit it. We all think she’s that badass too. :)

        Hg

    • Problem with saying the end of fighting the Endbringers justifies their means doesn’t work for me.

      The reason is that they got started with their means and had their goal in mind before the Endbringers showed up. Since they’d wormed their way into being in control, they were then the ones forced to deal with the situation.

      If I start kidnapping children and doing experiments on them to figure out how to make super soldiers. Then years later we end up in a war and it turns out my new super soldiers are the best chance of winning it. The fact that things now might be worse if I hadn’t done that, doesn’t justify the horrible things I did or make me not a horrible person.

      Also just because they didn’t create the Endbringers directly, doesn’t mean that they aren’t somehow responsible. Perhaps the very act of making the formula and giving powers to people that otherwise wouldn’t have them screwed up something with the way it all works. Or perhaps their opening portals to other dimensions and fucking with things there caused the problem. The Endbringers could be like an immune system reaction to Cauldrons activities, the universe just trying to eliminate the unnatural interference before it kill the host.

  23. Now, the question – why wouldn’t the army move into the Brockton Bay to take control and possession of the portal?

    I mean, it is a strategic resource now, a unique one that allows to, potentially, save humanity, either by sending people through the portal and changing the destination so Endbringers can’t follow, or tricking Endbringers into going through the portal and changing the destination so it can’t return.

    It also gives access to an entire world(s) of untouched resources.

    Is Tattletale really so naive to think that land rights will be enough to hold control over the portal?

    • They don’t really need to hold the portal to make enormous profits off of it though. Even if the army moves in and takes over the area around it and doesn’t compensate the owner of the land, they will still make a giant profit. They are the dominant powered force in Brockton Bay and will almost certainly have taken over all the local gangs by the time any sort of real authority is reestablished. Tattletale took huge amounts of property from Coil when he died, so as the city is rebuilt the combination of controlling the drug trade and other crime, and owning alot of the local land being built on will bring in cash no matter what happens.

      On the parahuman side I feel safe in betting that they are going to start recruiting and at least forming subordinate groups of villains much as that OCD villain did. After a certain point, which they are really close to as is, you can’t just send in tanks and soldiers and expect them to win anymore. Taylor could sit in a basement and drive off every soldier in her range without much trouble. If she was being sneaky about it she could go after everyone in one direction so that they can’t figure out her location easily.

      God forbid Regent gets his hands on one of your tank drivers, or Imp starts poisoning food being fed to the local troops. I wouldn’t want to have the military start firing guns around when surrounded by giant clouds of darkness either, the friendly fire would be terrible. I wouldn’t really want to go after a pack of giant armored mutant dogs either, even if I was in a tank it would be hard as hell to stop one that just jumped onto you from four stories up. Have fun not damaging the city taking a pack of them out. With Tattletale monitoring the situation this is not an easy situation for conventional armed forces to deal with.

    • She doesn’t have to. She stands to make an enormous profit just from owning/controlling the area around the portal. I imagine it is similar to finding oil on your land, so she is gonna make bundle even if the government makes her give it over.

    • Tattletale herself is a pretty unique strategic resource now. I mean, seriously, she just cobbled together a reconfigurable dimensional portal from random powers people had laying around. Tattletale and Skitter are probably the most impressive constructive and destructive Tinkers *out* there even before we get into the fact that their specialties are in tactically combining other peoples’ powers.

      *And* they both keep hinting that they’d be OK with some level of legitimacy.

      • Yeah, the situations reminds me of Ching Shih.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ching_Shih

        The short version is: She was, basically, the most badass pirate who ever lived. In fact she was so badass that the Chinese authorities eventually figured out the only way to deal with her was to offer her amnesty and allow her to retire in style.

        Granted, I don’t want to see Tattletale and Skitter retire yet (more story please!) but as effective, reasonable and historically proven solutions go, that one seems like a winner to me.

  24. Awesome, AWESOME chapter wildbow.
    Tattletales backstory is actually pretty much what I expected.

    I only have one gripe. You are probably already used to it, so I’ll make it one word: VISTA

  25. A couple of things come to mind.

    “Attention, Slaughterhouse Nine. You have now been designated World Destroyers. You have been given full authorization to utilize any means to destroy *this* world in the next two years to your heart’s content. We appreciate your time and patience on this matter, and look forward to seeing astonishing results.”

    Separate note: Ouroboros is/was the wyrm that ate its own tail…

    • Locking them in a world without victims would be pretty much the ultimate punishment.

      Well until Bonesaw started manufacturing some. Yeah, probably best to just kill that one.

      • Wham episode:

        They do that. She does. Only it’s not an alternate world. It’s THE ANCIENT HISTORY OF EARTH!

        **

        “I’ll just take a rib now,” she muttered to herself, peeling back his skin.

        “Ow! Fuck!” said Adam.

        “No. Swearing!” said the divine presence, poking him firmly in his wounded chest.

        He fell back. The only God he’d ever known began rapidly sculpting *something* from his extruded bone . . .

  26. So, people mention how this portal is a rare resource, but…

    Not really? I mean, can’t they just make more? This turned out to be pretty easy, after all.

      • To quote Will Smith…”Awww helllll no!”

        2 years now seems like an optimistic time frame on the end of the world if people are going to start messing with constructing gates where “You can’t even guess at the yield” when they blow up.

        • Most people consider tearing a whole in the structure of existence to be dangerous. They are right.

          Earth may be a lot of things. A primitive and sometimes smelly place with too much beetle poop on the floor, but on the bright side the people tend to be either corrupt or incredibly gullible. However, it’s also where I keep my stuff. You know, my armor, my exploding knives, chicken grenades, LSD dartgun prototype, pink scooter, my giant buster sword named Ole Freudy, my kitchen, my food, my drinks, my air.

          It may be in their best interest to not blow open a hole in existence, I’m just saying. Last time I did it, I was trying to destroy the Earth. Well, a Earth. Who’s to say it wouldn’t just be a much slower death…say two years give or take…with just this one relatively subdued hole.

          Subdued holes…yet another reason to not care too much for D/s.

  27. Thanks to one very (very) generous reader, I’ve scheduled five more bonus chapters for the coming weeks and months. That’s seven in total, in the queue.

    To give myself a chance to get caught up and to account for the increasing audience size, I’ve increased the target amount, which I’ve started doing after every 5-6 bonus chapters anyways. Every time I do this I have to wonder if I’m shooting myself in the foot, because there’s no real yardstick to go by (too high & some won’t donate because it’s not reachable, too low and it doesn’t solve anything, forcing me to guess again). Still I’m thinking that since the number of readers has increased to 150% what it was earlier this year, it can’t be horribly off target if I do the same with the benchmark.

    I’m hopeful/suspicious the mark can still be hit, in the coming 7-14 weeks it takes me to get through the backlog (esp. with the still-increasing audience numbers).

    Thank you very much, readers, for coming this far with me. I appreciate your continued reading & feedback.

    • The only problem is I’m now agonizing over what bonus chapters we might get.

      Legend coping with the fallout
      The Travellers returning home
      Trickster and how he’s dealing
      Vista (VISTA)
      More Defiant/Dragon messed up romance
      Or just something unexpected yet awesome.

      So glad things are going well for you! You’ve definitely earned it!

      • I’m personally hoping for an interlude where we see what the rest of the world has been seeing, message board things, stuff like that.
        A ‘here’s how the outside sees what’s been going on in Brockton Bay’ deal.

        • I’ve got three ideas in mind:

          * One that’s kind of a jerk move by me. It’s just plain mean, but it’d help to tie up the loose ends from the previous arcs.

          * One that people have been begging for, which I think I’m finally in a position to do (on a lot of levels).

          * One that frames the coming arc rather well.

          But only really room for two, with Thursday’s bonus interlude and Tuesday’s regular interlude.

          • Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and ask for the latter two of those. And hope that others do the same.

            Not just cause of jerkness but also because loose ends aren’t a bad thing. Real life has tons of them, leaving some things open makes it feel more expansive I think.

          • One ties up loose ends, one sets up the next arc. Sounds like only one of those three can be put off for a bit (and if we’ve been begging for it this long, I am sure we can wait a bit longer).

            And to Anzer’ke’s comment – I HATE loose ends. I like everything spelled out, explained and wrapped in a bow. JMHO.

            • Would people be particularly miffed if I reordered things a bit? I sort of did it by swapping a bonus interlude for a regular interlude (for chronological reasons), but this would be somewhat more severe. Something like:

              Thurs – Bonus Interlude

              Sat – Interlude

              Tues – Bonus Interlude

              Thurs – Regular update

              Sat – Regular update. (Back to normal schedule).

          • I am just happy that you update. However, you have mentioned that you keep wanting to go back and edit/rewrite earlier arcs to improve the story. In light of that outlook, writing the first and third options will make you happiest in the long run. Tying up loose ends has to be done sooner or later, because leaving them undone will just bug you to no end, and framing the next arc well means that you will not have to go back to it later and edit/rewrite it. Option two would be really cool, but we have managed to wait this long for it, so we can survive longer without it. If it makes you feel better, you can always prepare option two as an update for when you need a break or if you get sick or you feel that you need to rewrite an update before it goes up.

            tl;dr
            You will be happier if you pick Door #1 and Door #3. Save Door #2 for future break material/sick day.

          • Oh. Well. Damn. In that case, do what you like. You know that we all support your work, even when you doubt yourself. Besides, whatever decision you make we have to live with it. Addiction is like that.

          • @wildbow: the Tuesday bonus sounds like a good idea to me, actually. I think it’s better to tell the story in a logical order than to stick to a fixed these-days-are-bonuses schedule, and if you have a plan of action in mind, go for it.

          • Yeah, having the resolution bits come first fits with the arc just having ended, the interlude people have been asking for is the perfect weekend treat, and the third introduces the current arc before you begin. It sounds perfect, and there’s no need to cling to a schedule when it’s inconvenient for you.

    • One thing that might make it easier to raise the donation level would be to also tie it to a time frame. Meaning something like: “$400 or 3 months”. That way if you eventually raise it to a point that we’re not able to meet and the time expires you can bump the donation level for an interlude back down.

      That may also help nudge people who are on the fence about donating now or later to get one in before the current timeout expires.

    • Idk about anybody else, but when I donated, bonus interludes were the furthest thing from my mind. The bar you set, reachable or not, just wasn’t a factor.

      • I appreciate that, and I get what you’re saying. But that’s why I phrased it ‘some people’ rather than ‘everyone’. I know some readers are putting money forward to get the interludes, or they chip in when the benchmark is nearly met.

        • You know, it totally, totally would. If someone can write this as an omake / fanfiction of this, it would be hilarious.

          • Actually, since Taylor’s face was JUST disclosed (during Echidna incident), She (Miss Militia) likely wouldn’t connect daughter of her boyfriend and Skitter’s civilian identity – she had no reason to memorize that face for one, and photos are likely relatively old; plus Taylor is likely laughing / smiling in them – different expressions may make her hard to recognize.

            You know what would be a perfect disclosure (for her father)? Taylor walking in on her father and Miss Militia (either outright making love, or just kissing).

            Think of misunderstandings (especially after Triumph’s fiasco!)!

            This could be glorious.

            Very unlikely to happen in the actual story, but glorious.

          • This is the wormverse, so expect tragic drama. Hannah finally finds someone who makes life much easier, grows very close with her boyfriends daughter, thinks about marriage etc. Taylor is glad that her dad is happy, grows close with her, and thinks they can finally be a happy family. THEN, they find out about each other.

          • During a double date / near-family outing (Miss Militia + Taylor’s father, Taylor + Grue) they are attacked by some parahuman who has reason to attack Undersiders and PRT both (escaped Lung, Bonesaw, some random maniac).

            Both sides decide to reveal their secrets to their “normal” loved ones in order to protect them.

            Well, this would be a positive way for such revelation to happen at least.

          • Yeah, it finally happened. I developed an unsupported ship for this series.

            Not totally sold on it, I always like to see the undying love angle. But still, kind of an awesome pairing.

          • For once I am in agreement. If someone wrote this fanfic I would love them forever. The crack pairing below make me cackle evilly to no end.(Which is shall call Diggy!) :3 I <3 Worm and all us Wormlings/Skittles(not sure what we decided on :P )

  28. How far is far enough from Imp after you’ve betrayed and traumatized her big brother? To another universe? No, nuh uh. The birdcage? Maybe. >:D

  29. I finally got what was bugging me through and after the chapter!

    While everyone (both heroes in the story and readers out of it) talked about the Triumvirate, NO ONE has remembered about Cauldron.

    I mean, it is known that Cauldron is not just the Triumvirate (there’s also Doctor, Number Boy and quite likely others), who need to be captured / neutralized (and Doctor, at least, seems to be unknown to the general public and can thus be tried / placed in the birdcage). There are facilities that need to be raided, prisoners that need to be freed, released victims that need to be contacted and, potentially, returned to their home dimensions (was this why Alxeandria was freaking out about Earth Aleph? How many test subjects are from there?)

    The formula needs to be either destroyed (to prevent it falling into Bonesaw’s hands) or taken from Cauldron’s hands and peer (tinker) reviewed / made public / placed into the hands of trusted people (Dragon!).

    Records need to be obtained, of who has used the formula (and I will NEVER believe that Cauldron didn’t keep records) with lie-detecting capes / programs insuring that all records are obtained / no name is concealed.

    If the Cauldron is to continue in some form (to produce new capes), then testing procedures need to be reviewed and monitored from now on. And yes, there WILL be waiting lines of healthy people ready to volunteer become monsters / die painfully in order to save the world.

    Instead Alexandria is acting like she expects Cauldron to remain operating just like it was (in the portal scene). No one wants to save prisoners (Weld! Miss Militia!)

    No one is asking if there is an ANTIDOTE.

    • Fair. Covering all the bases is hard.

      Some questions get asked when Taylor’s gone, and I assumed that these questions would come up then, but in retrospect, some of them are too important to be put off to later. I expanded the conversation with Alexandria some to reflect that.

      • Ok, thanks for responding. Have read through the changes. It is interesting however, how Alexandria speaks about Cauldron.

        What I mean, she tells heroes that they can’t come after Triumvirate because they shouldn’t go after Triumvirate. Because Triumvirate is doing good and is needed for the good of the world.

        And then she tells them not to go after Cauldron, because they can’t do anything against Cauldron. She doesn’t invoke “it is needed” clause. She tells them that Cauldron is too powerful to be stopped, and is untouchable. That there is nothing heroes can do against it.

        Basically, she tells heroes to surrender, to leave Cauldron to do whatever it wants, like PRT did against Nilbog. Only Cauldron is world-wide.

        I can’t see at least some heroes (or villains, like Faultline’s soon-to-be-expanded crew) not taking this as a challenge.

        I was just wandering if this was your intention when writing this. At least this was how it read to me.

        Another point – Taylor’s speech right after (when she voices her opinion on not touching Triumvirate) may need some editing. Adding something like “at least about Triumvirate” or something. It is a great speech, but with the addition to what Alexandria is saying, Taylor saying ‘she’s right” changes its meaning.

        Just saying. Thanks again for the response.

        I like the story very much as it is, those were just some of my thoughts.

        • Oh good god, yes. Faultline’s crew most likely will stop at nothing to take down Cauldron. Out of everyone there they are the ones I see completely not giving a fuck that the evil organization is composed of heroes fighting Endbringers – they know firsthand about the misery and horror Cauldron is causing. Their entire mission in life so far has been to find out who Cauldron is and take them down hard, and I don’t see that changing now.

          • Faultine’s a sharp cookie though, I think by now she’s figured out that she can’t go straight at Cauldron anymore, not when they’ve got people who can shred her team at will. They need to take a long view, work on acquiring strong allies who can make hostilities with Cauldron possible. Allies like the Undersiders, who have a goldmine on their hands and a skeleton crew to defend it.

        • I only read the revised version and yeah, I also thought that Taylor’s “She’s right” didn’t quite fit with the dialogue before and after it.

    • And if the antidote would work on trigger capes…. and is it a formula? They are called “samples” What if they are extracts of people WITH powers? imagine rows of people in pods ala the matrix, tubes leaking their brain fluids out.

      • This is what I’ve assumed from the beginning — the samples are extracts from folks, prepped in some special way, like with a catalyst or something…

        • Yeah, but some of these powers are very potent, and if they’re stealing from the original bearers…. Then why haven’t they been heard of before? Admittedly, Joe McAcidbreath could vanish without repercussions, but Eidolon and Legend’s powersets? People like that make waves. And why doesn’t Cauldron know exactly what kind of powers the recipients will get it?

          • Maybe they’re sampling the bearers *before* they get powers?

            Let’s say, you have a precog or alt-universe window that shows you that some girl named Taylor has the potential to offload part of her self onto a bunch of verminy creatures nearby. And let’s say that this is an obvious choice for a boutique power, because you know that everybody’s got a yearnin’ to be vermin this spring.

            So you kidnap that girl, extract her . . . DNA? Brain fluids? Whatever it is that makes her “right” for the passengers, beyond the trigger event itself . . . and make a formula.

            Now you don’t know exactly what powers the recipient’s going to get, particularly since you have to dilute that with the Cauldron control formula to ensure that the trigger happens and keep the passenger from just turning her into an Echidna-kind-of-thing, but you can be pretty sure it’s going to produce some sort of vermin control . . .

            This could be one possible Doylist reason for the 3-year-old Noelle Meinhardt of Bet—if you get the same people occurring across the dimensions, but at different times, (which is . . . weird, and I wouldn’t want to bet on it either way) . . . then that makes it a lot easier to grab someone destined/suited for triggering before they do so.

        • Shatterbird claimed that people specifically bought HER powers, in Hookwolf’s interlude. And that they might want a refund if they found out about her weakness.

    • Given that pretty much all of the story was apparently Tattletale working towards giving Taylor needed psychological help, no, I don’t really think so. Yet.

      Hmm… in Exalted terms, Lisa has just achieved her primary Motivation, established during her Trigger Event.

      I wonder, what effects could it have on her and her powers, if any?

      • I’m not certain myself, but when i think about the level of control she has over pretty much evryone she interacts with, the “helping hand” motivation, and the questionable decisions, not to mention the way she practically went postal following Skitters graduation from the Tattletale happyhappy academy, it all makes me wonder where her character’s going, and what side it’ll take her to.

      • Hrm. Now that you mention it… Tattletale theorizes that people get stronger when closer to their triggers, but having felt “finished” when Skitter shot Coil once and for all, she went on an unparalleled intuition-spree, well past the point of headaches (which she was reaching at the Echidna briefing, before she started tearing holes in reality and all that). Curious!

  30. Alexandria: ” I’m trusting that each of you are sane enough, reasonable enough that. You”

    Seems to be some missing dialog there.

    • Also:

      ““Earlier, that you couldn’t talk to me about the problem because I was the problem.””

      Might be you wanted “Earlier, you said that you couldn’t…”

  31. Y’know, when Dinah was freed I thought that there wouldn’t be much of a future for Taylor as a supervillain. The motivation for running around getting the shit beaten out of her was gone unless there’s someone actively gunning for her. Now I think this portal is going to take that up to eleven. Not only because of the Undersiders going semi-legitimate cooling over relations with the authorities but also from the science angle.

    Brockton isn’t just going to be a resource capital of the world. As a divergent earth without human habitation it’s going to be a biologist’s wet dream. Even if the changes are slight the place is going to be of enormous interest interest to zoology, botany, and environmental science. If there are significant differences the field of evolutionary biology is going to motherfucking explode. Taylor can easily find alot of non-violent stuff to do with her powers. from streamlining agriculture to collecting blood samples and supplying entomologists with an endless supply of test samples.

    The other kids from nature camp are going to be soooooo jealous.

  32. Wildbow,

    Use the suggested revised schedule that you posted if it’ll make you more comfortable/better able to tell the story you want.

    You had mentioned some concerns about a ‘burn-out’ indirectly in the past, so go at the pace that allows you the most enjoyment while continuing the work.

    ALSO: Several individuals have inquired into having this in a print format. Perhaps a Kickstarter campaign when you get things tapped back to a level you’re comfortable with for the first few chapters, to see what sort of support it has?

    More randomness here…

    I’d almost say that Skitter would be a great person to be the next regional head of the PRT, except they’ve had a HORRIBLE track record of late and I don’t think *she* would want that sort of baggage, especially given recent revelations as to how things tied together.

    It’d be kind of nice to see some people get ‘decent’ (maybe not fairy-tale ‘happily ever after’) endings to their stories. So far, most of Worm has been death, retirement, incarceration, institutionalization, death, ‘retirement’, death, death, people self-exiled out of the ‘line of fire’, death…
    Yes, things are pretty bleak, even with this brand new shiny opportunity plopped down in Brockton Bay. And that’s part of the allure of the writing… but to at least see some folks who get ‘done right’ by the world might be a refreshing change, especially if it is as a result of actions that characters who have died/retired/’retired’/resigned/were incarcerated, etc, took.

    Mileage may vary, of course, as well as kilometerage…

  33. Oh, knowing their luck Undersider Interdimensional Shipping, Inc. will just end up being another part of The Simurgh’s bomba ex machina.

  34. ====

    Echidna roared and threw herself against her temporary prison. Rock and melting ice tumbled away. She began to claw free, until her upper body was intact. Capes opened with ranged fire, tearing into her forelimbs and limiting her mobility. Alexandria dropped Tattletale and cast off her cape, before flying in and helping to hold Echidna in place.

    ====

    “She began to claw free, until her upper body was intact” doesn’t quite make sense.

        • tender (verb)
          to present for acceptance : offer

          Well, dang, you learn something new everyday. I’ll blame that one on not being a native english speaker: I’d never seen tender used with another meaning than “soften”. I guess this’ll be useful if… I ever have to formally resign from something in english?

          • Suppose so.

            I spent a good few minutes studying that sentence & the ones in proximity to it for some kind of error. Spacing, spelling, grammar, punctuation, couldn’t find an issue.

            Was so confused.

  35. Not sure if this has been raised yet but.

    “Oliver and Genesis weren’t wearing costumes, and merely strode through.”

    I don’t think that works for Genesis in her wheelchair.

  36. Another thought on the portal thing I mentioned above. So, Tattletale has one portal now.

    But who’s now in a prime position to open another one? Faultline’s crew. And where would they want to go? Cauldronia.

    Somehow, I can not think of any way this could end well.

  37. I can’t reply to the comment directly for some reason- when you ask about if people would mind you temporarily going off your regular schedule around to fit in more interludes: I say go ahead. Now is the perfect place to do it, timing wise.

  38. I like the additional fleshing out of the conversation with Alexandria, it felt awfully abrupt before. Particularly like how resolute Alexandria is, very much a mirror of Skitter when she’s called to account for her sins. Very ‘I will count it enough that there is a history to revile me’.. not so far off from Jack’s way of thinking, save for a few niggling details.

    But damn does it suck to be Legend. A month ago he was fighting a losing war, but there was family, friends, comarades-in-arms, and hope. Then his friends morphed into something fucked up, he still doesn’t really know what, his negligence as head of the Protectorate proven beyond all doubt. When it came to a head, he bet on his friends for one last time, bet big, in hopes of at least salvaging something, and lost big. Never mind explaining this to the PRT or the Heroes, how does he explain this to his husband?

    Man, if I was him I’d be hunting Shatterbird at the speed of light, half hoping for enough of a fight from her to make it not a problem anymore, half hoping that closing her out will make it feel a little less bad.

  39. I see you get lots of compliments and praise here (and a lot of it is deserved) saying things like “you’re the best author I’ve ever read”- I feel I should try to temper that with some criticism.

    I’m really attached to your characters, and interested in the plot and the world. I’d love Worm no matter the format- be it book or movie or TV show. What I’m trying to say is that I like the story a lot more than I like your writing (as in, the words and sentences themselves). Hopefully you’ll understand what I mean when I say I think you’re a great story-teller but merely an ok writer.

    I’m not saying that your writing is bad- you’ve got some really great and memorable scenes-particularly when you’re writing horror type stuff (like Grue after being worked on by Bonesaw, Piggot going to Nilbog-ville). But it’s not something that stands out most of the time.

    I can’t really give specific examples of how to become good at writing as opposed to story-telling, (I’m not a writer myself)- but I can point to two examples in recent memory that stand out in my mind as fantastic WRITING (independently of story-telling). The first is the opening chapters of the book “Assasin’s Apprentice” by Robin Hobb. The second are the books “The Name of the Wind” and “The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss.

    I once read a post Rothfuss made about his writing style, and it kind of opened my eyes to what he does better than most authors, and I think you might find it helpful. Skip to the line “I rely heavily on implication in my writing.”

    http://blog.patrickrothfuss.com/2011/08/fanmail-qa-why-does-it-take-so-long-to-translate-the-book/

    I’m not saying you don’t use implication (I’d have to re-read your story a lot more closely to make any more specific criticism)- I’m just giving one example of writing that stood out to me.

    Hopefully you find this post useful.

      • I’ve read those books. I actually wasn’t a fan of the Assassin’s Apprentice (or the Fool’s Fate) books, though I do like Robin Hobb’s other work.

        As I said before, I’m a novice. I think that’s the sort of thing you get better at with sheer writing experience (if I recall correctly, Robin Hobb is a pen name and the author released a number of other books in another genre?). It’s a hard balance to strike, between being opaque and hinting -just enough- that an inference graspable (while still making sense to those who skip past the reference).

        • > I actually wasn’t a fan of the Assassin’s Apprentice (or the Fool’s Fate) books

          I haven’t read any of her other stuff yet (though it’s on my to-read list). I’m just saying that independently of the quality of her story, her writing was something that stood out to me.

          At the time when I started reading Assassin’s Apprentice, I had just finished a book by another author who wasn’t nearly as good as Robin Hobb, and it was immediately apparent to me the difference in writing quality.

    • Really? I find Rothfuss pedestrian in his style, and rather too reliant on the “implication”, as he puts it. For some reason he has a huge internet following, which is an accomplishment I guess, but as an author he gets a lot of unearned praise in my book. When you combine this with his rather generic story, this has sadly put me of his books. Especially once we reach the second one, and I started predicting plot points and getting really bored with his style. I would hate to see Worm go the same way.

      No problems with Robin Hobb though.

      For truly great writing, I would turn to people like Ursula LeGuin or Paulo Baccigalupi…or if you enjoy his style, China Mievielle (that man can turn a phrase). And if you want to look outside of genre, there are of course tons of great writers out there. Paul Auster has an amazing flow in his writing, for instance, though I usually dislike his books for other reasons.

      • My favorite sculptor of words is and has always been Richard Adams, but if you want out-of-genre recommendations, I’d actually nominate *Bruce Catton* as a candidate – a historian, but one with a fantastically vivid way with prose.

      • If you like LeGuin, I would suggest Vonda Mcyntire (but I probably don’t need to) but also Chetwin (I think the first name is grace?) She writes the Gom Gobblechuck series. Imagine if LeGuin had originally written Harry Potter, but in an alternate, magic based world.

    • can’t really give specific examples of how to become good at writing as opposed to story-telling, (I’m not a writer myself)- That’s obvious. There are different styles, and ways of doing things. There are different voices, and viewpoints. While I will agree that Worm is rather… raw… when compared to “professional” writers, that is a big chunk of what I like. Writing IS storytelling. And there are many ways to tell a story. The rules of writing, grammar, fine polished formulaic stuff is what publishing houses sell, because they know it will sell to a lot of people. That does not automatically make anything else INFERIOR. I would heartily ask you look over your own prejudices, because while it may not be your intention, what you are saying in that post is “Your writing isn’t the exact format I’ve been spoonfed and told is GOOD WRITING all my life, and yet I enjoy reading it. This disquiets me, and somehow I feel what you write MUST be inferior, because I don’t know any better but to think that different is not good. ”

      That isn’t intended as an insult to you. That’s intended as a wakeup call. I for one cant stand the writing style of 50 shades, for instance, (And I write erotica and romance on the side) BUT, a lot of people DO. Worm has more readers than it takes books sold to make the New Times Bestseller list. And there is online fiction, both serial webfiction and direct to ebooks fiction, that makes worm look like a dog eared copy book sitting at your local coffee shop, in terms of readers. The polished prose of what the publishing Houses TELLS us is good, is going the way of the dinosaur. You do have the right to dislike a particular writing style. You don’t have the right to suggest it is wrong, or should be done differently, just to appease your sensibilities.

  40. This was awesome. Also I would love to see the military try and take the portal. We can assume they would have supers of their own, that are geared toward being more destructive than the average hero. So it could make for a rather interesting fight, specifically if it coincides with a play by a conglomeration of big name bad guys that results in a battle royal.
    Also, that kill order could still happen. In fact it would be a good idea if the government wanted to take the portal.

    • Let the military take control of the portal. Have them station lots of troops around it. When those troops are of duty and leave their base they will go to the bars, the strip clubs and the brothels of the nearest city. And who controls the cities underworld and gets a cut of every transaction?

      All the industry that springs up around the gate will bring people and their business to the city and that in turn will bring business and people cratering to theses people.

      It will be a big gold rush type of thing and while the government might help stake a claim on the goldmine for certain people the real money will be made by those who own the only saloon in town.

    • Can we really assume that the military heros for lack of a better word are more geared towards destructive power?
      Wouldn t we have seen them deployed against at least the Endbringers for they are clearly a threat that warrants it. Also as far as i understand it the primary and most wellknown metahuman recruiting organisation is the Wards which admittedly doesn t mean the military doesn t have something similar but it should mean that most metahumans that a recruited there are probably influenced toward joining the Protectorate and not the military. That in connection to the villains outnumbering the heros and the PRT is an official government endorsed organization makes me believe that there can t be too many military supers around. And throwing them against some supervillains who have a well deserved reputation for surviving through s-class threat after s-class threat may be considered a waste.
      Of course their effectivness would be dependend on what kind of tactics they used and those very well could be very different from what wards and PRT use so yea it could be an interesting fight.
      The thing that makes me believe it will not happen that way is the public opinion. Having a land grab occur at the same time a kill order gets put out on the people who are in posession of that land could look very bad indeed from a PR standpoint.
      Of course that could swing either way having supervillains control that portal may as well provoke a public outcry to put them in their place. But hey that could be interesting too maybe also in addition to some companys try getting in there. But that could be to much politics for this series so for now my money is on some other supervillains to try and get it instead.

  41. Three more comments to go until we reach 300. Which I think is a first for the story. Come one commenters, give us your crazy theories, crack pairings, and fanfic ideas.

    • I had a weird idea just now.

      Second generation superheroine becomes pregnant. Late during pregnancy she is attacked. Turbulence of attack causes unborn third generation to trigger in the womb. Infant’s power: self-duplication (much like Prism). Born as and believed to be twins. Years later one of the two is hit by a car. Impact was non-fatal, but duplicate disintegrates under the heavy impact. Memories are returned to surviving “twin” who has identity crisis and problems coping with the strange loss.

      • My nightmare: They were ruined by Noelle-goop when Skitter was absorbed, and only Triumph and Dinah know what they said. Dinah is unreachable or just plain doesn’t remember what she wrote due to her ongoing detox.

  42. “One that’s kind of a jerk move by me. It’s just plain mean.”

    Does this scare anyone else? Because, seriously, anyone who could put Taylor through the events of the last seven or so arcs clearly doesn’t have much in the way of concern for their characters’ safety, and makes the description of the upcoming interlude mildly chilling.

    • Given how easily it was stated I’m wondering if it may be a double bluff. The real player punch striking in the second or third interlude instead, right when we’ve let our guard down.

  43. I fifth (sixth?) the temp revised schedule. Don’t let an arbitrary schedule get in the way of telling great story.

    Anyone else notice the similarity between the visions of crystalline entities that seem to be the source of the Passengers and the cystalline tissue type of the Endbringers?

    Just a thought that may have been thought before.

    Be well.

  44. Haven’t had time to read through all the comments, but did anyone else catch into the potential significance of the portal? That is, even if the world is still doomed, they’ve got a backup world to evacuate into.

  45. Do you read see comments on old posts? Meh.

    Maybe an error: Skitter says that there were five capes left inside Echidna but Alexandria later on says that there were 4 that died inside. “Still five captives inside, I noted” (Skitter); “four capes were inside her when she was scoured away” (Alexandria).

    I passed on noting a couple of other inconsequential errors but this one made me comment for some reason.

    I greatly enjoy Worm. I read too fast so I started a reread immediately after finishing in Arc 27. There’s so much stuff. Thank you.

  46. I don’t get why they are making a big deal about people buying powers, what does it matter that Superman bought his powers?
    I can see them distrusting Cauldron and disliking it (though I personally think they are quite correct, if there were less heroes around things would have been far worse than a few people with inhuman appearance), but I don’t understand why on Earth there would suddenly be a rift between the bought and natural and the “monster” capes.

    Tattletale is reckless and dangerous and should not have power. I’d maybe go so far as to say Birdcage.

    The portal is way too valuable for there to be a choke point left in villain (or any-non-gov) hands. The military will step in and as powerful as the Undersiders are, the US military outclasses them very very very very badly (the Undersiders might be able to hide and escape, but there’s no way they can hold territory). If they want the portal they can take it and they are going to want it.
    I’m wondering if you will leave this as a plothole or handwave it away.

  47. So, uh, not a single hero out of the 50 of whatever that were there going to comment on that Earth Aleph (still want to know how those names got sorted) and ANOTHER UNIVERSE were easy to access. It’s not a hard conclusion to make, that someone else has a portal there.

    Also aren’t a ton of the Wards/Proceteorates rich people who bought powers anyway?

  48. > “That, Tattletale said, “is something we’ll have to trust to luck and an educated guess.”

    You’re missing a quote mark after “That”.

  49. From the first chapter of Queen, two arcs ago:
    “Chance someone stops her?” Tattletale asked. ”Defeats her, kills her?”
    Dinah shook her head.
    “You don’t know?”
    “I can’t see it.”
    “Okay,” Tattletale said. ”That means we probably can’t stop her with sheer firepower.”
    “Didn’t see it.”

    So…why didn’t Dinah see anything like this?

  50. AGHHHHH *runs in circles*
    THOSE PAPERS!!!! NEED TO READ THEM!!!

    *Makes a wild bow for Wildbow* Aha! I understood your name at last!

  51. Am I the only one wondering who the four capes killed along with Echidna were, and if we knew any of them?

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