Interlude 19

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“Ballet, horseback riding, modeling classes or violin.  Pick one, Emma.  One.”

“Or, or, or, maybe I don’t pick any, and…”

“And?” she could hear a weariness in her father’s voice.  He checked over his shoulder and then turned the car into a side street.  A bag with assorted tubs of ice cream sat on the divider between the pair of them.

“Maybe you give a second thought to moving?   There’s really nice places just a little way South, and I’d still be going to the same school, and-“

“Nope.”

“Dad!”

“There’s three jobs I absolutely despise in this world.  One is matching socks, the second is ironing, and the third is moving.  I can foist the first two off on your mom, but the third is a lifestyle choice.  My lifestyle, specifically, is owning the house I’m going to live in until I die.”

Emma frowned, turning to look out the window.  She pouted a little, “This place sucks.  Brockton Bay sucks.

“What’s so bad about it?”

“Everything’s falling apart.  It’s like… show me any house, and I can point out ten things that are wrong with it.”

“Every house has something wrong with it.”

“Not every house!  Like, when I went to Chris’ birthday party?  I-“

“Chris?”

“Christine,” Emma injected a note of condescension into her voice, “Last weekend?  Or did you forget already?”

“Why not call her Christine?  Perfectly nice name.”

“Because androgyne is cool, dad.  It’s the thing in modelling.  Like, I could never have my hair short, but-”  She stopped mid-sentence, answering her phone mid-ring.  “Hello?”

“Emma!”  The voice on the other end was breathy, excited.  There was a babble of other voices in the background.  She could imagine the other youths lined up to use the pay phones.

“Taylor,” Emma said, smiling.

“Ok I gotta talk fast because I only have two minutes and I need my other fifty cents to call my dad.  We rowed across the lake this morning to this waterfall, only it wasn’t exactly a waterfall, more like a water stair, and we were all taking turns sliding and falling down this set of slick rocks, and Elsa, she’s this girl wearing a bikini, she’s been spending the last three days acting like she’s hot stuff, she slides down the wrong part, and it catches on the strap, right?  It doesn’t tear it off, but it stretches, so it doesn’t even fit her anymore

Emma laughed, leaning back against her car seat.

It was something of a relief, to hear Taylor getting excited about something, to hear her getting excited over nothing.  She’d lost her mother a year ago, and hadn’t bounced back, not entirely.  Her smiles not quite as wide, she was a second later to laugh, as if she had to wait, to give herself permission to do it, had to hold back.  Before, it had been almost no holds barred.  Anything went, however they wanted to amuse themselves, whatever they wanted to talk about.  Complete and total openness.  Lately there had been too many movies, too many activities and topics of conversation, that Taylor preferred to avoid.

It hadn’t been easy, Emma mused, as Taylor yammered on.  Sometimes she’d call, they’d do their customary hanging out, and she’d feel like the time was wasted, afternoons and weekends spent with her best friend that she didn’t enjoy.

Not that Taylor was a wet blanket, but, like, maybe she was a damp blanket?

This?  This inane, aimless, stupid, one-sided conversation where she’d said one word?  This was the good stuff.  It gave her hope that things could get back to normal.

“…and I wish I’d listened to my dad, because he suggested at least ten times that I might want to take more books, and I only brought three, and I’ve read each of them twice already.  My…”

Taylor’s voice continued over the phone, but Emma felt her dad’s hand on her wrist, lowered her phone to pay more attention to her surroundings.

The car had stopped in the middle of a narrow one-way street.  A dumpster had been shifted to block the end of the alley.

She looked over her shoulder, down the other end of the alley.  A white van had stopped there, the taillights glowing.  There were a group of twenty-something Asian-Americans approaching, sliding over the hood of the van to get into the alley and approach.  Members of the ABB.

This isn’t supposed to happen in broad daylight, Emma thought.

Taylor’s voice was faint, “…I could probably recite this one book word for word for you by the time I get back.  Maybe if I asked one of the counselors, I could get more.”

Her heart pounding as hard as it ever had, Emma hung up.  Some part of her rationalized it as needing to eliminate the distraction, to focus on the more immediate problem.

“Hold tight,” her father said.

She did, and he put his foot to the gas.  The car started rolling toward the dumpster, and the gang members behind them began running after them.

Too slow, she thought.

The car barely tapped the dumpster.  It was only after contact had already been made that her dad put his foot on the gas, pushing against the blockade instead of ramming or crashing into it.

The dumpster didn’t budge.

They blocked it.  Or they took the wheels offOr both.

There were too many people behind them for the car to reverse.  Not unless her dad wanted to hurt or kill a bunch of people.  Even if he did want to hurt them, he couldn’t be sure he’d hit them, and where could he go?  There wasn’t any guarantee he’d be able to move the dumpster if he backed up and rammed into it.

“Call the police,” her father said.

She barely registered it.

“Emma!  Call the police!”

She fumbled with the phone.  Nine-nine…

Why won’t my hands work?

Nine-one-one.

The window to her right shattered.  She screamed, then screamed again as hands clutched her hair, hauled her partially out of her seat, until the seatbelt strained against her shoulder and pelvis.  He wasn’t strong enough to actually lift her, but it hurt.  She wasn’t thinking, only wanted the pain to stop.  Her mind was flooded with images of what might happen if the person outside tugged in a slightly different direction and dragged her face against the broken glass of the window.  The phone clattered to the floor as she gripped her attacker’s wrists, tried to alleviate the pain of hair tearing free from her scalp.

She put her feet flat on the floor of the car, pushed herself up and away from her seat, almost helping her attacker.

Emma regretted it almost as she did it, but in the panic and pain, she undid the seatbelt.

She’d just wanted the pain to stop, and now there were two sets of hands gripping her, hauling her up and out through the car window.  Glass broke away against the fabric of her denim jacket, and she fell hard enough against the pavement that grit was pushed into her skin.

I hope the jacket didn’t get torn.  It was so expensive, she thought.  It was inane, stupid, almost hilariously out of sync with reality.  Delirious.

Her father’s screams of almost mindless panic sounded so far away, as he cried out her name, over and over again.

The gang members who stood above her each wore crimson and pale green.  There were other colors, predominantly black, but the constrast of red and green stood out.  Some had their faces exposed, others wore kerchiefs over the lower halves of their faces.  One had a bandanna folded so it covered one eye.  She couldn’t think straight enough to count them.

They had knives, she belatedly noted.

Her father screamed for her again.

Stop, dad.  You’re embarassing me.  She was more cognizant of how irrational the thought was, this time.  Odd, how calm she felt.  Except that wasn’t right.  Her heart was pounding, she could barely breathe, her thoughts were jumbled and irrational, and yet she somehow felt more together than she might have guessed she would.

She wasn’t hysterical, at least.  She was oddly pleased with that, even as she wondered if she might wet herself.

“Turn over, ginger bitch,” one of the girls standing above her said.  The order was punctuated by a sharp kick to Emma’s ribs.

She flopped over, face pressing against the hot pavement.  Hands took hold of her jacket and pulled it off.  The sleeves turned inside out, the half-folded cuffs catching around her hands.

If she’d been taking it off herself, that would have been cause for some rearrangement, to get her hands free.  Instead, they pulled.  It hurt briefly, and then they had the jacket.

“Here, Yan,” one of the guys said, his accent almost musical.  “You owe me.”

“Sweet!”  The voice sounded young.

My jacket, Emma thought, plaintive.

“We could send this bitch out of town,” one of the guys said.  “Stick her in one of the farms and hold her for a while.  She’s got tits, could auction her off.

“Don’t be a moron.  White girl goes missing, they look.”

Someone opened the car door and climbed in.  There was the sound of the glove compartment opening, of items falling to the floor, where her cell phone was.

For the life of her, she couldn’t remember if she had hit ‘call’ on her cell phone before she’d dropped it.  It would mean the difference between her phone sitting on the floor of the car, the numbers displayed on the screen, and authorities using the phone to find her location, sending help.

Someone grabbed her hair, again.  This time, there was a tearing sensation, and the tugging abruptly stopped.  Her face cracked against the pavement beneath, one cheekbone catching almost all of the impact.

They’d cut her hair, and she’d just bruised her face.

“Face,” she mumbled.

“What’s that, ginger?” the girl standing over her asked.  Emma twisted her head around to see the girl holding a length of red hair in her hand.

“Not- not the face, please.  I’ll do anything you want, just… not the face.”

It was the delirium that had taken hold of her the second her father had seized her arm.  It wasn’t really her, was it?  She couldn’t be this stupidly vain when it all came down to the wire.  She didn’t want to be that kind of person.

“You’ll do anything?” One of the guys asked.  The one with one eye.  “Like what?”

She reached for an answer, but her thoughts were little more than white noise.

The answers that did come to mind weren’t possibilities.  Not really.

“Then it’s the face after all.  Hold her.”

Ten minutes ago, she’d never been afraid.  Not really.  Stage fright, sure.  Fear of not getting the Christmas present she wanted?  Sure.  But she’d never been afraid.

And before the one-eyed thug spoke that last sentence, she’d never known terror.  Had never known what it might be like to be a deer in the moment the wolves set tooth to flesh, the rabbit fleeing the bird of prey.  It was like being possessed, and the white noise that had subsumed her her thoughts when she searched for an argument now consumed her brain in entirety.  She felt a kind of surge of strength as her fight or flight instincts kicked into gear, and it wasn’t enough.

She was outnumbered, and many of them were stronger than her, even with the adrenaline feeding into her.  Two held her arms out to either side, and someone knelt just behind her, knees pressing hard against the side of her head, keeping her from turning it.  Looking up, she could see a girl, not much older than her, sporting a nose ring and a startling purple eye shadow.  She was wearing Emma’s jacket.

Emma could hear her father screaming, still, and it sounded further away than ever.

One-eye straddled her, planting his left hand on top of her hair, helping to hold her head down to the ground.

He held a knife that was long and thin, the blade no wider across than a finger, tapering to a wicked point.  What was it called?  A stiletto?  He rested the flat of the blade on the tip of her nose.

“Nose,” he murmured.  The blade moved to her eye, and she couldn’t move away.  She could only shut it, feel it twitching mercilessly as he laid the flat of the blade against her eyelid, “Eye…”

The blade touched her lips, a steel kiss.

“Mouth…”

He used the blade to brush the hair away from the side of her head, hooked an earring with the point of the blade.

“Well, you can hide the ears with the hair,” he said, his voice barely over a whisper.  The knife point pulled at the earring until her face contorted in pain.  “So maybe I’ll take both.  Which will it be?”

She couldn’t process, couldn’t sort out the information in the mist of the terror that gripped her.  “Unh?”

Again, the knife traveled over her face, almost gentle as it touched the areas in question.  “One eye, the nose, the mouth, or both ears.  Yan here thinks she has what it takes to be a member, instead of a common whore, so you choose one of the above, and she goes to town on the part in question, proves her worth.”

“Holy shit, Lao,” the girl with the eye shadow said.  She sounded almost gleeful, “That’s fucked up.”

Pick,” he said, again, as if he hadn’t heard.

Emma blinked tears out of her eyes, looked for an escape, an answer.

And she saw a figure crouched on top of her father’s car, dressed in black, with a hood and a cape that fluttered out of sync with the warm sea breeze that flowed from the general direction of the beach.  She could see the whites of the girl’s eyes through the eyeholes of what looked like a metal hockey mask.

Help me.

The dark figure didn’t move.

Lao, the one eyed man, reversed the knife in his hands and handed it to the girl with the eye shadow.  The girl, for her part, dragged the knife’s point over Emma’s eyelid, a feather touch.

“Pick,” the girl said.  “No, wait…”

She shoved the handful of hair she’d cut away into Emma’s mouth.  “Eat it, then pick.”

Emma opened her mouth to plead for help, but she couldn’t find the breath.  The hair wasn’t it, not really.  Some of it was the weight of the young man sitting on her chest, crushing her under his weight.  Mostly, it was the fear, like a physical thing.

She thought of Taylor, of all people.  Taylor had, in her way, been put to the knife, had had an irreplaceable part of herself carved away.  Not a nose or an eye, but a mother.  And in the moment she’d found out, a light had gone out inside Emma’s best friend, a vibrancy had faded.  She’d ceased to be the same person.

If she’d experienced her first real taste of fear when the gang members attacked the car, her first real taste of terror when Lao proclaimed he’d cut her face, then it was the thought of Taylor, of becoming Taylor, that gripped her with panic, a whole new level of fear.

I won’t become Taylor.

I’m not-

I’m not strong enough to come back from that.

The knife momentarily forgotten, she bucked, thrashed, fought.  An inarticulate noise tore out of her throat, a scream, a grunt, and a wail of despair all together, an ugly sound she couldn’t ever have imagined she’d make.  Lao was dislodged, one hand freed, and she brought it up, not in self defense, but to attack.  Her nails found his one good eye, caught on flesh, dug into the softest tissues she could find and dragged through them, through eyelid and across eyeball, through cheekbone and the meat of his cheek.

He screamed, struck her with enough force that she wondered if he’d had knuckle dusters she hadn’t seen.

Knuckle dusters… a weapon.  She belatedly remembered the knife, looked up at the girl with the eye shadow.

The figure in the black cloak had the knife-wielding girl, the knife hand twisted behind the girl’s back.

With a sharp, calculated motion, the arm was twisted a measure too far, the eye shadow girl jerked off balance so the weight of her body would only help twist it further.  The girl screamed, dropping the knife, and she flopped to the ground, her arm gone limp, dangling from the shoulder at an angle that shouldn’t have been possible.

The figure in black turned on Lao.  She swept her cape to one side, and momentarily became a living shadow, a transparent blur.  When she returned to normal, her posture was different, and the knife had disappeared from the ground.  It was in her hand.

Emma watched in numb horror and awe as the girl advanced on Lao, who crab-walked backward to get away.  She closed the distance, stretched out one arm, and delivered a single scratch with the knife, cutting into Lao’s right eye.

Other thugs had already fallen.  The one who’d held her arm before she pulled it free was slumping over, unconscious.  The woman who must have been standing next to Emma’s father, was lying prone on the ground on the other side of the car, a pool of blood spreading beneath her.

That left only one, the thug who’d held Yan’s left arm.  He was on his feet in a moment, running, Emma’s backpack in one hand, open, the contents from the glove compartment falling free.  Useless, trivial items.  A bag of candy, the driver’s handbook.  Things he’d taken only because he could.

The girl in the cloak was small, Emma noted.  Younger.  Again, the cloaked vigilante became a virtual living shadow, flung herself down the length of the alleyway, faster than the man was running.  She moved past him, ducking low as she materialized into a normal form.  The knife raked across the side of his knee, and he fell.  He twisted as he hit the ground, kicked out with one leg, and caught the girl in the side of one knee.  She tumbled landing on top of him.

The ensuing struggle was brief and one sided.  He tried to grab his attacker, found only immaterial shadow.  He turned over, getting on hands and knees to push himself to a standing position, but she moved faster, going solid as she loomed over him, one hand on the wall for balance.  She tipped, let herself fall, and drove his face into the pavement with all the weight she could bring down on him.

A second later, the cloaked girl was holding one of his hands against a door just to his right.  She used the stiletto to impale his hand to the wood, bent the blade until the handle snapped away.

“Emma,” her father said.  He was out of the car, embracing her.  “Are you hurt?  Emma?”

One hand absently tried to claw her own strands of hair from her mouth, failing to get all of them.  She settled for leaving the hand mashed against her mouth, as incoherent a gesture as anything she might have said if she’d been able to speak.

Wordless, the girl in the black cloak limped a few steps away from the fallen boy before adopting her shadow form, floating away, untouchable.

“Emma?”

Emma stared at her bedroom ceiling.  It was her sister’s voice.

“I went to that store, got that shampoo you liked.”

Emma turned over, pulling the covers tight, staring at the wall instead.

“I just thought a shower must sound pretty good right about now.”

There were still scraps of paper stuck to the wall with blue tack, the corners of the posters she’d torn down in a fit of emotion.  All the words in the English language, and there wasn’t one for what she’d felt.  Not anger, not fear, not resentment… some combination of those things that was duller, heavier, suffocating.  The eyes of the boys from the posters had been too much.

“…Okay,” her sister said, from the other side of the bedroom door.  “We love you, Emma.  You know that, right?”

Her mother spoke through the door, “Emma?  Taylor’s on the phone.  She’s still at summer camp.  Do you-“

Emma sat up in bed, swung her legs around until they hung off the end of the bed.

“No.”  Her voice was a croak.  How many days had it been since she spoke?

“If I explained, maybe she could-“

An image flashed across her mind’s eye.  Taylor, on the other end of the phone, laughing, blabbering on, happy, just before the incident.

The tables had turned.

“If you tell her, I’m never coming out,” she croaked.

There wasn’t a reply.  Emma stood from the bed and approached the door.  She could hear her mother on the other side.

“-doesn’t want to talk to you right now.  I’m sorry.”

A pause.

“No.  No, I don’t.”

Another pause, briefer.

“Bye, honey,” Emma’s mom said.

Floorboards creaked as her mother walked away.

“…a therapist.  You could go alone, or we could go together.”

She grit her teeth.

“I… I left her number by the phone.  We’re all going to be out.  Your sister’s at a thing related to the college dorms, a pre-moving in orientation.  Your mom and I have work.  You know our phone numbers, but I was thinking, uh.”

A pause.

“If you were thinking of doing something drastic, and you didn’t feel like you could talk to any of us, the therapist’s number’s there.”

Emma hugged her knees.  Her back pressed hard against the door, the bones of her spine grinding against the door’s surface.

“I love you.  We love you.  The doors are all double locked, so you’re safe, and there’s food in the fridge.  Your sister bought that stuff from the store you like.  Soaps and shampoos.”

Emma clutched the fabric of her pyjamas.

“It’s been a week.  You can’t- you can’t be happy like this.  We won’t be here to bother you, so warm yourself up some food, treat yourself to a nice bath, maybe, watch some television?  Get things a step back to normal?”

She stood, abrupt, paced halfway across her bedroom, then stopped.  Nowhere to go, nothing to do.

She stood there, staring at the wall with the torn corners of poster still stuck to it, fists clenched.

“Bye, honey.”

She was rooted to the spot, staring at a blank surface, listening as her family went about their routines.  There were murmurs of conversation as they got organized, orchestrated who was going in which car, what everyone was doing for lunch.  Quieter fragments of conversation where they were discussing her.

The door slammed, and she heard the locks click, a sound so faint she might have imagined it.

It was only after everyone had left that she ventured out of her room.

Coffee.  Cereal.  She went through the motions, reheating a mug of the former and preparing the latter.

She hadn’t finished either when she stood and ventured into the bathroom.  She didn’t touch the bag of expensive soaps and shampoos, instead using her father’s regular shampoo.  She soaped up with the bar soap, rinsed off, then stepped out of the shower to dry herself.

Once she was dressed, her hair still damp, she approached the front door, hesitated.

She pushed through, left it unlocked behind her.  She couldn’t shake the worry that if she stepped back inside to find keys, she might not be able to step through the threshold again.

Her teeth were chattering by the time she was at the end of the street, and it wasn’t cold out.

Her thoughts were a chaotic jumble as she walked.  Her stomach felt like a blob of gelatin, quivering with every step she took.

The stares were worst of all.  As much as she tried to tell herself that she wasn’t in the middle of a giant spotlight, that people didn’t care, she couldn’t shake the idea that they were watching her, analyzing her every move, noting her wet hair, noting the hunk of hair at the back that was shorter than the rest, crudely chopped off.  Were they seeing her as a victim, someone so full of fear and anxiety that her every movement practically screamed ‘easy target’?

Perhaps the dumbest insecurity of all was the worry that somehow they could read her mind, that they knew she was doing the dumbest thing she’d ever done.

Every step she took, the white noise of her fear consumed a bit of her rational mind.

She found herself back at the mouth of the narrow one-way road.  The dumpster had been moved, the van was nowhere in sight.

This was different from feeling like a victim, because here, she knew she really was begging to be attacked.  To loiter around in known gang territory, unarmed?  It was senseless.  This time, they might really carry through with their threats.  All it would take was the wrong person seeing her.

Emma couldn’t bring herself to care.  She was scared, but she was scared every moment of every day, had been for the last seven days.  Right now?  She was more desperate than scared.

She’d hoped she would run into the girl in the black cloak.  She wasn’t so lucky.  Her stomach started protesting that the half-bowl of cereal hadn’t been enough, but she stayed where she was.  She hadn’t brought a wallet, a phone or watch, so she had no way of getting food, nor any idea of how long she was really waiting.

When the sun was directly overhead, she turned to leave.

There was no place to go.  Home?  It would be too easy to shut herself in her room, to hide from the world.  There was nothing she wanted to do, nobody she wanted to talk to.

The world was an ugly place, filled with ugly scenes, and unlike before, she couldn’t shut it out, couldn’t shake the idea that something horrible was happening around every corner.  Thousands of people suffering every second, around the world.

What got her, the nebulous idea that haunted her, was the impact those scenes had.  There were so many defining moments, so many crises, big and small, that shaped the people they touched.  The biggest and most critical moments were the sorts that wiped the slate clean, that ignored or invalidated the person who had existed before, only to create another.

Emma had fought in a moment of desperation, as if fighting could make her stronger than Taylor, set herself apart.  Except she’d failed.  It was unbearable.  She hated herself.

Her eyes watched the crowd, searching for the people who were eyeing her, judging her.  She couldn’t find any obvious ones, but she couldn’t shake the belief that they were there.

“Takes guts.”

She could feel her heart leap into her throat, wheeling around, imagining the Asian girl with the eye shadow standing behind her.

It wasn’t.  The girl was dark-skinned, slender, with long, straight hair.  She had a hard stare, penetrating.

“Guts?”  Emma couldn’t imagine any word less appropriate.

“Coming back.  The only reason you’d do it is because you were looking for revenge, or you were looking for me.  Or both, depending on how cracked you are.”

Emma opened her mouth, then closed it.  The realization hit her.  This was the girl with the black cloak, announcing herself.

She asked the question she’d gone to such risk to pose to the girl, “Why… why did you wait?  You saw me in trouble, but you didn’t do a thing.”

“Because I wanted to see who you were.”

Before, Emma suspected she’d have been offended, aghast at the idea that this girl would leave her to suffer, leave her life at risk, just for an answer to a question.  Now?  Now she could almost understand it, oddly enough.  “Who was I?”

“There’s two people in the world.  Those who get stronger when they come through a crisis and those who get weaker.  The ones who get stronger naturally come out on top.  There’s ups and downs, but they’ll win out.”

“Who was I?” Emma asked, again.

“You’re here, aren’t you?”  The girl smiled.

Emma didn’t have an answer to that.  She shut her mouth, all too aware of the people walking past them, going about their everyday lives, overhearing snippets of their conversation and yet failing to pick up anything essential.

“I want to be one of the stronger ones.”

“I don’t do the partner thing, or the team thing.”

Emma nodded.  She didn’t have an answer ready.

The other girl’s eyes studied her, and she seemed to come to a decision.  “It’s a philosophy, a way of looking at it all. You can look at the world as a… what’s the word?  One thing and another?”

“A binary?”

“A binary thing.  But not black and white.  It’s about the divide of winners and losers.  Strong and weak, predators and prey.  I kind of like that last one, but I’m a hunter.”

Emma thought back to how readily the girl had taken the thugs apart.  “I can believe that.”

The girl smiled.  “And what you have to keep in mind, is the biggest question of all is one you’re answering for yourself, right now.  Survivor or victim?”

“What’s the difference?”

“On this violent, brutish little planet of ours, it’s the survivors who wind up the strongest ones of all.”

Emma stood from the kitchen table, aware that her entire family was watching her.

It’s all mental.

Three weeks ago, she might never have imagined that she’d be able to resume life as normal, to not be afraid.

Perhaps it was more correct to say that she was afraid, she just wasn’t acting it.  Faking it until she could make it the truth.

“You’re going out?” her sister couldn’t quite keep the note of suprise out of her voice.

“Sophia’s dropping by,” Emma said.

Just want to forget it happened, put it behind me.  Move forward.

“Taylor got back from camp this morning,” her mother said.

Emma paused.  “Okay.”

“She might stop by.”

“Okay.”

Emma couldn’t resist hurrying a little as she collected her dishes and rinsed them in the sink.

“If she comes by when you’re not here-“

“I’ll talk to her,” Emma said.  “Don’t worry about it.”

She made her way to the front hall, stopped by the mirror to run a brush through her hair.  It had all been cut to match the piece that had been cut shorter with the knife.

She couldn’t wait for it to grow in, as that alone would erase just one more memory that reminded her of her moment of weakness and humiliation, of how close she’d come to dying or being mutilated.  Until it did grow in, it was yet another reminder of all the ugliness she wanted to be able to look past.

Sophia was waiting outside by the time she had her shoes on.

“Heya, vigilante,” Emma said, smiling.

“Heya, survivor.”

She could see Taylor approaching, tan, still wearing the shirt from camp in the bright primary blue, with the logo, shorts and sandals.  It only made her look more kiddish.  Broomstick arms and legs, gawky, with a wide, guileless smile, her eyes just a fraction larger behind the glasses she wore, a little too old fashioned.  Her long dark curls were tied into a loose set of twin braids, one bearing a series of colorful ‘friendship braclet’ style ties at the end.  Only her height gave her age away.

She looks like she did years ago.  Way before her mom diedLike she’s nine, not thirteen.

“Who the fuck is that?” Sophia murmured.

Emma didn’t reply.  She watched as Taylor approached the gate at the front of the house, walked up the path to the stairs where she and Sophia stood.

“Emma!”

“Who the fuck are you?” Sophia asked.

Taylor’s smile faltered.  A brief look of confusion flickered across her face.  “We’re friends.  Emma and I have been friends for a long time.”

Sophia smirked.  “Really.”

Emma resisted the urge to cringe.  Fake it until I make it.

“Really,” Taylor echoed Sophia.  The smallest furrow appeared between her eyebrows.  “What’s going on Emma?  I haven’t heard from you in a good while.  Your mom said you weren’t taking calls?”

Emma hesitated.

To just explain, to talk to Taylor…

Taylor would give her sympathy, would listen to everything she had to say, give an unbiased ear to every thought, every wondering and anxiety.  Emma almost couldn’t bear the idea.

But there would be friendship too.  Support.  It would be so easy to reach out and take it.

“I love the haircut,” Taylor filled the silence, talking and smiling like she couldn’t contain herself.  “You manage to make any style look great.”

Emma closed her eyes, taking a second to compose herself.  Then she smiled back, though not so wide.  She could feel Sophia’s eyes on her.

She stepped down one stair to get closer to Taylor, put a hand on her shoulder.  Taylor raised one arm to wrap Emma in a hug, stopped short when Emma’s arm proved unyielding, stopping her from closing the distance.

“Go home, Taylor.  I didn’t ask you to come over.”

She could see the smile fall from Taylor’s face.  Only a trace of it lingered, a faltering half-smile.  “It’s… it’s never been a problem before.  I’m sorry.  I was just excited to see you, it’s been weeks since we even talked.”

“There’s a reason for that.  This was just an excuse to cut a cord I’ve been wanting to cut for a long time.”

There it went.  The last half smile, wiped from Taylor’s expression.  “I… what?  Why?”

“Do you think it was fun?  Spending time with you, this past year?”  The words came too easily.  Things she’d wanted to say, not the whole truth, but feelings she’d bottled up, held back.  “I wanted to break off our friendship a long while back, even before your mom kicked the bucket, but I couldn’t find the chance.  Then you got that call, and you were so down in the dumps that I thought you’d hurt yourself if I told you the truth, and I didn’t want to get saddled with that kind of guilt.”

It was surprising how easily the words came.  Half truths.

“So you lied to me, strung me along.”

“You lied to yourself more than I lied to you.”

“Fuck you,” Taylor snapped back.  She turned to leave, and Sophia stuck one foot out.  Taylor didn’t fall, but she stumbled, had to catch the gate for balance.

Taylor turned around, eyes wide, as if she could barely comprehend that Sophia had done what she’d done, that Emma had stood by and watched it.

Then she was gone, running.

“Feel better?”  Sophia asked.

Better?  No.  Emma couldn’t bring herself to feel guilty or ashamed, but… it didn’t feel good.

That knot of negative emotion was tempered by a sense of profound relief.  One less reminder of the old, weak, pathetic vain Emma, one more step towards the new.

Emma’s cell phone vibrated.  She rose from her bed, suppressing a sigh.

As quiet as she could, she collected the tackle box from beneath her bed, dressed and headed downstairs.

Her father was at the kitchen table.  His eyes went wide, and he stood.

She pressed her finger to her lips, and he stopped, his mouth open.

She hesitated, then spoke in a whisper, “I need your help.  Please.  Can- can you not ask any questions just yet?”

He hesitated, then nodded.

She handed him the keys, and climbed into the passenger seat.

He started up the car, then drove in the directions she dictated, her eyes on the phone.

They found themselves downtown, in the midst of a collection of bodies.

And in the center, leaning against a wall, Shadow Stalker was hunched over, using her hands to staunch a leg wound.

Emma bent down, opened the tackle box, and began gathering the first aid supplies.

Wordless, her father joined her.

We owe her this, at least.

“Give it back,” Taylor’s voice was quiet, but level.

“Give what back?”

“You guys broke into my locker.  You took my flute.  It’s something my mom left me, something she used, that my dad gave to me so I could remember her.  Just… if you’ve decided you hate me, if I said the wrong thing, or led you to believe something that wasn’t true, okay.  But don’t do that to my mom.  She was good to you.  Don’t disrespect her memory.”

“If it was so valuable to you, then you shouldn’t have brought it.”

Taylor didn’t speak for long seconds.  “Can you blame me?  Since school started, you’ve been… after me.  As if you’re trying to make a point or something.  Except I don’t know what it is.”

“The point is that you’re a loser.”

Taylor wasn’t able to keep the emotion off her face.  “…Even if it’s just a flute and a memory, maybe I wanted to feel like I had some backup here.  I thought you were better than that, screwing with me on that level.”

“I guess you’re wrong,” Emma replied.  She let the words sit for a few seconds, then added, “Doesn’t look like she’s offering you any backup at all.”

Emma had mused, back in the week she’d been reeling from her near-miss with death or disfigurement, that there were moments that changed destinies, that altered people’s trajectories in life.  Some were small, the changes minor, others large to the point they were irreversible.  It was so easy, just to utter the words, and the reaction was so profound.  A mixture of emotions that briefly stripped Taylor bare, revealed everything in a series of changing facial expressions.

She didn’t enjoy it.  Didn’t revel in it.  But it was… reassuring?  The world made sense.  Predators and prey.  Attackers and victims.  It was like a drug, only she’d never experienced the high, the pure joy of it.  There was only the withdrawal, the need for a hit just to get centered again.

Fight back, get angry, hit me.

Challenge me.

It took Taylor long seconds to get her mental footing.  She met Emma’s eyes, and then stared down at the ground.  She mumbled her response.  “I think that says a lot more about you than it does about me.”

That wasn’t what I meant, Emma thought.

She felt irrationally angry, annoyed, and couldn’t put her finger on why.

It took her a minute to find Sophia, not helped by the fact that the two of them had classes on opposite sides of the building.

Sophia was putting coins into the vending machine.  She looked up at Emma.  “What?”

“Did you break into her locker?”

“Yeah.”

“Stole a flute?”

“Yeah.”

Emma paused for long seconds.  To give the flute back, surreptitiously, it would go a ways towards breaking the rhythm, the cycle.

Taylor’s words nettled her.  To back down now, it would be a step towards the old Emma, the victim.

“Fuck with it.  Do something disgusting to it, and make sure to wreck it so she can’t use it ever again.”

Sophia smiled.

“Do you hereby attest that all statements disclosed in this document are the truth, to the best of your knowledge?”

“I do,” Emma’s father spoke.

Emma reached out and took his hand, squeezing it.  He glanced at her, and she mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

There was a shuffling of papers at the other end of the long table.  “We, the committee, have reviewed the documents, and agree that case one-six-three-one, Shadow Stalker, has met the necessary requirements.  With stipulations to be named at a future date, specific to her powers and the charges previously laid against her, she is now a probationary member of the Wards, until such a time as she turns eighteen or violates the terms of this probationary status.  Congratulations, Shadow Stalker.”

“Thank you,” Shadow Stalker’s tone was subdued, her eyes directing a glare at the center of the table rather than anyone present.

Emma watched as the capes and official bigwigs around her got out of their chairs, fell into groups.

Dauntless approached her dad.  She only caught two murmured words of Dauntless’ question.  “-divorce attorney?”

Shadow Stalker, for her part, stood and strode out of the room.  Emma hurried to follow.  By the time she reached the staircase, Shadow Stalker was halfway to the roof.

“You’re angry.”

“Of course I’m angry.  Stipulations, rules and regulations.  I’ve had my powers for two and a half years and I’ve stopped more bad guys than half the capes in that room!”

Emma couldn’t stop the memory from hitting her.

The man struggled, and as much as Shadow Stalker was able to make herself immaterial, to loosen any grip or free herself from any bonds, she didn’t have the ability to tighten that same grip.  He tipped backwards, off the edge of the roof, and a gesture meant to intimidate became manslaughter.

Shadow Stalker stared off the edge of the roof at the body, then turned to look at Emma.

“Is- is he?”  Emma asked.

“Probably best if you don’t come on patrol with me again.”

“You have,” Emma replied, snapping back to reality.  How many have you ‘stopped’?

“It’s like putting a wolf among sheep and expecting it to bleat!”

“It’s only three years.  Better than prison.”

“Three years and four months.”

“Better than prison,” Emma repeated herself.

“It is prison, fuck it!”

“It’s like you said.  Just… just fake it until you make it the truth, put away the lethal ammunition for a few years.”

Shadow Stalker wheeled on her, stabbed a finger in her direction, “Fuck that.”

Emma stared at her best friend, saw the look in Sophia’s eyes, the anger, the hardness.

For a moment, she regretted the choice she’d made.

Then she had her head in order again, the little things she was faking contorted with reality until she couldn’t tell the difference anymore.

People could convince themselves of anything, and there were worse things than convincing oneself that they were strong, capable, one of the ones on top, rather than one of the ones on the bottom.

The door of the bathroom stall swung open.  Sophia had flung one arm around Emma’s shoulders, and Emma joined her in laughing.  To their right, the third member of their trio was giggling so hard she had hiccups.

Taylor kneeled in the middle of a massive puddle of juices and sodas, some of it still fizzing around her.  She was drenched, head to toe, trickles still running off of the lengths of her hair.  Her style of dress had changed over the past little while, in ways Taylor probably wasn’t fully aware of.  She wore darker clothes now, cloaked herself in sweatshirts and loose fitting jeans.  Her long hair was a shield, a barrier around her face.  All measures to hide, signals and gestures of defeat.

More than that, she’d changed in behavior, had stopped fighting back. She’d stopped reacting, for the most part.  Her expression was impassive.  It took some of the fun out of it.  It was almost disappointing.

I’ll have to think of a better one than this.  Crack that facade, Emma thought.  She smirked as Madison led the way out of the bathroom, and they left Taylor behind.

Taylor had become the archetypical victim, Emma mused, in one sober moment, as she parted ways with the other two girls, and I’ve found myself becoming the type of person who could genuinely laugh at something like this.

She dismissed the thought, shifting mental gears, re-establishing the construction of self confidence she’d built.  It was a little easier every time she did it.

The fan on the other side of the room had a piece loose.  It squeaked on every third rotation.

She examined her nails, picked at a fleck of something white that had stick to the end of one nail, then checked her cuticles.

The fan squeaked, and she turned her head, as if she could spot the offending flaw and fix it.

“You come all this way, and you don’t have anything to say?”  Sophia asked.

Emma shrugged.  It was on our way.

“Say what’s on your mind.”

“It’s all backwards, isn’t it?”

“Backwards how?”

“Upside down, Turned around.  Two wrongs make a right.”

“What wrongs?”  Sophia’s voice was hard.

“Not you.  Not your thing.  That’s not what I’m talking about.  We’re moving back to Brockton Bay.  As in, it’s in progress.  Half our stuff’s still back in Portland, half’s in the Bay.  We finally moved.”

“Someplace nice?”

“Further north.”

Sophia smirked.

“But that’s why I’m saying it’s all backwards.  Things got flipped around.  The north end is nicer, now.  They’re rebuilding, and it’s all coming together.  Downtown is the place that got hit hard.  You’ve got three big areas you can’t go, with the crater, the quarantine and the place I heard people calling the scar, where they did some bombing run with Bakuda’s stuff.  Construction’s slower towards the south, because there’s so much traffic and not a lot of roads.”

“Huh.”

“The bad guys are keeping the law, but things are better, and you talk to anyone, there’s hope.  I don’t know how that happens, how you visit every tragedy imaginable on a place, drop a dozen different nightmare scenarios on it, and things get better.  How does that work?”

“I don’t really care,” Shadow Stalker said.

“It’s your city.”

“The world ends in less than two years.  I won’t be out of here before then.  I… what’s the word?  I reiterate, I don’t really care.”

“I’m trying to make conversation.”

“You’re doing a shitty job of it,” Sophia replied.

Emma shut her mouth, stared at her friend.

“World ends in two years,” Sophia added.  “It’s a joke, pretending like things are getting better, like there’s hope.  The world turns a few hundred more times and then it all ends.”

Sour grapes?

“It’s kind of neat in terms of the big picture,” Emma said, ignoring Sophia.  “It’s like, the future hasn’t looked this bright in a while.  There’s promise, if this rumor about an open interdimensional portal is for real.  Multiple portals, if you believe the really out-there rumors.  Escape routes, resources, work.  And Brockton Bay is at the center of it all.”

Sophia snorted.

“And, more than that, it’s like, if we’re talking about hope, about the future, who’s more iconic for all that than kids?  You know, that line about how kids are the future?  Heroes too, they’re icons of hope too.  And put those things together, you get Arcadia High.  Winslow High’s gone, and there’s not quite enough students, so they’re herding us all together.”

“So?”

“So, it’s like, all this hope, you’ve got Brockton Bay at the center of it all.  And at the center of Brockton Bay’s hope, it’s Arcadia High.  And at the center of that?  You’ve got the heroes and the winners.  I fully intend to be the latter.  In a way, it’s like being queen of the world.”

“The popular kid in high school?”

“In the high school,” Emma said.  She shrugged.  “It’s one way of looking at it.”

“It’s sad.”

Emma smirked.  “Someone’s grumpy.”

“It’s sad because you’re making a fool of yourself, you’re missing a key detail.”

“Which?”

Sophia shrugged.  “Better if you find out for yourself.  I won’t spoon-feed you.”

Emma rolled her eyes.  Sophia was just toying with her head.  Easy enough to ignore.

“I’m going to go.  I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but…”

Sophia caught the ‘but’.  “Bitch.”

“Yeah.  Def,” Emma replied, before hanging up the phone.  She stood from the stool that was bolted to the floor, stretched, then offered a small wave.

Sophia raised both hands together to offer a miniscule wave with her right.  They were cuffed together, LEDs standing out on the cuffs, marking the live current.

Emma couldn’t tell herself she’d be back.  To stick around and be loyal now would betray every reason she’d given herself for dropping Taylor as a friend.  Taylor had been a wet blanket, a loser.  Sophia was no better, now.

It was ironic, but Sophia had proven herself to be more prey than predator, in the very philosophy she’d espoused.

“Hey dad?”

Her dad turned his head to acknowledge her, while keeping his eyes on the road. “What is it?”

“Mind making a detour?  I wouldn’t mind seeing Taylor’s house.”

“I thought you weren’t friends anymore.”

Emma shook her head.  “I’m… trying to put it all into perspective.  It’s really changed, and it’s easiest to get my head around the changes if I can look at the familiar places, and her house is pretty familiar.”

“Sure.  If nobody else minds?”

There were no objections from her mom or sister.

The city had always had its highs and lows, its peaks and valleys, but it seemed it was an even starker contrast now.  She’d commented, once, that for any one house, she could find three things wrong with it.  It had been flipped around, in its own way.  For every ten houses, there was one ruin, a dilapidated structure or pile of wreckage.  For every ten stretches of road that were intact, there was one that a car couldn’t pass over.

They turned off Lord Street, onto the street that Taylor’s house was on.

As they approached, Emma could see Taylor helping her dad unload a box from what looked to be a new or newly washed car.  He said something and she laughed.

The casual display of emotion was startling.  It was equally startling when, in the moment Emma’s dad slowed the car down, Taylor’s head turned, her eyes falling on them, her head and upper body turning to follow them as they passed.

She didn’t even resemble the person Emma had known way back then, not the girl who’d approached her house after coming back from camp, and not the girl who’d been drenched in juice.  The lines of her cheekbones and chin were more defined, her skin baked to a light tan by the sun, her long black curls grown a touch wild by long exposure to wind.  Light muscles stood out on her arms as she held a box, her dad standing back to direct.

Even her clothes.  She wasn’t hiding under a hood and long sleeves.  A trace of her stomach was exposed between the bottom of her yellow tank top and the top of her jeans.  The frayed cuffs were rolled up at the bottom, around new running shoes, and neither Taylor nor her dad seemed to be paying any attention to the knife that was sheathed at her back.

It surprised Emma, all the little clues coming together to point to one fact; that Taylor had stayed.  She’d stayed, and she’d come out of it okay.  Judging by the new car, the shoes and her clothes, the Heberts were doing better for money than they had been the last time Emma had run into either of them.  Were they early beneficiaries of Brockton Bay’s upswing in fortune?

It unsettled her, and she had a hard time putting her finger on why.

It didn’t hit her until they’d reached their new house, a recollection of something Sophia had said.

On this violent, brutish little planet of ours, it’s the survivors who wind up the strongest ones of all.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

475 thoughts on “Interlude 19

    • I was never totally sure how to imagine the Nine. Now, I’m confused by the cuteness and disturbed by that thought at the same time.

      Great art! Hope to see the other teams, especially the Travelers (although Echidna would be extremely difficult).

      • id be happy to do them as long as folks find and post descriptions of their costumes , don’t mind drawing but im horrid at searching out things .

        • “I’ll be taking a chair, I think,” someone spoke from the door. Most heads turned to check out a male figure in a black costume with a red mask and tophat. It gave me sort of a Baron Samedi vibe. His teammates followed him into the room, all in matching costumes of red and black, differing only in design. A girl with a sun motif, a guy with bulky armor and a square mask, and a creature so large it had to crawl on its hands and knees to get through the door. It was hard to describe, approximating something like a four armed hairless gorilla, with a vest, mask and leggings in the red and black style its team was wearing, six-inch claws tipping each of its fingers and toes.”
          This is from 5.1, though you may decide to give trickster a cigarette and use genesis’ real body which shouldn’t be too hard to find but I am tired.

          • Genesis is easy, just draw a monster.

            Unless you want to do her real body, in that case:
            -Genesis slept on one of the bunks I’d set aside for my employees. Her face was contorted in an expression of concern. Average looks, if a little round-faced, she had long eyelashes, and her auburn hair was a mop.-
            -Jess was the last to join them, navigating between the chairs, tables and other customers, making sharp turns as she wheeled herself to the table. Her hair was shaggy, she had three piercings in one ear and thick eyeliner around her eyes.-

            Do note, the latter description is before she became a Traveller.

          • For genesis I’d draw her in a wheelchair (if I’m remembering correctly), with the shadowy form of a monster behind her.

      • theres more slaughterhouse 9 members then I actually drew too . like damsel , hookwolf and lest we forget old grungy human manton .

        I pretty much only draw the ones people put up descriptions for when I ask for em :) .

    • Great work! =D

      Err…

      You too, Wildblow. Seriously. It’s like heroin and you haven’t even polished your work yet. Lol

      I always have a hard time getting used to second drafts because there’s something raw and satisfying about first drafts that just can’t be captured again once you experience a story for the first time. But if it’s good enough, I get used to it and embrace the new story. I want more people to enjoy your work as I did, so however that needs to happen, I’ll be happy if it does.

      -With lots of worms, one grumpy, addicted Pest

  1. Hi guys. Thanks for reading.

    FYI, regular chapter (non-interlude on Thursday, just ’cause things got shuffled a bit for chronology’s sake this past week. Back to normal schedule on Saturday.

    Also, a request – for those readers going back and commenting on early chapters, please don’t spoil things for those readers coming through for the first time. I’ve had to censor lines or delete comments where it was especially egregious. (ie. Taylor becomes a villain, stated in arc 1 – maybe predictable, but don’t give it all away).

    I do appreciate the comments on early stuff, though.

    • Thank you Wildbow. This is the one chapter that more than anything else I have wanted. It answers all of my questions on how this entire story REALLY started. All I can think is this answers so much, and fills in so many little details that have been nagging at me.

  2. Am I reading too much there or was Sophia implying that she had figured out who Skitter was and thus, Emma’s making a fool of herself is because she hasn’t realised she’s nowhere near being top dog.

    • You might be reading too much into it. Sophia may have just been alluding to the fact that members of the Wards attend Arcadia, so it’s unlikely Emma will be anything special there.

        • I don’t know that you did, Wildbow. Really, Sophia’s comment has a lot of possible meanings: she could be emphasizing that high school doesn’t really matter, especially when the world is ending in two years; OR grow up, you aren’t a real predator; or … Many possible interpretations, depending on how one looks at it.

      • I thought it was already common knowledge that the Wards attended Arcadia.

        And, given Regent’s last words to her, along with all the time to think about it, Sophia probably did figure it out.

    • I feel that Sophia was referring to the messages that Regent sent on to the police and school system. It may not be much, but I don’t think she’s going to get away with nearly as much.

    • I just see it as Emma coming back to the city after having fled during all the bad stuff that’s been happening, and she realizes that while Taylor stayed, survived and grew stronger, she herself took the easy way out according to her own philosophy.

  3. Beneficiary’s rather than benefactors of Brockton Bay’s upswing in fortune. Though while Emma couldn’t know Taylor could in fact be considered both.

  4. So the people what talked about everyone being routed to Arcadia were right. This should be interesting

    On another note, it was nice to see the reasoning behind how Emma became this. It makes sense on a lot of levels; she needed reassurance she was strong, so she beat down what she thought was weak, and distanced herself from her past, weaker self in every way possible. I don’t know why you didn’t show the trigger event, but maybe the reasoning would be too complicated? Looking forward to Thursday, this should be good…

  5. So there is only one high school in the city. That means Taylor will be going with Clockie, Kid Win, and Char. If she decides to go for any significant length of time. I wonder if she told her dad anything. He didn’t comment on the knife, for instance. So we found out why Emma is the way she is, and I’m not impressed with her. Taylor said she never took revenge because of the slippery slope, I don’t think that is still true. There are so many ways she can hurt her. I wonder if Emma will continue the bullying. Also found out Shadowstalker is a multiple murder and a pretty screwed up individual.

    • The end of the chapter suggests that Emma recognizes Taylor’s personality changes, and won’t continue with the bullying. Also, I’d say we already knew all those things about Shadow Stalker from her interlude. Why take revenge on Emma, though? She’s already won.

      • She still hurt her more than anyone else ever has, and Taylor IS a villain now who had to respond to violence with violence. Plus Taylor is a person who didn’t want to let nazis get killed by bitch or seriously hurt ABB member who threatened to shoot a kid, yet she hit Emma in the face because she hated her so much. Granted Taylor is different than she used to. So I think Taylor is mature enough to ignore her unless she starts something. But Taylor will finish it now, one way or another.

        • Nah. She punched Emma because her life was falling apart, every day was filled with new indignities and new tortures, and Emma was at the center of it all. It’s the sense of helplessness that caused her to lash out.

          Emma is no longer at the center of it all. She’s not even a minor gravitational body. So, no need to punch her.

        • Now that I think about it, Emma will probably start picking on someone else, but Taylor, with her Chronic Hero Syndrome, will step in. The fact that a villain is the first to stop an injustice, not a hero like the Wards, will not be lost on those in the know.

    • They’ll all be going to the same school? Worm is about to change from apocalyptic super-drama into a high school comedy – with superpowers!

    • You know, I can see Wards both recognizing and being friendly, or at least respectful to Taylor in school (and considering it a “neutral ground”). She earned a lot of respect during Echidna situation (and, if Armsmaster’s treachery got disclosed, from that too).

      Also, you know, if Emma brags about what she did to Taylor (or just mentions it) together with Sophia…

      Some of the wards may be smart enough to recognize trigger event for what it is. I wonder, what would they do to someone who pushed a person into a trigger situation? This has to trigger (heh!) all sorts of berserk buttons.

      But yes, Taylor being friends / respected acquaintances with the Wards would be hilarious.

      • I couldn’t really see the Wards as being respectful of Skitter, even in a grudging way. Now maybe some of them can, after all that’s happened, but they’d still be a minority. Just because of what happened in the aftermath, all that was revealed I suppose it’s possible. They really clung to their notions of morality being hard edged and easily defined. If they confess anything else, after what they sacrificed, they’d lose something of themselves. Some of them have already.

      • lets not forget the most important thing, however. Taylor wears glasses.

        *walking down the hall when he sees skitter from the back*
        Clockblocker: that girl… That height! That build!
        Taylor: *turns towards her locker, bringing glasses into view*
        Clock: oh… Never mind. What was I thinking?

        ClarkKenting in full effect! Her disguise is PERFECT

      • I think that detail was to give more details that point to the fact that skitter stayed in the city. It shows that she is now prepared to deal with threats, where she wasn’t before at all.

    • See, but how could Taylor go back to school? She’s 16 and has other options doesn’t she? Or if that’s still unavailable because the city is still recovering, why not just do her own thing? I bet they’ll be plenty of others still doing the same. She has her territory to run, and i doubt she’d be eager to go back. Is her identity really at risk if she doesn’t? Just because Greg GUESSED that she was Skitter?

  6. Damn you Wildbow for taking someone I absolutely loathed and was glad was gone and making her sympathetic and fleshed out. I was happy in my hatred of her!

    • :( So was I. We need at last one antagonist in this story who isn’t on the level of screwed-upness that they’ll cause the apocalypse JUST TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS, but we can still solidly hate. I stand by my last review, though; this was interesting.

      • Don’t worry. We still have Cauldron, Contessa, and Doctor Mother for that level of antagonist. And Jack Slash and Bonesaw are still around, too! You’ll get your fill of black morality.

          • I disagree with you on that. If you read into her story between the lines you can see just how messed up her family is. If I recall you only ever see her mother, and she and her entire family from the small bit you see them aren’t, ahh, well adjusted people.

          • Maybe I wasn’t being specific enough. We need one who’s not a cape. Or an organization that involves capes. Or anything to do with capes. One movie I’ve seen has a mother as the major antagonist, and the daughter as Emma level. Okay, it’s realistic fiction, so not a perfect example, but you guys get the idea. Conflicts on every level are good, which is why I liked the whole bullying thing to begin with. It eased us into the story, gave us background and an origin story, and, in keeping with the typical Worm, didn’t given Taylor a break.

    • I’m still happy in my hatred of her, I feel no sympathy for her at all. At least now we see what she is in the dark – a loser.

      • True. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a next chapter this much. Though I have been waiting for updates for only a few months.

      • An emotional weakling who has to hurt someone to make her feel better about herself. Whats worse is that the only person she could really hurt was her best friend, because she knew just what to say and do. Predator/Prey my ass.

        • Honestly, if she hadn’t kept bring the mom into this, I could have let it go a little. But she knew the one thing that broke Taylor was her mom, ditched her for moping slightly after her mom died and as a pretty clear sign of trauma (which she refused to see a psychiatrist for), and then climbed up the social ladder on her best friend’s head. You know, I don’t really sympathize with her, but I do understand her, now.

          • Agreed! While its great to have a clear insight into the way Emma works I have absolutely no sympathy for her. I hope she’s hurtling towards some kind of karmic end or at the very least we get to see her reaction when she realises she inadvertently started her former best friend onto the road that leads to her becoming one of the most feared villains in town.

          • In my fantasies, Sarah, it starts with Emma telling the wards about pushing Taylor into the locker, has her point Taylor out in the crowd, and gets better from there.

  7. This, ladies and gentlemen was Taylor winning. The story must continue, but when this is put into an e-book format, this should definitely be the end of one of the books. It is simply liquid success and I love it.
    “There were other colors, predoninantly black”

  8. I just finished playing Tombraider, and the last line of the story matches the last line in the game. A survivor is born. Which fits Taylor very well. She is hard to kill.

  9. Poor Emma, Taylor can always use more minions. Though the disloyal ones tend to not last long.

    “didn’t touch bag of expensive” Missing word.
    “They werecuffed together,” missing space.

  10. I always like it when antagonistic characters are humanized. Interesting characters are never evil just to be evil, so finding out what happened with Emma was very nice.

    I still really hope Greg and Emma don’t see Taylor at Arcadia though. Stay a warlord Taylor, school is for chumps!

    • Same. Some of the best fanfiction I’ve ever read we’re two “humanizations” , let’s call it, of two Harry Potter characters.

      • As a Harry Potter fanfic reader myself, I have a sneaking suspicion I might know at least one of those fanfictions you’re talking about. Which two are they?

        • Judas by Laora and Bright the Day by cupid-painted-blind. I like Judas more, though. I have great respect for the Harry Potter fandom, as it holds the best love story I’ve ever read, and I can count the number of love stories I’ve thought were good on one hand. Tom RiddleXHermionie, if you can believe it.

          • Huh. Didn’t expect that, though I have read Judas. I thought it would be “Cast a Long Shadow, We All Meet in the End” by Elizabeth Culmer. That one fits a little better with this chapter of Worm; it deals with Petunia Dursley, who matches up to Emma better than Peter Pettigrew, Bellatrix Lestrange, or Voldemort himself.

            And to be honest, I’m frankly a bit disturbed by RiddleXHermione.

          • Just read the story you mentioned. Very good. I think you misunderstood me, though. I said they were “humanizations”, and therefore the same genre, not that they were especially relevant to Emma.

            Another one I forgot to say was “Transfiguring Salt”, by random smilie.

            And honestly, the author pulls it off. Big time. It’s “Tied for Last”, by Speechwriter, if you want to check it out.

            If anyone on here wants to send me a PM if they have a fanfic account, I’m Little Dragon GIrl. Don’t ask why I have that name, I’ve been meaning to change it.

            My, this has gotten seriously off topic.

      • Why. Find a way to justify that against what we know of the two characters. He has no reason to tell someone that has been harassing Taylor that information, especially when you reread 2.3 and see how he was being treated like crap as well. He might let something slip, but I can’t come up with a reason to tell Emma specifically just because Taylor isn’t there.

      • I would personally prefer this song, though it is not quite such fine art as yours. The message really resonates with me, and if I had remembered the song then it would have worked fantastic for dealing with Coil after Taylor escaped his ambush.

    • I get what you’re saying and I’m assuming that you like most of us are out of school.

      But Taylor isn’t. She’s only been missing school for a couple months and all in all she’s still, a high-school student. As such it has an importance to her that most of us have left behind and forgotten about.

  11. This is directed at The Ant in part, but it’s also a general comment. This interlude essentially completes the circle: Taylor and Lisa/Sarah are basically “good” versions of Emma and Sophia.

    Lisa let one event, her brother’s suicide, define much of her life from that point on. She altered her status relative to the rest of the world (by becoming a villain), just as Emma did. But instead of lashing out at what she perceived to be her own failings, she tried to make up for them by being a better person–helping Taylor.

    Taylor, like Sophia, gave Lisa direction an opportunity to “redeem herself.” But Sophia used that opportunity to manipulate Emma, to help Emma turn herself into a mean, vicious, vindictive person. When she’d finished, Sophia herself was cast aside, because the false redemption she offered was ultimately destructive, and something of a Pyrrhic victory.

    Taylor, though? She did the most compassionate thing possible: she brought Lisa in. Instead of letting Lisa continue along her present course after Taylor had served her purpose, she approached her as one human being to another. And they’re both stronger for it.

    This right here…*this* is Taylor winning. Quietly demonstrating that she is a better, more compassionate person. How does Emma see her? Out in the world, laughing, baring her midriff–physically and emotionally vulnerable. But who’s happy in that situation? Who’s secure?

    Exactly. It’s a repudiation of the binary, authoritarian philosophy espoused by Sophia and Emma. This is the *same* binary philosophy (predators and prey, good and evil) that Taylor rejects as Skitter. And Emma also recognized that life was better in Brockton Bay with the villains running things. Taylor has “won” on every possible level.

    Man, this is basically the happiest ending possible. Fantastic.

    • Taylor is even more financially secure. *And* she kicked the ass of the same person who brutalized Emma. Things pretty much can’t get better from a true revenge standpoint. Keep on living well, Taylor. You deserve it.

      • That is not really revenge though. I agree with pretty much everything you said in how much better Taylor is for making different choices. But I can’t help it, I want her to take her villainous REVENGE! (Insert Evil Laughter here!)

        • If she takes that kind of revenge how is she any better than the characters she despises? It would be a major step back for her as a character.

          • Oh I know that, I was merely remarking on common villain cliches. Hobbes is pretty much right in that she really is too good of a person to really do anything. She will defend herself now though. I just want her to embrace her dark side a little. She is the queen of the underworld now, and she has to project an image of smart, fair, and not to be fucked with. Just one evil laugh, maybe making an example of the people who are bothering Parian by scaring the piss out of them.

          • The problem with Skitter actively embracing her dark side is that a big part of how scary she is comes from the fact that she has no idea how scary she is and she acts accordingly.

          • I wouldn’t say that. Sierra’s interlude shows she pretty much is scary due to her power, and actions. Acting like a normal, rational, person while covered in cockroaches and bees makes her creepy. Look at Flechette’s interview with Jessica shows that. It makes you wonder what the people working under her must think of her.

          • Psh, better and worse people? Almost sounds binary there. She could take revenge for a few reasons. 1. Emma deserves it, 2. Emma REALLY deserves it, 3. It might make her feel a lot better (if not, perhaps a reason not to do it), and 4. It would be just.

            I’m serious about 4 too. Emma deserves at least part of the blame for what has happened within the scope of Taylor’s evil actions. I didn’t say all, mc2, I said part. Maybe someone else would have caused Taylor’s trigger event and then any villainous actions Taylor took due to having power would be partially their fault, but nope. Emma played a part in Taylor having such a horrible day the universe itself recognized it, the kind of trauma that leaves people screwed up for life.

            Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was supposedly named after Romulus.

      • [quote]*And* she kicked the ass of the same person who brutalized Emma. Things pretty much can’t get better from a true revenge standpoint.[/quote]
        You can only get revenge for wrongdoings. There’s a fundamental division between the trauma Emma lived, where she was a victim, and the way she dealt with this trauma, where she actually was to blame. If Taylor had turned into a complete bitch, would Emma have been justified in bringing up her mother’s death? No, she wouldn’t.

        Taylor beating up Emma’s aggressor is interesting to note, but seeing it as a victory of Taylor over Emma or as making one of them better than the other makes me deeply uncomfortable. Those were different situations.

        Anyway, I realize that was probably just a throwaway comment, but I still felt this needed to be said. I pretty much agree with everything you said except for that one sentence.

      • Why do I feel that if Wildbow did an interlude from the POV of the ABB girl, we’d all end up feeling sorry for her, too…

    • When you put it like that, I feel like I should play it safe and let the story end here, not risk taking it to the end of the final book as I have it (loosely – never set in stone) envisioned.

        • Is this only now becoming clear? I thought I would’ve established this around the time I did something horrible to a sympathetic character for the 100th time.
          :)

          • Yeah, it is called the Simurgh. Sorry Wildbow, you can’t be the god when the Simurgh already knows what you are typing in advance and runs off to ruin all the good things you have planned.

      • I suppose the counterargument would be that ending it here is a cop-out, because this doesn’t fit with the win some lose some, bittersweet tone of the story. That said, I’d be okay with you ending it here.

        Hm. The *other* counterargument would be that even if it’s perfect from a characterization perspective, the ending is too abrupt. Of course, the danger in resolving a lot of the *plot* loose ends is that you end up with ending fatigue, because this interlude is the climax of Taylor’s development (in a way) for all the reasons I mentioned.

        If I were you, I might take time to resolve the rest of the plot first, delaying the start of school, and then have this at the end. Or, you could just end it here. It depends on where you want to go with it from a storytelling perspective.

      • You know, I would be happy with this.

        Then again, I would have been happy if the story ended with Taylor being eaten by Noelle, so listening to me is probably not the best course of action.

        • *Hits Wyldcard with a wet fish.*

          That said, I can see the sense in calling this interlude a decent ending point. It comes full-circle, is up-beat without being so upbeat it goes against the tone of Worm (and isn’t that a terrible statement?), and solves the very FIRST plot thread. That said, it really is a fairly incomplete resolution. Not only in that there are more plot threads and more potential plot threads to explore, but just because this isn’t a true resolution. It’s resolved from the point of view of others, and Skitter is visibly in a good place right now, but that doesn’t mean that her story and issues are actually done. The battle isn’t over ’til the wounds are healed, if you follow.

          • No matter the reasoning, I’m pretty sure I would have my trigger event if you ended here.

            …okay, really, really bad. But somewhat justified. Please, don’t scare me like this.

          • If I’d thought about it, and if I were more interested in writing -just- Wormverse fiction, I might have done this slightly differently.

            In a way, I’m referring to the approach I took when I wrote the early Wormverse-drafts I titled TELUTTT. (I’ve brought this up before, in this comment thread).

            I quote:
            ‘TELUTTT: Each draft featured rotating viewpoints attempting to incorporate everyone I’d added into the story by that point in one overarching story. First draft focused heavily on Faultline, introduced Scion, Legend, Narwhal, Hero, Alexandria and a major heroine named Mary Sue. Introduced Faultline’s crew, which was composed of Newter, Slug (Gregor), Spitfire and a scandanavian girl with Genesis’ power. Later drafts introduced Endbringers, Dauntless, and Cauldron.’

            It was a basically a catch-all, but what I mean is that maybe, if I’d planned it out more and took a different tack, I might have led readers to expect more of a conclusion, stopped here. Picked up another story, weaving it in (or weaving it in from the first place; I called this site parahumans.wordpress.com because that was the goal in its early conception).

            Then when all that’s said and done, all the individual story threads laid out, drawing to a point herabouts, moving on to the next set of story arcs.

            That said, too major a reconstruction to even consider, and I’m eagerterrified to move on to the next work.

          • This can’t be the ending, really. It’s just the calm before the storm.

            All y’all think that this could be the ending are missing all the signs. All this stuff up to now is still just the build up. Now, right now, coming up ABSOLUTELY NEXT… that’s a little thing I like to call “the massive third act”.

            Really, you really really really ain’t seen nothin’ yet. (To paraphrase one of Wildbow’s and my fellow Canucks.)

            Okay, Wildbow. Give’er.

            Hg

  12. “what’s the world? One thing and another?” – should be “what’s the word?”

    We finally get to read something we’ve been asking for for a long, long time. Thank you so much, Wildbow!

    As I expected, Emma’s situation is a lot more complicated than just making a cooler friend. It really shows the world of grays we’ve come to expect from Worm. We see her second guessing her decisions, but then making the wrong ones just to not feel like the weak person she thought she was. We readers get to see into her mind as she goes through a sort of Anakin Skywalker transformation, picking up a new philosophy on the world from a source they definitely should not have taken it from.

    Thing is, neither Emma nor Sophia realized that by torturing Taylor so much, they made her the strongest survivor of their philosophy. Oh the irony.

    With Sophia out of the picture, how will Emma’s school life go? She’s apparently still out to be the queen of the school, but is she really stupid enough to try to re-ingratiate herself with Taylor?

    Another thought: the fact that the Mr. Barnes apparently supported Shadow Stalker in joining the Wards to avoid jail, would the family take a hit to their reputation considering she’s now in jail? And wouldn’t that closeness make Sophia’s identity rather easy for the public to spot?

    • I doubt that it would hurt their reputation much. Supporting someone who saved your daughter from grievous physical harm is understandable, and putting her on the Wards is not an obviously bad idea. Things could have turned out very differently from the PRT’s perspective. Emma may have known better, but people rarely blame teenagers for this kind of thing.

  13. Ok I have always wondered how Emma’s story would be told. What was the catalyst behind the 180 from friend to enemy. i must say as usually Wild it is well written and insightful.
    Now that being said I’m looking forward for Emma to get her comeuppance. I know there is gonna be some twist and turn but don’t spoil it for me :) I’m a big fan of payback and karma.

  14. You can look at the world as a… what’s the world? – I believe the second world is supposed to be ‘word’.

    Honestly I still the chances of Taylor going to the school, for a few days at least, are still about 50/50. On the one hand, she has a lot of duties what with being a Warlord and all but on the other hand, there seems to have been a little timeskip so and things have stabilized so she might have extra time to give it a shot.

    • Have to agree. My guess is she goes for a little while and realizes she doesn’t belong there anymore. Then she gets her GED and takes an online course in business management. She has to learn how to properly manage a city afterall. Though she could have been practicing her multi-tasking. I could see a few bug clones managing territory while she reads in class.

      • Speaking of bugs, and multi-tasking, and reading, I wonder if Taylor will ever figure out how to read using her bugs. ‘Cause, really, if she did, she could, conceivably, read hundreds of books at the same time, and integrate all the data as is she was only reading a single one.

        How cool would that be?

        Hg

    • I can’t really see Taylor going back to school to play the Degrassi game again. But I can easily see her going in part time for classes she’s actually interested in or are actually useful and take exams or something for the rest of the credits, if for no other reason than to kick back and learn some stuff she can’t learn by beating the shit out of skinheads.

      She ought to get some education or training in, or just start reading again. Atleast to work out her brain so she doesn’t become a thug consumed by the fight.

  15. This is one of the chapters that people have been asking for for a while now, and Wildbow, you delivered :D

    For most of the chapter I had tangible feeling of disgust at Emma. For most of the story, I’ve been of the opinion that Emma deserves something bad to happen to her. But as of the end of this chapter, I’m of the opinion that she’s already gotten what she deserved.

    Also, it is always gratifying to see someone who knew Taylor from the start notice how much she’s changed.

    And bravo for getting some of us to feel pity for a character we’ve loathed for so long.

    Next up, Psycho Gecko gives us his suggestions for better ways the ABB could have traumatized Emma.

    • Leave her alone.

      Not in the nice way, just leave her somewhere alone, like an island no one ever goes to. See, a person who proclaims themselves stronger than other people often runs into one tiny problem. They need people more. I know people like that. You press them and they’ll tell you how you’re weaker than them, not as good at being a person. And then it turns out they define the end goal of life as how much money they make, how many people they’ve slept with, or the fact that they can talk to a stranger on a telephone without sounding like an idiot.

      Except when you leave them alone, they are an empty vessel. Maybe the’ll watch TV or something else that shallowly entertains themselves, but in the end they’ll NEED a person. They desperately need someone else to talk to. I think they lack something, some inner imagination or way of thinking that helps people be an individual person.

      If you pan out a little bit, look at where they excel again. Their work, where they supposedly do so much better than you? Yeah, they’d be nothing without someone under them. In fact, most of their work is done by someone else. Maybe some of them even realize this and get overly defensive, as if to justify the fact that they are worth less than their supposed underlings.

      It all begins to fill in, doesn’t it? The people they’ve dated or had as friends didn’t mean anything. Interchangeable. Those people, if they have any kind of intelligence, will know it, so these supposed winners at life will be stuck with only those who need something from them. People much like them, actually.

      And, of course, putting yourself above other people means you need those supposedly “lower” people, whether your claims are based on class, race, sexuality, gender, or high school social standing.

      So no, I’d put her alone somewhere for a long time so she can get properly acquainted with herself. Every dirty flaw.

      Heh..hehehehahahahahaHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! *lightning strikes*

      That felt good, now I need to go shove something up my ass for fun.

        • Yes. But if we’re mentally healthy, we don’t need constant validation from others once we reach adulthood.

          People like Taylor can manage on a desert island. They won’t necessarily enjoy the loneliness, but they can still find things they value or enjoy doing without needing somebody else’s reactions to give them a sense of worth.

          People like Emma or Sophia? They’ll snap. Probably quickly. Because they define themselves completely around the reactions they get from other people, and have nothing they do just for themselves beyond fulfilling unthinking biological needs. Without anybody else around, they lack the ability to feel anything, to want anything, to do anything, because for all intents and purposes they don’t exist as anything other than a meat puppet that echoes their surroundings.

          Realizing that you’re an empty void where a person should be is not generally what one might call a fun experience.

          • Dude, lack of human interaction will drive anyone crazy. It’s why prolonged solitary is considered inhumane punishment.

            Granted, a desert island wouldn’t be quite as stifling, but it’s still no good for the mental health. And I can’t see Taylor taming a leopard.

          • Well put, Scrambles. You’ve just stumbles onto the foundation of a lot of societal problems. Why did this person support (insert discriminatory policy or law here)? Because it made them feel like they were a little better than another person, even if the distinction was trivial.

          • No desert island, put her in the bird cage. Let her live in a world where her philosophy is true. You can always put her in solitary, if they have it. The birdcage doesn’t seem that big if it is only holding 600 prisoners at most.

        • I like having people laugh at my jokes.
          However, most of my comedy is written because I find it funny. Sometimes that means puns, sometimes bad jokes, sometimes intelligent parody, and sometimes it involves farts and dicks.
          Not like I’m saying I’m the predator to y’all’s prey. I’m just the king of my world and sometimes I show that by doublecrossing the line.

  16. And Wildbow’s all like.

    “You guys want to see Taylor take revenge on Emma? Yeah, I’ll see about that.”

    I really hope she doesn’t personally, it would blast Taylor’s personal development back into the stone age. That would seem like such a petty thing after all that’s happen and I think Taylor’s grown a lot in terms of maturity for that. Emma, by contrast seems like she’s taken Sophia’s philosophy and turn it into something (even more) childish. It would be like an adult taking revenge on a child at this point.

    I don’t know if it’s intentional, but I really like Shadowstalker as a sort of mini-deconstruction of the grim and gritty, dark age of comics anti-hero. The sorts of philosophies and attitudes that go into that sort of character are pretty childish and stupid when put into a universe that’s genuinely realistic, and not GRIMDARK realistic.

    I’m glad we got to see Taylor and Danny reconnected so we don’t go through the ultra-awkward initial meeting again. But it’s still gonna get awkward when he finds out about Brian. Who I’m assuming made it out okay considering Taylor’s here and not dealing with that.

    • He teased her about Brian when she first brought them up, so I don’t think he will care. Forget Emma, I want to know more about Sophia. What is going through her head after basically becoming the one thing she despised, a victim? If Wildbow can redeem Armsmaster in my eyes, he might just redeem her. Any chance she will become a better person?

      • He’ll care once he figures out why both Taylor and Brian looked embarrassed when they were playing Zork and the line “It is pitch-dark. You may be eaten by a grue” came up.

        • I see what you did there. It was still a bit unclear though whether or not Taylor is still a virgin after her night with Brian.

    • Taylor has personally developed into a first rate Supervillain. No vengeance, perhaps, but I suspect some stern justice is in the offing. Speaking openly and honestly about what Emma got up to at Winslow would be enough. I could also see Taylor allowing a cautionary ostracism of ‘that girl who messed with Skitter before she triggered’ to persist, when it would take only a few words from her to let others breathe freely around Emma.

      Forgiveness may be divine, but Emma’s cowardice, her willingness to throw a friend to the wolves when the going got tough, cries out to be given answer.

      • That assumes that Taylor’s going to actually commit to being a supervillain. Now that she’s out of the life or death pressure cooker it remains to be seen whether she’s going to continue operating the same way she been over the last few weeks.

        It helps that the heroes will probably lay off somewhat, considering that the Undersiders have become a stable entity with interests in the wellbeing of the city.

        • I think when Taylor committed to joining the Undersiders during that chat with Tattletale by the endbringer memorial, it was about a lot more than just Dinah. Dinah was a focus and an obsession, but Taylor has an ideological point to prove as well. Not entirely sure what, maybe to prove to the world that it’s assumptions about ‘villains’ and ‘heroes’ are completely bogus, and to spite the system by succeeding where it failed and stealing its authority in the process. Or perhaps to accrue enough power to fix thingson an even larger scale, since it sure as hell looks like nobody else can be arsed to do it.

          • I do not think that the labels of hero and villain are /completely/ bogus. I think we can all agree that the Slaughterhouse 9 are villains, after all. However, the line between the Undersiders and the Wards especially does seem to be blurred sometimes.

  17. to me this doesnt even begin to excuse emmas actions, mainly because i expected something like this. it does make me hate shadow stalker slightly more. im still looking forward to someone kicking emmas ass, and have been since the comment about taylors mom.

  18. I guessed that it was Sophia who corrupted Emma. But this makes much more sense than anything I imagined.

    The hint that Sophia knew that Skitter was Taylor was nice.

    • But how could she find out? Plus she is a vindictive, bitch. Why keep such a secret to yourself when it could greatly inconvenience her life? Revenge doesn’t really fit, because Regent made it very clear to her what would happen if she came back to town.

      • How she found out: Random Lurker pointed out that Regent’s last words to Sophia were a pretty big clue.

        Why she wouldn’t tell: Three reasons. First, outing Skitter wouldn’t get her out of prison before the world is scheduled to end. Second, the way Emma was treating her, she probably would rather have the pleasure of knowing that Emma was cruising for a fall. Third, she had a kind of sneaky admiration for Skitter before she learned that Skitter was actually Taylor — and if *Sophia* triggered from being abused, turned that from weakness to strength, she would have every reason to empathize more with hella-strong uber-survivor Skitter than … well, *sorta*-survivor Emma.

        • Except Regent’s last words could easily apply to Grue and Skitter (as in, not Taylor). Shadow Stalker tried to murder both of them.

          • But the WAY Regent said it was almost a denial that he was talking about Grue. Not exactly definitive evidence, but enough for Sophia to start thinking. After all, Regent’s not the type to stand up for Grue’s sake, since Grue could do things himself. Kinda like helping would be killstealing. Sophia would realize that Regent would be doing this so secretively for other reasons, especially with Skitter’s reactions and considering all the things Regent did when controlling her, regarding Emma and Taylor.

  19. Ah, Emma. There’s been a lot of large talk behind your back. I fear your triumphant return to Brockton Bay society may be marred by some measure of misfortune.

  20. hello, just caught up to the present, and what a place to catch up :) I think it would almost be more of a revenge if Skitter ended up saving Emma’s life, in a slightly more dignified way than Shadow Stalker did. Also, I have no idea how her secret identity’s supposed to stay secret now, wasn’t her mask off for about half of the Echidna fight? I’d love to see the heroes and villains socializing at school, fully aware of the identities of the others, and also I want Clockblocker on Skitter’s side, personal request.

    • Glad you’re caught up, nice to meet you.

      It’s always nice when a reader catches up at just the right moment, at one of the more awesome chapters/interludes or at a nice denouement point.

    • Welcome to the party. I think Clockblocker pretty much is on Skitter’s side. He always had a rebel streak, admits in Jessica’s interlude that he feels bound by all of the rules, saw that she really isn’t an evil person, and she saved the wards twice. I honestly don’t think he would spill the beans if he found out.

      • I’m kinda hoping clockblocker joins the undersiders, seeing as the undersiders have lost shatterbird, and he and skitter already have powerful synergy. Not to mention clockie’s disregard of authority.

          • “Okay, Tattletale, we’ve got a new challenge for you. We would find it … pleasing if the following individual were to find herself becoming a valued member of society.”

            *hands over Garotte’s file*

          • Garrote is extremely sad, but unless they can give her oliver’s power, I don’t think they can help her too much. Though Taylor probably would have broken in a month later if she had some kind of healing ability. I hate to say it, but I don’t think she would really be that useful. She is strong, and I’m assuming tough but they have plenty of Brutes with Bitch’s dogs. She also seems rather timid like Sundancer and Parian. What do the undersiders need? Something that has good synergy with at least some of their powers and fills a hole in their team. I’m thinking a Tinker, healer, or breaker.

          • I agree, a tinker would be beneficial, however I dont see chariot joining them, as his focus was described as movement based creations, and the undersiders already have adequate transportation with atlas and bitch’s dogs. I nominate dragon joining the undersiders!

    • Yeah, a bunch of people saw her face during the last arch, or at least her clones’ faces, which very well might be enough. Also possibly when shatterbird hit.

  21. “and I’ve found herself becoming the type of person”

    Should be “myself,” given that it’s an aside. All in all, this is… interesting. Not my favorite interlude ever, but it sets the tone for what seems like an arc more focused on Taylor as a person than Skitter. Also, it’s a bit of a “Take that!” to all the people who’ve been advocating revenge on Emma; nobody’s a villain in their own mind, everyone has justifications, and so on… More to the point, she doesn’t need to. The best revenge is living well, and this is an excellent demonstration of that.

  22. “and I’ve found herself becoming the type of person who could genuinely laugh at something like this.”

    Should be ‘myself’

    • Also, great chapter. It’s interesting to see the process behind Emma abandoning Taylor. Although I have no sympathy for her (I think this is a character flaw, I very rarely feel any sympathy for villains who turn out to have trauma behind it all, it’s as if they’re too much in moral debt for it to count. Or something.)
      As for Shadow Stalker, she reminds me of something said about the villain in a Christopher Stasheff book: “She’d always had a philosophy that the strongest rule. It had never occurred to her that she might not always be the strongest.”

  23. This might be me having missed a detail or misremembering completely, but wasn’t Sophia in juvie before the S9 arc started? How would she know that the world ends in two years? Unless someone told her before she went. Or she wasn’t sent just yet.

    Either way, I really don’t mind. I like the insight into Emma’s character given here: she’s a lot more understandable and relatable. Still a bitch, of course, but you can see the steps that took her there.

          • Really? I thought they were was a pretty mutual dislike between them after the wards arc. I’d have thought it would be Clockblocker, considering he kinda had a crush on her.

          • @Syroc: I didn’t say she’d be doing it for pleasure – I’m saying she’s the kind of person who might do it out of obligation.

            Could be Clockblocker, I suppose, but I have a harder time seeing it. Pretty sure “she’s hot” has less effect on your actions when she’s not there.

          • Actually, the prior update has a counter argument: when Vista lists people she lost, she lists Glory Girl but not Shadow Stalker.

        • I assumed she made new ‘friends’ in juvie who told her. I’m guessing the news has spread pretty far by now.

    • Seconded. The whole pattern of “I had a traumatic experience, so now I’m entitled to being a shitty person” feels like an insult to everyone who ever had bad stuff happen to them but still manage to be decent people.

  24. so… if the heberts have a new car… does that mean the economy got jumpstarted back up THAT fast?

    …or has taylor confessed to her father about her new source of income?

    btw i didn’t mention this in my last post but… (2nd) post here, just got pointed this way last week. and i had a sleepless weekend.

    love the story. dont eat me please.

    • Well, Skitter is turning the Northside into the economic capital of the city, and her dad is in charge of the dockworkers. So maybe they have actual work now, so he can be paid. I could see her pretending to be the ceo of a company to push for the development of the ferry for him.

      • On Skitter turning Northside into the economic capital and her father being in charge of dockworkers. Skitter’s powers allow her to produce tons of goods and turn in a massive profit. Think about it. Spider silk clothes (they are bulletproof!). Honey production (lots and lots of it). Venom production (milk those spiders!). Cross-polynation and parasite control for farming.

        Combine it with potential control over plankton (increased breeding for food production), oyster control (pearl production, food production) and, potentially, octopus control (possibly, unlikely), and Skitter could finance the city all on her own.

        Her powers allow her to be an industrial power all on her own.

        They are very much suited for peaceful applications.

        • we know it takes her a long time to make her silk outfits, it’s not exactly something she can mass-produce. what you described could happen in the long term possibly, but i don’t think that’s the case here.

          my gut is telling me the timeskip (if any) is negligible—a week or so at most, which is why the car is a flag for me. i’m crossing my fingers hoping she finally revealed herself to him, although having it happen off-screen would be a bit of a downer too… so… maybe not =/

          • Almost three weeks – from June 20th (Echidna incident) to July 6/7th (last day before school).

            And the time for production is the matter of scale. Taylor can now afford to have several warehouses to be filled with spiders, millions of spiders. She can organize them so they would not take much place. And with initial amount of spiders she could quickly ramp the production up (by forcing them to breed).

            She could also play with controlled/directed evolution by carefully breeding insects to get better abilities. Like better hearing / more human sight, stronger ants, more poisonous insects, bees with enhanced honey production, spiders that produce tougher silk. After all, she gets all the info on them.

            If she had several years, she could become very, VERY dangerous indeed, globally.

            But even in the scope of a month she could already start turning in profit, I think.

          • Slightly over two weeks, IIRC.

            The dates of the parahumans online chapter point to this.

            See the dates mentioned in the first post and the most recent post (with Greg thinking school is the next day).

          • I get where you are comming from to hope she finally revealed herself but i think its unlikely.
            To get a car you need money but where did it come from? Either Taylor or her Dad.
            Dad:
            He got a job and the chapter indicates that its actually going well for brockton bay so presumably also its economy. Now i m pretty sure in a world in which endbringerattacks are common the crisis response at least when it comes to getting money and relief packages there is better than in ours if simply for the training this gets put through and the fact it sounds good on tv to say the people there are actually getting help.
            Somehow i see politicians wanting to avoid protests as a strong motivation there.
            Since he s got a job and the economy could be bouncing back i d also not put a loan out of the question since it says new or newly washed it could affordable . Or it could be a car from the dockworkers (a friend or an official one)
            Taylor:
            She should have the money if from Tattle or the jobs they pulled before taking over since i cant see them actually getting profit from the area they control yet. That takes time and i agree that this feels like a shorter timeskip which is also one of the reasons i think Yogs idea can t be the source of income yet.
            Even with her control of the bugs what you are proposing takes trial and error to figure out how to get the stuff in a way that makes it tadeable (the silk spun up on a coil for transport the venom in flasks and sealed etc.); constant control and supervision by skitter at least thats the impression i got at the beginning of the story she had to be there to get the silk for her costume and couldn t simply tell the spiders to keep producing while she was away?
            Also she d need to find contacts to sell it to. Here Tattle probably could help but that would still only mean skitter got the money. That all seems much for the short amount of time that probably passed.
            Having a deja vu here i m pretty sure the possibilities for Taylor earning money with similar scemes were discussed before.
            Now as Taylor i guess she wouldn t want that money to be traceable to her. Now after all this is over there probably is a semblance of normalcy returning and suddenly having a big amount of money and no real source where it came from could be pretty suspicious. Again if she really wanted to i m sure she could get Tattle to come up with a cover.
            The big question is would she do this? I think that depends on the circumstances. Say her dad needed expensive surgery or was starving the answer would be yes of course but for a car? I don t see it.
            Also her giving him the money would mean either coming clean about herself which is a big thing many here have waited and hoped for and therefor i think wildbow wouldn t do offscreen or lying about its source which is something i think Taylor would be against. Sure she would do it if necessary(again medcine or real need) but i find the car doesn t rate that.
            Regarding her revealing herself. She didn t do it when there were real possibilities of her getting herself killed in the near future(Leviathan S9) so stress doesn t move her to that and i already stated that for many here that would be a big thing and wildbow knows that so i doubt it happened offscreen.
            I ll admit now that some time has passed without something horrible triing to kill everyone she could have had time to think about it and decided to come clean of course should the next interlude be just that i d happily retract my previous statement and claim i meant the exact opposite^^

          • Uh, in regards to where the money come from I don’t think a car would be that big a red flag. Taylor could probably find on used on Kijiji or something for around a thousand bucks. If Danny asks she could just tell him she’s been working minimum wage for the last couple months.

            I mean, I see a 2000 Dodge Caravan going for 650 right now in Montreal. Just pay for that thing and arrange transport for it under the table. It’s not like they need a new vehicle to get around a recovering disaster zone.

    • And welcome to the comments section. *Nibu nibu* You seem a bit stringy. Not a fiddle player, are you?

      Too cool to be a picolo player. Those tend to be piping hot.

      (Speaking of stealing jokes…try a little priest)

    • Or the Heberts might not actually own the car. It could be a) a rental b) a car bought by the docker’s union c) borrowed from a friend d) the family had a visitor over. I suppose that there are less likely possibilities such as they’re fixing the car for someone else or scrapping abandoned cars for parts and this one just happens to look new.

  25. OK, so Sophia knows about the end of the world coming down the pike, as do the people in charge of the protectorate. So my question is how long before the estimated end of the world do all of the imprisoned heroes, rogues, and tolerable (ie: not murdering rapist) villains get released? It doesn’t make sense to leave them in jail when they might end up being useful at a fixed point that you know is coming. I would be willing to bet that in a year or so a crossbow and some bolts end up sitting in a safe in the warden’s office ready to be handed over to Shadow Stalker when the shit hits the fan.

    • It makes sense leaving them in jail if you don’t know whether releasing them contributes to the end of the world.

      They might end up being useful – or they might end up contributing to/taking advantage of the chaos and making everything worse. I know which I consider likelier…

  26. I absolutely hate parents who are afraid of their kids. Emma’s parents are afraid of her. Skitter’s dad was/is afraid of her. What the hell? Why is that a thing in just about every story I read about white families? Discipline your kids. Call them out when they’re being assholes. Don’t let them just walk all over you, ugh

    • I know we wouldn’t have a story otherwise, but what kind of parent barely puts up a fight and allows their kid to just walk out during pretty much the apacolpyse? Is that real life? Seriously

      • I know I am looking at this wrong, but Danny could not actually stop Taylor from leaving as long as Lisa was there. Danny isn’t in good shape, and even without powers Taylor and Lisa are, and they are used to hurting people to varying degrees. If he had physically tried to stop them I expect they could have fucked him up.

        • my interpretation was less him expecting physical retaliation and more afraid of driving a permanent wedge between himself and taylor.

          all the way up to that point he’d been afraid to press her about her problems in the fear that she wouldn’t see him as an ally anymore and cut the last ties (he assumes) she has. it was probably the only way he could think of to avoid completely alienating her

          lose the fight to win the war and all that

          • Oh I agree completely, my point was more that even if Danny had tried to stop Taylor from leaving there was no actual chance of that happening. Even without powers if you toss two physically fit teenagers that have shown a willingness to hurt people against a middle aged guy that is out of shape and wouldn’t want to hurt them? I wouldn’t want to be Danny.

            • Did Danny have any reason to expect that either Lisa or Taylor would be willing to engage in physical violence? IIRC, he knew nothing about Lisa beyond “Taylor’s new friend”, and Taylor’s never been violent around him…

        • I doubt that that crossed Danny’s mind- He was probably more worried about hurting Taylor. He directly blames his temper for many of the bad things that have happened- his wife’s death, Taylor’s not being willing to finger the bullies.

          And I see how well people ‘control’ their children in public every day… Mostly poorly.

    • Discipline tends to work better when it’s established early.
      “You listen to mama” from age six to seventeen gets results.

      If you’re used to the more … open and WASPy sort of style that white folks like,
      well, trying to impose discipline can backfire. For one thing, you’re not acting like yourself — and it shows distrust.

      He’s letting himself be a victim, sure… But, if he had tried to nail Taylor down, she would have left anyhow.

    • I don’t think they are afraid of their kids at all. Yeah, Emma’s dad should definitely call her out on being an asshole, but it’s not fear of her that would prevent him from doing it. He probably doesn’t know what to do- he saw that she was getting “better” than she was after the attack, and wouldn’t want to set her back.

      He also wouldn’t have been aware of the full extent of just how shitty his daughter was being.

  27. Well, this certainly puts things into perspective. I don’t know if I feel sorry for Emma or not now, but her father at least gets his fair share of the blame for not acting like a responsible adult.

    The thugs were a nice call back too.

    On a related note my speculation about the schools being consolidated together seems to be coming true. It will certainly be interesting to see Taylor interacting with whats left of the wards. Clockblocker at least should recongize her and she will probably recognize him. My guess is that they will approach the whole thing like they did the Defiant thing. Pretending very hard not to notice because noticing would not do anyone any good to notice.

    A funny result might be that Greg might try to out Taylor in frustration, but unfortunately he is surrounded by Wards, Undersiders and Skitters minions. He might go “Denis, Lisa, Charlotte, don’t you see Taylor is Skitter!” and everyone would be ignoring it. For added drama he might reveal that Sophia used to bully Taylor putting things into perspective for the heroes.

    • I might get lynched for saying this since, as the viewpoint character, Taylor always gets a lot of empathy and understanding. But at this point, Taylor being bullied isn’t any more an excuse for being a villain than Emma being assaulted is an excuse for being a total bitch. It explains the process (well, part of the process, a lot of stuff happened to Taylor to make her who she is) and gives insight into her motivations, but I’m not sure it would actually change all that much how the heroes treat her.

      I mean, forget how much you love Skitter for a moment and think about it like a hero who learns about a villain’s past. That’s pretty common in fiction. And it’s like, yeah, you were bullied, sold into slavery, are the last survivor of a once proud race, your whole village (and your dog) were slaughtered, whatever. Doesn’t really change the whole part with robbery, aggravated assault, murder, etc.

      If some heroes respect her or even befriend her, it’ll be because of Taylor’s actions, how she treats people well in her territory, how she fought against threats against the city like Echidna and the Nine, not because of what happened to her in the past.

      Unless there really are heroes dumb enough to think people just spontaneously become villains for no particular reason. This despite the fact that pretty much every cape in existence has a traumatic event in their life (except the Cauldron-made). Those might get surprised upon learning about Taylor’s past.

      • The most likely thing for the remaining Wards to think if/when they find out about Taylor’s past is “Fuck you very much, Shadow Stalker. Was ‘Create a Supervillain’ on your bingo card for ‘Ways to make the rest of your team’s lives miserable’ or something?”

        • Plus, with all her powers and high and mighty notions of being a predator who hunts down criminals, what did Sophia do?

          She picked on a nerdy teenage girl recovering from her mother’s death. Oh, ain’t you just something impressive.

          At the very least she was one dumb hero.

      • I think Shadow Stalker’s involvement would have more of an effect on their perception than the bullying per se- especially if they think that Sophia was an ongoing deterrent to Skitter joining the heroes.

        • It would definitely effect how they handle probationary Wards members in the future, whether it was a jackboot Piggot or that self-centered dick Armsmaster someone completely dropped the ball by not watching Shadowstalker (who was under probation for fucking MANSLAUGHTER) like a shithawk.

          But I think it’s passed the point where the Skitter-Shadowstalker connection would have effected change, before the S9 and Echidna it would have been a big deal, now it’s a drop in the pond.

      • Can we please use the term “Cauldron-born” instead of “Cauldron-made”?

        (If you know why, then you know why, and if you don’t, well, you should read more than just manga sometime.)

        Hg

      • Except that Taylor *didn’t* become a villain because she was bullied – she used her powers to become a hero instead and even went undercover in a dangerous gang of villains when the opportunity arose. Through a combination of growing attachment to that group and increasing disillusionment with the ‘heroes’ she became a villain (the final tipping point was finding out that the label ‘hero’ applied to someone like Sophia).

        If you change “she became a villain because she was bullied” to “she became a villain because she was bullied BY A SUPERHERO” you’d be closer, but even then it still comes back to being disillusioned by how morally compromised the heroes were rather than any sort of cliched “the world has been cruel to me and now it must paaaaay!” motivation.

  28. New poster here. Been reading for a bit now though catching up took forever. You are impressively prolific. Wildbow, first I need to say how wonderful Worm is. There’s a lot of online fiction around the web these days and Worm is the best thing online by a wide margin.

    I also agree with many of the other posters. This was THE chapter that I feel the story has been basically demanding since the start. We all probably figured it was something along these lines, but it was nice to see it, to actually know what was really going inside Emma’s head.

    And it was so nice to finally see Taylor triumph. Sure she trashes Lung, Bakuda, the Local Wards, and even Armsmaster. Fights the Endbringers. Thumps the S9 crew, and sends what’s left of them packing. Defeats Dragon by out-thinking her. Actually manages to escape Coil’s inevitable deathtrap and turns the tables on him. Kills him. Deserves a lion’s share of the credit for taking down Noelle. But in some ways this feels like her biggest victory because it’s the first time she has really triumphed over who she is and where she comes from (at the beginning of the story I mean).

    Also to all those that are thinking why would Taylor go back to school since she’s an Evil Overlord:
    1. As scary as any of the fights she’s been in as a cape clearly Taylor is far more afraid of high school. I mean after all why else would she keep running away from school to be a supervillian?
    2. Taylor is an Evil Overlord now. Evil Overlords can not show fear. Thus, Taylor clearly must confront those fears and go back to school. After all what minion would respect a Supervillian boss that is too afraid to go to high school.
    3. Wildbow clearly is one of those sadistic authors. Every victory results in an instant new even worse problem cliffhanger. What single other possible plot device would allow as much opportunity for sadistic dramatic tensions as putting Taylor, Emma, the Wards, various evil minions and who knows what all else all together under one roof?
    4. Last of all, but most important, because Wildbow already set up the foreshadowing for it. (Then again this is WIldbow, I suppose it could all just be a sadistic taunt to make us all think that’s what’s gonna happen, only to find the proverbially rug pulled out from under us.) But still, foreshadowing.

    • Welcome to the comments section! Usually we’d smash a bottle of expensive champagne across the bow of such an excellent first post, but Psycho Gecko seems to have drank it all…

        • Is it just me, or is there a lot of people who have just caught up for this chapter?
          Anyway, Freerider, welcome, and may god save your soul. You’re not getting out of this place alive.

    • Skipped right over you apparently. Welcome, Freerider of the family Lazybums.

      This is our lovely comments section. Now that you have filled your mind with Worm, we are here to protect the secrets of worm by making sure you lose your mind. Actually, it “fell off the back of a truck” for tax purposes.

      I think Taylor as said evil overlord would be within her rights not to bother attending school, though I do know of at least one high school for evil people called Bad Guy High. There’s also Whateley, technically, but I’m not a fan of all the forcibe genderswapping of people who don’t feel like they were born in the wrong body. And when they’re done with that, they could stop by Overlord Academy. Those college kids are great customers for the Atomic Laundromat. If they do well enough, who knows, they might even get a job at Evil Inc. Just hope they don’t get all sexist when faced with a lot of Grrl Power.

  29. I just realized Taylor could get a GED without too much trouble. She can hear with and talk through her bugs, so Tattletale just has to hang out nearby and feed her answers.

    • Talk, yes. Hear, not so much. I’m pretty sure it was established that she can hear bits and pieces, but only under extreme stress.

    • This is not optimal. Taylor *needs* the information that the last two and a half years of high school can grant her. Extra physics knowledge gets her more use out of her bugs. Economics and math let her run her territory better. History is full of warlords to learn from. If she picks up an instrument, the Undersiders can form a band. These are all important!

      • I’m not seeing it. I didn’t learn too much in my high school. She is very well read for a teenager and she is wealthy now. She can hire a tutor for things like that. She really should be studying how to run/manage a business for her warlord job. I think she could use more of a social life though, and high school could help with that. She has Brian, but he admitted that the rest of the Undersiders aren’t exactly big hitters in the emotional support area. Bitch probably doesn’t want her to go if she is still hanging out with her. Though Bitch could go out in public if they gave her plastic surgery to have a new face. They are rich now, and seems like something villains would do.

        • I’m kind of uncomfortable with the idea that she should pursue education just for the purposes of making her a better supervillain. I’d think that now that she’s not constantly under pressure or attack and not stuck in the despair quagmire she’d see some value in education for it’s own sake and would want to do some actual book learnin’ outside the bullshit core classes that high school makes people go through.

          She’s kind of been heading a in a direction that would end up with supervillainy consuming her identity. Getting some education that isn’t necessarily “practical” might help slam the brakes on that.

          • Well she does still read alot for her mother’s memory and she probably could use a civilian identity. Since money isn’t an issue for her anymore, she can just study something she wants without worrying about employment.

        • Once i was finished i realized another of my posts turned into some huge mess of words and for that i apologize. Normally at that point i delete it but this time i somehow don t want to.
          I m with the people that say she doesn t need to go back to high school anymore.
          She is now overlord of a big part of the city and from what i ve seen from her she takes that as meaning a lot of responsibility not privileges.
          That means once its rebuilt and the economy starts running again a big part of that being the wormhole the Undersiders are controlling at least at this point she will have all the money she needs. Until then however there is still so much to be done (cleaning the aftermath of Leviathan and S9, making sure of her peoples wellbeing and the rebuilding itself) that she has got more than enough to occupy her time. I also think from the way she thought about her area and the people there that she has a strong motivation to stay involved there personally as much as possible.
          Another reason against going back could be that she believes the time until the end the world could be better spend be it training herself to be ready and have a better chance of saving as many people as possible or be it building up her organization for much the same motivation.
          While i agree that she could use more of a social life this also brings about a number of problems. The people she would interact with would and frankly could only be allowed to know Taylor not Skitter. To go into that whole how hard it is to keep a secret identity thing can probably be skipped if you have read even one superhero comic for a time. Even if you haven t we already saw that it is possible for people who have known her just from seeing her at school to connect the two. I know i have no knowledge about psychology but how big an emotional improvement could she gain under the stress of keeping that big a part of her life secret? The socialising however seems to me a point that Taylor wouldn t even consider. Most people that everyone around them thinks should be among people more don t realize that and thus don t try to change it. And whatever else you can say about the Undersiders they stood with her through some of the very worst that the world could throw at them so maybe she thinks they are enough. Her spending time in her area and with her people or her organization could also provide social interaction.
          The reason why i think she could only allow them to know Taylor is that Skitter is a supervillain. She has robbed a bank, attacked a social gettogether where heros were present, attacked the PRT headquarters in town , attacked and drove of dragon, disabled 2 directors of the PRT and taken over the town itself. I agree that her actions and decisions during the echidna fight will have gathered attention but i believe its mostly of a kind that only reinforces beliefs that are already in place. Miss Militia said everytime the Undersiders came to them it seemed like they were only given choices that had definite disadvantages for the heroes no matter what they did in the end. So i think she only reinforced her image as a capable and dangerous villain. Seeing as this is a world in which a girl can be send to the worst prison imaginable for not understanding the full extend of her power i am somewhat reluctant to believe the “heroes” or courts would feel inclined to do anything other than try and capture her to be send to the birdcage should they get to know her identity which gets more likely the more people know it.
          I think however that Taylor herself has not yet reached a point where she thinks not going back is a good idea or even an option. If i remember right she was just expulsed from school when Leviathan attacked and regardless of how much action there was in the chapters not much time actually passed until now. And since it takes time to change ones mindset i think she still considers high school as one of the must does of her life.
          So i think she will at least go back for a while and then maybe realize its not for her anymore.

          • Taylor is actually in a fairly unique situation, secret-identity-wise. She has her bug clones and multitasking ability, so ‘Skitter’ can be active across town while Taylor is sitting in math class studying. It’ll be interesting to see how she goes…

  30. This feels like an ending chapter. Not ‘the’ ending chapter of course, the world is due to end in two years after all, but it’s nice to show that Taylor doesn’t need to take revenge on Emma for what happened to her. They were kids and while it was horrible they’ve both grown up a little and are a little wiser for it. I doubt Taylor cares much anymore about it, it was nasty sure but it’s no Slaughterhouse 9 or Noelle.

    It’s also nice to see Taylor laughing with her dad, no matter how horrible it gets she always bounces back.

  31. A very nice interlude. Poor poor Emma, having a crisis moment and turning to Shady Stroller and her garbled pseudo-Nietzschean-not-really-lol bullshit as an emotional anchor. Could happen to anyone, I guess. I can’t imagine Taylor putting up with any more shite from garden-variety school bullies any more, not when “Bitch, I stood this fucking close to an Endbringer and hit it with a magic antimatter techno-stick” must be going through her head 24/7.

    • It says a lot about Taylor that she never thinks that. She’s the girl who stabbed an Endbringer and still wonders why people find her scary at times.

      • I think she imagines there are three people:

        1. Taylor, an ordinary skinny sixteen-year-old girl;
        2. Skitter, a manager of municipal issues in one district of Brockton Bay; and
        3. *Skitter*, a badass motherfucker with whom you do not mess if you value your skin.

        …and she doesn’t understand emotionally that making person-3 terrifying (“bursts of sudden and extreme violence towards those she sees as her enemies”) is going to affect perceptions of persons 2 and 1.

  32. I do like the dual meaning of the name “the irregulars”. I was wondering if they had any goals besides using freelance work to support themselves as a hero group. Perhaps trying to get in contact with fellow cauldron-made, help them out if necessary, recruit them if possible.

    Fingers crossed that they start visiting sveta at the asylum at the least, maybe even work towards moving her out. I think sveta would develop a crush on weld merely because she could be in the same room with him without killing him.

  33. I’m running out of words to comment on how great your work is wildbow.

    while I finally understand emma now, it really just makes me despise her more – she is spectacularly vain and self-centered, even more than I expected.

  34. The worst thing that could happen to Emma at his point is her going up to Taylor, attempting to strike up some sort of conversation, and Taylor actually having to take a moment or two to remember *who* Emma is. Not laughing–that’d be an attack, a sign of weakness. Not cowering, or some loud declaration, but “Oh, right, you’re one of the girls that threw me into the locker.” And then shrugging and turning her back on Emma as if it didn’t mean anything and went about her business.

    Though, I am reminded of something a friend of mine said. Sometimes your enemies attack you sideways…

  35. So……Emma went all bitch because of Sophie and the fact she couldn’t be as strong as Taylor……now more than ever do I hope that Emma finds out Taylor is Skitter. That would fuckin BREAK her. Even more than the near-death experience, I think.

    As always Wildbow your work is awesome. Can’t wait till Thursday. :3

    • Naw Soul, not break her, the problem with Emma is that she never really got unbroken in the first place. Everything since seems like it has been her way of hiding how messed up she is even from herself. It’s not knowing that Taylor IS Skitter that would mess Emma up, it’s knowing WHY Taylor is Skitter that would bring Emma’s whole little fantasy crashing down.

      Though as fun as Emma finding out that Taylor is Skitter would be I think it would be more fun to have Emma watch Taylor take over Arcadia High as Taylor. After everything, especially Emma’s conversation with Sophia at the prison that would really be a major blow to Emma’s Shadow Stalker tainted perspective.

      • Very true. Taylor making friends with the Wards, the ‘popular’ kids of Arcadia and being an all around awesome person. I would normally feel sorry for Emma……but the way she just embraced Little Miss Psychopath’s thinking is making me wish Emma had suffered worse. Maybe having a trigger that turned her into a hideous monster with nearly useless powers! :D

        Still I wanna see what would happen if Emma found out who Taylor is…..the Villain ruling over where she lives, the undisputed ruler of Brockton Bay, the one who has an ENTIRE PLANET UNDER HER THUMB. Her already broken psyche would crumble. Then…..then I see Taylor help rebuild Emma up, as her old friend once more…..or ya know……watch her wallow in her own self-pity and denial.

        ….Damn I’m in such an evil mood. Must have been Coding and Modeling.

        • I was with you up until the “entire planet under her thumb” line. It kinda killed it for me. Better contenders for that title, in reverse order of importance (to date):
          -Sleeper (S-Class, currently unknown)
          -Nilbog (S-Class, way fucking scarier/more effective than Skitter)
          -Jack Slash (S-Class, known far and wide, and basically is Skitter but depraved, what with the effective use of his teammates abilities, brilliant leadership skills, and ability to be similtaneously the “weakest” and strongest member of the S9)
          -Behemoth (Hero-killer)
          -Leviathan (Nation-killer)
          -Simurgh ([Redacted via Creepy Fucking Psy-wiping])
          -Scion/Zion (Most powerful parahuman on Earth Bet, probably autistic)
          -Imp.

          • I think you’ll find soulpelt was referring to the entire planet that the Undersiders now own the portal to. As nominal leader of the Undersiders, Skitter certainly could be said to have that world under her thumb (though in practice I imagine she’ll largely defer to Lisa).

  36. I started reading Worm on the tenth and have just caught up today. I have to say that from day 1 to today, nothing has at any point given me to have an ounce of sympathy for Sophia. Emma, I could see, had been manipulated, but Sophia was villainous through and through.

    I also have to say that all this Lisa/Taylor shipping I see in the comments makes me really want to know what everybody’s favorite blabbermouth looks for in a romantical entanglement. Well. She’s not the romantical type. What she looks for in a fun Saturday evening, then.

    • Welcome to the Wormling fold, Toast. The hats are on the top shelf and the initiation ritual room is in the far left room.

      Ah…..Lisa/Taylor….possible one of the few same-sex shipping that I support. I suspect PG will be here soon with some of his usual nonsensicalm if humorous, ramblings.

      • You’re late, very late. You’ve been holding up teatime. At least now you can be part of the conversation. Some of it is worth catching up on, but if you try it all you’ll likely go mad. But we’re all a little mad sometimes, so perhaps it us time to let the nice Gecko man lead you down the rabbit hole. You’re Toast either way.

        I think Lisa would want somone at least a little capable of matching her intellectually and who she could count on to talk to her, since she’ll find out anyway. Skitter wasn’t hardly that Alice at the start, but now, perhaps.

      • I prefer to think of my binge as merely slowing down a touch. I’ll finish when you do. Which from various hints you’ve been dropping isn’t long now?

        • Eh. 1-3 arcs before the conclusion gets underway and no idea how long the story’s ending will take.. I’m not in a rush, and I’ll let it happen as it happens.

          • The flip side being that, going by the numbers, it’d cost a minimum of about $40,000 to get this thing proofread (a basic proofread), as is. 8x that for a copy-edit (15-40 cents a word).

            I always told myself I’d invest in a serious edit, but I checked out the numbers and they’re mind boggling.

          • I had the Internet proofread my work. So have you, it seems, and I only spotted five or six things it missed in the entire work. This is a better track record than for-pay services.

            Copy-edit is harder, it’s true, but if you’re going the vanity-press route, you do have the option of just chucking that step. Still, I was given to understand that it was possible to flat-rate editors rather than paying them by the word. Not that any such editor would be favorably disposed to you for dumping ten novels on her head . . .

            Alternately, you can put out a call among select known-erudite members of your fanbase asking for editing services on individual chunks, so that you can get it done (slowly) for free. The only problem there is picking wormlings who you know can edit. Your fellow Web Fiction Guide lister Karen Wehrstein does this, and it works pretty well.

          • wildbow,
            somehow, I doubt that is how much this would actually cost to get proofread.
            I mean, that is some insane amount of cost. Hell, if you were willing to chop this up some… There’s magazines out there looking for serials. You familiar with where The Dragonriders of Pern got published?

            They’ll pay you x a word (and it’s not much), but they wont’ charge you for the copyediting! And they’re good — Stan believes in making good writers out of promising folks.

          • Maybe you could do a donation drive to help pay for it- not for an extra chapter, but maybe people who donate a certain amount or some such get something out of it? A lot of people would be willing to do so.

            Or hey, try to set up a Kickstarter.

      • I’ve done some copy-editing for a literary magazine and newspaper. Nothing fancy, but if you don’t mind a long, protracted process I’d be willing edit at least an arc or a few chapters free of charge. I don’t usually look for typos–I assume that Worm will be heavily revised pre-publication, and it also feels too much like work. But I’m pretty anal about grammar and typos. So, if you ever want me to let the crazy out in service of your story…I’d be willing to at least chip in.

        • Thanks for the offer, Hobbes.

          I wouldn’t stress about it just yet. I’ve gone over arcs 1-3 with my writer’s circle and just need to find the time to sit down and apply changes they’ve suggested. Minor stuff overall, though I’ve contemplated a greater change to scale up the pace of arcs 1-4 (starting the story in a slightly different place).

          So give me a chance to apply all the fixes I’ve in mind before I take advantage of your generous offer.

          • I looked over some of the first chapter to see what I might be getting myself into. I noticed some things, but a lot of other *possible* errors would require a style manual to confirm. I love style manuals, because I’m a weirdo, but this task would consume me if I were to undertake it.

            You would be better off paying for a professional, in the long run. Plus, the more I look over the story, the more intimidating it gets. It’s too much to do it all for free, and I’m not a skilled enough proofreader to get paid for it.

            Furthermore, I lean toward a more formal style that might be out of place. When I’ve done copy-editing for publications, it’s often for pieces where I don’t really have to worry as much about crushing the author’s voice. With Worm, I think that would be a concern.

            If you can’t hire a professional, then consider me one of multiple readers willing to proofread for you. Given the scope of the story, though, hiring someone at a flat rate would probably be worth it. I think you could get away with fewer bonus updates if people knew that donation money was going toward that end.

          • also remember, if you do go the traditional publishing route, they have their own editors, copy and otherwise. That’s part of the deal. If you DO go self pubbed, you can pay to edit one book, release it, and use the proceeds in part for the next edit. (if you wish to go that route) I’ve done story editing and copy editing for a few serials over the last decade, and your story is pretty tight, very few suggestions there, and yeah, the crowdsource copyedit is doing you good!

          • @Hobbes,
            You seem to know a lot about hiring professionals.
            Wasn’t it hinted at in Weld’s interlude that he also had a tendency for something along those lines, or was I reading that entirely wrong? In any case, it has yet to be brought back up in ten arcs so it must have so little impact on the story that it is retconned for the sake of making Weld awesome.
            That’s right folks, Weld is so amazing that he was able to each into our world, slap wildbow around for giving him flaws and return as the quintessential representative for good everywhere.

          • Mr. Void…what are you talking about?

            Regarding hiring a professional–consider it my attempt to duck out of the horrifyingly massive task of copy-editing a dozen novels.

          • I’d be willing to proofread. Whether I’m a good choice is up to you. I may not be some big fancy writer like the rest of y’all, but I CAN spot a typo if I’m actively looking for them and I can try to see if a turn of phrase makes sense. I’m no stylistic great, though.

            I won’t take offense if you’re like *puts a sock puppet with an afro on his hand and talks through it unenthusiastically* “Oh…Gecko…yes, that’s great, nice of you to offer. Why don’t you go make more comments with typos in them and we’ll handle this, eh.”

    • BWAHAHAAHH! Another basement dweller infected with the worm!

      With lisa, I think someone that could appear to her the way that “The Woman” appears to Sherlock (in the new bbc series) would be a massive turn on. someone she couldnt read.

      • I’ve only seen the pilot of that series, but The Woman in Doyle’s Sherlock wasn’t somebody he couldn’t read. It was somebody who could read him *right back,* and come out ahead. But I really doubt Tattletale would go in for a fellow Thinker. Any such relationship would be forced into adversariality. Er. Adversarial-ness?

        • Don’t knock black-quadrant romances ’til you’ve tried them. They’re not the same as red-quadrant ones, but they’re every bit as great in their own way.

  37. Finally! I caught up to you.

    I figured Sophia had saved Emma at some point, and that her sudden change was dye in part to her following her new friend’s lead. Her emptiness however was mildly surprising. I half expected her to either be a sociopath like Sophia, a vapid idiot, or both. I despised Emma enough that I wanted to see her character die, but her absence from the story proved just as well. So when I saw the interlude was about her, I wasn’t thrilled. But this was a good update. Taylor doesn’t need “revenge” against Emma. She just needed to move on.

    Looking forward to more!

  38. I have to agree with many other commenters, the time is due for a confrontation between taylor and emma. I do not support the idea of taylor taking ‘revenge’ – honestly, it’s stupid – but she needs closure; she needs to talk this out. And emma, too, has some issues that need to be sorted out, for good or bad.

    this setup (everyone going to arcadia) is just perfect for that

    • I don’t know. They say the best revenge is to live well. Taylor doesn’t need to go out of her way to confront Emma. What Emma did to her is peanuts compared to what Taylor has fought and survived. I mean, you can argue that Skitter still isn’t necessarily happy, but her world is open to more possibilities than it had been before. She stands straighter

      • I agree with this. Revenge is a dish best served straight into the garbage bin. Taylor is better than *any* of her tormentors, girl-child or godling, and she’s starting to learn it.

      • I just want to see Emma break. I want to see her will gone and her little philosophy shatter before her eyes. As for what Emma did to Taylor……she had no small part in making Taylor’s Trigger Event possible.

        Hey Wildbow, I have a question. Was Sophie always that sociopathic before her trigger, did she become like that after the trigger, or did he powers mess with her morals in a way similiar to that of Bitch and Garrote or more like Burnscar and Labyrinth?

          • I think you’re thinking of Battery, there. Her interlude covered the usual Cauldron process. We don’t technically know for sure about Sophia, but she doesn’t come from a moneyed background and does seem properly screwed up, so I’m thinkin’ trigger.

            • Gets pretty icky too if you start thinking about what sort of events a teenage girl could go through that would trigger a ‘noone can touch me’ power like intangibility. :/

      • The best revenge involves getting your enemy sick with explosice diahrea, ducttaping your enemy to an angry gorilla, and dropping them in the middle of a lion enclosure with a slathering of bullet ants added to the mix. Then you take the whole thing, launch it into space, and blow it up. Set to the soundtrack of you seducing their mother.

    • REVENGE! I know Taylor is a better person, but come one. The girl is bitch who put her in the hospital and filled her with despair. She deserves some karmic payback. Join the revenge society.

      • The best revenge is to live well. I think all it takes is for Taylor to blow Emma off as someone who simply doesn’t matter anymore to drive the point home.

        If it doesn’t, a punch in the teeth might work. But like others have said, gotta keep it classy, so no putting the boot in while she’s down.
        Okay just once. But that’s it, seriously.

        • I totally agree that Taylor should keep it classy – she’s a better person than that.

          Might be fun if, say, Bitch, found out who Emma was and what she’d done to her friend, though. For some definitions of ‘fun’.

  39. After all that has happened–the Endbringer, SH9, Coil, Noelle–it is really weird to remember that the Wards and Undersiders are actually teenagers and are expected to go to school when things go back to normal. When I was thinking about where the story could go next, before this interlude and the last one, I had thought the next arc would be about rebuilding the city and securing the Undersiders hold over it–the fact that the people who run the city now are high schoolers didn’t even enter my mind.

    I wonder how seriously they’ll take it, now that they’ve been through so much else?

    • I never even thought of that, after all they’ve been through the idea that the Wards can get back to being kids is just messed up. Poor Vista has been having a hard time even before it really got bad, now it’d be hard to see any of them putting up with it for long.

      • They need a proper therapist. There are only three wards left for scion’s sake with Flechette going back to new york. But Vista might make some friends to help improve her support network. If Brian sends Aisha there she is the type to befriend a hero for the kicks, and Dinah could use a few allies herself. Kid Win said he just stopped giving a shit about everything, so I ironically he might be more adjusted because of that. Clockie is the one I am wondering about. He is a very friendly/social person and I wonder what is going through his head.

    • They might still need to secure their hold during this arc. The portal has the potential to make a ton of money, and there will be plenty of villains and criminals who would want to take it. Parian’s getting some people bothering her, and others are making a play in Imp’s territory. Just for fun I want the next villain to be a normal. You don’t have to be a parahuman to be a villain. We could have a mad bomber like the one from speed, a jigsaw trap maker, a dc sniper, or just a random ordinary serial killer who preys on the people of the city.

  40. I’m pretty sure that Taylor won’t take revenge. Taylor’s reaction to finding out that Shadow Stalker is in jail was not one of vindictive triumph.

    Aisha on the other hand… well, depending on how well Taylor is doing in helping Brian piece himself back together, she might have a thing or two to say and do to someone she perceives as a threat to Brian’s primary lifeline.

    A few other thoughts:
    Char will probably also be returning to school. Could produce an interesting perspective on events, particularly since she was aware of the old state of things.

    What is going to happen to the kids Skitter who have been staying with Skitter? Will they stay in her care or will they move to the regular foster care system?

    Doesn’t Skitter have influence in the North End? Isn’t Emma moving into the North End?

    • Yeah the forum post Interlude noted that Skitter controls the North End and the Boardwalk which is in walking distance from her house, part of the docks, and the Undersider’s old hideout. So Emma is essentially moving into Skitter’s officially known territory.

  41. Reading this chapter again, I realized it’s missing something. There is a huge time jump between the bathroom stall incident (start of story) and talking to Sophia in jail (current events). We didn’t get to see any of Emma’s reactions in between. Specifically, how did Emma see the events of her and Sophia’s suspension; what was her reaction to moving out of Brockton Bay, considering her view of the city in the first sentences of the chapter; how did Shadowstalker’s “confession” and “attempted suicide” affect her views? That last one would seem especially important since it should affect that visit in jail, yet it was never touched upon.

    Thoughts?

    • after reading this interlude, once she got over the initial shock i can see this being where here opinion of sophia flipflopped.

      she (sophia) is now the prey to regent’s predator. i assume she would have heard because it’s probably in the PRTs interest to blame him (a known villain) for her psychotic break rather than admit she was that unhinged

      so two possibilities as i see it.

      1. emma still follows sophia’s predator/prey worldview so regent–and the rest of the undersiders by extension are the new “predators”. she tries to get in good graces with them–ironically through skitter who is known to be the most benevolent

      2. sophia’s break leads her to see the worldview as flawed and she tries to reconcile with taylor, she just had a bit of leftover bitchiness to inflict on sophia during her last visit.

      • I see it as more number 1, but I doubt she will try to get into their good graces. I don’t think her world view has changed, she simply sees the Undersiders as the new top predators. I imagine what really hurt her with Emma is the fact that she realized she doesn’t have a “pack” and how weak it made her. She is remarkably similar to bitch in how she rationalizes society as a fight for dominance between predator and prey. While Bitch was forced to be alone by circumstance, she has always been alone by choice. Bitch’s interlude showed that recognizes that humans are social creatures and that they are much more powerful/effective working together as opposed to trying to do everything herself. Maybe Sophia finally realized that the reason humanity became the dominant species was our ability to work together. If she somehow escapes, I doubt she will go near Brockton Bay. She has to believe that Regent will make good on his threat if she comes back to town. There is a possibility she tries to join a villain group for added security, but I doubt she will try to join the Undersiders.

  42. Hmm, an interesting move for Taylor would be to pretend to be her own (Skitter’s) minion. Not someone participating in illegal activities (or at least not someone who can be proven to be participating in illegal activities), but someone working under (and thus under the protection of) Skitter.

    This both provides her security, allows her to explain a new big income source to her father, and lets her keep her bugs in school / near her and use her powers in public as self-defence. After all, heroes know that Skitter can see and hear what her bugs see and hear, but don’t know the range. Thus, Taylor won’t be thought to be Skitter, it would be thought that Skitter was within range and using her bugs to protect her minion.

    • An interesting move, but I think it would be seen through pretty quickly. If Worm teaches us anything, it is that secret identities are very fragile. Skitter’s trackers are *smart,* and many already know who she is. That layer of duplicity is guaranteed effort and vigilance that isn’t guaranteed to benefit her. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing she’d do.

      • If some of her minions also go to school, she could protect them too (it would be a natural instinct for her, really), thus diverting suspicion from herself.

  43. Little note here: Emma should know better than to embark in a predator-prey or strong-weak philosophy and she decided to become a “predator” capable of hurting her ex-best friend for fun.
    It doesn`t matter why she decided this. Her actions were criminal, to say the least.
    Now she must find the other side of their simplistic philosophy. There is always a predator worse than you somewhere or someone stronger than you, at least.

    And I love the last thing that Sophia said to Emma. Among other things Emma forgot that Regent made Sophia confess all abuse that they did to Taylor.

    Greg, on the other hand, the boy who kept trying to impress the “in crowd”, the boy that gave Taylor`s homework to Julia just to be pleasing, is really a bad person to realise that Taylor is Skitter.

    Oh, and Emma`s dad, the one who should have forced his daughter into therapy or, at least, had a long talk to her about her actions against her former best friend, he is another one who may find life a bit difficult from now on.

    Nope, Taylor will not get revenge, but everyone will know what happened and this will be more than enough.

    Excellent chapter. I thank the author once again for the fun reading.

  44. During Taylor’s downtime, I hope she took the time to procure some exotic insects. I’m thinking Bullet Ants, Bombardier Beetles, Japanese Giant Hornets (even if Japan is mostly inaccessible, I’m sure there are still hornets around), and pretty much anything from Australia.

    • Bullet ants top the Schmidt Pain Index. Yak-killer hornets fucking *kill yaks.* (Yes, the yak-killer isn’t quite as nasty as its Japanese cousin, but it’s very closely related and, you know, not confined to a destroyed archipelago.) Introducing either or both of those would get that kill order expedited faster than you can say “Expedite this kill order, please.”

      • Thats the point though. She runs the city and the heroes did seem to give her a pass due to helping against Noelle, and Cauldron. She isn’t the type to use them against regular people. She can control them so they don’t get away from her and wreck environment. It merely gives her some added firepower against the inevitable new villain that wants to make a name for themselves by taking her down.

      • Bullet Ants would count as a nonlethal tactic, though. The pain is temporary and debilitating, but leaves no lasting injuries (unless of course they are stung with enough ants to kill). I don’t think they typically issue a kill order unless they think a villain is likely to kill a lot of people, or if they are are capable of producing a threat that can reproduce itself (and no, I don’t think breeding bullet ants counts for that :P).

        Although I don’t know of Wildbow will let Taylor have Bullet Ants, since it would make a lot of fight scenes shorter. Instead of describing in detail how the insects are assaulting a person’s weak points, it would be more “I had some flying bugs bring a bullet ant to him, and made it sting his eye. It was hours before he stopped crying.”

        Bombardier Beetles though wouldn’t necessarily end fights by themselves, but they would be useful as distractions or pain deterrence.

  45. I’m a bit late to reading this, but this was pretty good. A lot better than I thought an Emma interlude would be. I think the last bit would also serve as a fitting ending for a book.

    Seems I was right in my guess that Taylor would be hanging out with her father and that both high schools would get funneled together.

    Regarding Emma getting her comeuppance- while I would very much love to see something terrible happen to her, I definitely don’t think Taylor should “take revenge” or anything. It would be a big step down for her, and I think she’s better than that. Still, I hope the Wards find out what terrible people Sophia and her friend Emma were and are.

    Also, I’m definitely hoping for some interaction between the capes in civilian guise. I want Weld or Clockblocker to recognize Taylor- or maybe Dragon uses the school as a way to finally have her conversation with Taylor (didn’t think we’d forget about that, did you? That has been a long time coming).

    • >Or neither. I may have missed the mark on this front.

      It’s hard to say if you missed the mark since we really don’t know what she meant. I guess, if we’re _supposed_ to know/figure it out, you might have.

      Can’t give you any better feedback about until I know what you were trying to hint at.

  46. Hells yes. Taylor has transcended Emma and her bullshit. Looking forward to seeing what’s up with Taylor and her dad. Has she come clean? How clean? Has he figured it out himself?

  47. Donated!

    I wonder if Sophia was alluding to the part where Regent sent the evidence of Emma being in on the bullying to the police.

  48. Wow… This was pretty awesome. Also, hello! I just finished archive-binging this and it is really, really awesome. Though, I kinda doubt Taylor’s going to be going to school – didn’t the Wards see her with her mask off during the Noelle thing? At least one of them, I think. Plus she has to run her section of the city. I guess she doesn’t need to be there, but I’m not sure why she’d want to go back to school, other than maintaining cover.

    Though it would be interesting if the school heard about her being blind and she had to fake it or something. Wonder if Emma would start thinking about that, or just assume Taylor heard the car.

    • Why would they hear about _Taylor_ being blind, and why would she have to fake it?

      She was blind for like one day, and only the paramedics saw her in civilian guise as blind.

      • I figured that the school would somehow get medical records. Since she went to the hospital as Taylor after Coil’s attack? And I though I remembered that during the Noelle/Echidna fight she took off her mask because of an injury or something, and one of the Wards saw. But maybe I just imagined that. /shrug.

        Though I guess since she’s healed it’s a moot point anyways.

        • She never went to the hospital. Some Wards from another city did find out she was blind, but only because Scapegoat healed her.

          • Right, taylor can likely bluff about it because as far as the heroes are concerned, skitter, not taylor was blind, and they don’t even know how long she had the condition. I can totally see them assuming she had been blind her whole costumed career.

    • Don’t be blue, Karrin, there’ll be more Worm before you know it, and welcome to the Comments Section.

      They may say we’re all a bit squirrely down here, but I think they’re nuts.

  49. Finally caught up a couple weeks ago. Really enjoyed this chapter, specifically giving insight to what Emma did. I’ve always liked the way you’ve fleshed out every character and made them, well, characters, rather than names on a page, and I found it odd that emma’s apparent motivation until now was simply that she was a huge bitch. However finding out about her so late in the story definitely was the right decision, in my opinion.

    Super excited to see them all back in a more mundane setting. Don’t get me wrong, I loved all the post-Endbringer stuff, especially the Slaughterhouse Nine, but it seemed like things kept escalating and getting worse and worse and worse without a reprieve. This is just a personal thing, but I like seeing characters deal with secret identities and the like and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how the dynamics of it all play out at Arcadia.

    All in all, fantastic work! Thanks for writing such an engaging story.

    • Now you leave storyland and enter the tender embrace of the Comments section. Mwahaha, you’re in my world now, not your world, and I got friends on the other side (he’s got friends on the other side).

      Don’t worry about that, just an echo, a little parlor trick we have around here.

      Yes, I’d say Wildbow’s fleshing out of the various characters is one of the strongest selling points. It really is hard to hate some people from their perspective. Not Emma as far as I’m concerned. It’s why I rejected someone on TVtropes calling the characters one dimensional. It’s not the same multi-character storytelling as World War Z, but you still get a good sense that these are other people in the world whose eyes you get a glimpse through in one or two scenarios.

      That said, avoiding the whole high school teenager with a secret identity thing has worked out pretty well for the series as whole.

      Oh, and you’re not nearly the only one wanting Taylor to move away from constant high-danger situations. The darkness does wear on you a bit. Must be even worse for some of the bingers now that I think about it. The REALLY dark stuff didn’t hit until I had days in between updates to digest it all.

  50. Quick question, for anyone who wants to answer: where in the city is Arcadia High? I was discussing the story with a friend of mine over lunch today, and we were trying to figure out if it was in Skitter’s territory, or at least close enough that she could keep an eye on things with bugs while at school.

    • so if i’m reading this right, skitter’s got quite a chunk of real estate… and cherish is sorta her responsibility?

      …on the other hand *taylor* seems to be under grue’s

      are we going to be seeing some “territory” labels? like parian (who has a much larger territory than i would have assumed considering she’s neutral… or has she officially thrown her lot in with the undersiders?) used to have Dolltown.
      or are they keeping their original nicknames?

  51. Just wanted to say that I’ve been skimming through past chapters on Emma and Sophia due to this Interlude. I’ve noticed that Sophia, especially in her own Interlude, has the tendency to search for a single word to sum up her thoughts, saying “what’s the word” or some variation of that.

    Kudos to you, Wildbow. That’s a pretty unique and subtle character tic, much better than others I can name, dattebayo!

      • Wow. They say that good characters write themselves, even when the author wishes they would do different things. The fact that such a little nuance sprung forth unconsciously at first yet so consistently just goes to show how much of an actual character you created, not just words on a screen.

  52. So many comments… I find it ludicrous that Taylor would even consider attending the new highschool. All the other teens belong there. But not Taylor. Or any Undersider, I forget how old they are.

    • Taylor has henchwomen to handle day-to-day affairs, and a sufficiently strong grip on her territory that threats aren’t likely to materialize out of the blue. What’s keeping her from going back to school and getting the education that her mother would expect of her?

  53. I’m really glad this isn’t the final chapter. Not only because then the story would be over, and I really enjoy it, but because then this would ultimately be a story about triumphing over high school bullies, and there’s really been too much destruction, death and chaos for that to be a satisfying prize.

    Good to hear Emma’s story; her actions were pretty reprehensible and I’d wondered if she were a sociopath like Sophia. But nope, she’s an ordinary person reacting badly to trauma, nothing exceptional.

  54. I really enjoyed the last two Intervals. Normally I can’t wait to get back to the story, even though I do like them. These two made me want more of them though!

    • I’m the same way. Some interludes, when I gathered what they were about, turned out to be some of my favorite updates. But I did a lot of my reading whilst at work (to my supervisor’s eternal grief–come on really, how many of you read Worm when you weren’t supposed to!? THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT) and so I had less time I was willing to devote to detours in story. With that in mind, I skipped some interludes to keep reading the primary plot. Taylor’s life is just too fascinating sometimes. I’m sort of glad I did things that way, now that I’ve caught up. I can read the interludes I skipped while I wait for new updates. Whee!

      Actually, a lot of these interludes have proven very important to the plot, and IMO they should be included in Worm’s final drafts as a manuscript.

  55. Wow loving this story, found it like last week and it is awesome. really really really cool. I freaking love how powers have little quirks, like clock-blocker having to touch something to freeze it, and how minor powers can wreak havoc, like Tt tearing peoples psyche to shreds and figuring out the portal and that.

    Found this story by searching for stories about bullying, it started out like that and then school disappeared but bullying was still kinda there, cause you know the power to control bugs versus end-bringers and serial killers and !SCIENCE! the whole story is great but it was how you portrayed bullying at the beginning and how the adults couldn’t act against it.

    Was seething with rage at how taylor read off the list of things the bullies did to her, ON HER FIRST DAY BACK, and how emmas lawyer dad said prove it. and threatened to take them to court. Really showed how powerless taylor was? / felt then she grows and becomes confident happy and everything.

    And now it might be going back to school, will make for a interesting contrast.

    I’m waiting here at 03:44 in the uk for the next chapter cause it seems they appear at midnight in canada. shivering with excitement.
    Thanks for the story so far wildbow.

  56. Hey, just a thought to troll the comment section with/ give Wildbow ideas. With all the anticipation of Taylor- Clockblocker interactions, has anyone considered the horrible concept of Clock going out with Emma? He’s already proven shallow enough or having enough of a save-the-mean-girl sort of attitude to be interested in Sophie(from the therapy interview). Emma will obviously be reaching out to the most popular and important boys in the school to raise her own status. Especially if she can guess at his identity(from things Sophie has told her?), that would make him all the more valuable as a boyfriend. Bonus mean points if she pursues him after he becomes Taylor’s friend.

    Also, I think there’s an inconsistency towards the end of the story, where Emma remarks that she “could look at any house and find three things wrong with it”. Shouldn’t it be ten things?

  57. On one hand, thank you for supplying some pretty good motivations for Emma’s history with Taylor. Most authors wouldn’t bother to supply a reason; they’d paint Emma as a shallow bitch. But it’s obviously more convoluted than that and you did an excellent job at paintaing a more complex antagonist (well, previous antagonist).

    That said, I hate the style! A total personal thing here. I just /loathe/ flashbacks. If the story can’t “move forward” it feels like a waste of my time; like the story is stagnating. Maybe that’s /wrong/ and there are times when flashbacks can’t be helped at all, but I feel like, flashbacks can be handled better. Paint things in the “now” when you can. You’ve used dream sequences and other devices to do that, but there are other ways. And the ways you can dream up can add another perspective on things, that don’t paint too clear of a picture.

    Because to me, this chapter cleared up one of the bigger mysteries about this story. I’ve always wondered what drove Emma and Sophia to do what they did. Now it’s all spelled out. And the worst part? Taylor has no idea about it. Will she ever understand it? Maybe. But if you ever decide to reveal it to her, you’ll need to devise some convoluted scene for it. It’s redundant, because you could accomplish both things in one scene set in the “now”.

    • The two other ABB thugs aren’t tagged, but Yan was definitely one of the three briefly employed by Skitter — her tag is Nosering, the others were Accent and Shaggy.

  58. She was a bitch from the beginning, then. Seriously, what kind of person is most afraid of being like their best friend, and is annoyed by sadness?

    • I am pretty sure most people over the course of their lives feel annoyed by sadness at some point and reasonably sure there is at least one thing you wouldn’t want to be like your best friend. From there to what she did is an immense jump…

  59. Wow.
    I must say, I didn’t expect anything like this.

    I dislike Emma less and Shadow Stalker more. I suspect I’m not alone.
    I can’t help but draw parallels between what happened to Emma with the ABB and what happened to Taylor with the tampon locker. Both were helpless and having the worst experiences of their lives. Both took a while to re-enter their normal routines and weren’t the same afterwards. The big difference? Someone–Shadow Stalker–came to save Emma; no one saved Taylor. If no one saved Emma, she might have triggered, and this would be a much different story.
    …I wonder if someone could write a fanfic with that premise.

  60. And the moral of this story was that Sophia’s views of life was correct! Right? Since her main tenant of morality, survivors and victims, was proved right.


    On this violent, brutish little planet of ours, it’s the survivors who wind up the strongest ones of all.”

    Don’t like it at all thematically, it’s a really common thing to turn it around and be like haha this thing you said was true but you weren’t part of it as if it makes it okay.

    Be like Voldemort saying “Pure bloods are the best”, then he was revealed to be a half blood and defeated by a pure blood and then the end line being “After all pure bloods are the best”. It’s based in spite but doesn’t look beyond the fact that they were still right.

    • Dude, seriously. What are you doing?

      Character’s opinion =/ Author’s actual opinions.

      That isn’t the moral of the story.

      It’s what the characters think, or believe. Don’t mistake what imperfect, flawed characters say to be gospel.

      • I didn’t say it was the author’s opinion, that’s why I said I don’t like it thematically as opposed to it being a realistic opinion. I just don’t like the whole Hitler being “Aryan’s are the best”, turning out not to be an Ayran and then people throwing that he’s not Ayran back in his face.

        Also I meant this interlude, not the whole story. The long and short of it that was Sophia was right in her morality inside the story (obviously), when she said there are survivors and victims (something I think is a bad mindset and not true as well) you’re hoping the bad character doesn’t get proved right not that she does. I mean that’s why I was bringing up that people just see it as spite when they should be realising that you’re falling to their level.

    • It depends what level you read it at. On the face of it, sure, you could say Taylor’s success vindicates Sophia’s theory. But you have to remember that thought is from Emma’s perspective and she’s *looking* for evidence she can use to justify her mindset. And the more you think about it, the less it holds up.

      Shadowstalker and Emma are both survivors by their own philosophy but that’s not working out so well for them. Sure, you could say that Taylor was just more survivory than they were, but that leaves you with a circular definition: only survivors succeed in this world. If you did all ‘survivor’y things but still fail? Sorry, I guess you weren’t a survivor after all. It becomes meaningless.

      Ultimately Taylor is a ‘survivor’ in that she survived. But that’s a side-effect of her success, not the cause of it. She was successful because she (a) thinks well on her feet (b) thinks of other people (eg. taking the time to understand and befriend Bitch) and (c) refuses to give up on what matters to her.

      Heck, Vista was a better survivor than Shadowstalker. And what’s the commonality? The ‘survivors’ are the ones who *didn’t* engage in anti-social “gotta be top dog” behaviour.

      Anyone in a modern society who (a) believes you have to be a survivor to win and (b) fails to recognise the ability to get on with other people as a key survival trait is (c) an idiot.

  61. Interesting. So, we get into Emma’s head a little, we can at least see the /explanation/ for all the crappy things she did, but at the same time it’s pretty clear that, while she had a very emotionally scarring experience, she made some very poor choices in how to deal with it. It may feel good to put others down to make yourself feel more powerful, especially when you’ve had a very disempowering experience, but it’s not what makes you a survivor.

  62. Ugg, I wanted to unconditionally hate Emma forever, and now I almost feel sorry for her. Fantastic job humanizing her. She’s still an asshole, but now she’s a multi-dimensional character.

  63. When this interlude started I said to myself, “Don’t you dare make Emma sympathetic!” :) Fortunately you didn’t. Yes, she had a pretty awful experience, but she makes some pretty indefensible choices as a result of it too.

    I agree Taylor won’t try to get revenge – she’s just moved on so much – but I’m amused by the idea that Taylor steps in to defend some other kid in trouble.

  64. Emma gets flesh, the smallest violin in the world plays the saddest tune in the universe for her… I still hope she get kicked in the ass, she was a total bitch.

    • I’m picturing the world’s smallest violin badly tuned and crammed up Emma’s nose. It takes a special kind of asshole to go through a traumatizing event, decide that surviving that sort of thing makes you the only worthwhile kind of person and then dedicate your life to shitting all over your best friend for being better at surviving trauma than you are, while telling yourself it’s because she reminds you of a time when you were a worse person for not having been traumatized yet.

      She’s deluding herself on like five different levels, at least two of them wilfully. And it’s not so she can cope with her trauma, but because she doesn’t like knowing how weak she thinks she is and pretending she doesn’t know is easier than trying to better herself to live up to the unhealthy tenets of the lazy amateur-fascist philosophy she accepts without question.

      Maybe if the next time she gets in trouble Scion comes along to save her so she can model her entirely impressionable personality on a more positive template. . .

  65. She examined her nails, picked at a fleck of something white that had stick to the end of one nail, then checked her cuticles.

    Should be “stuck”

    Love the story, thanks for making it happen.

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