Imago 21.3

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Regent’s base was in the midst of renovations.  The exterior was tame, unassuming, but the interior was becoming something else entirely.  The floor and walls were being covered in stone tile, suits of armor stood on either side of the doorway, and I could see ornate chandeliers at one side of the room, each individual segment separated from the others by extensive bubble wrap.

There was a dais at the far end of the room, almost a stage, with a throne laying on its side on top.  Four people were working in the room.  Workers Tattletale had hired, who would get enough steady employment and money to reward their silence.  Two were working on the walls, one worked on the floor, and the fourth was preparing the dais so the throne could be bolted into place.

“Found it,” Regent said.  He raised his scepter, tossed it into the air and let it spin twice before catching the handle.

I winced.  “Careful.  You really don’t want to catch the wrong end and electrocute yourself.”

He only chuckled.

“It’s daylight.  It’s fucked up that we’re doing this in the middle of the day,” Imp groused, as we ventured outside.  Atlas was waiting, and started half-crawling, half-flying alongside us.

“What does it matter to you?” I asked her.  “It’s not like it makes any difference with your power.”

“It’s the principle of it,” Regent said.  He was walking briskly to keep up with Imp, Atlas, and me.  Despite everything we’d been through, he wasn’t one to exercise or take care of his body, and he huffed just a little to keep his breath. “This is the sort of maneuver you pull in the dead of night.”

I shook my head.  “Circumstances are ideal right now.  You don’t handicap yourself by trying to conform to any preconceived notions.  Keep a goal in mind, look at everything through the lens of that goal, and look for paths to get what you want.  If they’re prepared for you, you strike from an unexpected direction.  If everyone else is expecting a maneuver from an oblique angle, you take a direct route.”

“See, that sounds like a whole lot of work,” Regent said, “Constantly thinking about that stuff.  When do you sit back and chill out?”

“Either you make that kind of thinking a part of yourself, you lose a little sleep to achieve that ‘me’ time, or you don’t get to relax,” I said.

“Doesn’t sound fun at all,” Regent said.

“If it was easy to take over a city, more people would have managed it,” I said.  “This is work.  There’s always more to be done, whether you’re dealing with your enemies, dealing with your subordinates or coordinating with your allies.  If you find you have free time, you’re probably fucking up.”

“Or!” he said, raising a finger, “I could delegate.”

“That’s a recipe for failure,” I told him.

“My dad managed it.”

Heartbreaker, I thought.  I was put in mind of the images of Heartbreaker that had made the web.  The villain, by virtue of his personal, extensive harem, had a whole cadre of women virtually climbing over each other for the chance to fawn over him and worship him.  The pictures were a consequence of that, released by his ‘girls’, as Regent had termed them.  Each picture depicted a man in his thirties or forties, depending on the time the picture in question had been taken.  He had black hair, the scruff of a beard, and was invariably seen sitting or reclining on couches and beds, often shirtless, with women at the periphery of the image.  He oozed confidence and raw sexuality, languid, more lanky than athletic.

I could envision Regent in a very similar picture.  Years older, grown to his full height and proportions, surrounded not by women, but by the people he had claimed as his tools.  Capes he controlled with his power.  Acceptable targets perhaps, people who would be destined for the Birdcage or long sentences in prison, but still people.  A different underlying theme than sexuality: Regent would be sitting casually on his throne, pampered in a very different way than I’d seen with his father, having been fed, washed and dressed by a half-dozen pairs of hands working in unison.  Regent controlled people so absolutely that he would essentially be pampering himself; it was a charade.  Almost the inverse of his father, in some ways, but still narcissistic at its core.

The idea bothered me more than I wanted to admit, and it bothered me in a way I couldn’t put my finger on.  Did I not want him to become that?  I did.  I wanted him to be powerful, and that was what he’d naturally become, given his personality and powers.  I wanted him to customize his lair like he was, because he’d inevitably have people he was controlling in there, and it would be worth a thousand times the amount it cost if it helped him convey a certain image.

Maybe part of it was the ease with which I could put Imp in that imaginary crowd of people who were waiting on him hand and foot.

I’d have to talk to Grue about that.

“You’ve gone quiet,” Regent said.

“Oh!” Imp closed the distance between us, wrapping both of her arms around one of mine, “Did he win the argument?  Tell me he won the argument.”

“We’re discussing, not debating,” I said.

“People say that sort of thing when they’re losing,” she said.

I ignored her.  “I was just wondering, Regent… do you really want to follow in your dad’s footsteps?”

He didn’t respond right away.  He looked away from Imp and I both, as if he were idly observing the scenery.

“You’re a little bit of an asshole, aren’t you?” Regent asked.

“Only when I have to be,” I said, mildly surprised at the reaction.

“Fuck it,” Imp said, letting go of my arm.  “Us two lesser members of the group need a little victory here and there.  Need to win arguments, get more rep.”

“That’s why we’re here,” I said.  “If everything goes well, today should serve several purposes, and one of those was that I wanted to see how you two are operating.”

“Great,” Regent commented, giving Imp a look.  “Mom’s watching over us, making sure we’re doing it right.”

“For any of our enemies with the sense to realize it, you two are the scariest members of the Undersiders,” I said.  “Let’s focus on using that.”

“I’m already using it,” Imp said.

“Probably,” I replied.

“You mean this is about me,” Regent said.  “You ask us both to come along to tutor us in how to freak people out, but Imp doesn’t need any help, so this has to be about me.”

I suppressed a sigh.  These two.  “Not only you.  Imp was doing a terrific job of terrorizing troublemakers in the territory she shared with Grue.  She graduated to owning her own territory, and the fact that she’s there has been keeping Valefor and Eligos at bay.  That’s good.  But it can’t hurt to get an objective opinion and find out how to do it betterI do that, with Grue and Tattletale’s feedback.”

“I’m versatile,” Regent said.  “Give me credit.”

“I’m not saying you aren’t, I’m saying we can always stand to improve,” I replied.

Regent tossed his scepter into the air and caught it.  It bugged me, the idea that he might accidentally taze himself and collapse, with some bystander catching the thing on video.  He knew it bugged me, and it was undoubtedly a very deliberate way to get on my case.  I ignored it.

I thought about what Imp had done in Grue’s territory; Grue had filled me in on the basics and I’d heard more from people who’d been in that area.  As standalone individuals, none of the members of our team had fully matured.  We were finding our way, figuring out the roles we wanted and needed to take, adjusting our images.

Who would Imp be, a couple of years down the line?  It was maybe bizarre to think about the future, with the way Tattletale had outlined the possible ends of the world, but it was defeatist to let things slide because things might end prematurely.  I’d seen Imp change from someone on the periphery of the group, struggling to find a position, to a lesser terror.  She’d cut down superpowered clones with ease, and she was fearless and reckless in a way that could only ease her journey down a bloodier path.

Would Imp become an assassin?  At age eighteen or twenty, would she be an unholy terror, coldly and remorselessly executing enemies who couldn’t even be aware enough to guard against her?  If Tattletale erased all records of Imp, if we employed measures to restrict people from tracking her on video cameras and the like, what might Imp become?

Both Regent as a successor to Heartbreaker and Imp as a murderer with a body count were possible.  Even likely.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to do about that.  With Imp, maybe I could have words with Grue, but Regent…

I was still thinking on the subject of Regent, searching for an angle I could use to convince him, when I was distracted.  My swarm noted a number of soft movements, like a flurry of leaves in the wind.

Autumn was months away, there weren’t many trees around, and there wasn’t wind.

“Found them,” I said.

“Which?” Regent asked.

“Haven.  The Fallen will be nearby.  We’ve got Rosary in a combat mode, and Halo’s not in the air, as far as I can see, so they’re obviously geared up for a fight.  In your territory,” I said, eyeing Regent.

“I could’ve done something if Tattletale called me first.”

I drew myself against a building, increasing the number of bugs I was using to scout for trouble.  “What would you have done?”

“Waited until they were done fighting each other, go after the stragglers.”

“There’s a lot of flaws with that idea,” I said.

He shrugged.  “I’m flexible.  I could figure something out.”

The more I thought on it, the less sure I was that there was any way it’d really work.  It was an easy way out.

I had a growing suspicion that Regent was interested in being in charge for more for the sake of being in charge than anything else.  It made his position tenuous because he wasn’t doing much to hold it.  If this was his modus operandi, then he risked being seen as more of a hyena that preyed on the weak than someone powerful.

“So… if Haven won, they’d arrest Valefor or Eligos, cart the pair off to jail and then leave.  What would you do?”

“Don’t know.  Would have to see the situation for myself.”

“Or if Valefor won, what would you even do?  The members of Haven would be too dangerous to get near.”

“Again, I don’t know,” he said.  He glanced at Imp.  “Today’s going to be a fun day.”

I frowned.

Rosary wasn’t close, but her presence was unmistakable.  Bugs I’d settled on a car were scattered into the air, carried aloft on paper-thin slices of stainless steel and glass.  I had them take flight, returning in the general direction of the car, measured the progress of her power as more of the debris filled the air, surrounding her.  I knew of her from some internet browsing and a few videos, but this was concrete information.  They were details I could use in the event that I had to fight her.

Three or four seconds in all, for her power to erase the car, scattering it into the air as a storm of incredibly light, thin flakes of matter.  Those same flakes flew around her like a tornado.

She raised one hand, covered in a fingerless glove with hard, metallic feathers or scales at the edges. The storm of petals altered in direction and intensity, the flakes flying forward.  A small few of my bugs died where the flakes struck them at the right angle and speed.  A storm of tiny, fragile blades.  A lot of the petals were actually bouncing off of my wasps, bumblebees and cockroaches, leaving me suspicious that it would take a good while to kill someone with her power.

Up until the point where the petals converged together, reforming into a car tire, ten feet in the air.  A man hurried to leap out of the way before it struck him.  I realized it was Eligos.  He wasn’t wearing the Endbringer costume.  Something similar, but without the same theme.  He hurried out of the way as more tires appeared above him.

“We’re going on the offensive,” I said.  “We don’t come out looking like the top dogs if either of the two groups win.”

“We sucker punch them,” Regent said.

“Better to forewarn them just enough that it doesn’t feel like a sucker punch,” I told him.

“Don’t you get it?” Imp said.  She feigned a condescending tone, “It doesn’t count if we don’t do it the hardest way possible.”

“It won’t be that hard,” I told them.  I closed my eyes.  “Let’s focus.  Rosary.  Deconstruction and reconstitution of matter, minor telekinesis with the fragments she creates.  Apparently she can take things apart and then reform them so they fall on you.”

“Not a problem,” Imp said.

“Eligos manipulates wind, creates blades of telekinetically altered air that grow as they travel and boomerang back to him.”

“You’d be better at handling him,” Regent said.

“His wind will probably mess with my bugs.  We take him together.  One-two punch.”

“Right.”

“Halo packs a special ring.  Kind of like Sundancer, but the thing doesn’t burn.  It’s a hoop with a cutting edge, and it acts as a forcefield generator and spits out lasers.”

In the distance, Rosary was blocking Eligos’ path by reconstituting two trucks, blocking off one road.

“I take Halo?” Regent asked.

“Do.  That leaves Valefor.  I’ve got him,” I said.

I paused, bringing my swarm to the battlefield.

I’d used Atlas to travel to Regent’s territory, and I’d walked a short distance.  Throughout, I’d been gathering flying insects and bugs.  I’d been forming silk threads and cords.

Now they rose, flying in formations, just over the tops of the buildings, as they approached Rosary and Eligos.  They meshed together into a barrier, nestled close enough to one another to filter out sunlight.

The area darkened visibly, and the droning of the bugs filled the air.

Rays of golden light speared into the swarm.  They were persistent, unending, five steady beams that concentrated on areas where the bugs were thickest.  Halo.

That left only one unknown.  Valefor had to be somewhere nearby.  The second he got a glimpse of me, it was over.

My swarm hit Eligos and Rosary.  Eligos created a strong wind that whipped around him, driving the bugs away.  Rosary used her power to shred the silk lines.  In the face of the biting insects, however, she couldn’t do as much.  The petals around her cut into the swarm, but it was minimal damage to a great many attackers.

She gathered the petals together to create a car without either wheels or a driver’s side door, and though she’d formed it with some bugs trapped inside, she climbed in and had the petals reconstitute into a door, creating a perfect seal.

Eligos put an end to that when he sent a blade of wind at the back of the car, shearing one corner of the vehicle.  My bugs flowed into the open area, covering Rosary from head to toe.  Her mask was hard, around her eyes, cheekbones and nose, ending in a sharp point, an etched metal plate, worked into her hood.  It didn’t cover her lower face and it surrounded but didn’t cover her eyes.

“Come, and stay close,” I said, drawing the bugs around us.  I walked briskly forward.  Rosary had her petals, I had my bugs.  If Valefor wanted us, he’d have to be clever.  “And Regent?”

“What?”

“I’m going to ask you a question later, and I’ll have my arms folded.  I want you to lie.”

“Lie?” Imp asked, aghast.  “So dishonest!”

“We’re honest villains, Skitter,” Regent said, taking a stern tone.  “We earn our victories the right way, not through deceit and dishonesty.”

I rolled my eyes.

As we approached, I found Halo in my reach.  My swarm approached him, and his halo zipped to his side, five feet in diameter and razor-edged.  A force field protected the hero.

He was still rooted in place.  One less person to deal with.

“Regent,” I said, touching his shoulder.  My bugs spread out to create a clearing around us, and I pointed.

He turned to face Eligos, and I parted the bugs. Eligos was wearing only the bodysuit that went under whatever armor he’d been wearing, and a mask that covered his face, leaving only one eye exposed.

With a wave of his hand, Regent knocked Eligos over, causing one leg to buckle just as the other was involuntarily straightened.  Eligos sprawled, and the wind briefly cut out.  My swarm descended on him, and I began binding him in silk.

I had Atlas take to the air, as I worked more silk cords into the surroundings.  “Be nice if this works.”

“What are you doing?”  Imp.  Her presence caught me off guard.

“Threads,” I said.

“He can cut threads,” Imp commented.  “It won’t work.”

“I know he cuts threads,” I said.  “Watch.”

Atlas passed over a space between two buildings, then dropped out of the sky.  The string that extended between him and Eligos went taut.  I had a series of threads strung between two buildings, and Atlas served as a counterweight, so Eligos could be hauled into the air.

“No way that holds,” Imp said.

“Never intended it to,” I told her.

Mandibles severed the thread, and Eligos fell.  Three stories, give or take, and he landed on all fours.  He screamed, and wind ripped through the area, scattering both bugs and petals.  Eligos flopped over onto one side.

“Two left.  Rosary and Valefor,” I said.

Rosary had disintegrated what remained of the car and was facing me, the multicolored petals a tight storm around her.  I could only make out glimpses of her general silhouette.  The rest I could fill in from my research.  A young woman in a rose-tinted robe with gold leaves at the edges, and a gold-colored mask.  She was silent.

“We have no quarrel with you,” she said.  “We’re only here to deal with the Fallen.”

“Then kneel,” I said.  I banished the bugs, and she almost staggered in relief, after holding firm against their onslaught.

She straightened her back and squared her shoulders, but didn’t respond.

“Kneel.  This is our territory.  If you pay the proper respect, I hand you Eligos and Valefor, and you can leave the city with no problems.”

“I could drop a car on your head.”

“And I could take you down as easily as I did Eligos.”

“Without silk?”

“Without silk,” I said.

She nodded slowly, then slowly knelt, dropping to one knee.  Her eyes, behind her mask, were glaring at me.

“What would you have done if I hadn’t?” she asked.

“Not my style to give away plans to the enemy,” I said.

“You could be bluffing.”

“I’m not.  I would have disabled you, knocked you out and Regent would have used his power to seize control of you.”

Her eyes widened a fraction.

“Regent, you can use your power on unconscious people, right?” I asked.

Regent shrugged, “Obviously.”

There was the lie.

“That simple,” I told Rosary.  “He can assume control instantly, once he’s had control over someone once.”

“That crosses a line.”

“I’m far less concerned about crossing lines these days,” I told her.  “But you only broke one rule.  We’d let you go, with the idea that we’d seize control of you if you ever came back.  We’ll do that with anyone and every-“

I stopped.  Imp had appeared at a grocery store nearby.  She was speaking in a low voice, murmuring.

“…Skitter said she’d take you on and she can use her bugs to attack you without being seen and she can hear and see this so she knows…”

“Fuck!” I growled the word.

“Valefor got her,” Regent drew the obvious conclusion..

“I told her to stay close,” I said, breaking into a run.  Rosary wasn’t even a consideration.

“She’s not the type to listen!”  Regent huffed.  Rosary started to follow us, then hesitated, glancing at Eligos.

Watch him!” I barked the order, augmenting my voice with the combined drones, chirps and buzzes of all the bugs in the area.  The heroine stopped where she was.

Regent and I were thoroughly shrouded by bugs when we reached the grocery store.  There were only a handful of people inside, every one of them rooted in place.

Stranger-type capes were classified that way due to their capabilities in stealth and subterfuge.  Valefor was more the latter.  He wasn’t stealthy, exactly, but his ability to perpetrate subterfuge was devastating.

One look, and his target was stunned, rendered eminently suggestible.  A hypnotic gaze, so to speak.

He’d played up the telepathy angle before people caught on, and the costume that echoed the Simurgh was a token to that.  The fact that he could leave suggestions that only triggered under certain conditions was another part of it.  ‘Attack so-and-so next week’.  ‘Set fire to your workplace the next time your boss pisses you off’.

Capes with powers that allowed them to compel others walked a fine line.  Even without murder, Valefor was pushing that line.

“To everyone listening, if that swarm or any of the people inside move away from that spot, or if something happens to me,” a young girl spoke in a man’s voice, stepping out of the sheltering embrace of a middle-aged woman. “Kill yourselves or do your best to kill them, I don’t care which.”

I’d taken her for a scared kid in the company of her mother.  No.  She’d… he’d compelled a woman to pretend to be his mother, and my roving insects hadn’t thought twice about it.

It was Valefor, in a teenage girl’s top and skinny jeans, with long, straight blond hair, and makeup caked onto his face to hide the tattoo.

“…and forget I gave these orders,” he finished.

That would be one reason for the stranger classification, right there.

The orders to kill or commit suicide were a surprise to me, but he was more than capable of covering his tracks.

“Imp,” Valefor said.  “Find and kill your teammates.  I want you to kill yourself when you’re done trying.  Go, and forget I gave this order.”

Imp drew her knife with one hand and her taser with the other.  She paused a second, and then charged for Regent and I.

I tensed.  I had options, but if any of his hostages read it as a cue to kill themselves-  no.

I could shoot from the midst of the cloud, but then we’d be paralyzed.  There was no guarantee that Valefor’s influence would end with his death.

I’d told myself I’d be heartless, but this wasn’t what I’d meant.

Imp turned a right angle, moments before plunging into the swarm.  She charged for Valefor.

He reacted, giving an order, “Everyone listening, kill yo-“

He didn’t get any further.  She kicked, directing the attack between Valefor’s legs.

Valefor hit the ground, and Imp kicked him between the legs once more for good measure.

“Cancel the orders, fuckwit!” she growled, dropping on top of him.  Her knife pressed against Valefor’s throat.

“How-“

She backhanded him across the face, striking him in one cheekbone with the knife handle.  “Cancel!”

I could sense the crowd relaxing.  People hurried away from the scene.  It took more than a minute before they were all gone.

Imp struck Valefor again.

“Stop,” I said.

“Regent got one in, I wanted one too,” she said.  She spat at Valefor.

I tentatively moved bugs, then settled them around his eyes.  Valefor struggled, but froze when Imp pressed the knife against his throat.

Regent got one in?

Oh.

“You… voluntarily gave him control over you?” I asked.

“Little while back,” Imp said.  “I wanted to see what it was like.  Could come in handy.  Did come in handy.”

It’s Regent, I thought.  I’d fought beside him in life and death scenarios and I would never have allowed him to take control of me.  Couldn’t fathom it.

Was there a way I could diplomatically say as much?

None I could think of, right this minute.

“I can’t imagine submitting myself to that,” I said.

“Riskier for you,” she said.  “For me, his power over me shorts out when I use my power, and that’s any time he slips up or goes to sleep.  Then he forgets who I am, and I’m free to come after him and fuck him up.”

“Eviscerate me in my sleep,” Regent said, too jovially.

“Exactly,” Imp said, sounding just as pleased with herself.  “And I know him.  He’s not about to fuck with me with the amount of work it’d take to keep track of me.”

“Told you, Dork,” Regent commented.  “I’m versatile.”

I didn’t have a response to that.  I glanced at Imp.  “Tell me something only Imp would know.”

Seriously?” Regent asked.

“I could tell you that there’s a mole on your back,” Imp said.

That took me a second to process.  When had I ever had my clothes off where she could see?

Not her.  Brian.

“You were there?

“I stopped in.  I wanted to see if my brother was okay.  Believe me, I wish I hadn’t.”

She was thereThen.

“Wait, what’s this?” Regent asked.

“It’s not important,” I said, my voice tight.

“I’ll tell you later,” Imp said.

“Don’t,” I said, in a warning tone.

There was a pause.  I could tell the pair of them were having too much fun at my expense.

But there was still an enemy to deal with.

She looked down at Valefor.  Her tone was more serious as she said, “I didn’t think this man-slut would be able to see me.”

“You know his powers,” I said, glad for the change of topic.  “Hypnotic stare, Tattletale said he might have other senses or augmented awareness to track his victims.”

“It’s fine,” Imp said.  She adjusted her hold on the knife.  “Worked out.”

“Yeah,” Regent said.

“I guess you two got a victory,” I said, “A little… what did you call it?”

“Rep,” Imp said.

“Rep.”

Long seconds passed.

“I could control him,” Regent said.

“What’s the point?” Imp asked.

“It’d be an advantage,” I said.  “And I suppose it’s up to you two what we do next.  It’s your territory, Regent.”

And I want to see how you operate, when left to your own devices.

“Pain in the ass,” Regent said.

“We let him go, he’s going to come after us,” Imp said.

“Probably,” I agreed.

“You want us to turn him in,” Regent told me.

“I’m not saying that,” I answered.

Regent studied me, “You’re here for a reason, and it’s not just babysitting us, being an overbearing boss and making sure we do the job right.  Let’s not waste time.  Out with it.”

I kept my voice low, so Valefor couldn’t hear.  “I said you and Imp were the scariest members of our group.  You heard what I said to Rosary.  How I was going to let her believe that we could take control of her at any second, so long as she’s in the city.”

“Sure.”

“Fear.  Ruling through fear.  How do we get the maximum result for the minimum effort?”

“I like the sound of this,” Regent said.

“We make our enemies paranoid,” I told him.  “We get them scared enough that they start devoting more effort than is necessary to dealing with us.  Feed them misinformation.  With your power, we have an easy way to keep any enemy we capture from wanting to enter the city, and so long as we let them go, rather than using them, we’re not drawing enough heat to get a kill order put on our heads.”

It was the best I could do.  This was the crossroads, as far as I was concerned.  If he didn’t take to this idea, the Regent I’d envisioned was likely to come to pass.  If he did accept the idea… well, it was still likely, but I could have hope.

“Huh,” Regent said.

Apparently that was the only answer I was about to get.

“What do we do with him?” Imp said.  She had the knife in Valefor’s mouth.  “I’m going to get a cramp, leaning over him like this.”

“We can hold onto him long enough for Regent to seize him,” I said, “Then let him go.  Or turn him into custody.  But there’s no guarantee he wouldn’t use his power to control someone and turn them into an unwitting assassin.”

“If he hasn’t already set some up,” Imp said.

“If he hasn’t,” I agreed.

I thought briefly of my dad.  If Valefor had been feeling malicious…

I put the idea out of my head.

“We could trust the PRT to look after him,” Regent said, somber.  “They’re professionals, they know how to deal with dangerous villains.”

He didn’t manage to hold it in for long.  He chuckled in near-silence, his shoulders shaking.

“The other possibility,” I said, “Is stripping him of his powers.”

I reached behind me, and found a small metal container.  I tipped out the contents into my palm, and then held out my hand so Regent could see.

“Seriously?” Regent asked.

“Seriously.”

“If you’re up for it…” Regent trailed off.

“I’m done with holding back,” I said.  “Decisive action.  No mercy for those who don’t deserve mercy.”

“Right,” Regent said.

I approached Valefor and Imp.

Valefor heard the footsteps, must have felt the impact as I stepped forward, standing over him.  He shook his head violently, oblivious to the knife Imp had placed in his mouth.   That, or he’d overheard something I’d said and didn’t care anymore.

He managed to shake enough bugs off that he could open his eyes.  He fixed his gaze on me, and I froze.  My thoughts dissolved to warm, wet, white noise.

The maggots, millipedes and centipedes dropped from my hand.  A part of me that was aware without being quite conscious controlled them, carried out my intent.  They spilled onto his face, and moved toward his eyes.  The stronger bugs helped pave the way for the others, leveraging the eyelids away from the eyes so the maggots could pass beneath.

“No!” he shouted, around the knife.  “Sto-“

Imp shifted position.  She was kneeling on his chest, and she moved the knife, bringing one knee into Valefor’s chin.  I could feel the force of the impact through the bugs on his face.

“Oh god,” Imp said, “Gross.  Gross, gross, gross.  Did I get any of them on me?”

My thoughts were clearing.  I blinked, and the movement felt painfully slow, as though I were almost asleep.

“You didn’t get any bugs on you,” I said, stepping on Valefor’s right hand.  Imp held his left with one hand, and held the knife’s blade against Valefor’s makeup-caked lips.  He groaned and writhed beneath her grip.

“They stink,” Imp complained.

“You’re imagining it.”

“I’m really not.”

Valefor’s struggles continued.  His writhing intensified, and it got to the point where he had to turn his head to throw up.

When he turned his head my way, his eyes moved over me, unseeing.  His chest was heaving as though he’d just run a long distance.

“Let him up,” I said.

Imp backed off, We pulled Valefor to a standing position.

“Walk,” I told him.

He was almost defeated in demeanor as we marched him in the general direction of Rosary.  He looked like he had tears streaming down his face, but it was only the leaking vitreous fluids.

“Fear,” I said.  “Remember what Bakuda said?  You have to be unpredictable, but you balance it with certainties.  Realities.”

“It’s a little fucked that you’re taking cues from the psycho bomb girl,” Regent commented.

“Yeah,” I said.  I wasn’t about to deny it.  “But I’d prefer more certainties than unpredictable elements.  The punishment fits the misdeed.”

And if you take that to heart, then today’s worth whatever bad karma I reap from this, I thought.

“The look on Rosary’s face is going to be delicious,” Imp said.  “Doesn’t Haven have a major hate-on for the Fallen?”

“They do,” I said, “But when we meet her, don’t say anything.”

“What’s the fun in that?”

“It’s the effect,” I said.  “Trust me.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I’m supposed to bribe you?”

“Fo’ sho,” she said.

“Ice cream,” I said.  I can’t buy ice cream as Taylor anymore.  “I’ll pay for it, you pick it up.”

“Sweet!”

Rosary was on guard as we approached, her stance intensifying as she recognized Valefor.  The petals were a storm around her.

I shoved Valefor, and he tripped and sprawled in front of the heroine.

She stared down at him.  He raised his head, and I could see her tense.

“I was expecting medusa’s head,” Rosary said, when Valefor hung his head again.  It looked like he was trying to avoid gagging.

What?  I could remember the myth, but… what?  I kept my mouth shut rather than ask.

“He’s blind,” she voiced the realization out loud.  “You blinded him.”

I nodded, still silent.

“Permanently?”

I had to give a response, now.  “He’ll need antibiotics.  Both Valefor and Eligos will need medical care.  It’s up to you whether you save his vision.”

“Just like that.”

I nodded once.

“We had it handled,” she said.

“Our city, our business,” I said.  “Next time, ask.  We’ll deal with it.  You leave, now, and you ask permission before you set foot in Brockton Bay again.”

“Or we can expect a fight.”

“Expect consequences,” I said.  I looked down at Valefor.  “See to his eyes.”

I turned and led the other two in walking away.

“What-” Regent started.  I held up a finger.

When we were out of earshot of Rosary, I dropped the finger.

“What’s with that?” he asked.

“We got what we needed.”

“You didn’t even mention how you blinded him,” Imp said.

“It’s about using fear as a tool,” I told her.  “The unknown is always better than the known.  Silence is better than almost anything we could say.  For example, you can leave them wondering just why Valefor’s power didn’t work on you.  And consider the reaction when they realize just why he’s blind.  Maggots packed into his eyeballs.”

Imp shuddered visibly.  “How?”

“That’s the exact question they’ll be asking,” I told her.  “In case you’re wondering-“

“I’m not.”

“-Centipedes and bigger bugs opened a path through the external layers.  Maggots crawled inside.  Nothing critical damaged.  Probably repairable, though I’m not an expert in anatomy.”

She shivered again, “My eyes are watering.  Total heebie-jeebies.”

I didn’t reply to that.  I was more focused on Regent.

“We okay?” I asked him.

He shrugged.  “Sure.”

Noncommittal response, no clue as to whether he’d take my suggestion on using his power to scare people away without creating a harem like his dad.  I hadn’t really expected anything else.

“So gross,” Imp muttered.

But he had the ability to take control of Imp.

I needed to have a discussion with Grue.  A very careful discussion.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

438 thoughts on “Imago 21.3

  1. Regent said, constantly thinking about that stuff. When do you sit back and chill out?”

    Missing the opening set of quotes.

    • What do the maggots in Valefor’s eye sockets do when they are no longer in Skitter’s range? “Neuro-retina? It’s not just for breakfast anymore!” Hopefully they will see the wisdom of letting him go blind because he deserves that. Maybe next time he’ll show a bit of respect to the local crime lord.

          • It depends primarily on the species used- There are a few that will eat any flesh, not merely necrotized flesh, but even then with the maggots used for surgical therapy it’s more because they consume the necrotized flesh via enzyme dissolving the tissue. Too many maggots in the wound will produce too much enzyme and that will damage, then necrotize, living flesh around the wounded tissue- Which will then be liquified as per normal dead flesh. Similarily, if they’re left for too long, and left to starve, then their enzyme will, of course, pool enough to start consuming living tissue as per too many maggots, as well.

          • Rika, stop trying to ruin my view of Valefor’s eye maggots reaching out as someone pushes a tiny chunk of hamburger meat into his eye to be devoured.

            It’s almost got a Corinthian vibe to it.

  2. You know, I was talking about Worm to a group of people on Sunday (just about forty-eight hours ago, in fact), and mentioned how the protagonist — who had the power to control bugs and spiders and such — had her first fight against a man who could produce fire out of thin air, had a healing factor, and, as he fought, got bigger, stronger, and more heavily armored, eventually to the point of becoming a dragon.

    One of them replied to the effect that that was a way stronger power.

    My reply was, “So you’d think.”

    Good chapter, wildbow.

      • You’re more than welcome.

        I actually thought that I might have inadvertently been giving a spoiler by hinting that Skitter’s power was way better than Lung’s, but on reflection the details of her power that give it such versatility and strength are right there in the first arc — it just takes a little while for her to get to the point of exploiting them fully.

      • Good chapter. We haven’t seen these guys in a while, and it’s good to see Taylor hasn’t forgotten about anyone. Honestly, with all Heartbreaker has been mentioned, I hope he comes up in the story in person a little. Preferably paired with humiliation from Regent.

        So she blinded someone. Again. When she talked about taking away his power, I instantly thought she’d acquired some Cauldron super potion somewhere, but it seems she went the much simpler route. Interesting way of resolving the problem, and it was effective. Half of her immediate enemies, gone just like that. I’m guessing the others won’t be easy, just by virtue of worm. I still haven’t gotten as much of a handle on her new personality as I’ll get over the next few chapters, but I’m glad to know she truly isn’t as crazy as she acted in that raid for an bit.

        Just as a funny side note, my roommate was snoring, so I turned on some music to read this. Unfortunately, all I have on my iPad is Hairspray at the moment. Let me tell anyone that listening to peppy, jazzy songs while reading about various maggots and bugs invading someone’s eyes is freaking weird.

        • I wouldn’t know about the soundtrack, but wasn’t there a song about being covered in the big dance off at the end? Been a while since I saw it.

        • Seems to me like it’s been implied, at least, that Heartbreaker isn’t around anymore. In this chapter, she says that the pictures of him showed him in his thirties or forties. It could be that he’s fortysomething now or it could be that he was fortysomething when he died or when to the Birdcage. There was some dialogue about him back when Cherish and Regent first met back in the S9 business; that might have more details that I’m forgetting.

          • He’s still looking for them, Cherish could sense him and could stop anyone who came after her- Regent doesn’t have quite the leisure in dealing with them like that, all things given. From the wording it’s quite well implied he’s still alive.

          • I suppose it’s somewhat more fitting than what I was listening to for part of it.

            I was listening to the BGM of the snowboarding section in Ice Cap in Sonic Adventure.

  3. Things we learned. Regent’s cardinal sin is sloth, he really doesn’t want to put in the work but wants all the rewards. He and Imp are closer in ways than Skitter and Brian would probably be comfortable with. Taylor at least had her shirt off when she was with Brian and Imp saw them together. I can just picture Regent making faces at them. Skitter has really taken Bakuda’s lessons to heart on how to use fear. She is really manipulating the others here. She blinds another person, who probably deserved worse. I can just picture the rumor mill saying she collects the eyes of her enemies. But her vision of the future is interesting. I don’t think Aisha has killed a anyone who wasn’t an evil clone yet, and I thought Regent couldn’t control more than one person at a time. In our next issue its the Undersiders vs. The Teeth.

  4. Character development for probably the two least characterized major characters! So, Taylor is worried about Regent later going overboard, and Taylor also seems to be thinking much longer term. Any predications as to how this issue with Regent will turn out (and how the conversation with Grue will turn out?)

    • Regent is tricky because we are still unsure of his feelings towards others. From his interlude we know he is loyal to the team and deals with anyone who messes with them, but we don’t know how he really feels about them as people. He seems to value Imp’s friendship, and seemed like close friends with Grue when we first saw them interacting but who knows beyond that. He does acknowledge Skitter’s authority and expertise and uncharacteristcally reacted very strongly when she compared him to his dad. I think that he’ll be given instructions, and go with them after grumbling because he doesn’t see the effort of fighting/arguing with Skitter. Grue is going to be a very interesting conversation. I envision him hanging out with regent, putting his hand on him and saying,” You’re my friend but I will fuck you up if you hurt Aisha in any way.”

    • I get the feeling that Alec and Aisha are probably pretty close. It’s hard to tell because they’re the members of the group Taylor interacts with least, and we haven’t had an interlude from either in some time, but I remember Aisha complaining to Brian at some point about wanting to go over to Regent’s place to play video games or something. Knowing how often Aisha just wanders off doing what she likes without anyone noticing, the fact that it actually came up means she probably goes over there pretty frequently.

  5. So, wait. Taylor can subconsciously control the bugs while she’s being hypnotized to that level?

    She needs a much higher Thinker rating.

    • To be fair, it’s been stated that they keep doing her last order, and she has some control of them even when her thoughts are elsewhere and it was hinted at(unless my memory is playing tricks on me) that they will act on her will even while she’s unconcious or asleep. Someone who is being hypnotised is far more capable than someone who is asleep.

    • Actually that may be due to the fact that bugs in her range keep acting on their last command if she stops giving them commands. When Valefor looked at her, she lost the ability to keep commanding her bugs. So they just followed the previous command of “crawl onto this guy’s face”.

      • Ooh, that’s a clever thought! And, once again, it plays into the ‘make them wonder’ aspect of things — there aren’t many people who know that’s how her power works.

      • Well, not just “crawl onto this guy’s face.” They blinded him in a pretty specific way. Unless she’d started giving the order to blind him because she thought he might be about to get a look at her, which I guess is just the sort of clever that helps Skitter keep winning.

        • She gave bugs the order to put money into bags and take it, and they kept doing that through her entire fight with Lung while she was busy getting a giant handprint bruised into her.

          • Yes, as mentioned in the interlude that wasn’t Taylor subconciously distributes the bugs afterwards so that the ecosystem is back to what it was before. Seems to suggest to me that her multi-tasking is both a conscious and subconscious thing.

      • That’s what I was thinking of too. I just figured because she uses the insect brains as added processing power. Not much of a bonus in small groups, but a huge bonus when she gets the big swarms around.

      • I think this is more symbiosis with her passenger more than anything to do with her brain directly. But that’s just my pet theory.

  6. This reminds me of a very interesting discussion I’ve had about super-jails. The law states that if it is absolutely necessary in order to ensure incarceration of the subject, it’s not cruel and unusual punishment. Such as sticking Reagent in solitary to be fed by an automated system. Or the electrical cuffs on Shadow Stalker.

    Could she have just blindfolded him? Yes. But due to the nature of his powers, as their brief discussion, that would not have ensured that his capture. Is she qualified to make that judgment, could she have done it another way? Given the nature of the system and the fact that she has some claim to being a legitimate authority… the first is almost debatable, and the second is a certifiable Yes.

    But it’s pretty clear that this is a War Of Public Relations. She is Fair to those under her care, and brutal to those that oppose her. Reminds me of a certain short-lived Prince of Wallachia. He had a war on two sides, and had to avoid dealing with threats from with in. So, he adopted a zero tolerance policy to the larger criminals, and made sure everyone was aware of it. When his armies were forced to retreat, he denied them the spoils of war and burned the land.

    His preferred method of making an example earned him a rather notable nickname. Vlad the Impaler.

    There are certainly worse people to use as a role model. He managed to get his throne back after being ousted… only to eventually get killed for his troubles. Though, I’m not sure “Infestation” or “Pestilence” is really an improvement over Skitter.

    • Skitter is avoiding making one mistake that ol’ Vlad made, though. She’s ensuring that there are plenty of examples of her being reasonable and helpful. It’s much harder to paint someone as a demon when they have an entire city of safe, fed, reasonably happy people singing their praises, and every contribution to ending a Class S threat she makes is one more tick in the “We can’t afford to have her assassinated” column. Also, Vlad III lived to the ripe old age of 45. It was his reign(s) that was(were) short.

      In short, she’s walking the fine line between healthy respect and terror. She’s done a good job of it so far, and her opponents have still be pretty frightened of her. Now that she’s doing more things to justify fear, we might start seeing some more unreasonable responses.

      • I thought he was killed the second time. I really need to brush up on him.

        That said, most of his people loved him. It was the countries on either side that demonised him. To this day, the people of the area believe he’ll return, and his populous loved him. The (Correct me if I’m mispelling this) Boyards? hated him. His fellow nobles. The fact that he killed the last batch to put them there might have had something to do with it.

        Though I will agree with you about her walking the fine line. As Machiavelli himself said, it’s better to be loved than feared, but it’s easier to command fear. Of course, he also said the ideal state was to be both loved and feared.

        • And, of course, the one thing you NEVER want to be is hated, or so says Machiavelli. I think, outside of people like Tagg, she’s succeeded in that pretty well. I mean, Weld and Kid Win and Clockblocker and the like…a lot of them probably don’t like her, and some of them defintely oppose her and think she’s wrong…but I didn’t get the impression that any of them (other than Assault, of course) hated her.

  7. maggots in eyes is an awful, AWFUL mental image… yet i find myself more creeped out that Imp metaphorically gave herself to Regent.

    they’re building up to be as creepy a pairing as Night and Fog *shudder*

    • Well her power makes it so he can’t truly control her and I thought they would make a cute couple. A couple who will probably cause no small amount of mayhem and chaos for shit and giggles, but they aren’t as close as the trio are to each other so I thought it was inevitable.

      • He could totally control her – he just needs to park her somewhere secure and well-labelled when not in use and have her leave comprehensive notes before letting her free of his grip.

        A set-aside cell with “If this door is closed, Imp is secured within. Do not open” would do the trick nicely.

        Fortunately for Aisha, he’s probably too lazy to go to the effort. But he could if he really wanted to…

    • I find it cute.

      It’s all about trust and for a guy like Regent that trust could mean an incredible amount. Even lessened by the nature of her power.

      Also as theAnt points out, those two have the potential to commit hilarious amounts of large scale prankage.

      I love Regent’s Throne Room so damn much.

        • I’m freaking sitting here, eating fried rice with mushrooms and red pepper mixed in with sausage half-rounds (silce a sausage down the length, then into rounds). While reading. Imagine how I feel right now.

          • Actually, yes I am. (It helps that I’ve had roasted maggots, chocolate covered honey ants, and fried grasshoppers before.)

          • The maggots (well, mealworms) tasted mostly of butter, chives, garlic, and thyme; We lightly sauteed them with those spices then just capped the pan with a lid and popped it into the oven to bake, and they didn’t really have much of a taste other than the spices we cooked them in.

            The grasshoppers… Well, I think they were over-fried, because they tasted like burnt oil and grass with a squishy, earthy and bitter sorta taste, not really that pleasant; Probably just the ones that I had, since I’ve heard others say they didn’t taste anything like that, and they WERE homemade by a friend beforehand. Might have been undercooked, now that I think about it.

            As for the chocolate covered honey ants… they were just absolutely DIVINE. Baker’s semisweet chocolate coating melted and poured into silicon molds pre-filled with a honey ant, eaten like any chocolate after they’d solidified in the freezer, but with this juicy, naturally sweet center~ I want to have more now. ;_;

  8. Very interesting chapter. It’s going to take another read through to really process it, but I suspect the squick factor will be fairly polarizing for the fan base. “She cut out someone’s eyes” has come up a lot already and that was in regards to someone who was going to grow them back.

    In this case, the recovery of them is more questionable, but the need to remove them, in my view, is still reasonable. Given the crime, the punishment was even on the lenient side.

    Also, on another note, I gotta say I’m finding our two potential psychos sort of adorable. It’s nice to see Skitter away of where they could go off the rails, and amusing to think of what they might end up like together if they can manage to stay away from their “harem dude” and “assassin chick” fates.

    • It really isn’t much worse than when she carved out lung’s eyes, as in both cases the damage is repairable. I would posit that the fan-base currently has read past that point, so any readers commenting now *should* be fine with it. Or at least not totally put off.

      • It’s not as clear in this case that it is reversible. Skitter thinks it is, and we in the comments have come up with reasons why it may be, but barring parahuman intervention it’s entirely possible that his sight will be irreparably damaged. Whereas she had every reason to be sure that Lung would get his eyes back as good as new.

        • There’s also the issue of while it may be possible to reverse it, especially with timely medical attention, those with the capability to do so have pretty damn good reason not too.

          In Lungs case his eyes were coming back whether anyone wanted it or not.

    • Is there a trope for that? If not, I feel like that should be a trope. It would be in the entry for half the characters in Worm.

          • Well she was bluffing, but I think it appropriate to show how much she has grown as a villain. The other two reminds me of the dark knight where he counts on the fact that he mobster would survive the fall. She is rather cruel but they DO worship the endbringers and the guy was going to kill people.

        • I would also think of Mugging a Monster. People think Skitter as dangerous as the stories say. Then they learn that she is that dangerous. There is a couple of stories about someone trying to mug Superman, Darkseid, tiny Godzilla, Chuck Norris. Valefor probably thought that a worshipper of Endbringers would be tougher than a school girl.

          • Mugging The Monster and Bullying a Dragon are related tropes, but there’s a key difference: the former has someone attack a vastly more powerful opponent in ignorance of their target’s abilities (e.g. Emma targeting Taylor) while the latter has someone try to screw with a vastly more powerful opponent despite knowing their target’s strength (e.g. the robbers in 20.1).

            Taylor might deserve a Dude, Where’s My Respect? entry, though.

          • That little girl? She couldn’t possibly have rotted a dragon-man’s crotch off, stabbed out his eyes, taken down several capes perceived as direct counters to her, including several *invincible* capes (glory girl, eidolon-clone, echinda), scared the slaughterhouse 9 out of town, stabbified an endbringer, forced at least 2 notable hero-capes to leave the scene and is working on bringing even more down. Theres no way one person could have done all that in less than a year after her debut.

            Hm, ok I can see how some of that can be a bit unbelieveable, even if only about half of it is really known about.

          • @Clarvel: s/”less than a year”/”less than three months”.

            Also, some of the stories might be disbelieved because Skitter likes to fool people into thinking she has powers she lacks — like transforming her body into a swarm of insects.

    • As with pagemaster, this chapter brought me much laughter.

      The brilliance of how badly Valefor lost was a large part of that.

      Haven and the Fallen just got crushed.

  9. That was pretty brutal, wildbow.

    I wonder if any of the heroes are going to lose it and just vomit everywhere when they find out how he’s blinded. XD

  10. First impressions – I liked the “I’m far less concerned about crossing lines these days.” Makes the message pretty clear if Rosary spreads it around – the PRT stop caring about the Unspoken Rules, Skitter does to.

    I also thought that was a pretty clever way to resolve the very sticky hypnotised-Imp situation. Imp’s power is largely mental, isn’t it? Regent might not be able to switch it on. Doesn’t make the the fact that he can puppeteer her now much better, but still. I expect a confrontation between Grue and Regent quite soon.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go rub my eyes for an hour.

    • That’s what I was thinking to. She doesn’t have much incentive to play nice in any way now. Plus, I really liked the Kneel Before Zod moment.

      I tell ya, if she really wanted to make him feel it, she could have snuck an army of maggots up his poop shoot. How’d you like intestines full of those little buggers? Wriggling around, feeling them moving in there, weighing you down.

        • There are certain kinds of tapeworms that multiply and leave through the nose, mouth, and anus. There are probably a few skin parasites that she could use to punish people with. We got a new quote. Hard to imagine Taylor at the beginning telling a superhero to kneel. Plus did you notice when she told her to watch him with through the bugs and she listened.

        • I think at this point that would be rather like Legend using his lasers to make people’s pants fall down.

          Not that Legend might not do that, if the situation called for it, but it would still be kinda weird.

        • Maggots up the ass is more a Garth Ennis deal, methinks.

          Just as well, I already kinda want to strangle Gecko, him being the guy who shat out Nemesis would just be excessive.

          • Eh, I liked The Authority until Millar showed up. That’s when Gecko’s sort of humor entered into it.

            Ennis is more likely to make jokes about how ineffectively Armsmaster/Defiant would deal with the same situation.

          • I wouldn’t use the words “Millar” and “humor” in the same sentence, feels wrong somehow.

            And yeah, what he did to one of the most successful gay couples in comics was friggin’ low, to say the least.

            Well, enough of that. Let’s talk about superhero stories that don’t suck!

          • Yeah, that’s definitely more of what Garth Ennis would do. Just ask The Boys.

            Aww, Reveen. Nice to know you care. In the homicidal, “Someday, Gecko, someday!” kinda way.

      • Guinea worms. Get up to thirty inches long inside you and when it’s time to grow up they burrow their way through your flesh all the way down to your feet and slooooooowly (it takes a month) leave your body through a hole they chewed, spewing eggs the entire time. You wade in water, you spread the worm to everybody who drinks that water.

        What do you want to bet they could burrow *in* much faster if they weren’t bothering to breed the whole time?

  11. Hmm- if Valefor’s power is hypnotic gaze, shouldn’t people just keep their eyes closed when they think he is around?

    Skitter in particular wouldn’t be hindered by keeping her eyes closed at all times, since she can use her bugs.

        • Searched for mentions of Valefor starting with Accord’s interlude:

          Accord surveyed the situation. Valefor was a stranger, less in terms of his ability to hide, and more in his ability to engage in subterfuge. He had only to look on a target with his naked eye, and the fight was over. It was no small wonder, really, that he’d styled himself after the Simurgh. The effect was all too similar, in how the victim was often unaware of what had happened until it was too late.

          It’s not explicit (unless it’s explicitly stated in some prior chapter), but I didn’t read it as requiring eye contact.

    • What’s to say that isn’t the standard solution? Skitter just… rendered him harmless. It’s actually much better than what I thought she was going to do at first. I was assuming a partial lobotomy when she said Stripping Him Of His Powers. But then, I read too much Doc Savage.

    • I just wondered, if his power needed him giving commands to people, if they’d just cut his tongue out. It was right there in his mouth, after all. I suppose this is a little safer and less bloody.

      • Well his eyes could still be saved, and it is possible he could bleed to death if they cut off his tongue. I wonder how well he’ll fare at the birdcage.

        • Considering that he’s an Endbringer worshiper and there’s probably a bunch of capes there that went through an Endbringer attack, not least of all Lung who might’ve had his country wreck by Leviathan…

          Pfffft, hahahahahaha! Sucks to be you!

          • Know that I think about it, he might just end up at a normal prison. Without his eyes he can’t use his powers so a good lawyer might argue it unnecessary and bring up his lack of killing. We know what he intended to do, but it’s not like the undersiders can give testimony. Same thing with tinkers. Just keep them away from any tech and you can put them in a regular prison.

          • Nah. Canary got chucked in the Birdcage just out of an unfounded fear that she could do exactly what Valefor does. He’s headed straight for the Rockies and Dragon ain’t gonna feel bad abut it this time.

            I hope she just fucks with the guy for the entire trip.

          • “Hello there, Valefor. This is Dragon. You’ll want to remain calm, but we seem to have a blockage on the road. Scanning…Calling in an S-class threat. I will provide earplugs so you don’t fall prey to her voice. One moment.

            Systems failing. Rerouting nonessential power to the restraints. Don’t you dare think of escaping Valefpq0o32oipioqwia vivklsma;flnakfj

            Ha ha, just kidding.”

          • Note that there is no KNOWN cases of him using his powers to cause someone to die… But as shown here, “…and forget about this order.”

          • But thats the point, no one knows what he tried to do and the Birdcage is life imprisonment with no chance of parol, and no guards to protect you. If I was in the wormverse, and I had a scary power, I would demand to be sent to a regular prison if there was way to ensure I couldn’t use it. Let’s say blasto was caught years ago. He has a scary power but he never made anything that replicated and he needs alot of equipment to make his power work. So a good lawyer could argue that he isn’t violent, and doesn’t deserve to be in the birdcage. As long as he is kept away from technology there is no reason he can’t be sent to a regular prison. Canary was treated like an animal, but if she cut her tongue out, could she have been treated better and ended up at a regular prison?

            • Blasto uses a lot of equipment but there’s no confirmation that he *needs* it. For all we know he can jerry-rig a new life form using only some mould and an old toaster…

          • @Reveen Based on his name, I imagine Lung is of Chinese descent rather than Japanese.

            “Oni” is a Japanese word roughly equivalent to ‘demon’ so Oni Lee may have been Japanese…

        • “And this one’s Jay Garrick, and here’s Barry Allen, and over here is Wally West, and this little guy is Bart Allen…That’s not counting Edward Clariss, Eobard Thawne, Hunter Zolomon, and Thaddeus Thawne. Or Iris West, Max Mercury, Johnny Quick, or Black Flash.”

          Give me Len Snart, Digger Harkness, Evan McCulloch, James Jesse (Or Axel Walker), Mark Mardon, and Mick Rory any day of the week though.

      • Imagine if he tried to give a command with his tongue cut out, just what sort of messed up order the target would recieve. ;_; Would probably be even worse for the poor people.

      • ” Don’t you dare think of escaping Valefpq0o32oipioqwia vivklsma;flnakfj

        Ha ha, just kidding.”
        … In other news, WHO GAVE DRAGON PORTAL?

        • You might like to re-read the chapter where Skitter chats with the expensive Dragon suit, and specifically, tries to paralyse it with paradox. It seems Dragon is already a fan of Portal in canon.

  12. Think I found a typo.

    “She gathered the petals together to create car without wheels or a driver’s side door”

    If I’m not mistaken, the word “a” belongs between “create” and “car”.

  13. Not really getting what bothers her so much. Imp’s power is equally trust dependent for her allies. Both of our merry lunatics can destroy you if they feel like it, both require trust that they won’t do it.

  14. Personally, I found Valefor’s punishment filled with Karmic Irony, did’nt creep me out at all. It was Regent’s control of Imp that really creeped me out big time.

    Also: “Go for the eyes Skitter, go for the eyes!”

  15. Regent

    Regent is an interesting character. He is, by far, the most openly villainous of the characters- Both with his powers, and with his actions. This makes sense; he was raised by a man capable of such absolute emotional manipulation that it makes Ted Bundy look like a stuttering geek. And yet, he’s not a bad person, all things considered.

    He didn’t /want/ to kill people. He may not have felt the same instinctive cringe that you might feel about taking a life, but he frankly doesn’t want to. His lack of empathy is supported by a personality that is fundamentally lazy. As for his power? It’s equally nasty. He’s used it for some nasty things. But he’s got a leash.

    Taylor. I really think Regent has a surprising amount of respect for her. He maybe even likes her, as much as he can like anyone. He wanted to hurt the people who hurt her, because he knows how savage that kind of emotional manipulation can be. He’s a bit of a broken soul, and he’s done dreadful things to people in the past, but I think, god help us all, Taylor is actually rubbing off on him more than he is on her.

    The sequence with Sophia is an interesting aspect of this. Ultimately, Sophia was a Bad Person. She was a dirty cop, she enjoyed making people suffer, and she defended it all with the single worst justification you can ever use to be a bad person, the idea that she was somehow better than the people she abused; This is such a tremendously bad idea, because it means that when you find someone who’s better than you, what they do to you is exactly what you deserve.

    Sophia’s life was screwed up in Regent’s hands, mostly by what she had done over time. The scariest things he did to her was a brief ridiculous ‘coming out’ to Emily, which while humiliating, does not seem to have been taken particularly seriously by anyone involved. He also scared the hell out of her by making her think that he was going to kill her- but ultimately, he didn’t. Terror; but not death.

    Regent has done some deeply skeevy things in the past, and I doubt he’ll ever want to be a hero, so much. But I do think that he likes Taylor, and cares about her, and wants to make her proud to some degree. And I think that Taylor wants to see him not become a manipulator. She’s nervous about the relationship between Imp and Regent, but what we’ve just seen here suggests that Imp might genuinely be one of the best things to happen to him. Someone who he can’t simply use, who he must accept as an equal and companion; Who, even once he has his hooks in, can remove them. Someone who’s a challenge, and who’s also kind of fun to be around. Someone who he has to treat like a human being, and who he knows he has to. It can be good for him.

    Sociopathy

    http://ieet.org/index.php/IEET/more/kuszewski20091117/ This is a classic piece. I don’t know how accurate it is, but let’s face it; It’s a powerful argument, and one that makes a great deal of interest for storytelling. So, let’s look at the list of things here and ask ourselves; Does Skitter sound like an x-altruist?

    low impulse control
    high novelty-seeking
    little remorse for their actions (would “do it again in a heartbeat”)
    inability to see past the needs of others (very high empathy)
    willing to break rules
    acts in the best interest of others, or for the “common good” (because it is the right thing to do)

    I think few things are as illustrative as her behavior towards Dinah. One thing, one meeting, and she nearly threw herself right out of the group, and was willing to go to superhuman lengths to try to get Dinah freed, with the least conflict possible.

    She shows very little remorse for her actions, because she can see them as actions in the interest of the common good. She makes efforts to never damage anything that cannot be fixed, she desperately avoids killing. I think that this fits her quite well, and it probably fits a lot of other heroes- And most likely, quite a few villains- as well.

    Now… Does she have a point? Is she factually correct? Generally speaking, Skitter has had, at the very least, no reason at the time to believe she’s wrong. She’s not delusional. The heroes have, as a whole, done a great deal to show themselves as pretty goddamn incompetent. If she had decided to play by the hero’s rules, she would probably never have freed Dinah; Almost guaranteed, in fact, because of the overly rule-bound nature of the heroes.

    An x-altruist is more likely to show up in this way at times when rules and regulations are particularly strong. If the rules were not somehow interfering with the desire to good, then they would not feel compelled to break them. Of course, they may be compelled to break rules that are there for a good reason if they’re not intelligent or forward thinking; But Skitter is. So far, she’s acted to the best capability she can. So, is she going to stay on the right side of the law?

    Skitter thinks hard about what she’s doing, and she has a strongly developed moral sense. It takes a lot to push her over the edge. But we still haven’t had her encounter the Simurgh…

    • Well such an encounter may prove enlightening as she technically does have telepathy, it just only works on beings with simple nervous systems.

        • Precogs can screw with Simurghs power, yes.
          And I think it was Piggot who ascribed her some basic clairvoyance during her fight in the Protectorate Tower after she prematurely and barely avoided a table Assault hauled at her from behind. Since it was Skitters swarm sense – movement of critters that oughtn’t’ve been moved – that warned her, Piggy is probably wrong in the precog assumption.

    • Abstract: bored sociopath geek amuses herself by writing essay-length necro-posts interpreting the personality of fictional characters, with references to evolutionary ecology and game theory (because boredom is literally the WORST POSSIBLE THING)

      Good point, that Imp is good for Regent because they’re basically equals.

      It seems like you’re missing a paragraph on sociopathy in the middle (and I was really looking forward to seeing what you had to say about it, too) unless you were using that as a header for the section on xaltruism…

      The argument in that article is interesting, but I have a couple issues with the terminology they use. There are actually four categories of behavior in environmental ecology: “altruistic” which includes all behaviors that benefit others AND harm oneself; “mutually beneficial” which benefit others AND benefit oneself; “selfish” which harm others AND benefit oneself; and “spiteful” which harm others AND harm oneself. Altruistic, mutually beneficial, and spiteful strategies are usually considered “pro-social” (literally working to create social connections) or “cooperative” strategies (cooperative is big in game theory) and selfish strategies are considered “anti-social” or “defective” strategies (defective as in “He chose to defect” rather than “broken”).

      *tangent on spite* Why are spiteful strategies pro-social? In experimental games, people will punish other people for not cooperating, or not obeying the rules or expectations of their social group, even if they incur a cost to themselves in order to carry out the punishment. Spiteful behavior on the part of others is one of the biggest incentives to behave primarily in mutually beneficial ways, especially if the benefits to others are greater than the benefits to yourself, or if the benefits of a selfish strategy would be higher than that of the mutually beneficial strategy. Essentially the threat of retaliation makes the selfish strategy have less net benefit than the mutually beneficial one. Strong inclinations toward this type of spiteful behavior actually facilitate the creation of social groups. *end tangent*

      So what does this have to do with sociopaths and empaths? The general consensus is that sociopaths act rationally for their own self interest. In a way, they follow the models outlined by evolutionary ecology much better than empaths do. (I suspect that a lot of social scientists looking at this kind of stuff are closer to the socio end of the scale than they’d like to admit :D ) But to be more precise, sociopaths /do not work *against* their own interests/, so they’re most likely to engage in mutually beneficial or selfish behaviors, while empaths, being more heavily influenced by non-rational impulses, are more likely to engage in altruistic or spiteful behavior than socios, but still more likely to engage in mutually beneficial or selfish behavior than altruistic or spiteful because most of them still put themselves above others in priority at some level.

      *tangent on priorities* The list of priorities, for most empaths usually goes: self; family; voluntary organizations like a team; then people who are progressively less similar to oneself in experience or some other personally important category ie, all Broctonites, all Americans, all humans. Racists might put members of their own race before fellow citizens of their town, etc. There’s some room for concerns for family and other loved ones to overwhelm the primacy of the self. Grue gives us a pretty good example of this when he says that he would 100% protect his family and team, in that order. For socios, it’s more like: self; people who belong to me (usually people you’re fond of or have some responsibility for, and who are generally useful or important in some way. The people you wouldn’t just fuck with for funsies.); allies. There’s a much lower likelihood that a socio would prioritize someone else over him or herself, unless the socio in question is already doomed, in which case they might maximize their return by trying to save others who are in some way important to them. For example, if a socio knew the world was going to end in two years and was in a life-threatening situation, they might be more likely to give their life to save someone important than they would be otherwise, figuring there’s little difference between dying now and later for themselves, but not for the other person. *end tangent*

      The people the article refers to as xaltruists, who feel /too much empathy/ compared to the average Joe, are referred to by SociopathWorld as uber-empaths, by which they mean a person with levels of empathy above and beyond normal. I think that’s a clearer term, for this discussion. These are the people who do not, effectively, prioritize the “self” over the “other” or friends and family over relative strangers. I would suggest that uber-empaths are the most likely of all three groups to participate in truly altruistic and spiteful behaviors, because they see any action which benefits the group more than it hurts themselves as a positive action. They will happily engage in mutually beneficial behavior, but they would not choose to do selfish things because the net harm to everyone involved is greater than the benefit to everyone, including themselves.

      So where does that leave us, as far as social groups are concerned? Uber-empaths are 100% pro-social. They’re the true heros, the vigilantes, the people who are most likely to save people or die trying. Taylor is definitely one, though I think her tendencies toward this are somewhat tempered now as compared to in the beginning of the story as she’s started taking a somewhat longer view of events: IE, I can’t save everyone, therefore I must prioritize the team in order to save more people than I would if I tried to start now and do it myself. I’d probably also put Weld, the therapist lady, and maybe Miss Militia in this category. There are others, but I won’t say for spoilers.
      Empaths, people who have an average amount of empathy (+/- 2 standard deviations) are more pro-social than anti-social in general. Empathy is a scale following a normal distribution, so you have people who are more empathic (but not to the uber-empath degree) who are more pro-social and people who are less empathic (or even utterly ruthless, but who still feel involuntary empathy toward certain others) who are more selfish. Most people fall into this category: Grue, Imp, Taylor’s dad, Bitch (though she prioritizes all dogs over 99% of humans), Emma (have we had her interlude yet?), Tattletale, even Burnscar (as seen in Elle’s interlude) and Riley (introduced in Interlude 25). Noelle, Trickster, and all the other Travellers. Manton and Mannequin before they got broken and joined S9 both legitimately loved their families. They wouldn’t have broken like they did if that weren’t the case. Just being empathic doesn’t make you a good person. You can still be fucked up on other scales, like Emma’s penchant for sadism.
      Sociopaths, who are outliers on the low-empathy end of the scale, would be naturally inclined toward selfish behavior if it had the largest payoff (in whatever currency they’re interested in, be it money, power, reputation, social status, inclusion in a group, etc.), but that assumes that they would get away with being selfish. As discussed above, empaths and uber-empaths will punish those who make selfish choices at their own expense, which often makes mutually beneficial decisions the best in the long run, so in real life, I think there’s a fairly generous proportion of socios participating in society. Examples: Coil takes a more selfish route. Regent, Cherish, and probably any of Heartbreaker’s other children who managed to survive growing up in that household. Regent goes the mutually beneficial route, and Cherish is obviously more selfish. Shadow Stalker, Jack Slash, Armsmaster (Dragon is more empathic, and she’s an AI, though he does learn a certain amount of empathy throughout the series, so maybe by the end Defiant is in the empath category).

      Re: Taylor rubbing off on Alec
      I wrote a bit about this in a previous comment (on 15.2), but I think it’s actually probably the group as a whole guiding Alec’s sensibilities.

      *tangent: what is sociopathy?* To get into this, I think it’s kind of necessary to have a decent idea of what actually makes someone a sociopath. It’s not a professional psychological term (unless it got in the latest version of the DSM, I haven’t looked yet). The closest they have is psychopathy, or Antisocial Personality Disorder. Hare wrote a checklist that is still widely used in establishing a diagnosis of ASPD, about half of which is dependent of having committed criminal acts and/or having been punished for them. There are a lot of issues with the diagnosis, since the general public consensus seems to be that what sets psychopaths apart from everyone else is their lack of empathy or their general objectification of all others as tools to be used, and using Hare’s checklist includes a lot of empathic criminals. It’s biased, because it was developed in on prison populations. /Sociopathy/ is a popular psychology term that focuses on the underlying elements of the ASPD profile: low empathy/low affect; weak sense of time; and weak sense of self.

      Low empathy/affect means that sociopaths are much less likely to feel strong emotions, less likely to feel emotions associated with others’ emotional states, more likely to objectify people, and would theoretically find it easier to hurt people both emotionally and physically than empaths would (though they don’t necessarily have any inclination to do so). They generally experience few negative emotions, but they’re really prone to boredom (and boredom is the mind killer). This facet is somewhat complex, since sociopaths also tend to be really good at reading social cues and figuring out what people want, which is a heavily empathic process. There’s a theory out there that there are two types of empathy, basically, the recognition of others’ emotional states and the automatic reciprocity of those states. This theory holds that sociopaths excel at the first, but entirely lack the second, while certain other individuals, like aspies, lack the first but excel at the second. There’s also a theory pertaining to how people become sociopaths (this scheme refers to those who are born with sociopathic tendencies as psychopaths or primary sociopaths and to those who have repressed their emotions to a sociopathic degree, generally as a method of coping with abuse or environmental circumstances, as sociopaths or secondary sociopaths) that suggests that secondary sociopaths are able to /decide not to feel things/, like they would have the automatic empathic response, but then somehow override it, which gives them insight into empaths’ perspective as well as sociopathic responses to that insight. Either way, for sociopaths, dealing with other people’s emotions is a learned skill, not an instinctive one.

      A weak sense of time might not be the best way to phrase this, but it’s the best I’ve seen. It’s what gives sociopaths a poor sense of the consequences of their actions (future me is not the same as /me/ me), and sometimes a poor sense of timing when it comes to dealing with others (We broke up two weeks ago. Why isn’t he over it yet?). This also contributes to the narcissistic attitude that the sociopath can do no wrong, or have no failures. (Even if they objectively /know/ that their plans haven’t gone well before, that’s no reason this one shouldn’t work out, because that was past me, not /me/ me.) There’s no real sense of connection to the past, the future, or other people, so a sociopath is, at any given moment, the epitome of his or her own experience.

      Finally, a weak sense of self comes from the process of constantly mirroring the actions and beliefs of those around oneself. Sociopaths are, for the most part, easily swayed, because they don’t have much personality to base their opinions in, and with a relatively amoral, detatched, rational perspective on life, it’s easy to construct an argument for any given viewpoint. In order to give people what they want, to blend in, a sociopath observes the local empaths and acts in such a way as to reflect the beliefs of the people that surround them. It’s a pretty good strategy, as far as getting along in society goes. It may seem counterintuitive to have a personality that is both self-aggrandizing and has a weak sense of self, but recall the lack of a connection between past and present. Each mask assumed, or distinct viewpoint reflected, represents a whole different person. Empaths do this too, to a certain extent. The person you are with your parents is likely not the same person you are with your friends, and the person you were in high school is (if you’re old enough) likely to be pretty far removed from the person you were when you finished college. For empaths, there’s a gradual distinction between these states, and life usually seems like a series of long transition periods. For sociopaths, the transitions are kind of missing or muted, with a focus on distinct points, as their personalities are reconstructed to deal with new people. At any given distinct point, the socio may consider their current self to be infallible, but they will also likely consider their /next/ self to be just as infallible after the current one is for some reason insufficient. *end tangent*

      So back to Regent, then. Remember the phone conversation with Cherish where he talks about how he acted the way Heartbreaker’s clan wanted him to? It’s totally possible that that was absolutely true, that he was just playing to his audience and doesn’t really have a strong sadistic tendency, regardless of his penchant for schadenfreude (best freude!). Surrounded by team members who are focused on the greater good (Taylor), loyalty to family and friends (Brian, Bitch), and the need to uncover the truth (Lisa, even if she doesn’t share it with everyone), it’s very likely that Regent would come to mirror these values, not because he has some strong emotional motive to protect family or people in general or to figure things out, but because he wants to maintain his place on the team, and to do that, it’s best to fit in.

      tl;dr bored sociopath geek amuses herself by writing essay-length necro-posts interpreting the personality of fictional characters (because boredom is literally the WORST POSSIBLE THING)

  16. Walking in on your brother during sex? Seriously Aisha? I mean, it’d probably be less weird if you just barged in without your power. Jesus wept, I guess you’re well on your way to mastering the Way of the Creepo. Can’t think of a better sensei than Regent for that scared art!

    Anyway, glad to see someone actually getting what they deserve for once. Ihope we don’t have a big debate about poor wittle Valefor. Oh no, the guy who ordered a room full of people to kill themselves got temporarily blinded! Cue the world’s smallest violin.

    • So did she actually go all the way with Brian? It was a bit unclear, and I was unsure if she lost her virginity. Hope they used protection as the last thing she needs is a little bug girl running around right now.

        • My thoughts on this: Maturity trumps age. And while they may not be mature in the sense of drone-sheep of the government, and Regent may be terminally lazy, I really think that Grue, Taylor, and Tattletale are all very mature because they’ve been forced into becoming so by their surroundings. There are still moments of childishness or immaturity that breaks through every so often, but look at your coworkers or classmates next time you are around them and ask yourself if most people aren’t immature from time to time, simply by acting for their own personal wants. Heck, maturity itself is a social construct mostly, rather than being a hard definable metric… One of the biggest reasons I loathe the “”you’re not an adult until age 18/21″ mentality of governments. Bah… *grumbles as she goes to get some shut eye*

        • Depends on your country of origin – someone from Spain, or Sweden, or France, or Germany, or really about 80% of the entire living human population would think you’re an idiot for complaining about their age. Or just an American.

      • I’m usually wrong but it just doesn’t seem like it to me.

        Whatever else she is, she is still a teenager. Brian is still someone she genuinely loves. As such the reaction doesn’t seem to imply anything like that.

      • It does lead to the question of, what happens if Taylor does have a kid with Brian? What would her powers be? Would they push her in a direction of hero or villain or would they just let her make her own decisions regarding it? Is it good form to tell your child that you are a cape? In Taylor’s case, it makes sense seeing as her identity is public but is it common practice normally?

  17. I think I found a typo:

    “Fear. Ruling through fear. How do we get the maximum result for the minimum effort.”

    Was that supposed to be a question, or should that “do” be gone?

  18. This chapter makes me love Regent and Imp as a couple even more, they are the best together in my opinion, not only due to the fact that they are both fairly insane but also how childish they are together. If these two don’t officially become a couple I will just continue under the impression that they are hiding it due to how over protective Grue is, I can totally see Grue going off on Regent and Imp for the whole “giving herself to him” (subtext intended).
    —-AishaXAlec Forever—- <3 \(^-^)/

      • Which puts Taylor in an akward position in that she has to play peacekeeper, and she wants them to like her. I bet that mom comment annoyed her quite a bit. I think she will try to talk him into letting it go.

          • Something tells me that’s nothing new for Regent.

            …Made myself feel ill thinking about what he likely had to put up with under Heartbreaker’s thumb. Ew…. Nothing wrong with incest if the people committing it love each other, but that wouldn’t be anything of the sort.

      • Better yet, Brian will borrow Alec’s power long enough to establish total control over him, then let him do what he likes with Aisha. If he ever hears about out suspects anything untoward, he’ll just come find Alec, borrow his power again, and reestablish total control. Few things express brotherly protectiveness like forcing your little sister’s abusive boyfriend to castrate himself.

  19. Now then, there’s the matter of a welcoming. Blakagant got caught up shortly before the update, so there wasn’t much I could do then. Believe it or not, it takes a few minutes to think of these things.

    So we’d like to give him/her a hearty welcome to the comments section.

    *Cuts to Regent’s dad on stage with a horde of screaming women throwing panties at him as he sings “Heartbreaker”*

    We’re all glad you could join us in the comments section. If you get hungry, Simurgh runs the cafeteria. *Cuts to a bunch of people passing up the pea and corn casserole, only for Simurgh to open her mouth. Suddenly, everyone in the cafeteria swarms the casserole.*

    If you need to relax, you might try our Rec room. *Coil and Deep Blue the chess computer sit across from each other, enjoying a game of chess. Or at least Deep Blue is enjoying it, as Coil sits contemplating the board. Deep Blue vocalizes, “Ha. Ha Ha. The Only Way For You To Win Was Not To Play.”*

    And, I suppose if you ever wanted to type something, there’s the comments section itself, where people like to hang out in their banana hammocks and think wonderful thoughts about hula girls, tropes, pantyhose on dogs, wild mass guessing, hula girls, morality, sociopathy, the nature of good and evil, heroism and villainy, when it is appropriate to nuke an Endbringer, and hula girls.

    Welcome, Blakagant, and leave your sanity at the door.

  20. Heh, that was one nasty line in the sand Skitter drew for Regent. “Hey, look at how Valefor used his power on me.. and got his eyes eaten out despite it. Oh, and I’d never, ever suffer myself to be controlled.”

    I kinda wonder if she’s being unfair to him, projecting her own moral degradation onto him. When Regent said delegate, Skitter immediately assumed slaves.. but what we’ve seen from Regent suggests he very well could have meant the mercs he’s been employing all along. That’d be a bitter pill for him to swallow.

    Liked the villain chops. Theatricality and deception are all well and good, but good old fashioned brutality ought to be in every villain’s playbook. I was a little surprised Skitter leaned on Haven, but I suppose it makes sense if she’s committed to establishing genuine sovereignty over Brockton Bay.

    I wonder now if perhaps Skitter’s imagining a Villain Town, one where the local Protectorate slots haven’t been filled in years due to “manpower issues” and independent heroes walk softly. Perhaps a place for successful villains of the civilized stripe to retire in peace when they weary of the constant stresses of the villain lifestyle.

    • You know, being taken over by Regent is exactly what Taylor needs for a second triger event. The sense of betrayal (reminiscent with Emma’s situation and the original incident) + ultimate entrapment (inside her own head and body) = full-on-swarm Taylor or something like that.

      I can actually see Tattletale + Regent concocting such a plan, if they feel it’s really, really needed. They’ll prepare their wills, record confessions for Taylor, and go for it.

      • Shit…you have given me an idea for Regent’s economic niche.

        You know how some people pay to go to a resort and get dominated? And how 50 Shades of Grey (the Twilight fanfic) is so popular now?

        Well, looks like Regent’s opening a new business soon.

      • Acutally,skitter’s power is a good counter for regent’s, as his is explicitly body control, not mind control, and skitter’s power is purely mental. She actually should consider letting him do the same thing he did to imp, for the same sort of assurances.

          • True, all I’m saying is she could still easily kill or maim him if he tried to abuse power over her, and theres nothing he could do about it. He’s explicitly shown he has to focus on the person to get the control, so hypothetically if skitter starts being controlled, regent’s gonna start choking on bugs and bullet ants.

        • Do we have any reason to believe he couldn’t use Skitter’s power, though? He used Shatterbird’s just fine with practice, and hers was a subtle-ish mental power.

          • I don’t remember the specific chapter, but it was mentioned that Shatterbird was helping Regent process all the information because she didn’t want to die. Regent had to give her a bit of control. Skitter’s power is even more processing intensive. If she fought Regent for control, I don’t think it would be pleasant for him.

          • Shatterbir’d power may be partly mental, but she still needs to produce the ultrasonic sound wave to affect the glass, which she does by screaming:

            “Shatterbird screamed, using her power of her own free will for the first time since we’d captured her.” From the echinda fight.

            So since her power is partly physical, regent is also able to control it through her.

  21. There was so much villainy happening in this chapter that I just cant contain my surprise. Not only does Taylor break a man’s arms and legs, she also doses us with ice/eyes-cream. Nevertheless I enjoyed this chapter.
    I couldn’t quite tell what happened to Halo. I know that he put his shield up but I don’t know what happened to him after. Taylor just ignores him saying that he was rooted to the spot. Why? Can he not dissipate the shield?
    Also, wildbow, did you intentionally obfuscate the medusa head reference this time after the comments about atlas last chapter? I will admit it took me to my third read through of that section to understand what Rosary meant, good work.

    • I didn’t think it was that obscure, but then again, the myth of Perseus seems to be a favorite for introducing people to Greek mythology.

      Though, Valefor was sort of an Inverse Medusa, in that He has to look at You, not the other way around. Though, in Nethack, it is based on if they can see you, that’s a rather nerdy and obscure edge case.

      • Actually, the original myth, to my knowledge, is such that you must gaze upon her face, which would require her to be able to see you as well. Definitely more of an inverse Medusa though, in that you don’t have to look at him, just he look at you.

        • That’s debatable, after all, there’s the chance of catching her from the side and getting a profile, or potentially looking at her through a telescope or something. Actually, that’s a good question. Would seeing her through some sort of optical gadgets still have the same effect?

          And what about if she’s asleep? Just because you have to see her face/can see her face doesn’t mean she can see you. Or would all of these work like reflections then. Sorry to get caught up on the logic of that.

          • Well, most devices of the sort rely on magnification via reflecting the light off of prisms/mirrors to enhance the image, don’t they? So they would count as reflects as surely as those from the shield. Modern technology would kill the Gorgon as surely as that shield’s burnished interior did.

          • Medusa was cursed to be so hideous that looking at her would turn a man to stone.
            Well, the mirrors at the time, specially an improvised mirror made of the back of a shield were not very good and her distorted reflection would not be so ugly.
            But modern mirrors …

          • That particular shield would have been very polished. He got it from Athena. Man, Athena was an ass. First she curses Medusa because Medusa had the gall to get raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple, then she gives Perseus a way to kill her too.

            See, yet another time where the villains weren’t as bad as you’d think. Last I checked, Medusa wasn’t rampaging through cities where she had to be stopped. Nope, had to hunt her down in the middle of nowhere.

          • If I’m remembering my mythos correctly once again, I believe the polished shield was not a gift directly from Athena originally, but instead a tool that he found in the hands of one of the statue-men that had come to hunt Medusa previously, but hadn’t been able to pull off the look-at-the-reflection-and-react-to-her-reflexes part that Perseus, half-son of Zeus, was able to thanks in no small part to his half-godhood status as a Hero (which was, again if my memory isn’t failing me, far closer to the actual definition of hero- Someone with divine ancestry and favoured by the gods, not someone who is morally upstanding or the like. That concept seems to be more a product of our later PC generations).

        • If he dropped his shield, the bugs would get him. If he kept the shield up, then he couldn’t move. When Rosary knelt and acquiesced to Skitter’s demands, I think that Halo was able to drop his shield, and ended up leaving with her, carrying Eligos and Valefor.

  22. “I had a growing suspicion that Regent was interested in being in charge for more for the sake of being in charge than anything else”

    That reads a bit strange. Drop the 1st for, so it’s “interested in being in charge more for the sake”?

    • It’s still grammatically correct, but I do agree it could benefit from removing the first ‘for’ just for readability.

  23. hi, thanks for the chapter

    “covering her eyes, cheekbones and nose, ending in a sharp point, an etched metal plate, worked into her hood. It didn’t cover her lower face and it didn’t cover her eyes”
    covered or uncovered? (eyes)

  24. “You didn’t even mention how you blinded him,” Imp said.

    “It’s about using fear as a tool,” I told her. “The unknown is always better than the known. Silence is better than almost anything we could say. For example, you can leave them wondering just why Valefor’s power didn’t work on you. And consider the reaction when they realize just why he’s blind. Forcing him to read Twilight.”

    Imp shuddered visibly, then bent over and vomitted. “How did something that horrible ever get written?”

    “That’s the exact question they’ll be asking,” I told her.

    • Also, I’m confused. Is Hearbreaker’s power permanent or temporary? Because if it is permanent, then they should be far more afraid of him – he could turn even Skitter into his mindless slave if she ever got in range of him

      • My guess is that Heartbreaker operates by giving a fast, heavy hit of emotion that wears off relatively quickly, but then also backs it up with ‘true’ emotion, which works slower but is more insidious in that it actually influences how they perceive him without him having to exercise his power constantly- After all, the women who he takes love him even after he falls asleep, so it must have very long-lasting, lingering effects. Yet at the same time it can’t be completely permanent because Alec and Cherish escaped from him, but that could be because of their powers combatting his and nulling it as Imp’s does to Regent’s and Valefor’s.

          • I could not, would not dare try to explain the exact specifics of how his power works, because we know so little of the actual mechanics of it. For all we know he reaches into you and rewires your brain to make you love him, like what Amy did to poor Glory Girl.

            The idea of it being like a drug making them dependant doesn’t really mesh that well to me, though. Alec doesn’t seem like any sort of junkie, nor did Cherish; And the women who were with Heartbreaker in every instance we have seen of him have been fairly clear-minded individuals, aside from the obvious worship of the man. They’d be constantly fighting for their next hit, rather than loving and worshipping him unequivocally, all together (that’s why most harems don’t work. Everyone has to love each other to some degree, even if it’s just love of their love for the one you love, if that makes any sense to you).

          • Your brain naturally produces stuff to make you feel better. Endorphins and whatnot. Hell, adrenaline is awesome for ignoring pain. All natural, yet we still like a hit of that kind of stuff.

            But you are right that we have too little knowledge to do more than wild speculation.

    • Also how are the commands given. Does it have to be his voice or can he just go to a basketball game, sit in his box seats, look over the crowd, and hack the jumbo-tron to say ” go and kill your family”

    • Valefor is a stranger rating because he works via subterfuge. Master would be more if he could directly control them, but he can’t- He can give orders and then leave his puppets to follow the command as best as they can, rather than via direct control.

  25. Oh yeah, sweet delicious villainy, work it. Shit, at this rate ol’ skitty is going to be a shoe-in for the 9, “eyes filled with maggots” isn’t just texbook gorn territory, it’s artiste gorn.

  26. Hey, I was reading the TvTropes page and I realized… where’s the capsaicin? This was a planned confrontation, and she had time to prepare for it, and it would have been a helpful tool to incapacitate people, wouldn’t it?

    Actually, when was the last time she used it? For a time it was her big weapon, but it seems lately she’s switched to large scale use of silk threads as the go-to tactic. Though admittedly, her actions as a whole have gotten more large scale, and the whole capsaicin shtick is limited because she needs to prepare a small number of bugs beforehand and then carry them on herself.

    • Well, either capsasaicin was moved from special to standard in the attack column and she used them, but didn’t think it worth mentioning, or she didn’t deem them necessary, yet. It’s not like it was life threatening, yet.

    • Capsaicin, applied directly, is a toxic substance that induces extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, and can even be lethal given a large enough dose- though it is rediculously high, at an oral LD50 of 47.2 mg/kg and a contact LD50 of 512 mg/kg (in mice).

      This all said, when fighting two people that are otherwise normal strength and durability, restricting your armament usage to only what is absolutely necessary reinforces the image of strength- By not using them, even though all involved (assumedly) know she uses them, shows, “I defeated you, and I was holding back. Don’t fuck with me, got it?” as shown with Rosary.

      • Well, I’m not a hundred percent sure breaking Eligos’ bones counts as holding back, but it IS a good point nonetheless.

        • She basically lifted him into the air and dropped him, breaking his arms and legs in a simple, brutal, and effective tactic to shut him down with minimum effort on her part. Going from what we’ve seen of his powers, I think he operates somewhat like an Airbender in that he has to gesture with a limb to cause his power to activate, and this ensures that he’s completely neutralized, just like the maggots in the eyes do to Valefor, compared to just tying him up and blindfolding him- It’s a lingering form of (very painful) debilitation, rather than just a temporary annoyance.

      • Humans are much more capsaicin-resistant than mice, at least according to the U.S. Army, but your point is still valid. It’s good P.R. to be elegant.

        • Quite; I had trouble finding exact values for humans, so I quoted the one most commonly used, which is for mice (the most commonly used LD50 animal value). According to the National Pesticide Information Center, “LD50 in humans has been estimated at 0.5-5.0 g/kg”. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/Capsaicintech.pdf which references Lewis Sr., R. J. 25.Sax’s Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials, 10th ed.; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: New York, 2000; p 702

    • > Though admittedly, her actions as a whole have gotten more large scale, and the whole capsaicin shtick is limited because she needs to prepare a small number of bugs beforehand and then carry them on herself.

      That makes the most sense as an explanation to me. Also, the biggest advantage of capsaicin bugs is that they don’t need to pierce the skin to have their effects, and she hasn’t needed that recently.

      • I imagine Taylor keeps a store of capsaicin-dipped bugs inside her armour whenever she goes out. I seem to remember a reference to exactly that last time she deployed them.

        Also, she could have used the capsaicin for Valefor’s eyes. That’ll blind you just as hard, and hurt more too. Clearly, the medium WAS the message this time.

        Hg

  27. Skitter’s Power, thoughts:

    I don’t know, but suspect it’s been discussed before (pointers to where?), but what species/taxa does Skitter’s power entail? It does not seem to be linked to invertebrates in general, because that would include starfish, snails and clams, among others (the latter two are kind of closely related, actually), also octopuses. And the way crabs and lice have been mentioned it includes at least partially Crustacea. But those taxa hadn’t been brought up when she was close to the ocean, during her runs, and strictly speaking the ocean is teeming with life of that kind (Crustacea, Annelida, Invertebrates (not a real taxon), …), so I’m left wondering.

    Two current hypothesis crystallized:

    One, a group of certain taxa like Arthropoda. This includes all Chelicerata (spiders, scorpions, …), Myriapoda (centipedes, millipedes, stuff close enough to those two), Crustacea (shrimp, lobster, crab, …) and Hexapoda (insects, …). Nematoda (the heartworm) and Annelida (other worms) as well. To falsify this hypothesis she’d need to be unable to control some arthropodes/nematodes/annelides, or have control outside of that taxon.

    Two, brain structure. All species she controlled had a somewhat “simple” nervous system, with ventral nerve cords. Think rope ladder with knots on the front end and you’re pretty close. This would allow her to control most Arthropoda, Annelida and Nematoda (latter are both worm-ish), among others, as well as provide upper and lower limits to her power – animals too simple or complex for her to control. To falsify, well, did Skitter ever control animals that ought to be too simple or complex for the outline given? Like, starfish, jellyfish, octopuses? Octopuses for instance are startingly intelligent and might be exempt of control.

    Those are rough outlines, and the first hypothesis in particular lends itself to adaptation by adding and subtracting taxa as seen fit, which actually makes it less feasibly, because, well, the easier you can change a hypothesis the less likely you’re addressing the underlying principle. Hence I favour the nervous system hypothesis, it’s more elegant. What are your thoughts?

    (Please excuse my generous use of scientific terms, I’m a biologist…)

    • “And the way crabs and lice have been mentioned it includes at least partially Crustacea. But those taxa hadn’t been brought up when she was close to the ocean, during her runs, and strictly speaking the ocean is teeming with life of that kind”

      First off, Taylor has controlled crustaceans on two separate occasions. The first was waaay back in Arc 3 I believe where she demonstrated she could control non-bugs to Brian. Second was when everyone was meeting to discuss what to do about the S9 and it was mentioned she took control of the crabs in the Lake they were meeting in. Technically, there was a third time during Extermination where she noted that any crustaceans she could control during the fight were either absent or too small to be useful.

      Second, crabs just aren’t that useful compared to bugs. For a start they’re very situational; Brockton Bay might be a coastal city but Skitter hasn’t been in any fights that take place on the beach or near ‘populated’ water (Leviathan excluded). Crabs also lack the versatility bugs and spiders have. I mean, they can’t fly, they can’t scale vertical surfaces or cling to things (I think, correct me if I’m wrong here), they aren’t venomous, they don’t produce anything useful like silk, and their attack power is pitiful. All they can do is scuttle around and pinch and nip at ankles. Really, the only they got going for them is that they’re a lot more heavily armored than most bugs are and that’s it.

      Honestly, there are probably plenty of things Skitter can control but doesn’t because there are better things out there to use in their place.

      • http://0.tqn.com/d/urbanlegends/1/0/j/-/1/giant_coconut_crab_02.jpg < Giant Coconut Crab (obviously). clinging quite well to a garbage can. i'm sure you've seen a garbage can of a similar sort before. Just think of waves of THAT coming at you, eh?

        As for attack power being pitiful, quite the opposite, actually. Though they can't swarm and hit vitals as well as most bugs can, they can have some devestating strength in their pincers. Several varieties of crabs have pincers with enough PSI pressure that they equal that of a -car crusher-, with the strongest pincers equalling 8-5.333… times the strength of a car crusher (car crushers have a PSI of between 2,000 and 3,000, to put it into a frame of reference). What they really lack is mobility for a large number of them, but there are crabs that have incredibly fast move speeds as well- The average human walking speed is about 3.1 MPH, whilst the purple land crab, also known as the ZOMBIE CRAB, can move at a speed of 4.5 MPH or faster when provoked or startled. The fastest land-crab, the Ghost Crab, has a land speed of -10 MPH-. The average running speed of a healthy, in shape human is -8 MPH-. To translate this to meters per second, 10 MPH is 4.47 m/s. 8 MPH is 3.58 m/s. -World Record- speeds for 100m dash are 10.44 m/s and 9.53 m/s for men and women, specifically. So certainly you can outrun the little buggers if you're a peak specimen of human running prowess or have super speed… But if you don't, prepare to be swarmed by… the shore crab Genus Ocypode, the common identity of the Ghost Crab, which are found commonly around the world.

        Check back a chapter or two previous for a post I made regarding crabs and general taxon-related concepts using information given in the story involving the Protostome Clade (search that term specifically, as I used it distinctly) for even further information and opinion as to which clades she has access to at minimum, and most likely is only the beginning of her power's true potential.

        • Note that this doesn’t even touch on the possibility of infection as they carry a large number of bacteria that can be rather dangerous to humans. Think Monitor Lizard bite, but not quite so virulent.

          • Okay, so crabs a lot more badass than I initially thought. That doesn’t change the fact they’re very situational and that bugs are a helluva lot more useful in most situations. Unless Skitter has business by the sea, an aquarium, or a fish market we’re probably not going to see angry shellfish anytime soon.

            Also, crabs bite people? That’s news to me, unless you mean they slather it all over their claws.

          • Their claws are coated in bacteria. It’s not like they wash their claws after tearing something apart; The effluvia gets coated all over their claws and crammed into all the tiny little teeth and cracks and folds. It’s one of the reasons why they’re cleaned so thoroughly in preparation and claws rubberbanded (else they’ll attack each other and eat each other) and why they have to be cooked so thoroughly before being eaten.

          • Crabs? Psh. You’re not thinking small enough.

            Go google mantis shrimp. (Or check it out on XKCD) Yep, Taylor can probably control those…

    • I think you’re almost on the mark.

      It’s not like she can “control” them, that’s a side effect.

      Her power is to integrate other nervous matter into her own brain’s overall structure, remotely.

      Right now the only organisms that are simple enough (or do not fight back and immediately win because her power is not “offensive” ) for her to integrate are non-craniates, with some exception because they’re too complex (octopus) or too simple (jellyfish).

      Like a *swarm* of ants could be considered a single organism, with individual ants being the organs or appendages, she *is* the swarm, not simply in control of it.

      PS: I’m blind and/or stupid and cannot find the relevant post again, so I’ll reply here:

      Someone commented on bullet ants being like wasps. That’s because ants are the evolved version of wasps.
      Primitive ants still retain the stinger, more evolved ones get a chemical sprayer. That sprays acid.

      That was how I thought Valefor was binded initially btw, formic acid on the cornea sounds nasty, disabling, and surgically reversible.

      • ’twas I, and I was referring to it as the Bullet Ant is a nasty sumbitch attitude-wise, which can and will repeatedly sting and bite much like an asshole wasp will, but as an ant, and much more dangerous.

          • Aw cmon, we’re correcting TheAnt about ants?

            Anyway, you’re probably thingking about the bulldog ant, which is similar but bigger, with enormous mandibles, more poisonous… and yeah, from Australia.

          • I was surprised, but they are in fact MORE poisonous, since being poisonous means ‘carrying venom’, and they do indeed carry more, and it’s substantially more lethal as well.

            I mean, the Bullet Ant is registered as a 4.0+ on the pain scale, sure, and they have an LD50 of 1.4 mg/kg, with an amazing 250 micrograms of venom. That means it would require six ants to apply enough venom to equal one LD50 dose. The typical colony has a lethal capacity of 180 kg.

            The Harvester Ant, specifically the species indigenous to Arizona, who share their lesser African cousins’ pain rating of 3.0, have an LD50 of 0.12-0.7 mg/kg but only carry 20 micrograms; This means it takes far more ants to actually inflict a lethal dose, and results in the fact that a colony only has a LC of 28 on the strong end to 160 kg on the low end, even if their venom is far more dangerous.

            …The Bulldog Ant however, has an LD50 of 0.18-0.35 mg/kg depending on specific species, with a capacity ranging between 300-510 micrograms. this means that a colony’s LC is retardedly high, at 860-2,830 kg. Only 180 micrograms of the most virulent species, Myrmecia forficata, will kill a 1 kg mouse.

            All specific information drawn from the encyclopedia of entymology, http://tinyurl.com/c2rtxub which is a great resource that no doubt Skitter has saved in PDF format. :D

      • If overtaking the nervous system is the common consensus, well, I was pretty close. Bugging me in that regard is that when her power surged only the distance increased, not the range of nervous system complexity. In other words, the ought to’ve been able to control specimen she could not. Incidentally that might even have been the case, but no animals of the increased complexity were in range. Like, regularly she can’t control octopuses, but under high stress she can, but there were none nearby/relevant.

        Hm… if she ever has a second trigger event, she might get that boost, or she can give the swarm a semi-independent consciousness that somewhat persist beyond her range. Bah, speculation!

        @Undead-Spaceman
        Crabs are able to climb surface a human might not get a hold on, but remotely as well as land-dwelling Invertebrates with the appropriate tarsus structures can.
        Your point with the versatility and use in any current situation is valid.
        Just had a thought, though. Skitter has minor Aquaman capability – power over certain sea dwellers. Now we only need a villain or hero limited to the ocean and she can screw with that one. Probably didn’t see that one coming XD

        • The hive-mind theory is highly popular (if for no other reason than it explains her preposterously-effective multitasking), but I don’t think it’s as simple as taking over the insect’s nervous system. Insinuation 2.6:

          “Yeah,” Lisa raised an eyebrow, “You do know which bugs you had biting him, right? Black Widow, Brown Recluse, Browntail Moth, Mildei, Fire Ants-”

          “Yeah,” I cut her off, “I don’t know the official names, but I know exactly what bit him, what stung him and what the venoms do.”

          If she didn’t know the names, the only way I see for her to know what the venoms do is a much broader biology-sense than just a tap onto the nervous system.

          • Umh, actually I took that bit as support for my hypotesis, seeing how she can access the insect’s *memories*. The insects themselves know what they’re capable of, and it’s not much of a stretch to think she experimented a bit. (stinging some cockroaches with different stuff to compare the effects, and feeling what whas happening inside them while the toxins worked).

          • I think it’s less their memories as much as her power gives her the information of what they are on an inherant level. In the above quote, she is aware of each insect in her swarm, individually, so would know what bit him and stung him from that. Considering she is really deep into the research of bugs and the ones she had available to her, she likely already knew what the venoms do as well from there, on a human level- But still knew their chemical composition and effect because of her power, intrinsically.

        • Oh, nothing remotely resembling consensus here, on anything.

          It’s the theory I formed pretty much immediately, and so far it has not only held, but became more likely.

          It takes time to learn and use a new organ/appendage (and it can be done by adults: we already have brain sensors, this is not much different) and this fits with her improving skills.
          She also sometimes reacts in a weird way to people not showing peak mental efficiancy under stress. It could mean her brainpower is so boosted that “normal human norm” becomes “moronic”, and she does not notice it’s her and not them.

          Oh, and it fits with the range thing too, because the center point of her swarm being it’s her mutant brain addition (IIRC it was the corona, and/or gemma… the thing bonesaw was so fond of), and that’s fixed.
          Unfortunately that also means she cannot fully transfert into the swarm, because there’s a single antenna and zero repeaters.

          You do make a good point about the complexity however. I guess that she fixated on arthropods and never took the time to experiment on much else.

          I’m, however, more curious about less complex organisms, like portuguese men o’war.
          Less useful than, say, a giant squid, but more interesting because if she “simply” expand her brain with remote nervous tissue is one thing, if she can control quorum sensing in a certain class of cells … well, that probably leads to a kill order, so I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

          • Lisa said that most capes do not realize the full extent of their powers and there is plenty of experimentation she can do. Others would probably find it boring but I wouldn’t mind a chapter where she does nothing but run experiments with her power to see just what she can/can’t do. Practice the multitasking, drug herself to see if she can put herself in the mental state where she heard out of a moth, go for a swim and see what she can control, and maybe find a way to boost her signal. Her clones did control rats, which were much more complex organisms than bugs. The ultimate extension of her power, though it would be too gamebreaking, would be if she could send a portion of her telepathic signal to people. Sort of like a lesser version of the Smurf’s scream so anyone in her range would experience hallucinations and feel a sense of fear. Kneel before Skitter!

          • @En: ‘It could mean her brainpower is so boosted that “normal human norm” becomes “moronic”, and she does not notice it’s her and not them.’

            I have that problem all the time. I spend so much time around people on the higher end of the bell curve, I forget that it’s a rarified atmosphere, and find myself surprised when I talk to “normal” people and they don’t even begin to understand what I’m saying.

            Either that, or it’s the electrodes in my brain. Hard to tell, some times. ;)

            Hg

          • As far as the bugs doing things she can’t…you ever put in a code on a game and it works perfectly? Without having to look it up or remember? You just think and your hands do. Then, if anyone thought to have you write out the code, you’d realize you don’t actually know what buttons you pushed? I imagine that effect is in play to a degree, just involving the bugs’ brains. I think it’s related to how you can swallow more easily than if you think about swallowing.

            I know at one point I thought Swarm Intelligence had something to do with her abilities, but that was just me being mistaken at the time as to what it meant. Still wouldn’t put it past her to actually get smarter the more bugs she gathers up, though.

            Also, Hermes G, I often have the opposite problem. Hang out around people who are stupid or just do dumb things and you start to dumb down how you talk or do otherwise stupid-seeming things that are actually meant to counteract or account for the dumb actions of others.

            Around here, around the smart and nerdy, I just sound dumb. Always bad with specifics like quotes and dates. This isn’t helped by recent additions of people with better knowledge of the specifics of biology or a person who wants it very duly noted that he doesn’t like me.

          • @Hg: since it’s rollover already, I doubt you’ll ever read this, but:
            Isn’t the higher part of a bell curve the average? :P

            Aaand just in case you weren’t joking about the electrodes: hey, look at the awesome side, you’re a pioneer of cyber-enhancement. Maybe you’ll get an AI girlfriend too :D

            @Pg: you’re probably going to read this even if it’s rollover I guess, you seem the type:
            – I liked “Freddy” better as a nickname for Hg. I like lame puns.
            – you cannot win em all I guess. If it makes you feel better (which I doubt, but you’ll never know) you’re one of my favourite commentors. Hg too btw, electrodes notwhistanding.

          • @Hg: Ah, language barrier I fear.
            And I’m both nitpicky about word definition and I find a perverse pleasure on going with meanings that are possible but probably not intended.
            Eh, if you insult someone saying they’re “antibiotic” they probably cannot sue you for libel :D
            (or is it slander if it’s on a public internet forum?)

            Also, rule of funny.

    • I think the problem is that the classification of the animals she controls actually makes no sense from a purely taxonomic point of view.

      At one point she sensed the heartworms in one of Bitch’s dogs and in another chapter she mentioned sensing earthworms in the ground. Roundworms and segmented worms might seem similar enough at first glance, but they aren’t even the same Phylum.

      It can’t be some intrinsic limit of her power vs the size of the creatures brain either as her evil clone scurry could control rats which have a lot more complicated brains and are biological rather close to humans.

      It seems more likely that instead of scientific classification when deciding what creatures Skitter controls her passenger simply a group out of her head that contained insects and spiders and centipedes and worms and all manner of similar small creepy crawleys.

      Skitter appears to be not limited by anything like how closely related the creatures are or how complicated their brains are she is limited by her own personal classification.

      The question to me is whether these classification was set in stone during her trigger event, or if it gets decided subconsciously with every new creature she encounters. If nobody told her that corals are animals could she sense a coral reef? If she hypnotized herself into believing that Alexandria was just a very big bug in disguise, could she control her?

      • Well, the clones had variations of a theme, if you recall. Skitter’s theme is creature control, with what she’s doing now being her speciality where she put her skill points or whatever.

        Take the Vista clones instead, for instance. Vista as well as most of her clones has space/spatial manipulation, but there were examples of one who could flatten subjects or themselves to 2D, or compress/change stuff to radioactive dust (reasonably small scale elemental fusion to radioactive elements or isotopes). Skitters clones could control insects, or the other one had rats as her shtick. It’s still control over creatures.

        Or that Grue clone who could teleport inside his Dark. Only really tangentially related to his original or even expanded power set.

        So no, your point with the clones implying a bigger power at work is not hard evidence in my eyes.

        • Can we get a definite quote on the earthworms being sensed? if so, then we can definitively add the annelids phylum to her control, which would give her pretty much confirmed control over the entire protostome clade at the least, if not even further.

          As for from a taxonomic view, actually they are quite related, into the clade I mentioned just above, the protostomes. The three major phylum of the superphylum are Ecdysozoa (e.g. arthropods, nematodes), Platyzoa (e.g. platyhelminthes, rotifers- This is where heartworms fall into) and Lophotrochozoa (e.g. molluscs, annelids).

          What I fear happening is that she actually continues reaching up the taxonomic ladder and gets her hands on, say, the subkingdom Eumetazoa. >_>;; Even if she only retains control over protostomes, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3b/AnimalsRelativeNumbers.png shows just how wide a range of control she has.

          • Agitation 3.1:

            Brian saw the crab dancing in circles and figure eights and smiled. Conspiratorially, he leaned closer to me and whispered, “You can control crabs, too?”

            I nodded, feeling just a bit of a thrill at how we were huddled like this, sharing secrets while the people around us were totally in the dark. I told him, “I used to think I could control anything with an exoskeleton or shell. But I can control earthworms too, among other things, and they don’t have shells. I think all it takes is that they have to have very simple brains.”

          • The idea with the all protosome will break down the first time someone show Taylor something like an acorn worm, if her powers care more for theme then biology.

            There is also the problem that protosome would also include molluscs such as giant squid or the octopuses (octopodes?) which have rather advanced brains. A proper munchkin exploitation of such a broadly defined power could make her into Aquaman (the sort who is not lame and commands all sorts of terrors of the deep)

          • Well, everyone’s screwed once she climbs to Bilateria anyway. That’d include pretty much every major sized animal.

          • I knew I could count on you, Packbat. <3 Thanks. So that covers the annelids. As for the more complex-brained molluscs, she hasn't tried. Once she tries, then we have more information to base our theories off of.

            As for the all protostome clade 'breaking down' because of acorn worms- Not at all, because they are from the Deuterostomia Superphylum, which just expands her potential. Saying that she controls the Protostome Clade does NOT exclude others from her control, just gives a loose net of where her power has touched. If it turns out that higher intelligence creatures can't be controlled, it can be further clarified by excluding those with complex nervous systems. It's an additive/subtractive process as more information comes out. :P

      • I was thinking it had to do with nervous system structure myself… simple but not too simple. So, most arthropods, worms, some mollusks, but no octopi, ect. Skitter probably can’t control rats. Certainly she didn’t seem able to feel them when she was clearing out that rat infestation in her territory.

        As for the clone? Powers aren’t entirely genetic. So while the clone had a similar power, there’s no reason to believe it had all the same limits or abilities she did.

        • The clones’ powers are warped by their genesis, as shown with the multitude of Scapes with their variations on Vista’s power.

          • Well, yeah. I’m kind of surprised people have got that confused, since it was kind of explicitly stated a bunch of times in that arc. And what about clone-Grue’s teleportation? The only thing similar is the use of darkness.

            Hg

    • Interesting stuff.

      Hmm, I have to wonder, her feeling that the name Skitter doesn’t suit her. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the reason she feels that way is an instinctual reaction, because skitter is associated with Insects, and that’s only a small portion of what she can control?

      Something I’ll have to think on.

      • Well, for one she didn’t choose that name herself, and she might not feel it expressing the way she sees herself appropriately. The Bitch/Hellhound dichotomy comes to mind.
        And she did have problems with the t-sound using her swarm voice.
        Maybe she’ll use Swarm instead?

        • I thought she was going to change it after Chrysalis with how she talked to Dragon. Maybe it’ll happen over the course of the story’s end, or even right there at the end.

    • I wonder, if there was a sufficiently advanced computer that mimicked the brain enough to be only within the range of insects, if she could do anything with that?

      Probably not, but now I keep thinking of people building robots for her to control. Like that Sandflea thing that jumps, or that one that can run faster than 25 mph, or maybe a bunch of small individual ones that can form together into a better approximation of a human body and activate some sort of hive chameleon program thing. Could be a realistic double, or just run around like a see-thru Predator.

      And don’t forget the giant atomic powered scorpions! Somebody get me Dr. Mobius in here!

      *sigh* A man can dream though.

    • BTW, another thing we have to factor in, is that it’s not simply “she can use remotely any simple nervous system not possessing higher functions itself”. There’s another limitation, probably not based on taxonomy (since it’s all over the place anyway), probably not proteic (same reason). Might be something more esoteric.

      Anyway, “simple nervous system” by itself does not cut it because there’s a lot of very simple little brains around, and she *would* have mentioned sensing… umh, how do I put spoiler mask tape here? I don’t want to squick half the readership.

      • Well, she did mention lice and mites in places where the sun don’t shine, if I remember correctly.
        The brain structure is a decent approach to the limits her power encompasses, but likely not the real underlying concept. I could argue for the “simplistic intelligence” approach, but then she’d be able to control mentally retarded versions of more intelligent organisms, like birds or fishes. (Quite aware of some really intelligent birds, of course, just making a point).
        If sufficiently structured AI’s would be included in either definition… well, again one could argue for either. If Dragon really had a trigger event, it is reasonable to assume some parity in simulated and biological intelligence. A counterargument would be the strongly fettered AI the Dragon suits are empowered with, which couldn’t be influenced by Skitter. On the other hand, those may have been too advanced, and we don’t know their structural make up, if there was a neural net or “just” a really sophisticated program at work.

        • Simplistic intelligence =/= simplistic nervous system, though. Do remember that she can barely feel Atlas because of how effectively complex he is even though he’s a bug; she can’t even touch the more complex human biology inside him that Grue made, as well. Either way, we really don’t have enough information on this subject, so anything we guess at are simple theories or WMGs.

          • Well, we do have a *specific* lack of information, she would have mentioned sensing… stuff… and that means it’s not “simple nervous system” either.

            (umh, is there a way to get some html code in this? maybe if I can colour the text black it would do)

          • Atlas is a good point, actually.
            I could feel nervous systems intermingling, two bugs becoming one, and that strange hollowness that told me I didn’t have a complete grasp on how they functioned, that there was a part of them that was beyond the reach of my power.
            (…)
            One bug, and I couldn’t sense enough about it. I didn’t have that innate grasp of its biology, of how it operated, or the instincts that drove it.
            (…)
            My bugs normally had ingrained knowledge of how to function. This was a new lifeform. It had all the necessary parts. (…) But at the end of the day, it didn’t know how to fly.
            (…)
            I used my power to control every movement.
            (…)
            I could examine him with my power, I just couldn’t comprehend him in the same natural, instinctive manner. It took attention, focus. With my direction, he used a flutter of his wings and the points of his scythe-tipped claws to flip over so he was ready as I reached him.
            (Prey 14.4)

            I felt what he felt, his every movement was as much an extension of my will as moving my hands, blinking or controlling my breathing.
            (…)
            I searched Atlas with my power, trying to get a feel for his physiology. As with all the other instances, everything about him was invisible if I wasn’t looking specifically for it, a black hole in the database of knowledge my power provided. He was created, and there was no genetic blueprint that my power could decrypt and analyze to figure out what part served a given function.

            When I reached the area Grue had affected, I found it even darker, untouchable. The nervous system wasn’t something my power could interface with. (Prey 14.5)

            You know, only speculating here, but keeping in mind how the enteric nervous system that is necessary for the human digestive tract to function properly is even more elusive to her power’s grasp than the already warped rest of Atlas, well, it lends a certain credence to the semi-complex nervous system hypothesis. The same goes for the taxonomic approach, though.

            Alternatively, Atlas was of some flight, though not flying well, and the way Skitter described the complex wings implies a necessary complex neurological basis to control it. Perhaps complex neurological parts, even, with an added interface so it’s somewhat accessible to her power.

            And yes, I see I’m wildly guessing here. I really want to have a CT and MRI of Atlas, perhaps vivisection as well.

      • Another point or two I was surprised wasnt mentioned:
        In Agitation, Amy (who has complete biological control through touch) was able to manipulate the bugs on her to fuck with Taylors mind, giving her an ever increasing headache; could be a hint about how her powers work

        Also in Monarch we have (pardon my lack of knowledge in how to properly quote):
        -I tried to push the bugs to stop, but my power was drowned out. It wasn’t that the commands they were receiving were more powerful than mine, more that they kept coming, a singular, crude set of commands extending across my entire range, maybe even further, every half second, overriding any ongoing instructions to my bugs. Attack, move this way, attack, move this way.
        – I could sense the movements of the bugs throughout my range, even if I couldn’t control them.
        -The pheromones that false Skitter wore were serving to override the pulses from the box, keeping bees and wasps from doing too much damage to the pair.
        -I felt my power weaken, realized I’d unconsciously been pushing the bugs to hold back. I felt their attack intensify.

        Also definite clues as to how exactly her powers function

        So, thats my contribution to the conversation

    • Well, if Skitter gets smarter the more bugs she’s controlling (or in the vicinity) can easily be falsified by IQ testing her with different amounts of bugs in her power as she takes the tests. Yes, tests, since for any meaningful result she’d have to be tested multiple times with each amount to reduce the deviation and get an average score.
      It doesn’t even have to be an IQ test, but easily be games requiring multiple areas of intelligence. The very least, we’d measure some change in cognitive abilities. Her rising skill with the game would need to be attributed for, of course. Imagine the moment she recognizes the potential if it is as described – incentive to surround her lair with magnitudes more bugs so she can think on her problems more effectively; increase general availability of bugs in Brockton Bay, …

  28. Since I have missed this person on previous comments where I didn’t know it was his/her first time commenting, we’re going to go belated on this shit.

    Ashan, welcome to the comments, you crazy beast. I’d say a tiger, but only because I suspect you’re lion.

    It’s a bad pun.

    Real bad. Right now, some of these people are daydreaming about hurting me because of it. They want to breathe fire and spit mud at me. They want me tazed and Regent-jerked. Impified and Gruealated. Skitteracted and Tattletold. Parianetted and Bitched out. Smurf sung, Behemoth boiled, and Leviathan leaked. They want Jack to Slash me, Bone to Saw me, Wolf to Hook me, and even Siberian to nudify me to death!

    But what they don’t realize is that, I, Psycho Gecko, am immune to deadly nudification so long as I have the support of commenters like yourself by my side.

    Hey, where’d you ho?

    …crap. A belated welcome to the comments, Ashan.

  29. Well this was much more interesting chapter than the last few. Not just becuase of the added action and extra ass-kicking, but also for the charcter development and the seeing Skitter (indicrectly) through someone else eyes.

    Taylor is concerned that Regent and Imp might become too dark, but in the end it is Regent and Imp who are uncomfortable with the harsh and hard way Skitter is dealing with people.

    This new turn Skitter has taken in the last few chapters might also be the reason why Dinah wanted her to cut ties and outed her civillian identity. She knew that Taylor would need to be hard and dark to be able to make the right decisions when the time came…

    On a different note with the dark turn Skitter has taken recently, I can’t help but picture the charcter as part of the 90s Dark Age of comic books. Some over the top ‘dark’ and violent character, probably as drawn by Rob Liefeld (without feet and impossible anatomy and an outfit full of pouches and gun bigger than herself). Next thing you know she will drop the name Skitter and take up some ridiculous moniker like Bloodhyve orPaynestynge something with Hemolymph instead of blood.

      • What was that eye-rapist name, the one you were predicting would be the next collaboration after the slaughterhouse 9? You sure you weren’t guessing skitter’s future name? If she goes for someone’s eyes a third time…

        • I really REALLY hope if atlas bites the bucket, 1 he gets a funeral and 2 skitter finds an even better way to fly. Otherwise, I’m hoping for a way for her to change/evolve bugs artificially thru her power.

          • She can do it already, through selective breeding. If she had two or three years, she would have been able to develop something truly nasty.

            After all, it takes around 50 generation to transform a wolf into Chihuahua. Drosophila fly generation is from seven to fourteen days. Do the math.

            And Taylor can be FAR more effective with selective breeding due to her power providing her info on bugs she control than any other human alive.

            Not zerg level evolution, but more than what could be considered natural, I would say.

  30. where/which were the Endbringer attacks prior to brockton/levi?

    i’m assuming there were several between kyushu, newfoundland and… (which city did the traveler’s get dumped into?) etc etc

    • Well, should be able to. They stick stuff into people’s eyes and mess around with them all the time with some corrective surgeries. Plus, the maggots might wiggle around and cause some minor damage, but they only eat dead tissue. Not going to be very pleasant for him at all though.

        • Some googling tells me that they can fill the eyeball with silicone or gas to hold it together after taking stuff out. So yeah, on second thought I guess they could fix it, as long as the insects didn’t damage any structures. Hooray.

          • My understanding is that they basically nipped the eye, then maggots forced their way through the hole (i’m going to assume it was made in the sclera for intent on doing as little damage as possible that is potentially long-lasting) into the vitreous humours and, possibly, devouring them or simply displacing them, filling the cavity of the eye with maggots- Not the eye sockets, removing the eyes, but -burrowing into the eyes themselves-. Imagine the feeling that you commonly hear that meth heads experience, with ants/bugs under the skin and they have to scratch it because god it feels so itchy- but INSIDE YOUR EYEBALLS.

          • Oh, it’s worse than that, Rika. Because maggots make *noise,* and your eyes are close enough to your cochleas that you can hear that noise being directly conducted through your very brain.

            And that noise?

            It sounds like *chewing.*

          • Just…damn. So he gets to hear them when he sleeps for a while. Unless those heroes in particular don’t bother to get rid of them. Sweet dreams.

          • I never addressed this before, but I should have: maggots don’t chew. All the information I’ve gathered on maggots and addressed in other posts regarding how they consume dead flesh illustrates this, but apparently no one in this thread of thought bothered to read them :P They have hook-like mouth parts that they use basically to siphon up the necrotic fluid that their enzymes have dissolved dead flesh to. http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01689/bluebottle-maggot_1689991i.jpg is a highly zoomed in view of the mouth/head section, showing the hook/straws.

            TL;DR, maggots don’t chew.

            Now, what the sound of them releasing their enzymes would be, or the soft bodies of all the maggots in the remaining vitreous humour that hasn’t been forced out of the cavity inside the eye, slithering and squishing about, not to mention the feeling of movement that you can’t quite feel due to lack of nerves…. That I couldn’t say ;)

            There’s also the fact that he’s not truly completely blind; Small slivers of light will still reflect off the maggots (which are white, and thus would reflect light) and hit the retina, so he’d actually be seeing in macro the maggots writhing, wriggling, and squirming about inside his own eyeballs. He won’t be able to see anything outside of that, but still….

          • You’re right, Rika, they don’t chew. But their little mouth-hooks scritching together *sounds like* chewing. There are many accounts of people infested with botfly larvae (a type of maggot) near their ears complaining about the sound of it chewing their flesh, which, as you say, does not happen, but I’ve heard recordings (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17439200 ‘ware, phobics), and the sound of them clicking their little mouth-hooks together does indeed resemble that of mastication.

  31. I like this contribution better than the last. How long will it take before Aisha can eat her ice cream? ;) would be interesting to do an interlude with the others discussing Skitter & deciding if they should make the latest prt nazi disapear.

    • Any bets on Aisha ‘accidentally’ spilling her ice cream on Alec and having to eat it off his chest before it melts?~

      • You know they are very close but I don’t know if they consider each other romantic partners yet. They both grew up in fucked up circumstances, and they don’t feel like they can contribute like the trio can. So they probably think of each other as best friends who understand each other in a way no one ever has before, but no romance yet. Unless Grue says no to any relationship, which will almost definitely cause Aisha to kiss him every chance she gets.

  32. I find Skitter’s harsher, darker slant very interesting. It’s a very pragmatic view to be taking, but it also seems a little out of the norm for her, which I suppose is the point.

    Separately, I’d like to ask; Can we get a date on Haywire’s portal? We know the deviation between Aleph and Bet occurred when Scion appeared on May 20th 1982 [Danny's Interlude], and that the “Breakdown of Haywire’s research says we can’t get to alt. Earths that are too close to our own.” [19.y] PsychoGecko were having a discussion earlier about the likelihood of Aleph’s heroes being Cauldron made, and our first view of Doormaker is May 1st, 1988 [Alexandria's Interlude]. It’s likely they had him for some time before that, but could he have created a portal to Aleph at some point for their experiments? In fact, we have no idea when the first parahuman existed in Aleph. August 20th, 1986 is when we first see the Doctor [Alexandria's Interlude], and she’d been experimenting for a while. “Starting just five years after Scion’s first appearance, the superheroes emerged.”

    Actually, I just realised that there’s a conflict in information there. Alexandria (Rebecca Costa Brown) knew that there were superheroes (“Twenty or something?” “No less than fifty, now”)[Alexandria's Interlude]. However, that’s only four years after Scion’s first appearance. Perhaps four and a half years, but

    Regardless, I’d still like to know about Haywire’s portal, if possible. I’m really curious to see more details about Aleph, in general.

    • Misclicked and hit “post comment” before I actually finished. Sigh.

      “Actually, I just realised that there’s a conflict in information there. Alexandria (Rebecca Costa Brown) knew that there were superheroes (“Twenty or something?” “No less than fifty, now”)[Alexandria's Interlude]. However, that’s only four years after Scion’s first appearance. Perhaps four and a half years, but”
      still, their first appearance had to have been somewhat before that, given how a her [Alexandria's] information was already quite outdated.

  33. “I had a growing suspicion that Regent was interested in being in charge for more for the sake of being in charge than anything else.”

    I think this is an error: for more for doesn’t seem right, and if it is right/allowed, it is a bit awkward. Awkward enough to jar me out of reading long enough to write this, at least.

  34. “We’re honest villains, Skitter,” Regent said, taking a stern tone. “We earn our victories the right way, not through deceit and dishonesty.”

    Lines like these put a smile on my face. reminds me of the public service announcements out of the old G.I joe or Transformers cartoons.

  35. uhmm, i think someone mentioned a forum rpg based on worm a little while back. I’d like to have a look at that. does anyone have a link?

  36. Dude….Taylor….My god, she’s terrifying. ._. when I read how she blinded him I shivered some. Great chapter but my god…..you’ve shown how fucking scary Taylor can be and how versatile she can be. ._.

    So with the Fallen partly taken out Taylor is growing into a fully fledged overlord. BTW I love Regent and Imps Snark to Snark Combat. I read his ‘dishonest villains’ line in Jack Sparrows voice.. x3 Can’t wait till Saturday!

    • this is just the tip of the iceberg as to how versatile she can be. She’s using very basic tactics right now, comparatively. See, if she wanted to be a true villain, careless of deaths, all she would need to do is milk her bullet ants for concentrated doses of their venom and dip her biting insects’ mandibles in the venom, and the stinging insects’ stingers into the venom- and then bugs to be thrown into mouths or crushed against mucal membranes, like inside the nose or eyes or inside the ears, their entire bodies coated or carrying a ‘bug bomb’ of the venom as further concentrated payloads…

      And that’s just one direction she could go. Imagine if the venom above was instead of just bullet ant venom but all the venoms of all the venomous bugs she has access to, mixed into a super-venom that instead of just attacking certain parts of your body instead attacks every single tissue in your body at once, shutting down your nervous system, your heart, your musculature, your brain, all while causing incredible pain until you black out.

      She could even use high pressure syringes, light and small enough to be carried by bugs especially in groups, to deliver a very large dosage directly to the bloodstream in a sudden, single impact instead of relying on multiple attacks that could be stopped- Armsmaster has shown that. A single pressurized syringe could potentially get him where a swarm of bugs might not.

      I could keep going with ideas that come to mind, but I shan’t.

  37. I got a little confused in the description of Rosary’s mask because at one point it covers her eyes and at another it doesn’t:

    “Her mask was hard, covering her eyes, cheekbones and nose, ending in a sharp point, an etched metal plate, worked into her hood. It didn’t cover her lower face and it didn’t cover her eyes.”

    I picture it as a mask that goes up into her hood easily enough, leaving her mouth and chin visible, but the paragraph itself got muddy about the eyes.

  38. Hey, you guys notice the “Medusa” comment the heroes casually dropped? Perseus decapitated Medusa, didn’t he? As original national heroes go (Perseus was the first Greek hero) he wasn’t very heroic. I mean, he slew a woman merely because that woman got raped by a god and then cursed by the goddess who was supposed to protect her. (Athena was kind of a bitch – more so than Hera in the old stories – and also happened to be Perseus’ guide.)

    • None of the greek heroes would be considered such in our times.
      Take Hercules, for instance, that in a fit of madness killed his own sons. I believe that Perseus killed his grandfather, although in an accident.
      But, correct me if I am wrong, the Gorgons were punished because they compared their beauty to that of a goddess, isn`t it?

      • Actually, the beautiful Medusa was punished because Poseidon raped her in Athena’s temple. Athena didn’t like the sex going on, regardless of consent, so she turned Medusa and her sisters into monsters. The sisters weren’t involved in the raping, Athena was just being a complete dick. Stheno and Euryale were immortal, but Medusa wasn’t.

        Yeah, hero is a somewhat loose term for the Greeks. Like Odysseus. Seems like a good guy, tries hard to get back to his wife…gets everybody with him killed a few times over (he goes through a couple of crews) and tends to bring curses on himself with his pride. Also, in the process of making his way back home, bangs a few other women. First question he asks his wife when he gets back? Wants to know if she remained faithful.

        Achilles had his rage that he was well known for. He also was willing to sit around and not fight during a war if he didn’t get his preferred slave girl. Oh yeah, the slave girls, that’s another Values Dissonance right there. And after killing Hector, he made sure to drag him around Troy a bunch of times just for good measure.

        • He didn’t drag him around Troy. He hung Hector’s corpse behind his charriot by the ankles and then dragged it around Troy so that the corpse was horribly mutilated before the eyes of king Priamos (Hector’s father) just because he could. Which is a pretty major insult to the god of the dead Hades and against both decency and common sense.

          So yeah, our heroes? Really not so heroic. (I’m Greek BTW)

          • Dragged him around Troy, dragged him around Troy with a chariot. Close enough. The Greeks were said to have a lot of trouble getting home from that war due to all the gods they pissed off.

  39. So here’s a question: How afraid of her own power is Aisha?

    Taylor straight up admits that Imp and Regent are the two scariest members of the Undersiders. This coming from the girl who bisected Echidna and bested the Nine.

    What that makes me think of is whether Aisha allowing Alec to take control of her was just for fun and games or whether there wasn’t an element of “Superman gives a lump of Kyptonite to Batman, just in case”.

    Granted Regent’s power isn’t a perfect counter to Imp’s, but if it was I don’t think Aisha would be able to trust Alec the way she does. It might be a stretch to think that, on some level, she’s trusting him to help keep her in line, but people have definitely done weirder things.

    In a similar way, I think Alec is looking to Taylor for the same kind of help. Calling her “Mom” is a good way to needle her, but it also speaks to thing that he’s most missing. Not maternal care necessarily, but someone to help him set boundaries and someone who’ll care if he crosses them.

    From what we’ve seen Alec doesn’t want to be a monster. He doesn’t have the energy or see the point in being a saint either, but he’s not Jack Slash, or Bonesaw, or even Cherish.

    • I think Taylor meant that on their own they are more powerful than her. Seems skitter’s biggest moments were working with other capes, using her ingenuity and powers to greatly enhance what other capes can do, see: making Atlas, bisecting Echinda, sniping Oni Lee, hell, even the students in Arcadia.

      • I think Taylor was speaking more about perception than raw power there.

        To the average person bugs don’t seem that scary. Imp and Regent on the other hand might as well be the antagonists of (respectively) every slasher flick ever made or the Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

        Taylor can inspire fear by using her powers in creative and brutal ways. Imp and Regent don’t even need to do that to be terrifying.

  40. I was wondering when Skitter would get around to actively being concerned about Regent; she’s shown doubts before but now that her only life is the Undersiders, she really has no choice but to take charge. No safety net for her if it all falls apart; even if Skitter fails, Taylor no longer has the option of fading into obscurity. Great chapter as always.

  41. Like I said in my original comment, there’s a lot to digest in this one, including at least one bit that showed a pretty scary change in Taylor’s way of thinking:

    “The idea bothered me more than I wanted to admit, and it bothered me in a way I couldn’t put my finger on. Did I not want him to become that? I did. I wanted him to be powerful, and that was what he’d naturally become, given his personality and powers. I wanted him to customize his lair like he was, because he’d inevitably have people he was controlling in there, and it would be worth a thousand times the amount it cost if it helped him convey a certain image.”

    Accepting that Regent can and should have long term control over an irredeemable monster like Shatterbird is one thing, but accepting that as true for a wider swath of opponents is not a good path to go down. This is Skitter-the-Warlord thinking here. This is Taylor walking away from the moral core she’s clung to because she’s been burned too deeply.

    That’s not the scary bit though. The scary bit is that she’s internalizing it. She telling herself “this is correct and right, it’s what we need” rather than “this sucks but it’s honestly the best I can manage” or even “this is wrong, but everything else is worse”.

    I wouldn’t say she’s quite gone off the deep end yet though, she can still feel something’s wrong with what she’s thinking and is still trying to find the balance between being nasty enough to prevent unnecessary issues form arising and being so nasty that she won’t be able to live with herself.

    The question will be “is there any space between those two lines that she can actually live in”.

  42. What a terrifying thought; Taylor and Brian would be the strictest high-pressure parents imaginable. At least Aisha would make the best ‘Cool Auntie’ ever.

    • Even worse, the kids powers! Bugs and Darkness. Nightmare fuel alone those two combined can make some terrifying new powers. Like a pool of shadows that leak out otherworldly bugs under the kids control, or making bugs that allow them to ‘borrow’ powers over time with almost no detection. Or even generating shadowy bugs much the same way Crusader does with his clones.

      • …Bugs that they create from internal hives that latch onto their victims and drain theri power away slowly, siphoning it to their hive-body. If attached to a non-cape, they drain their vitality and use them like a human battery.

  43. I have to admit, I really like Regent.

    Yeah, he’s a sociopath. But he’s smart enough to know what he is, and he doesn’t like it. That makes him a hell of a lot more compelling of a character, with a lot more potential for him to grow, and evolve.

    Because, see, what really makes him work? At the core of it, he’s LONELY. He wants friends, wants something like a family even if he doesn’t know it. What he had before? His actual family? It was a sick joke, and when it got too much to handle, he walked the hell away. He figured “There has to be something better out there,” and sure enough, there was. The Undersiders are filling that need, which is why he’s going to stay loyal to them no matter what.

    Sure, the palace, the whole “bigger and better than dad” thing is a motivation too, but it’s just a goal to strive for. It’s just a way of getting revenge the lazy way… Building up to the point where you’re more awesome than the guy you hate, and ignoring him because he’s no longer relevant. It’s the CONSCIOUS motivation. But unconsciously? He wants the Undersiders to keep on accepting him, helping him, and hanging out with him.

    Which is why he went after Shadow Stalker/Sophia the way he did. She was messing with his adopted family. THAT couldn’t stand. So he’d be the amoral bastard that he knew he was, and fix the situation in a way Taylor never would.

    Taylor’s the little sister who’s kind of transitioned into the team Mom. Tattletale’s the big sister who’s a bit of a know-it-all. Brian was an older brother, an awesome bud to relax with who generally had his head in the right place. That’s being refigured now, but I think it’ll come through intact once Brian recovers a bit. Rachel? Eh, she was the weirdo cousin. Hard to hang with, but she was obviously messed up, and made his own messed-upness seem less by comparison. Imp… Heh. Imp changed the dynamic.

    Imp wants attention. Ironic, given her power, but not so much when you think of it and the circumstances that caused it. Better to say that she wants attention on HER TERMS. And she’s relaxed, and doesn’t care much for authority, which is both a factor in common and a change from the rest of the team. Imp’s an EQUAL. Imp wants attention, and Regent is lonely, so it’s only natural the two would hang out. Hell, I’d lay even odds that the two have probably been canoodling a bit, though I don’t care to speculate how far it’s gone. Whatever the case, they’re the most equal on the team, they’ve got so much in common with each other, that odds are good they’re going to end up as mates if they aren’t already.

    And too, Imp TRUSTS him. She wouldn’t have given him control if she didn’t, and if he’s as smart as I think he is, he recognizes that it’s a precious, precious thing she just handed him, and he will NEVER abuse it. She told him “you’re the boss and I’m okay with it,” and she backed up her words with actions. Hell, he’d probably die for her, if he’s broken the way I’m expecting him to be.

    Also, she didn’t supplant the Undersiders. They’re still his friends, even if things are a little more tense with Brian (and to a tiny degree, Taylor.) They’re still damn near a family, and so long as he doesn’t have to choose between these things, life is good. If he DOES have to choose? Well, to quote my favorite thug from Firefly… “Well, that’ll be an interestin’ day…”

    Some might complain that we don’t see Regent and Imp enough in the story, but that’s fine by me. If their appearances continue to be of the quality that I’ve seen to date, then I’ll be more than happy if they only show up every now and then.

    But hey, if and when Wildbow gets around to doing more with them, fine with me! This story’s a hell of a ride, and I stay up late every night an update’s due, just to get to read it as soon as I can. I’m greedy that way. :D

    • I agree with you accept for the canoodling…I just don’t see it.

      I mean both Imp and Regent have had experiences in the area of relationships that would be an extreme negative. Now it’s unknown whether or not Imp was molested by that boyfriend of her mother’s, or beaten and so on. But in either case her direct experience of relationships has been massively negative, if molestation occurred then she’s also really unlikely to want sex.

      As to Regent, rapist or not I find it hard to reasonably assign blame to a child in that environment. Especially given that he left it and renounced all that. Which itself is key to looking at his own viewpoint. Just as with Imp he has had purely negative experiences of relationships all around him, unlike Imp we know for a fact that his experience with sex has been present and horrific for all involved (everyone stop and count for a bit, see how old Regent was when all that started? Yeah, that’s all kinds of nasty) with him no longer showing much interest. Of course either as a sociopath or someone emotionally razed, he’s likely to have a disinterest in sex no matter how things go.

      The point is that both these people are unlikely to be looking for love, what they are looking for is a partner. Regent wants company and companionship. Imp wants attention and respect as an equal. Both are naturally challenging and need someone close to them to be able to deal with that, see the snark war.

      More intriguingly, Regent is a broken sociopath with a likely absence of self-respect currently walking a path of his own morals, Imp meanwhile is not idealistic on the surface, but seems to be rather soft underneath that rough uncaring exterior (not unlike Bitch if in a different style) of hers.

      Both of them have good in them, Regent as a product of thought, of knowing that he doesn’t want to act like that or perhaps more that he shouldn’t act like that. Imp seems more an emotionally decent person, less thought more buried empathy. As such both are positioned to draw out the good in the other by virtue of their presence. Imp gives Regent a grounding for his darker side, Regent might actually be able to keep Imp on a vaguely established line.

      Tangents aside, while romance might develop as they grow and patch themselves up, right now I’d say they’re probably both thinking nothing of the sort. Imp’s experience of men and Regent’s of women would both contrast sharply with how they see the other. As things stand they’re more Heterosexual Life Partners/Those Two Guys. (yay Tropes, if anyone agrees I’ll add the one in question to the Worm Page)

      I can certainly see comparisons to Rude and Reno in Advent Children.

      • I don’t think we have enough info to justify Platonic Life Partners – we would have to actually know that they’re not interested in a physical relationship, not just that have strong reasons to believe – but I think there’s a solid argument for Those Two Guys status for the pair.

  44. So stupid and needless speculation time. I was arguing with a friend of mine who is just starting to read worm and we got into a debate about Cauldron. He argued that based on how outnumbered the heroes are, without Cauldron the world would be a even more crapsack setting. I argued that if Cauldron really cared about the world, they would be giving out their formulas dirt cheap to regular people to create a army of heroes. Well, we got to talking and wondered what would happen if Cauldron tried to recruit skitter and sent he a formula or one of those power enhancers Eidolon was taking. Well we then got into our favorite pastime of the What if? game. So what if a person who had a regular trigger event took a cauldron formula. Most likely death, body horror, or a new Echidna but what if it actually worked with no side effects? The PRT would regain alot of firepower by giving certain powers that synergize well with what they currently have, and we could justify it by saying that certain powers don’t work with certain individuals to keep anyone from becoming to game breaking. For example Scapegoat taking a formula derived from Aegis would work very well for him. So the next question was what power would benefit Skitter the most. He thought bonesaw. Unlike her, she could use such a power to heal people, cure diseases, counter any large scale attack bonesaw uses, enhance her minions/the undersiders, and the mechanical spiders would fit her insect theme. I was torn between Armsmaster and Panacea’s power. With Armsmaster she could have alot of combat options without being gamebreaking and the team could use a tinker. She would put Amy’s power to good use making giant bugs, healing people, and maybe going to go heal the patients at the asylum for some good press. So for anyone who wants to play the what if game. What if Taylor could gain one more power from any cape in the wormverse that Cauldron could get a sample of? What extra power would you have liked her to gain?

    • Panacea – change enemy brains to mimic the systems of bugs (i’m certain this is possible…) = army of very obedient people, acting by her will and mostly controlled subconciously. Game breaker, yes. Deliciously evil, oh-ho-ho yes

    • The challenge there is to pick a power that would have interesting effects (and generally positive ones, since I like Taylor too much to dump more crap on her) without it becoming a “Game Over” scenario.

      Hand Taylor a tinker power? Game Over. Hell even something “lame” like Uber or Leet’s powers would be insane in her hands. Amy, Bonesaw or even Defiant is Hello “human hive”, “indestructible minions”, or “bugs with frickin’ laser beams on their heads”.

      Ok….that last one might be kinda cool.

      I’d also be leery of giving her a regeneration ability. The only purpose for self-healing powers is to allow the writer to beat you up worse, and frankly Wildbow’s plenty good at kicking the crap out of her as it is.

      So what to give her? Lots of good options still open. How about Shadow Stalker’s power for example? A bit of personal defense there, some synergy with her bug abilities but not too much and it would certainly help with the Reign of Terror angle she’s working on at the moment.

      Alternatively, if we want to go completely nuts and ending the story doesn’t matter then the answer’s obvious: Scion’s power.

      • My roommate and I had a conversation awhile back about the fic idea of Panacea and Skitter being friends. We ended up deciding that Skitter+Panacea = game over. Because of one simple thing already used in the main story. If Skitter can make more relay bugs than she stops having an upper limit on her range. The inevitable end result (assuming She doesn’t get killed.) Is of a Skitter calmly sitting in her liar drinking tea while she has her bugs explosively breeding over the entirety of Brockten Bay with her able to notice, monitor, and deal with every single thing in the city. And that’s just with expanded range once you factor in the other giant bugs, poisons, different types of venom, and other nasty tricks.

        Btw, been here awhile but this is the first time I’ve posted. As for that little thread back on Saturday, Packbat is correct, I came here through Tvtropes. Thus the circle is complete and the Swarm grows! (insert evil laughter here.)

      • Yeah, you have to be careful about regeneration as a storytelling technique. After all, a character being at risk of death is a very well known motivator. It could be used to help build on other motivations, though, such as emphasizing a person’s relationships and impact on the world.

        It also could be justified in a character afraid of death whose ability to regenerate relies on a certain place or some sort of device that can be used up. If the character lacks invulnerability but still puts themselves in extremely dangerous scenarios, it can be easier to have them get injured badly but in a way that they can recover from than to magically avoid all major wounds.

        Obviously, comic books don’t use it to its fullest potential.

        • Just make it so it takes a long time to regenerate. Its still an amazing and very useful ability, but its no longer so gamebreaking. So it takes weeks to heal damage instead of days.

              • @ShawnMorgan: I’ve tried it more than once before, and I may try it again – I know it took a lot of attempts for me to get into Schlock Mercenary, for example.

                (I might try starting in on Sidekick Girl at a later point, if there is one that someone can recommend.)

      • Something that would synergize with the powers Skitter already has, make her even more badass, but not break the story entirely by making her invincible? What about an addition like Bitch’s power to make her bugs bigger and more durable, and make them grow to Atlas-size? Or something like Ursa Aurora’s power that lets her summon ghostly swarms of bugs instead of having to rely on whatever’s in her immediate environment?

        • But she’s already a master, and her power is great for long distance fighting already. Though I have to admit that I would greatly enjoy her recreating all the bad b monster movies with giant insects. Them, 8 legged freaks, tremors, etc. She needs something to deal with capes that are immune to her bugs and she can use for close range combat.

      • Shifter powers.

        I’ve said it before a couple times but my idea remains to make her become able to transform into bugs (along with her immediate possessions, for neatness’ sake) and to transform the bugs derived directly from her (so not game breaking as creating external swarms of bizarro bugs requires a fair amount of living matter from her and someone can only lose so much blood in a week) in ways that imply breaker powers.

        So bugs that conduct and create electricity, hyper tough bugs, bugs capable of massive acceleration etc etc. Limits would be, she can only apply one major power to a bug, plus secondary powers to make it work (so explosive bugs equal slow regeneration after they blow, speed bugs reduce friction or some such) or alternatively two or three much smaller powers.

        She cannot create a lot of different powers effectively. Even her mind cannot deal with it if she has more than a few (as in three/four at absolute maximum) bug types at a time. While her mass creates a lot of bugs

        Further individually they’re still not going to do much, one bullet bug is not even gonna knock someone out, takes a dozen or so lightning bugs to start having more then a static effect.

        Best of all, it’s still her body. She can sense and process those senses just fine, including pain. Assimilating new bugs to rebuild herself is extremely slow (days/weeks to get back a hand’s worth), very painful and her life depends on never lowing too many to sustain her mind. If she loses bugs then transforms back all the way the injury sticks, so if she lost a hand as above then her arm at least would have to remain bugs until she was mended.

        Taylor style extrapolations. Lightning bugs and so on are flashy but more biological alterations would probably remain more effective in her hands. Since she can maintain a lot of different less extreme variants if she’s not transformed then cue keeping a large amount of her insides constantly altered. Combined with her canon capacity for seemingly programming actions into her bugs we get inhuman strength and toughness (though not superhuman levels) and the best kind of regeneration powers.

        The blunt and unpleasant kind. She gets cut, cue the wound sprouting maggots that kill nearby infection, needle spiders that sow it up, leeches that deal with the pain. Other bugs shore up her body, letting her have the (fight past limits then sleep for a long time) kind of toughness.

        Of course this also means she would become able to fly, which is the kind of simple fun she really deserves.

        • Kind of gross but very powerful. But giving breaker effects to bugs might be a bit overpowered depending on what bug you give it to. Gives new meaning to bullet ants.

          • I figure the balance would be in making it remain too weak on the individual level to really do more than increase her options. Beyond an all-out full swarm assault she wouldn’t be doing a huge amount more damage and that assault uses her actual physical body thus putting her heavily at risk.

            Since they can only have one major power, if they’re attacking well they cannot also have any significant defence. So she could eat through metal, but a good shock while she did so would cause massive damage. She could form a barrage of recycling bullet insects that act like Tyranid ammo but every shot would have a chance of destroying a part of her body. Not to mention the mental trauma of all this, even without the parts where she’d be functionally biting the opponent with her own teeth and tongue (sensory wise) the swarm part would be mind-bending.

            Also the idea was for making them breaker to override whatever they were before. So rather then a glowing/burning version of a real insect you get a brand new structure.

            I can see Taylor using the flashier parts of such a power chiefly as smokescreen. The less impressive parts like being able to negate large amounts of physical trauma damage by shifting or escape through very small spaces, that’s what I figure she’d use most.

            Though the downside is being really fragile in such a form. Unless it was tuned specifically to not die from Defiant’s bugzapper or some such.

  45. awesome, i’ve been looking forward to some regent story, he’s been very sidelines-y since just after they caught them a shatterbird

  46. Funny story! As a schoolchild, I had a little complex about eyes. They’re so precious to everyday operation, so vulnerable to harm. So, hearing the word “eyes” several times in quick succession, or enduring a lesson on how eyes worked? My eyes would start to water defensively –not streams of tears, but certainly as though I was intensely allergic to the mere subject.

    My darling schoolmates saw this weakness and endeavored to help me past it via the predictable method of chanting “Eyes, eyes, eyes, eyes!” until my behavior was sufficiently entertaining. Their loving attention was enough to move me past my little issue to the point where I looked at Taylor carving Lung’s eyes out and merely thought, “Hey, he regenerates. Sound strategy, fair ball.” I pretty much felt I was past that problem, safe to say.

    …Guess not. :D

    • Worm, helping us learn more about ourselves one -2d6 San roll at a time.

      (Now I’m thinking of a Worm/Lovecraft crossover – I’d almost feel bad for the poor Terrors from Beyond Time and Space though, they come to Brockton Bay they ain’t going to be making it back out in one piece.)

      • Well she should be able to control any octopus no matter what their size. So I picture the worshipers bringing in a terror from the deep who is immediately controlled by Skitter and makes it kneel before her. Then it’s a terror from the deep vs. endbringer cage match time.

      • A fair number of the denizens of the Outer Realms are very simple mentally… Would be cake to control them, especially since so many are insectoid already. :P

  47. ““We could trust the PRT to look after him,” Regent said, somber. “They’re professionals, they know how to deal with dangerous villains.”

    He didn’t manage to hold it in for long. He chuckled in near-silence, his shoulders shaking.”

    I think it amazing that he could finish the sentence without breaking in
    uncontrollable laughter, I had to laugh in the middle of it.

  48. Fridge Logic:

    If Valefor’s power could end a fight like that, why didn’t Eidolon simply replicate it or its equivalent and use it against Echidna? He can get up to 3 major powers simultaneously, right?
    Come to think of it, why didn’t he replicate Tattletale’s Power + Accord’s Power so as to perfectly read the Echidna problem and automatically find the solution to it? He could even drop in some superspeed so not only he got the Thinker results of two pretty major thinkers combined but he also got them at, say, 1/10 of the time.
    Alternatively, copying Legend’s power (even at reduced strength) plus a duplication power so there were a small army of him plus an extreme luck or supernatural aim power so his attacks always hit. That should have allowed him to hit her from a couple miles out with 5-6 times the firepower of Legend; instant BBQ.

    Fights are all about force multipliers and he didn’t use any.

    • I suspect his power pool isn’t “any power any other cape has”, but “any power from this gigantic list of powers that Cauldron was able to give him”.

    • He has a lower than average intelligence. All that power but he can’t use it as effectively as say Taylor could. Plus he is so powerful that he has lost the ability to think strategically because he can just choose the perfect power for a situation.

    • From what I gathered, his power gives him the abilities he needs to take down whatever is opposing him. Not abilities that can let him win a strategic victory.

    • TheAnt and Reveen made excellent points.

      I would add that Eidolin sees himself as far above all others except Scion. As such he’s definitely not thinking in the way required to start considering force multipliers. He’s too egocentric.

  49. You know, the fact that Valefor was able to use his power on Skitter means that the last thing he ever saw was most likely Skitter’s mask.
    (Actually, that raises an interesing question about how his power worked. If he can only see the costume and not the person underneath, does that still count as seeing a target for his power? How much armor do you have to wear to nullify the effect?)

    I have to say that I love Skitter’s pragmatism. She doesn’t avoid solutions simply because they are gross or could be seen as cruel. I’m a lot less squeamish than most people and It’s nice to have a protagonist that actually uses the kind of solutions that I often find myself suggesting to the screen.

  50. I’m still a little confused as to exactly how valefor was able to see skitter enough to get his power going, since skitter has the full body costume, and she’s usually covered in bugs.

    • She stepped out of the swarm. He doesn’t need to see bare skin, he just needs to see -you-. It’s not like some sort of hypodermic mind needle. XD

      • It just seems like a risk she wouldn’t take as there are many easy ways around it, like dropping the maggots on his eyes from behind him.

        • I think Skitter’s operating assumption was that she had really good odds of IDing Valefor before he got into visual range. Which she did, he just did a better job of hiding himself than she expected, by playing on her assumptions and going with a guise (girl with mother) that she wasn’t really expecting. It was risky, but the alternative (do nothing) wasn’t acceptable to Skitter, and she felt she could manage the risk.

  51. Wow, what a ride. I got introduced to this by a poorly worded thread on stardestroyer.net. That was over a week ago, since then I’ve spent days going through the back archive of this story. And well, holy crap is this a good read.

    Though the last two arcs are giving me an increasing The Godfather vibe regarding Skitter.

    • I saw that thread. I felt so bad for Razorsmile – he started up one or two other topics (facts I’m immensely grateful for) with the same kind of language, and people took it in stride.

      Welcome, Chris. Glad you’ve enjoyed.

    • Welcome to our neck of the woods, Chris, the comments section. It is indeed one hell of a ride on a big beetle. Like shoving 200 cheeseburgers down Paul McCartney’s gullet and using him like a snowboard down a snowy mountain that’s erupting.

      I’m Psycho Gecko, your guide through the comments section, our little home of comedy, analysis, morality, debates on the nature of heroism, and slashfic gossip columns. Want to write a fic where Lung and Marquis have sex? Careful, they’re both in prison so you might be stepping on canon. And the thing about this canon is it has balls.

      I know what you’re thinking. Some balls are held for charity, and some for fancy dress. Balls that are held for pleasure are the balls that I like best. I can assure you that Worm has some of the biggest balls of them all.

      With that, have a fond Worm experience.

  52. Havent checked all the comments yet, but this: `He was walking briskly to keep up with Imp, Atlas and me.`
    Should be `Imp, Atlas, and I`

    • Nope.

      Remove Imp & Atlas, and the sentence becomes, “He was walking briskly to keep up with me.”

      With your revision, it would be, “He was walking briskly to keep up with I.” which doesn’t work.

        • It’s one of those misleading little things that gets hammered into your skull over the years, which really should be addressed in schools. How many times have you heard the pedantic character on TV saying, “My mother and I.” ?

          Another one is the whole, ‘I before E, except after C.”

          When it would be more correct to say something like, “I before E, except after C, albeit there are weird exceptions like weigh and neigh.”

          And even more correct to say ‘E before I’, because there’s more words that are E-I than I-E.

          • There’s actually a funny bit in “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” where one of the eponymous redneck protagonists reflexively corrects “who” to “whom” when talking to this college student – despite “who” being grammatically correct.

            (The trick I learned for that one is “use ‘who’ when the answer would use ‘he’ and ‘whom’ when ‘him’.”)

          • It’s a phenomenon called hypercorrection. That term is usually used when someone uses a linguistic construction that’s non-standard because they think of it as more “correct” or standard, usually in a context where they’re very aware of the “correctness” of their language. It also applies to instances where you’re literally “correcting” someone who is already correct. It’s a very, very common phenomenon.

          • When that rhyme was used in my school, it had a second half. I don’t remember it exactly, but it was something like “I before E, except after C, or when they sound like A, as in neighbor or weigh”.

          • Albeit, there are weird exceptions, as conceited, caffeinated deceivers have inveigled in their leisure hours.

            Someone cleverer than me could make a better line than that, but I’d rather keep working on tonight’s chapter.

            • @Wildbow.. was use of the word ‘albeit’ deliberate here?

              Also, UK schools have now dropped the I before E thing. The concierge didn’t help matters much either. Then I Suddenly notice the spelling of ‘either’.

  53. Lord, this chapter didn’t help my Regent/Imp ship. :P

    Seriously, that trust was a great thing to pick up on. I always figured that they were closer to each other than to the other Undersiders, my guess due to their cockiness and isolationism, but I didn’t expect Imp to have let him have control! That’s some prescience, right there. I can guess what the content of Skitter’s talk with Grue will be, though…

  54. oh i thought there was a bonus chapter coming out tonight, I must have messed up the schedule in my head

  55. The remark about not being able to get ice cream as Taylor anymore struck me as very poignant; she was forced to give up a lot of simple joys with the loss of her civilian life.

  56. >>“Or!” he said, raising a finger, “I could delegate.”
    >>
    >>“That’s a recipe for failure,” I told him.

    No, it’s sensible. Only Tattletale and Skitter are half-decent organizers. The others are as good as the average teenager or worse (Bitch).
    Having incompetents managing a territory is a recipe for untold suffering and an excellent reason to want to Undersiders gone.

    >>Rosary used her power to shred the silk lines. In the face of the biting insects, however, she couldn’t do as much. The petals around her cut into the swarm, but it was minimal damage to a great many attackers.

    So the silk is more fragile than the silk? 0.o

    Could Eligos cut the silk while Skitter and Imp were talking?

    Valefor must be incredibly stupid. That’s the kind of power you can easily set up an unbeatable empire with! But I guess only Skitter has a license to be clever now.

    The PRT could indeed have kept Valefor under control and locked up. It seems breakouts during transport are rare (generally requiring an outside force) and no one has escaped the Birdcage. And Skitter decided to blind him. It’s also not shown (indeed, it’s implied otherwise) that he’s done anything worth blinding for (Skitter has taken hostages herself).

    Image is the justification dictators use for all their horrible actions and ridiculous expenditures. Attacking good and innocent people who are doing good deeds (and you no harm) all for image.
    The Undersiders are past the point where any good citizen would be justified in killing them.

    It’s somewhat unclear how she rationalizes stopping heroes entering “her territory” without her permission. That can prevent quick captures and serves no useful purpose except to reinforce an image of power (which she wants for reasons unknown).

    btw: If the Undersiders are serious about being seen as a sovereign state they are all going to die messily when the real government decides it’s had enough of this shit and invades. They really should have done ages ago.

    • It would be a terrible idea for Regent to delegate. He’s half-assed enough about his leadership as it is. If he hands over running the show to any underling competent enough to do the job well, they’re not going to want to stay underling for very long. The evil vizier thing is just too big a risk.

      Regent’s going to ensure their loyalty with what, his winning personality? Riding them all the time defeats the point, and Regent would soon tire of that anyway.

  57. Oh man. Anybody could see the danger signs as soon as it turned out Aisha wantd to hang out with Regent more, but damn.

    It’s not like there isn’t a fetish for mind control out there, and with Regent it’s like bondage that can come at any time, any place, with no safeword. And Imp is totally the type to find that kinky and exciting, huh. The girl who lashes out at authority and never listens, giving up control entirely. Her having an escape through her power is a nice surprise though.

    Of course in the worst-case scenario all he’d have to do is keep her tied up when he sleeps, forcing her to turn off her power if she wants anyone to remember to bring her food…

  58. I knew it. I totally called that Regent was controlling Imp way back when they were first patrolling together. I feel vindicated, now.

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