Crushed 24.5

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The damage Behemoth was wreaking in New Delhi was, I thought, a microcosm of what was happening all over the world.  Three or four attacks a year, since the Simurgh had appeared.

The fight with Leviathan in Brockton Bay had been a good day.  We’d lost people, we’d lost good capes, but we’d more or less bounced back, made it three-quarters of the way back to where we needed to be, in a matter of months.  There had been ugliness, infighting, a hell of a lot of doubt, but we’d started to make our way back to where we should be.  It had been the lowest number of casualties we’d had in an Endbringer attack in years, not counting a few of the Simurgh attacks.  A good day.

This?  This isn’t a good day. 

Behemoth roared.

This is the other end of the scale.

For nearly twenty years, we’d endured intermittent Endbringer attacks, and the end result was, globally, what was happening here in a matter of hours.  We were divided, scared, fighting among one another, and our defenses were being eroded.  We were being forced into pockets of defense, instead of a united one where we all stood together.  Those pockets, in turn, were at risk of being wiped out with a series of decisive blows.

Yes, we had our good moments.  Doing as much damage to him as we just had, that was a good moment.  But we had bad ones too, and the end result was always the same.

The bastard -the bastards, plural- kept coming.

Phir Sē’s light had cleared smoke and dust from the sky, though it had been almost entirely directed upward, with concentric rings still marking the skyline.  Smoke was free to rise, and Behemoth was in plain sight.  He was moving on three limbs, planting hands on the ruined, half-toppled and flame-scorched buildings to stay more upright.

His body, though, was a mix of high contrasts.  His flesh, what little was visible through the black ichor that dripped from his frame, glowed a silver-white.  The remaining material of his claws, teeth and horns remained black.

Tecton had pulled ahead of the group, and turned abruptly, skidding to a stop.  Cuff’s body was folded over the back of the bike, limp.  The Yàngbǎn had two more bodies with them, as well.  I’d taken my flight pack back from Imp, and was airborne as he raised a gauntlet to get my attention.  I descended to meet him, and we were soon joined by Dispatch, and Exalt, who carried an unconscious Revel.

“Where to?” Tecton asked.  His voice was hoarse.  He was recovering, it seemed.

“If we’re sticking with the regular plan,” Dispatch said, “We should gather with other capes, form another defensive line.  I think we should hold to the plan.  Working together with a less than ideal plan is best, until we can come up with something better.”

I glanced over my shoulder at Behemoth’s barely visible profile.  How far away was safe, if he was emitting that kind of radiation?

Far, far away, I answered my own unspoken question.

“Weaver?” Tecton asked me.

I ventured, “There’s a temple, not far from here.  Tattletale’s there, medical facilities.  Direction he’s moving, he’s headed in that general direction.  We protect them, hold position, see if we can’t figure out a way to keep him away from Phir Sē.  It fits with Dispatch’s idea of sticking to the plan.”

“Why don’t we press the offensive?”  Grace asked.  She still sat astride her bike.

“Believe me, I really want to press the offensive,” I said, “But I don’t want to get close to him while he’s glowing like that.  That would be a pretty good reason unto itself.”

“He won’t be using the radiation forever,” Tecton observed.

“There’s another key reason,” I said.  “Our guys are scared, maybe a little desperate.  It’s not a good mindset for fighting.”

The heroes turned to look at the others, who had apparently taken our stopping as an excuse to tend to other business.  Golem had stopped to raise some hands, more lightning rods between us and the Endbringer, and others were flanking him.  The Yàngbǎn were looking after their injured.

“Desperate,” Exalt said, gazing at the rank and file troops.

I wanted to join the others, to get involved and help, offer what little medical care I could, and the mental and emotional support I knew they needed, but we needed a greater direction, a mission.  I turned my attention back to Exalt.  “Regent was desperate, maybe, and he died.  I’m scared that our side would take risks or put themselves in danger if we ordered them back into the fight.  This is getting uglier by the minute, and we’re prone to doing stupid shit if we’re backed into a corner, or if we feel like we need to end this fast so our friends can get the medical help they need.  Let’s get the medical help, catch our breath.”

“There’re more capes joining the fight now,” Grace said.  I wasn’t sure if that was a rejection of my plan or an agreement.  I followed her gaze to see a torrent of flames making its way in Behemoth’s general direction.  A cape was hurling fireballs with some sort of space-warping effect tied to them, so they swelled dramatically in size with each second they were airborne.

I assumed it would be to Behemoth’s advantage, to have access to that kind of flame, but he wasn’t deflecting them.  The fire exploded through the area around him, and I could see him lose his grip on a building as he reeled from the impact, slumped down to a place below the distant skyline of damaged and half-collapsed buildings.  Orange light lit up the area around him, marking the areas that had been set on fire.

The fireball hurler, barely visible as a speck against a backdrop of black-brown smoke, stopped abruptly.

“Why’d he stop?” I wondered aloud.

“The radiation?”  Grace offered.

“The radiation was there before he went on the offensive,” I said.  “I don’t see Behemoth retaliating, but the cape stopped lobbing fireballs.”

My bugs noted Eidolon’s descent.  I turned around to see him depositing Rachel on the ground.  She shrugged out of his grip without so much as a ‘thanks’.

“He went underground,” Eidolon informed us.

“He ran?  It’s over?”

“No,” Eidolon said.  He didn’t elaborate as he watched Rachel back away and whistle to call her dogs.  The opaque pane of his mask was heavily shrouded beneath the heavy hood he wore, a dim blue-green glow emanating from within.  He was burned, his costume scorched and shredded in places, but the body armor beneath had more or less held.  Shaped to give the illusion that he had more muscle than he did, it seemed.  I could see blood running along the cracks at one panel of armor, where he’d apparently sustained a heavy blow.  He was mortal, after all.  Eidolon could bleed.

Fitting, that he layered disguises behind disguises.  Regent had done the same thing, to a lesser degree, had worn armor behind the deceptively light and delicate shirts he’d worn, had padding beneath his masks to cushion any blows, had hid a taser in his scepter.

I felt a pang of guilt, a swelling lump in my throat.  I’d never really gotten to know Regent, not to the extent that I’d gotten to know the others.  He hadn’t really revealed much about himself, either.  I’d reminisced before about the intimacy of friendships, about the sharing of vulnerabilities, allowing others to be close, exposing oneself to possible harm.  I’d done it with Emma, back in the day, and I’d suffered for it.  I’d allowed myself to form a kind of intimacy with the Undersiders, and it might well have been a reason we’d survived this far.  Regent hadn’t established that kind of intimacy with us.

Except maybe for Imp.

He’d hidden so much.  I’d only glimpsed the seriously disordered personality that lurked beneath the outer image of the lazy, disaffected teenager, had only seen traces of that part of him that just didn’t care that he could enslave a person’s body and leave their mind as little more than a helpless observer.  And beneath that aspect of himself, he’d had something else, something that had driven him to distract Behemoth so Imp might live.

My eyes fell on Eidolon.  Was there a similarity to Regent?  Lies, deception, a false face behind a false face behind a false face?

What was at the core?

Eidolon turned away from his observations of Behemoth, and he briefly met my eyes.

I felt intimidated, despite myself, but I didn’t look away.

“Alexandria,” I said, “How is she-“

And he took off, not even waiting for me to finish.

“-still alive?” I finished.

“I don’t like him,” Rachel commented.

“Nobody does,” Dispatch said.  Rachel seemed to accept that with a measure of satisfaction.

“And why won’t this motherfucker die?” Rachel asked, looking towards Behemoth.

“He’s been fighting us for twenty years and he hasn’t died yet,” I said.

“So?”

“So… he’s tough,” I said.  It was hard to answer a question so… what was the word?  Innocent?  Guileless?

“We’re tough.  Let’s fuck him up.”

“I was arguing for that,” Grace said.

Oh great.  They’re of like mind.

“But,” Tecton cut in, turning his head her way, “Skitter had a good reason as to why we shouldn’t.  We need to recover, recuperate.  Other heroes are picking up the slack, applying some pressure.  Or they were until he burrowed,”

Rachel snorted.  “We do the chain thing again, cut him in half at the middle instead.  Or cut off his head.”

“Honestly?” I spoke up, “I’m not sure he’d die if we cut off his head.  And correct me if I’m wrong, but he could go after the people that carry the chain.  Even if it’s someone like Eidolon, he could overheat and melt the part they’re holding on to.”

“You’re really a buzzkill,” Grace said.

I didn’t deny it.  “There’s one more reason we should go, though.  He’s going to-“

Retaliate.

Behemoth rose from beneath the ground a distance away.  In a heartbeat, things shifted from a near-quiet to chaos.  He was still glowing, and his claws crackled with electricity as he struck quickly, violently, and indiscriminately.

Three capes taken down, struck out of the sky by the bolts of electricity.  Even if they’d survived that much, the kill aura and the radiation would end them.

He turned, facing us, but the Wards were already moving, their wheels squealing on the pavement before they peeled away.

It’s the Endbringer’s pattern.  We hurt them or stall them enough, they change tactics, hit us back.

“Go!” I shouted.

Rachel moved, climbing astride her dog in an instant.  She whistled for her other dogs, directing them to Imp, Parian, Foil and Citrine.

Golem’s hands absorbed some of the lightning that crackled around us.  Not one stream, but a storm, with Behemoth at the eye of it.

And he was standing.  He didn’t necessarily have a full leg, but he had the ability to stand upright, now.

And Rachel, as I saw her making her way to the Undersiders, looked determined.

Was it weird that she seemed more comfortable in the here and now than she had before the fight started?  It wasn’t that she didn’t look scared, I could see the way her entire body was rigid, her hands clenched, white knuckled.  But she had a role here, she fit into a dynamic.

We took off, moving behind cover, running, as Behemoth crashed through a line of buildings.  Heroes from even half a mile away were lobbing attacks, and the stray shots that missed the Endbringer crashed down around us, tearing through buildings, turning stone to liquid, igniting nonflammable materials, one doing little damage but detonating so violently with the impact that my mounted teammates were nearly thrown free.

Behemoth roared, and I could see the Wards and Undersiders suffering.  A dog shook its head in an attempt to shake off the noise, and lost its sense of direction.  It crashed into a bike and sprawled.  Parian, Foil and Grace were dismounted.  Grace landed on her feet and physically ran, reaching for Tecton’s outstretched gauntlet.  He extended a piledriver to give her something to hold onto.

Few bugs had managed to keep up, much less the ones with wires, but I brought a curtain between us and Behemoth.  I was past the point where I wanted to conserve them.  If it was lightning, I could only hope that Golem’s makeshift lightning rods and my wires would protect us.

But it was flame.  It sheared through my swarm, and it splashed down around Parian, Foil and the dog.

The Endbringer had more aim than I’d expected.  He wasn’t blind, despite the fact that his eye socket was empty.  But he wasn’t entirely on target otherwise.  Was he relying on another sense?

The Yàngbǎn intercepted the attack, raising forcefields.  Parian did something with her thread, slapping the dog’s hindquarters, and it bolted.  They were carried off, tied to its side, a flame still burning on Parian’s sleeve and the hem of her dress.

Someone, an Indian cape capable of getting inside Behemoth’s kill aura, closed the distance, and Behemoth was momentarily distracted by orange cords that bound his head, lashing him to the cape.  With that, the others had a chance to escape.

“Regroup!” I called out, as I descended to the midst of the Undersiders and Wards.  “I’ll point the way!”

The sound of the fighting stopped with a crash.  Where was the motherfucker?  I rose higher to check, but saw neither Behemoth nor the cape who’d been binding him.  He’d burrowed.

It was quiet, all of a sudden, if not quite silent.  The defending capes were spreading out, and were hovering in place or holding positions, rather than bombarding the landscape.  The lightning and fire had stopped, and no shockwaves ripped through the city.  The rumbling was intermittent, mild when it wasn’t almost imperceptible.  The ringing in my ears was louder than the ambient noise.

This was his new tactic, burrowing, surfacing.  But where was the retaliation?  Their whole damn pattern centered around repaying us twice over for any abuse we inflicted on them.

The armband crackled, and I jumped, despite myself.  The first message didn’t come through the static, but the second was clearer.  “Be advised, seismic activity suggests the Endbringer is still local.  Regroup and form defensive lines.

I did a little mental math, then pressed the button on my armband.  “Armband, note that Behemoth may have a likely target, roughly eight to fifteen miles north-northwest of India Gate.”

At least, that was my best guess, judging by the flight speeds Defiant had noted for my flight pack and the time it had taken me to travel.

Every armband in earshot repeated my message.

“Keep going!” I called out.  “Keep moving!”

Surely he couldn’t keep up with us while moving underground.  I didn’t want to underestimate his intelligence, but was he even capable of holding a grudge?

What was Behemoth really doing?

The travel was uneventful, uninterrupted and eerily quiet, as we made our way to our next destination.  Three times, we stopped to pick up wounded, fashioning another quick sled for the dogs to accommodate all of them.

We reached the temple and delivered the sled to the temple doors.  The Chicago Wards stopped to park their bikes off to one side.  I waited for the Yàngbǎn to gather, extending my range, before I reached out to Phir Sē.

He’s underground.  He may be coming for you,”  I informed him, speaking through my swarm.

“I assumed,” Phir Sē responded.  “Thank you.”

You need to leave, soon.”

“I have a way out.  I’ll leave when trouble begins.  Could you rid me of the bugs?  When you leave them, they fly about me, and I cannot afford distractions.”

I hesitated, then removed the bugs, shifting them to nearby rooms and corridors.  I left only a pocket of them to communicate with.  “Be safe.

“You as well, Weaver.  Thank you, for the cooperation.”

Have you gained a bit of faith?

“Faith gained in this, perhaps, faith lost in another.”

I know what you mean.

“Good bye.  If we both live, perhaps we talk again, in a less dangerous time.”

Good bye,” I responded.

I drove the remainder of my swarm from his chamber.  It once again became a blind spot, an emptiness in my power’s range.

“You okay?” Tecton asked, as he caught up with me.  He held Cuff in his heavy armored hands, as though she were a small child.

“Saying goodbye to a self-professed madman.  Is she okay?”

“She’s breathing, but I can tell she’s hurting.”

I nodded, glancing over my shoulder as the others caught up.  Bitch brought her dogs.

We entered the front door, and I saw the amassed capes within.  Innumerable teams, looking after their wounded, lacking in direction.  The temple interior had no benches, and bedding had been laid out flat on the ground, capes set down in rows.  Medical teams were scrambling to take care of them, and capes with first aid experience were hurrying to help.  Dispatch already had his costume jacket off, his sleeves rolled up, and his hands dirty, taking care of a cape in power armor.  Parian was sitting on a mattress, tearing at her sleeve to show the burn, with Foil and Citrine beside her.

I couldn’t help but notice that more than half of the capes were covered in white sheets.  That wasn’t counting the innumerable capes left lying dead in the streets, like we’d done with Regent.  Behemoth killed more easily than he wounded.

Clockblocker had fallen.  I looked for him in the crowd of injured.  I didn’t see him.  Then again, I had my suspicions already.  This only helped justify them.

Too many others I needed to track, to watch for.  But I couldn’t use my bugs, and the dust and smoke had desaturated the colors.  Blood, in other places, marred the colors further.

“Miss,” a local man in white said, in an accented voice, “You cannot bring these animals.”

He was talking to Rachel, who glowered in response.

“Leave the dogs outside,” I said.

“I’m not leaving my fucking dogs,” she said, her voice hard.

Damn itMy eyes roved over the crowd, but I couldn’t see Grue or Tattletale.  I didn’t want to use my bugs, not in a sterile environment.  It was left to me to rein her in some.

“You can come and look for Grue and Tattletale with me, or you can stay outside with the dogs.”

She scowled, and for a second, I thought she’d stride out of the doors.  Instead, she pointed, barking out orders, “Out!  Go guard!”

The dogs filed out of the double doors of the temple.  I could see the man relax visibly.

Don’t let Grue be dead.  Don’t let Grue be dead, I thought.  Tattletale was okay, she was okay the last time I saw her.

“My friends, they were stable,” I told the man in white.  I saw Tecton crossing the room to lay Cuff out on one of the thin mattresses, turned my attention back to the man.  “They were here since a little while ago.  Where are they?”

“Stable?  They were better?”

“Mostly better.”

“Up,” he said, pointing at the nearest stairwell.

I used my flight pack without thinking, to give myself extra speed as I headed to the stairs.  Rachel was just behind me, her boots thudding on the floor.

There were more wounded above, recuperating in a long, narrow room with beds on one side.  In a grim twist, like a reminder of how close they’d come to dying, the opposite side of the room had more mattresses on the floor, more bodies.

How many dead, all in all?  Fifteen in this room alone, placed side by side, their shoulders touching.

“Skitter,” Grue said, as I approached. Tattletale stood at his bedside, her phone in hand.  There were no curtains here.  No privacy.  This was all improvised, care facilities hashed together with what the locals had on hand.  He still wore his helmet, but he had his jacket off.  He noted the arrival of the others.  “Imp.  Bitch.”

“It’s Weaver now,” I corrected him.

“You’ll-“

“I know,” I said.  I looked at his arm.  The burned flesh had angry blisters.  “You okay?”

A hand pushed at me, moving me out of the way.  Imp.  She approached her brother’s bedside.

“Hey kid,” he said.  Beside him, I could see Tattletale’s reaction.  She was silent, silenced by the damage to her throat, but she communicated well enough, that she’d drawn the full conclusion from our presence.  Her eyes closed, her head lowered.  There was no smile on her face, as she heaved out a whistling sigh through the plastic tube taped to her throat-wound.

“Regent’s dead,” Imp said.

I could see Grue go still.

As if reminding us of the culprit, there was a distant rumble.  It grew steadily in intensity, then stopped abruptly.  As far as I could tell, with bugs spread out over the area within two thousand feet or so, the Endbringer wasn’t moving any closer to us.

“I should have been there,” Grue said.

“Yeah, well, you weren’t,” Imp retorted.

I put a hand on her shoulder.  She tried to knock it away, and I dug my fingers in as I refused to cooperate.  It must have hurt; my old costume’s fingertips had clawed points.  She didn’t say anything on the subject.

“No, Grue,” I told him.  “You want to feel bad?  That’s allowed, but I forbid you from taking the actual blame for this.”

“You can’t do that,” he said.  His voice was hard.  “I’m team leader, not you.  I’m supposed to pick up the slack, remember?  I’m supposed to manage these guys.  So don’t turn around and decide shit like this, when you leftI dropped the ball.  I didn’t move fast enough, I got hurt, and because of that, I wasn’t there to help, to lead.”

“You’re not allowed to take the blame, because if you start, then I’ve got to own up to it too,” I said.  “I-“

My breath hitched.  It caught me off guard.  I had to stop and take a deep breath.

Staying calm, composed, with my words carefully measured out, I said, “-I was there, and there was nothing I could do.  And if you’re saying you could have done better, I’ve got to think I could have too.  So I’ll match you one for one on any guilt trips.”

He sighed, heavy.  “Fuck.”

“Fuck,” Imp echoed him.

“Fuck,” Rachel followed, from the entrance to the room, as if we were toasting Regent in our own messed up way.  Tattletale was nodding.

Fuck,” I agreed.

“Christ,” Grue said.  “What do you even say to that?  How… how do you even pay your respects to a guy like him?”

“He was a jerk, and worse,” I said.  I saw Imp bristle, but held on to her shoulder, “And he died for Imp’s sake.”

Grue looked startled at that, as much as one could look startled with an all-consuming costume like the one he wore.  Tattletale, beside him, was unfazed.  She frowned a little.

“Christ,” he said, again.

“So maybe we respect him by respecting that.”

There was no response to that for a few seconds.

“Yeah,” Imp said, her voice small.  “I’m going to fucking kill his dad for him.”

“That’s not what I meant,” I said.  “I meant we should remember the best part of him.”

“That part of him would’ve killed his dad too,” Imp said.

I sighed.  I wouldn’t win here.

I changed the subject, seeing how quiet Grue was.  “You should know, Grue, we got ours back.  We hurt him.  Behemoth.”

Grue raised his head, meeting my eyes with the empty black eye sockets of his mask.

“The others will explain,” I said.  I let my hand fall from Imp’s shoulder.  “You wouldn’t believe how much I want to be an Undersider again, right this moment… fuck me, I want to remember the guy, to reminisce.  But this isn’t over, and I’ve got another team to help look after.”

“We’ll-”  Grue started.  He stopped as some doctors came barreling in, wheeling in beds with unconscious capes.

“Out!” one of them shouted at us.  “No more visiting, there isn’t room!”

“Asshole!” Imp snarled, jumping out of the way as someone moved the bed beside Grue’s, nearly sandwiching her between the two.

Go,” Grue ordered her.  “Go irritate someone who isn’t loaded with painkillers.”

“A way of remembering Regent?” she asked, as if she were trying to be funny, but there was a break to her voice as she altered the pitch to make it a question.

“Exactly,” he said.

“Fuck it,” she said, under her breath.  “Fuck it, fuck it.”

We left the room, with only Grue and Tattletale staying.  The three of us made our way down the stairs, Rachel just to my right.

I glanced over my shoulder at Imp.  Her head was lowered a fraction, her arms folded.  Her gaze was on the rows and columns of injured and dead capes in the main hall.

We hadn’t brought Regent’s body.  We’d left it lying in the streets, too busy trying to stay alive to collect it.  Was that what she was thinking about?

There was a rumble, with a shaking that affected the whole structure.  Something distant, beyond my power’s range.  A heavy crash.  Somewhere in a northwesterly direction.

Phir Sē, I thought.  Had that been his complex?

At the entrance to the temple, heroes were gathering.  Our last stand.  I could see the Chicago wards at one corner.  Tecton was talking to Wanton, who was on crutches.  Wanton’s right arm ended in a stump at the elbow, bandaged with crimson on the end.

Bad luck, I thought.

I joined Tecton, only to realize that Rachel had accompanied me.  I supposed she didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Imp didn’t either.  Another glance showed her lagging behind the group, clearly lost in thought.

I lowered my voice “Rachel, maybe you can do me a favor?”

“Hm?”

I ordered my thoughts, then voiced them, “Grue and Tattletale are too injured to help out.  I’m focused on other stuff, and Parian and Foil are looking after each other.  Can you keep an eye on Imp?”

Rachel made a face.  “I thought you wanted me to do something.”

“This is key,” I said.  “She needs someone to be there, right now.  That’s all.”

“I don’t know what the fuck I’m supposed to do.  What if she gets…?”

Rachel trailed off.  Emotional?

“Support her,” Tecton cut in.  I suppressed the urge to wince.  He went on, “She’s your teammate, right?”

“How the fuck do I support someone?” she asked.  “Stupid.  Not my thing.”

“You-” I started, but Tecton was already talking, his voice deeper, his conviction stronger.  Grace was listening in as well, now.

Empathize,” he said.

Rachel glowered at him, unimpressed.

He tried again, earnest, “Okay, here’s a cheat I learned in a leadership seminar.  It’s called active listening.  Someone says something, a complaint, or a criticism, or they’re excited about something that happened to them.  For a lot of us, our instinct is to offer a solution, or expand on an idea, to fix or offer something.  The key is to think about how they’re feeling, be receptive to that, and parrot it back to them.  They just got a new car, and they’re happy about it?  A simple ‘that’s excellent’ or ‘you must be so proud’ works.  It leaves room for them to keep talking, to know you’re listening.  For your teammate who just lost someone she obviously cared about, just recognizing that she’s upset and she’s right to feel upset, that’s enough.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t even begin to sum up how useless this advice was to Rachel in particular.

“That’s retarded,” Rachel told Tecton.

“It works.  And I know Grace is going to say something to me about it, about it being fake or false, but the thing is, you do that, and you start to do it because it’s genuine, because you care about their feelings, or because-“

I cut him off.  “Tecton.”

He fell silent, turning my way.

“We don’t have time to get into anything complicated,” I said.

“It’s retarded anyways,” Rachel added.

I turned to her.  “Rachel, did you ever have a dog with a deep attachment to another person or dog?  Someone they lost, before they found their way to a shelter, or to you?  Where they were still dealing, after the fact?”

She gave me a one-shouldered shrug.

“How would you treat that dog?”  I asked.

“Dunno, depends on the dog.”

“Basically, though?  You’d just be there, right?  Do that for Imp.  Stay close, make sure she doesn’t run off, as much as that’s even possible with her, and give her the benefit of your company without intruding into her space.  Make sure she has all of the basics, both in the near future and in the next few days.”

“Okay,” Rachel said, frowning a little.

“I know it’s not the easiest thing, but she’s a teammate, all right?  It’s what we do for our team.”

“Right.”

“And just like a dog that’s had a recent bad experience might snap, bark or growl, you need to understand that she might do the same.  Only it’ll probably take a different form.  She’ll swear a lot.  She’ll probably try to get a rise out of you, try to provoke you or someone else.  That’s how Imp growls.”

Rachel didn’t even offer me a monosyllabic response at that.  She frowned instead.

“Trust your instincts, Rachel.  You’re smarter than you think, and your gut responses, the decisions you make on the fly, they’re good ones.  Turning around and using the chain for a second cut, back there?  That was good.”

Anyone else might have accepted the praise with a smile, but her frown only deepened.

“How was your advice better than mine?” Tecton asked.  He sounded a touch offended.

“Customized to the individual,” Grace said.  “Don’t be a sore loser.”

“I’m not sore.  I’m just usually pretty good at this, and I got called retarded.”

“The advice was called retarded,” I said.  “Don’t worry about it.  I’ll explain another day, if we make it through this.  How’s Cuff?”

“Skin’s badly burned, but the burn didn’t go much further than that.  She’ll have the most amazing scars, too.  No serious internal or mental damage, as far as we can tell, but her muscles convulsed so badly they broke a bone.”

I winced.

“She’ll make it to tomorrow, provided this doesn’t turn ugly,” Tecton said.

I nodded.  I sensed a rumble.  I couldn’t tell how distant the attack was.

Where the hell was the bastard?  I was a little caught off guard by how quiet things had gone.  He was giving us a chance to regroup?  Or was he letting us gather, so he could take us all out at once?

“Don’t suppose you can sense seismic activity?” I asked.

“Not with my suit.  My computers got toasted.  I’m running purely off the basics, and my intuitive understanding.  Stuff I reinforced, so I wouldn’t get trapped in my suit like I did with Shatterbird.”

I nodded.

“Generally, though?”

“He’s taking his time.”

If he was massing his strength for one good retaliatory hit, how would he do it?

Volcanos?  Earthquake?

“Let’s go,” I said.

“Go?”

“I’ve got a bad feeling,” I said.  I turned to look for Rachel, saw her a distance away, her arms folded as she stood beside Imp.  They were looking at the sea of injured capes.  “Rachel!”

I saw her attention snap to me.

“Go!  Get your dogs!”  I said.  I turned to the Chicago Wards, “Wards!  Bikes!”

“You’re serious,” Tecton said.

“Everything I know about Endbringers, about basic parahuman psychology, it demands retaliation.  What’s he done so far?  Saturated an area in radiation?  Thrown a few lightning bolts around?”

“You’re expecting worse.”

“I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Go.  Spread out.  We might need to respond to an attack on another location, with no time to spare.”

Tecton nodded.  He turned to his Wards, “Go!”

I pushed my way through the gathered crowd.  I could see Defiant, with Dragon beside him.

“Weaver,” he said.  “Dragon says that was you, with the blast.”

I shook my head.  “I helped coordinate, nothing more.”

“You hurt him.”

We hurt him.  And he’s burrowed.  He’s looking for a target, and I can’t think of a better place for him to hit than this.”

“We’d be able to put up a fight.  We have defensive lines.”

“Probably,” I agreed.  “But my guys are moving out anyways.  We’ve never done this much damage to him, and yet he’s sticking around.  What I’m wondering is, why?”

Defiant glanced at Dragon, then spoke.  “He’s-“

The ground shuddered.  Again, as before, the rumbling intensified.

This time, it didn’t stop.  It got worse with every passing second.

“Reinforce!”  A cape hollered.  Someone else took up the call in an Indian language.  Hindi?  Punjabi?

I could see Annex flowing into the entryway, soaring through the wall’s surface to the ceiling.  Golem created his hands, protecting the rows and columns of injured capes.

There was a press as the bodies flowed out the door.  I used my flight pack to fly over their heads, but even then, I bumped shoulders with others who could fly.  I wanted to help, but there was little I could do inside.

Eidolon and Alexandria had arrived at the building.  Eidolon touched the exterior wall, and an emerald green glow started to surround the structure.

The rumbling reached the point where capes were unable to keep their balance.  I raised off the ground, but the movement of the air in response to the shuddering was enough to make me sway.

Tattletale.  Grue.  Parian.

Behemoth emerged with a plume of gray-brown smoke, and the landscape shattered.  It was Tecton’s natural power, taken to an extreme.  Fissures lanced out in every direction and disappeared into each horizon.  Secondary fissures crossed between each of the major ones, like the threads of a spider’s web.

As far as the eye could see in every direction, terrain shifted.  Hillsides abruptly tilted, standing structures fell like collapsing houses of cards.

A full quarter of the temple collapsed.  The bugs I’d kept to the edges of the room could sense it as a small share of the capes who were in the entry hall were caught beneath the falling rubble.  The ones furthest towards the back.  Eidolon’s protective effect kept the remainder intact.

Behemoth emerged from the smoke.  He was more robust than he had been, but that wasn’t saying much.  Seventy percent burned away, perhaps.  The regeneration had slowed, but it was still functioning to a degree.  He’d recuperated, built his strength, and he’d used the time to, what?  Burrow through strategic areas?  Had the distant rumbles been controlled detonations or collapses at key areas?

The temple was the one building that stood.  Everywhere else, there was devastation.

How many refugees had just died, with this?  How many had stayed within their homes, rather than try to evacuate?

I felt hollow inside, just standing there, stunned, trying to take it all in.  The area around us was still settling, sections of land tilting and sliding like sinking battleships sliding into the water.

How many of us were left?  Seventy?  Eighty?  How many of them were hurt, exhausted, their resources spent?  Could we even coordinate, with so many of us speaking different languages?

“Last stand!” a male cape I didn’t know hollered the words, his voice ragged with fear and emotion.

Behemoth, three or four hundred feet away, responded to the shout with a lightning strike.  Our capes were too slow to erect barriers, and the protection insufficient.  Capes died.  For the first time, I averted my eyes.  I didn’t want to know how bad the casualties were.  Our numbers were too thin.

I saw our Protectorate, what remained of it, stepping forward to form our defensive line.  Our last defensive line.  The major ones, the ones I’d been introduced to, too many had died, or were injured.  These were unfamiliar faces.  The ones who were second in command, if that.

Eidolon landed to one side.  The Triumvirate had often posed in that classic ‘v’ formation, with Legend in front, Alexandria to his left, Eidolon to the right, the lesser members in the wings, Eidolon was now apart from the rest of the group.  His cape didn’t billow, his posture was slightly slumped.  He was tired, on his last legs.

There were murmurs as Alexandria advanced from within the temple.  Unlike so many of us, she didn’t flinch as Behemoth struck out with lightning, the barriers holding this time.  Golem had raised lightning rods on either side of the road, fingers splayed as if he could gesture for Behemoth to stop.

Alexandria found her way to the end of the crowd opposite Eidolon, to our far left.  Satyrical and the other Vegas capes followed her.  Only a small fraction of them remained.  Others had apparently been injured or killed in battle.

Alexandria glanced over our ranks, and her eyes moved right past me, not even recognizing me.  For the briefest instant, I met her eyes behind that steel helmet of hers, and I saw that one had a pink iris.

That answered my question, I supposed.  Pretender couldn’t take over a corpse, but there was no reason for him to take over Alexandria if she was alive and well.  Cauldron had collected Pretender, and they had him controlling her because she was no longer of any use to them on her own.

Our side was busy getting sorted into groups, spreading out so he couldn’t hurt too many of us at once.  We were finding our formations, as our toughest capes absorbed and redirected the lightning he was throwing in an almost experimental manner.  He changed tacks, throwing flame, and a team composed entirely of pyrokinetics caught and redirected it with a concerted effort.  I backed away, and found Tecton at my back, with the remaining Chicago Wards.  Bitch stood just off to one side, her dogs ready.

One structure among several hundred thousand still stood, and our adversary was wounded, though undiminished.  Our ranks had been thinned in the most violent ways possible, through fire and lightning and a roar that could render organs to mush.  We weren’t stronger than we’d been at the start of all of this.  I couldn’t even say that the weak had been thinned out, or that we’d been united through hardship or loss.  Behemoth had picked off some of the strongest of us, and the trust between our factions was thin at best, with some eyeing the Yàngbǎn, others watching Satyrical’s contingent.  We were just less.

“Hold the line,” Exalt called out.  Other capes translated for him, echoing his words with only a few seconds of delay, in four or five different languages.  “We defend until the ones inside can be evacuated, and then we leave.  There’s nothing left to protect here.”

A thin heroism, but that was heroic, wasn’t it?  Protecting the wounded, defending the ones who’d put everything on the line to stop this monster.

If this was all a kind of microcosm for the world at large, that small heroism had to count for something.  I wanted it to so badly I ached for it.

Behemoth roared, and the last engagement opened.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

389 thoughts on “Crushed 24.5

  1. This marks the end of arc 24. Yeah. Interlude Sat.

    Not 100% positive what I’ll be doing next Thursday. No promises – brother’s going to be in town with his baby, and we’re going to the cabin for a week, so I’ve got to write & schedule chapters to go up while I’m away (and be very careful not to fuck up, so you guys don’t have to do without).

    Worm’s slipping on Topwebfiction. Nothing dramatic, but votes are appreciated. ;)

    And thanks to Jeffrey for the donation.

    • ” The Triumvirate had often posed in that classic ‘v’ formation, with Legend in front, Alexandria to his left, Eidolon to the right, the lesser members in the wings, Eidolon was now apart from the rest of the group. ”

      That’s an odd sentence. I think the last comma should be a full stop “wings. Eidolon was …” or it should have a “Where” at the beginning, “Where the Triumvirate had … “. The latter might have the sentence too long, though.

    • “For the briefest instant, I met her eyes behind that steel helmet of hers, and I saw that one had a pink iris.”

      Doesn’t Alexandria have only one real eye? Statement seems odd to me as a result

  2. Interesting that Behemoth also seems to have cut his losses, as far as going after Phir Se is concerned.

    I can’t help but think that the only reason he stuck around this long and didn’t already start burrowing back towards the mantle is that he just flat-out wants to hurt as many capes as he can as a way of punishing them for hurting him this badly.

    Why do I have this feeling that Scion will either show up just after Behemoth leaves, or at just the right moment for killing Behemoth to somehow make things even worse?

    • Yeah, I agree. I reckon that the normal damage that they do to Endbringers is like a headache, it puts them off rampaging for a while. But now… well, they cut off his foot and burned off all his flesh! He wants payback!

  3. By Scions golden balls things are bad. New Delhi is pretty much gone and we can change inferred holocaust to millions dead at this point. They hurt him at least and he might not be back to where he was for a while. So Alexandria is probably brain dead and people were right that Pretender took over her body. As much as I dislike the weak willed little shit called Eidolon this is a bad time for him to get tired. On the bright side Cuff and Dragon are okay, and Tecton is funny in that he as to deal with his own Bitch. On the down side Taylor thinks Clockblocker is dead, and Imp pretty much guaranteed that she is going to try and kill heart breaker. Rocks fall everyone dies.

  4. - Undersiders for life, yo! Heartbreaker is a dead man.
    – I am quite certain Clockblocker’s alive now.
    – most folks were right about Pretender running Alexandria’s meat puppet (or is that vegetable? Whatever)
    – Dragon’s alive, Grue’s alive, Defiant’s alive, Cuff’s alive, Golem’s alive so that’s good.
    – poor Eidolon. His life must suck right now. On the other hand, he’s as deep a Cauldron insider as one can be without being Doctor Mother, Contessa, Number Man or Alexandria so fuck him.
    – where is Legend? WHERE IS LEGEND?
    – why isn’t Behemoth going away? WHY ISN’T BEHEMOTH GOING AWAY?!

    • I thought Legend was implied to be alive from the classic V formation. BEHEMOTH might just be pissed since it has probably been a long, long, time since anyone has ever been able to hurt him. Too bad he can’t react to real pain like Captain Hammer.

    • One of the earlier chapters said Legend was incapacitated. They seem to be lacking in healers: really makes you wish for Lizardtail and Panacea.

      Imagine a Yangban-boosted Lizardtail in the hospital.

      … yeah, they’d totally try and steal him, wouldn’t they?

        • Does that mean Accord knew the Yangban were coming, or that other opportunists come to Endbringer fights, or that the Yangban have stolen capes from Endbringer fights before without showing themselves, or that Accord is just that paranoid? Because I wouldn’t put his effect as more desirable than Citrine’s to the Yangban, although he is perhaps more vulnerable.

          Not that I expect an answer. Still, interesting!

          • Other alternatives (man, there are a lot): the Yangban or others already know about Citrine but not Lizardtail, and Accord would prefer to keep him a secret; or, Citrine’s power is too distinct (the yellow filter/glow) to hide, whereas Lizardtail’s power could look like a regeneration effect, so it’s less obvious that they’re stealing powers and citizens (and Accord’s capes, at that).

    • The more interesting question to me isn’t “Why isn’t Behemoth going away now?”, it’s “Why did he go away the other times?”

      Perhaps I’m remembering things incorrectly, but my understanding was that even without the ‘Game over’ effect of Scion showing up, that the Endbringers have been driven off before, albeit with high losses.

      Given that we now know that any damage dealt to Behemoth in previous fights wasn’t that meaningful, the obvious question would be why the Endbringers were pretending it was.

      Presumably when we know the answer to questions like “Why are the Endbringers playing around with the capes instead of using the most efficient means to reach their presumed targets?” (i.e., “Why didn’t Behemoth lead off with the burrow and destroy the city trick?”), we’ll know the answer to the first question.

      • It could be he has a secondary objective. If say the Endbringers are trying to eliminate potential threats then he might be going after Foil. After all her power has proven to be very effective. Next time they might perform that trick with a couple of flying bricks and take him apart better. Or he might be after Tattletale. Been lots of theorizing that the Endbringers don’t want her getting a good look at them.

        Or he’s just pissed about the leg and skeltonization.

        • I’m wondering – do you think they could convince Eidolon’s passenger that he really needs the same power as Foil? I think it would be usefull. But yeah, the chain idea is brilliant, but a little hard to organize at the moment. Gigantic chains, they just don’t sell them like they used to!

  5. So people who called Pretender-in-Alexandria were right. I thought he could possess corpses – to differentiate his power from Regent’s. But yeah. Depending on what Behemoth does here, and regarding Phir Se, there’s nothing left of New Delhi. Last of the last stands, everybody.

    Wait.

    End of chapter? Interlude on Saturday? This is a til’ Tuesday cliffhanger! Wildbow, why do you do this to us?

    • I don’t think he can posses corpses. Rather, I think Alexandria is alive, and is a merely functionally brain dead meat puppet. Which, for someone who prided themselves on being a top-notch Thinker, is very much a fate worse than death.

        • Information is still lost. So, even if she regains her cognitive ability, the knowledge, the things that made her Alexandria, would be lost. She’ll be a blank state, basically.

              • Depends on his powerset, really. Besides – what’s worse: Alexandria dead, or Alexandria locked in, plotting revenge?

              • Locked-in syndrome is a condition that affects the body. Anyone in Alexandria’s body would not be able to move if she had locked-in syndrome because they’d be locked in. It’s like saying that that if her arm was cut off, her body would somehow wind up with two arms just because Pretender was in the body. Also, she’d be a hermaphrodite.

                Basically, Alexandria’s brain dead. She’s a veggie. Kids are expected to eat her or they can’t have any chocolate cake after dinner. Her hardware is in perfect shape, but there was a massive power surge that caused a full wipe of all system date. Even all 35 GB of the porn folder.

              • …only 35GB of porn? She does have eidetic recall, you know, and if she’s a woman who likes a little variety….

              • A good summary Gecko. It seems that Alexandria has not come back from the dead after all, just her body. Which is probably doable, just clean out her lungs and restart the heart, good as new except for the irreparable brain damage. I wonder if Pretender will keep her? Like a really fancy suit!

        • That might actually be a path to redemption. I can at best guess how a newly forming consciousness in an adult body would develop, but at the least we’d have an equivalent to a toddler or kindergardener. With the Alexandria Package of powers. This… can be bad.
          On the other hand I want her to be kind of that. Not a toddler, mind you, but a nascent consciousness, slowly developing, becoming their own person. This could be very interesting to read.

      • Grim and ironic, both. If Alexandria was ever considered to have a nemesis among current-day capes I imagine it was Siberian, and Alexandria has been turned into a puppet just like her.

    • Y’know, the name ‘Pretender’ really is better suited to someone with mimic abilities than to a body jumper…

      We don’t really know, but I envision him as having the Jericho (of the Teen Titans) package – He can go incorporeal and possess them rather than controlling them remotely ala Regent

  6. Huh, they’re having a bit of trouble aren’t they?

    Well the arcs over now, so that means that CRUSHED might not actually refer to the end of the fight. So I’m holding out for a hero in the form of Scion or Dragon. Unless the new arc is called Broken, or Eviscerated, or Toasty! or something.

    Wait a minute, where IS Dragon? My optimism says she’s been cobbling together something wonderful at the last minute. But judging by the Lung interlude Saint might have gotten to her to force the fight to a disaster. I think I know who’s going to get mauled to death by bugs/shot in the head next!

  7. Interesting.

    Confirmation that Pretender’s puppeting Alexandria’s coma patient body?

    It’s a relief to note that plenty of other capes are alive and active, and that it was the fog of war that made it look like things were down to the participants in the last chapter.

    The ending of the chapter is quite serene, really. Everyone’s pulled out all the stops (Behemoth possibly excepted), and there’s nothing left to do but fight or die. Not a lot of speculation fuel, just the calm before the storm.

    Imp’s not wrong that Regent’s better parts would probably take down Heartbreaker too. But she needs to do it carefully. No gloating until after he’s decapitated – Imp loving Heartbreaker would be all kinds of bad.

    Going for the hospital doesn’t seem big enough revenge. Either there’s a retaliation yet invisible… or Behemoth got what he wanted. Worst case, the Endbringers are Scion running a testing program to prepare the Earth for something worse, something coming – and doing that much damage unlocked level two.

    Definitely looking forward to more conversations with Phir Se. And his daughter.

    Taylor to Rachel ““You can come and look for Grue and Tattletale with me, or you can leave them.” s/b ‘or you can stay outside and guard with the dogs.’ or similar.

        • Yeah we do have several people left who’s POV could be used to tell the Interlude from.

          Or we could just skip to an after action repot. Sort of like what happened after Echidna with the Parahumans online chapter. Just clinically listing the damage the the dead and whatever suviviors there are.

          • If the remaining fighting is not conceptually complex, going straight to the after-action could work really well.

            Be likely if we have a Chevalier interlude.

    • Tekky wait….Tecton? Don’t get me wrong the guy seems okay. He wants Taylor on his team, admits his faults and tries to fix them, and his teammates are close enough to joke and tease him, but he seems a little….boring.

      • For shame.

        He’s compassionate, thoughtful, and a… ok, yeah. He’s boring as hell. But some chicks dig that. …Right? Right??

        Actually, some women almost certainly would be interested in a guy like him. Taylor might even be one of them, in a different world and under different circumstances. It’s very unlikely at the moment, though.

          • Agreed. On top of that, I think she still has strong feelings for Brian. They didn’t make a real break, and given how she felt about his letter, and the prospect of him being hurt…

            So yeah, I really don’t see her starting anything new in the near future.

            More generally, I love that Worm has shipping factions.

            • > More generally, I love that Worm has shipping factions.

              That’s normal, Calvin&Hobbes has shipping factions.

              So far there has been no real ShipToShipCombat at least… it helps that most guys are not that awesome to begin with, and most shipping is with Taylor anyway.

              (Of course she should end up with Lisa, and they should ask Bonesaw to engineer things so they can have a couple of kids together, birth Brainiac an Vril Dox and conquer the galaxy)

              • Dammit, I had just started trying to repair my crackship meter! Why you gotta do that? I’ll have to begin from the start again!

              • Wait, aren’t Brainiac and Vril Dox the same person/alien/robot/whatever Brainiac is these days?

              • Well, Vril is Brainiac III (last retcon I remember he still was a clone of the original), and much more badass (he has fought hand to hand with Lobo).
                That’s why I picked them as little brothers of the two brainy girls.

                They’re blond as Lisa and green as… umh… Bonesaw made a little mistake somewhere? :P

          • Grue isn’t that boring, he now simply fits the mould of the Troubled, but Cute brooding badboy who is a Broken Bird due to PTSD and thus require the healing power of love and Intimate Healing from the virginal female protagonist…..

            Wait, Taylor’s no longer a virgin…. Never mind!

    • Nonsense! Clearly the only viable shipping solution for Clockblocker and Tecton is ClockTek.

      Yeah, they’ve never met, but there’s chemistry there somewhere.

    • Nay! Weaver/Clock is still sailing! He’s just knocked out. Dennis is too snarky to die offscreen.
      Reply to En: Agreed, Taylor/Lisa is still my top pri. I think it gained a bit of ground when she searched for Lisa before bothering to find Brian on her first visit to the hospital.

  8. Dammit, Taylor, are you ever going to learn how to accept praise for your deeds? Seriously. Take some management training courses or something.

    Good chapter. Reflects Taylor’s exhaustion pretty well, in a sort of implicit way — she’s not thinking as much, she’s not observing as much.

      • If it were a matter of not having additional bugs, wouldn’t we have noticed it in the previous chapter, right after she was teleported out of the chamber? And, for that matter, while she was in the Dispatch-circle?

          • Yep. Fanon that I now think has been sufficiently disproven.

            Although judging from the other people in the IRC channel, not sufficiently disproven for some people. *throws up hands*

            • If masters use their minions like an extension of their body, why couldn’t one with a grip on the mind access it’s processing power? If it isn’t true, it’s almost Deus ex Machina that she can create and execute complex plans during a very recent change of circumstances with little inspiration in less than 10 seconds. That or she’s either a genius or is actually(not effectively) a thinker and doesn’t know it. I remember her coming up with the Silkwrap Strike under stress in the time it took Mannequin to cross the room.

              • I think some people are at least close to that smart in real life.

                Also, Taylor does seize at least some of the processing power of her bugs — she reprograms their instincts to fit her needs.

              • She also multi-tasks at pretty clearly inhuman levels. Whether that’s due to using bug brains for additional processing space or simply as a manifestation of her power isn’t clear but her Thinker rating is pretty well justified at this point.

                I’m also not sure what evidence we’ve seen that specifically points against the fanon? I’m not saying it’s not there, I’m just curious where it might be since I apparently read over it without spotting the clue.

              • If a significant part of Taylor’s ability to process information was outsourced to insects in her vicinity, such that she became more intelligent as she controlled more insects, then Taylor would have noticed by now. She would notice when she was teleported away from her insects, she would notice when she was encapsulated in Dispatch’s sphere, she would know, if for no other reason that if you take yank half or more of the processors out of a parallel-computing mainframe, you yank half or more of the RAM with them — and therefore your working memory, the part of your brain saying, “I’m going this way, these are the things in my vicinity, this guy over here is named this, that gal over there is wearing this costume instead of that costume, etc. and so forth”, just lost half of what it was holding.

                A well-designed — designed — supercomputing cluster can withstand single memory boards being yanked, or single processors being taken offline and replaced. It cannot withstand a significant fraction of its hardware going down simultaneously.

                So: however Taylor interacts with her bugs, her bugs are not the source of her wits. And that’s the fanon that I’m saying was shot down here.

              • Well said, Packat.

                Taylor’s real power is her mind, and it’s clearly one she’s always had- but what reason would there be for her to push it to it’s full potential, with her school situation being the way it was? Not to mention her school was pretty mediocre to begin with. It’s hardly as if people with minds like Taylor’s (other than the controlling insects thing) don’t exist in real life, or anything.

        • Packbat, we did notice. She started to get herself together only after a moment (necessary to gather insects), and when the yangban boosted her range, so she could access the old swarm.

          The time dilation thing I think is a point in favour of the “control is a secondary aspect”, because she whipped out an awesome plan with bugs in range but … dimensionally displaced?

            • Option B, folks – her passenger added the processing power she needed to control the bugs, independently of the bugs themselves. Meaning that she really is a thinker in her own right, and has that ability at equal strength if there’s 1 bug in her range, or 1 billion bugs.

              Distributed networking *was* a seductive explanation, though. Much better than option C, which is that Taylor thinks at the speed of plot, is not exceptional for doing so, and is supposed to be considered of non-paranormal intelligence except where bug multitasking is concerned – despite the disconnect that creates with the ridiculous strategizing power Taylor’s displayed despite no training and almost no preparation.

              Nobody wants to suggest it’s option C.

  9. Always ending on a cliffhanger huh? I am so glad that this is released in updates. If I had the whole thing I’d be forced to read through it without ever stopping for a break.

    • Ending on a Cliffhanger is something that works very well with the serial format. Makes you come back to see how it worked out in the next part.

  10. “had bad ones to” Too.
    “dust from the sky, though it had been almost entirely directed skyward” Seems a bit awkward- maybe replace the first ‘sky’ with ‘air’ or something?
    “he struck, quickly, violently, and indiscriminately.” Maybe remove the first comma or replace it with a dash?
    “one doing a little damage” Little damage?

  11. You know I just saw a documentary on North Korea’s Pyongyang and how it’s pretty much the only halfway decent, by their standards anyway, place to live. Considering New Delhi is pretty much gone, I got to wondering about what would happen if an Endbringer attacked it and what would happen. I think their government might collapse with it gone, and all the chaos that would result. The US doesn’t really have a keystone city, but curiously New York and Washington haven’t been hit. Any thoughts? I am truthfully just interested in how parahumans have affected the world as was discussed last chapter. For example is the Soviet Union still around?

    • There are plenty of countries where a large part of the population lives in one or two big cities, but that doesn’t always go hand in hand with completely. centralized government. Many nations have their heart and brain in different cities with the capital not being their largest city. France is pretty centralized but could probably go on without Paris. Germany has a backup capital. Most micronations and city states would be a one-hit kill for Endbringers. Places like the Netherlands or Bangladesh could be taken out entirely by a visit from Leviathan…

      The worst damage an Endbringer could probably do by taking out a city would be to attack countries that are barely held together anyway and where a decapitations trike would result in something like Yugoslavia falling apart after the fall of communism in the 90s.

      I wonder what has happened in the middle east. It is not the stablest of regions in any scenario and it might not take much more than a few visits from Simurgh to cut of oil exports from there. Leviathan could do places like the north-sea and the Gulf of Mexico and Behemoth could visit some other key places. Result would be an energy crisis and possibly a famine due.

      I wonder if everyone in this world has adapted to this thread by for example de-centralizing industries to prevent catastrophes from wiping out everything.

      • Well if Wildbow ever gives a world map I’m sure there will be places marked as abandoned/destroyed due to being sunk, turned into radioactive wastelands, and condemned due to possible Smurf contamination. I thought it was implied already from Mannequin that there are nasty famines in the less well off parts of the world. Scion came in the early eighties, just when the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Hmm, I honesty wouldn’t be surprised if there are very different borders in the middle east in the wormverse. The Middle East is supposed to be the most militarized region in the world and most arms sales head there. BEHEMOTH disrupting the oil trade which removes a major source of wealth for certain countries, and there might not have been a US gulf war if BEHEMOTH hit Kuwait first. What is especially worrying are the early Smurf attacks when people didn’t know about what she could do. There is so much potential for conflict there that a single Smurf attack in the right place could have war spread everywhere. This isn’t even getting into the parahumans surely fighting there at some point. I’m going to be hopeful and guess many dictatorships might have fallen at least.

      • Well, we know the first parahumans would begin appearing right in the latter half of the Iran-Iraq War, for starters, which…yeah. Even considering that alone, it doesn’t look good for the Middle East. And who knows how the Simurgh could have affected the various patronage autocracies of the era–Syria being the most prominent, I suppose.

        To say nothing of what Leviathan or Behemoth could do in the Strait of Hormuz. The Middle East is screwed, basically.

    • To do what though? BEHEMOTH proved portals don’t seem to work last chapter with Ligeia and who would trust an organization’s portal that commited genocide, conducted human experimentation, and was responsible for the creation of monsters like the 9 and Echidna? Granted things seem desperate enough that they might just do it anyway, and Cauldron at least doesn’t want the PRT to be completely destroyed just yet. They also have to have defenses in place in case Faultline’s newly expanded crew find their dimension.

      • To get everyone out. I’m guessing Behemoth turned away from Phir Se because he’s no longer the direction in which Behemoth can do the most damage. He’s gonna kill as many capes as he can before they break and scatter (and following them becomes too much effort for too little reward), and amble over the temple with all the wounded in it.

        Cauldron doesn’t really do decency, so if they offer help, I expect it to be on the same terms the criminal thanda got.

      • I’m pretty sure he was talking about using Doormaker to make an escape route. And yes, Cauldron is not to be trusted. Then again, the remaining capes are facing near certain death, in a last ditch attempt to protect the wounded. They’re probably desperate enough to risk it.

        • He can make portals himself, and has the most powerful teleporter we’ve seen on call.

          He doesn’t need Doormaker to get away.

          • Yeah Phir Se is already gone. He’s talking about Doormaker evacuating all the capes in New Delhi. Unlikely to say the least.

            • Although I find it odd that with all the talk of them being done with that world Contessa gave, Cauldron is still giving some support. Eidelon is still there, and even more oddly is they had Pretender puppet Alexandria’s corpse so she could be used in the defense. A final parting gift?

              • Wait,wait. I thought she meant that those Indian cold-capes were done with that world. Is it really Cauldron as a whole? The Doctor sending Number Man to do field duty seemed to imply they were actually going to be involved.

              • And then the Indian capes were like “Everybody betrayed me. I’m fed up with this world! You are tearing me apart Lisa! Oh hi Mark!”

  12. Woohooooo! And this officially marks the first time I’ve been able to read Worm at release. For the past month my family and I have been in the process of moving, and we’ve had no internet or tv. I thought I’d go mad, but a good buddy was kind enough to lead me to this wonderful site and I got hooked.

    With weekly internet raids on gas stations, fast food places, and hotel parking lots I’ve been able to buzz my way through the archives and keep myself sane, and now at last I’ve got internet and can feel the satisfaction of reading Worm on time.

    Can’t even express how grateful I am for this story. Truly spectacular.

    • Oh, great. Look what you’ve done now, Wildbow. You’ve taught the crabs how to talk! Is that what you wanted? A giant seafood rebellion? How shellfish of you!

      Hello Krustacean. I’m Psycho Gecko and I’m here to let you know that you are not as sane as you think you are. For one thing, if you’re seeing me here now, then things are already questionable for you. Important questions. Deep questions. What is the meaning of life? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana? Can riding a drunk horse get you a DUI?

      Don’t worry. Here at Worm, you’ll get answers. Horrible, terrible answers. Answers like “To feast on the blood of innocents.” “Ah the sweet, sweet sound of puppy necks snapping in the wind.” and “Must Devour All The Kittens!!!!”

      And then, more questions.

      Beware. You just got done with the binge and you think you’re sane. Are you? That’s a terrible answer you’ll have to wait to find out, with all the rest of us down here.

      Welcome to the comments.

      And Wildbow, better watch yourself. I just saw a lobster whistling at a human woman. Sure, the lobster was in a pot of boiling water, but that’s beside the point.

      • I’ve been welcomed into the surface dweller community faster than expected. Not only that, but they’re freely offering up information on the meaning of life and that confounded orange. Plans can be accelerated. I expect we’ll see the fall of Captain D’s by July and Joe’s Crab Shack in the following months.

        If all goes according to plan we’ll be able to take Rad Lobster by next January.

  13. I think this arc went into a totally different direction than I expected.

    I thought it would be some sort of pivotal fight where things change, where scion kills the Endbringer or Taylor does something clever but instead it was just an illustration of how despite everything sometimes the heroes lose.

    It was not an arc about our heroine kicking ass (although she did do that), but more about helping her realize how fucked up the world is and her place in it to make it better.

    I guess that means that an arc that is actually about the heroes scoring a sort of win will have to wait until the next Endbringer battle. Simurgh likely…

    Still, we did get some character development and world building out of it and Regent demonstrated the power of love and the fact that everyone can die in this setting. Plus Weaver’s new team is now battle-hardened.

    • I generally agree, but there may still be hope. Note how Behemoth’s regeneration slowed considerably. How his aim is less precise. How the hero forces are concentrated with nowhere to go. How Scion may yet come.

      There is a tiny, tiny chance that Behemoth will die here. Or at least get crippled.

    • I think it’s being set up to drive home to the heroes that what they’ve been doing for the past twenty-odd years isn’t working and is never going to work, forcing them to look to alternatives. Cauldron has its Project Terminus, and Tattletale has something similar in the Brockton Bay portal, but I wonder if the final solution will be more based around Tt’s train-of-thought when she was proposing the portal in the first place: using it to locate and cut off powers at their source. The Endbringers can’t be beaten here, but if they are a projection (such as of a human-less Passenger hiding in an alternate reality) it might be possible to ‘kill’ them elsewhere, or cut off the link in the medium rather than at the source.

      Alternatively, it’s to drive home that they really need to work together as a group, rather than as individual squads with only minimal communication. But considering even scouring off 80% of Behemoth’s volume didn’t drive him off, and he regenerated ~10% of his original volume in a few minutes, I really think it’s the former.

      • Agreed on all of that.

        Another thing this chapter did was to show that the Endbringers’ appearance is a flat out cheat or lie. Meaning they look like giant hulking monsters but they’re something very different from that. Behemoth lost his entire outer form and it didn’t slow him down much at all. More conclusively he lost his eye and yet can still target people just fine. So the eye was a lie, he doesn’t need it too see, hell he may not even use it to see. It was just there to distract the heroes and make them waste their effort trying to poke it out.

        That should be a big shining clue to them that “Moar Dakka” is not the answer, on the off chance that Phir Se’s Kamehameha attack didn’t drive the point home clearly enough.

        • Going to throw out a theory I have on Behemoth’s senses. While his visual sense appears to be ruined, I think he may be doing something similar to Taylor when she was blinded. Taylor can control and manipulate bugs, even being able to perceive through them. It could be that Behemoth is somehow sensing the energy signatures of everything with a direct line of effect to him.

          • Behemoth is an energy controller. Just like Weaver controls bugs. She also can sense bugs because of her power. So it makes sense if Behemoth has a way to sense energy, possibly in the form of body heat, electrical impulses in the brain, or just the fact that worms (other underground burrowers) can sense electricity. Doesn’t mean he can use such small amounts.

            Though come to think of it, no one’s said he can’t.

              • “Visible light” sounds kind of odd and unbelievable. Like in Battletech, when they discovered they could provide orders to men piloting giant mechs or starships with hyperdrives via some newfangled “fax machine” technology.

              • Reminds me of a bit in Schlock Mercenary, where a military captain tries to block the transmission of technical data by only allowing the protagonist an audio link.

                Megiddo: I heard that! What technical data? You hardly said anything!
                Kevyn: Captain, about your security: Have you ever heard of a modem?
                Megiddo: No. Why?

  14. Well at least Cuff’s alive… sad to hear about Clocky though. And now Behemoth just SHIELD Facility’ed the whole of New Delhi? Shit got hyperreal.

    • It’s rule number one for superpowers: NO DEATH is believed unless there a body. Considering some powers maybe not even then. So here is to hoping Clocky managed to freeze himself just before big B hit.

      • To reiterate a comment I’ve been given in the last chapter, I think, we know powers persist even if the wielder is unconscious. Clockblocker can’t freeze himself, only his costume. All wires of Clockblocker lost freeze at the same time. This makes his death highly likely.
        And so far Worm was very consistent in its application of death = DEATH.

        Point of contention being Cody and Alexandria, of course. But we’re mostly limited in perspective by the narrator.

        • But we never saw a body in both Cody and Alexandria’s case. The wires thing is worrying but maybe he had another trigger event to save him. Though truthfully I’m not sure what way they could expand his power without it being a little too gamebreaking.

          • Well, let’s speculate. Increasing his power, in the sense of more control, would be possible, but doesn’t really gel with my intuition on how it works.
            Maybe he could influence the time, instead of it being random in a range of 30 to 600 seconds.
            Or freeze only parts of a whole instead of the whole, meaning the front tires of a moving vehicle, thus ‘crashing’ it. Or freeze the beating heart of an opponent.
            Or not require touch for it to work.

            But like I said… improbable.

            • Just turn him into a blaster. Maybe instead of freezing the ranged attack just slows down whatever is in it while it doesn’t affect him, making it easier for him to tag someone.

              • Or general control over the flow of time. Speeding up or slowing down, essentially. Cast Haste/Slow/Stop on things and people.

              • I do hope Clockblockers not dead because he and Taylor working together would have been awesome to see. I don’t know Clockblocker was my favourite of the hero Capes, well him and Weld. So I shall reiterate what others have said, until you have seen the body and set it on fire, do not count someone dead.

              • Yeah… I would hate to see Clockblocker go. Then again, I hoped against hope on Myrddin, and, well… So it goes.

                Good chapter, Wildbow! Hell of a cliffhanger!

          • If he had another trigger event, every para-human in the area would have felt it. Also, I’m tired of people CONSTANTLY suggesting second triggers. Second triggers are very rare and not many parahumans even survive the circumstances that cause them afterward. Just being in battle is NOT enough to set off Clockblocker. Brian had to get vivisected while conscious, see all of his teammates get captured by the nine, and then helplessly watch Bonesaw cut Skitter’s head open with a power saw. You need more than a losing battle, you need a hell that gives Satan a run for his money, and a LOT . I doubt Wildbow would be eager to just throw around second triggers.

              • Not that a lying creator is unheard of, but so far it seemed to me you’d rather keep quiet or lie by omission than outright false statements, so if there was a second trigger somewhere down the line, you would have kept suspiciously quiet.

              • Then we would probably believe you. However, you haven’t said that, you’ve just stated a hypothetical question. Which just makes us more suspicious.

              • Well I’d believe you. I’d just wonder why you introduced that particular plot element if it wasn’t supposed to be a Checkov’s Gun.

              • World building and necessary basis or conclusion of elements yet to be shown. Or, you know, the whole Grue part might itself be reason enough.

              • Uhhh… that gun DID go off. Grue’s second was after the option was brought up first, I believe.

                Besides, the gun includes the idea that you can have two triggers at more-or-less once. Grue, Eidolon, and Taylor all had something in common, to Echidna’s senses. With how powerful Eidolon is, I’d buy that he got double-triggered, and so I’d buy that Taylor did, too.

              • Wildbow, at this point, I interpret that to mean “There won’t be another second trigger before Worm concludes because I will kill off every single character you love who could potentially have a second trigger event.”

              • You troll us too much, Wildbow. Your word on Worm is suspect now. Sorry. :/

              • I’m with Comickry. I’d say “that’s terribly out of character for you” and be suspicious. It’s unlike you to confirm or deny anything.

                That said, I don’t really care if there are more second triggers or not. I trust you to use one if appropriate and not if it isn’t…

        • Actually, I would guess that Alexandria was dead. Not brain-dead, but dead. And that her body retained invulnerability after death. So they mechanically reanimated her somehow, then used Pretender to pilot zombie-Alexandria.

          • As long as her invulnerability prevented decay of her cells and her body was preserved at the moment of death, I think physical reanimation would be perfectly possible.

              • You could confirm DNA without invasive methods, via analyzing skin flakes for example or saliva.

              • To get DNA you need to mush up cells, so unless the skin flakes or whatever aren’t invulnerable when they flake off that’d prevent using them.

              • Not really. There are laser interferometry methods of DNA analysis currently in development, where they shine light on cell cultures / individual cells, then, from the patterns of reflected light, gather information about DNA. Supposedly they can do DNA matches this way (IRL the method is somewhat dubious from my understanding, but in wormworse there are tinkers who should be able to perfect it).

        • Yeah, we saw the wires down – but we also know there’s more than one dubiously-motivated teleporter running around. We also know that /Taylor’s/ powers keep going when she’s unconscious, but the fact that Tagg tried to put her down argues that unconsciousness does usually work. Not saying he can’t be dead, or even that it’s unlikely – just saying we don’t have enough information to guess well.

      • If Cuff was somehow ‘connected’ to the metal at the time, then she may not have grounded. Which could mean theoretically that if the resistance was high enough, the current would be low enough to go through her and cause extreme muscle reaction… Hmmm. Having had a mid-range shock that caused my arm to go staight out in the past in horribly conductive conditions in real life… Hmm.

        • If the metal is a kind of skin, then its conductivity will prevent major amperage to pass through her body. Or rather, it sum amperage will partly go through her body, partly through the metal in relation to the rate of conductivity. This in turn will leave her with burn marks, maybe a Lichtenberg.

          And to be blunt, I’ve been shocked probably dozens of times in my line of work in the past, though most voltage was low (400V was highest in relation to amperage, but cattle fences can have a few kV with very low amperage). It really depends on the individual and time of exposure, though.

            • Yes metal outer layer then wet metal then skin. So the curent should stay in the outer metal skin with the heat steaming her skin? I hope it is only frist deg burn all over. Not 2nt or 3rd.

  15. “She’s breathing, but every other exhalation is a moan of pain.”

    This reads more like narration than dialogue, to be honest, especially in the kind of environment it’s being said in.

  16. Despite everything I am still somewhat hopeful. Behemoth’s regeneration has slowed down considerably, so there’s a tiny chance that at least some wounds would result in permanent damage.

    Scion might yet come.

    But yeah, the situation is grim.

  17. So, fade to interlude before Se’s next strike? The one he does not want the bugs distracting him from?

    Sad about Clockblocker. Hope they catch and do not release the guy who is degrading Dragon’s capacity.

    Interlude should be interesting.

    And the world lasts until December …

  18. I was honestly expecting Parian and Foil to buy it when BEHEMOTH shot the fire at them. I hope they make it through. I also hope I’m not going to regret letting myself hope that. Cuff being alive surprised me. So far the Chicago Wards are doing okay, Wanton’s arm excepted. Not sure how long that will last.

    If BEHEMOTH was after Phir Se, then what is he sticking around for? If he wipes out the capes here, then that weakens the defense in future endbringer attacks, making it harder for them to ever lose.

  19. Looks like we got confirmation Dragon gave Taylor a camera and (possibly) microphone, as well. Now she just needs to stream it to the Birdcage:
    T: “Look, Lung, not only did she kill Alexandria, she masterminded a plan that stripped Behemoth down to his bones.”
    L: “I still plan to kill her.”
    T: “If we ever get out of here, I am staying far, far away from you.”

  20. So if Hatchetface fought Scion, would Scion’s immunity to powers cancel out Hatchetface’s ability, or would Hatchetface’s ability shut down Scion’s immunity along with he other powers?

  21. What I don’t understand is why Scion is so slow. Sixty minutes to cross some 6.000 miles is well under 2 miles/second. There are many real-world machines that can go faster than that, including some real-world aircraft.
    I mean, consider someone whose flight abilities give the same thrust as a modern jet fighter, or 300 kilonewtons, meaning he can barely lift 30 tons while flying. While carrying no extra weight at all, he has a thrust/weight ratio of 300 to 1, meaning he should be capable of flying 17 times as fast as a human in terminal velocity, or about 1 mile per second at sea level.
    (similarly, if Weaver’s jetpack can

      • Full AB on an SR 71, regardless of what you might have read, is mach 6. On the high speed corridor, the bright white (which means titanium) delta wings that flew it pulled away from SR 71 chase planes on full AB. Anyone driving down I-15 who knew how to see could observe that.

        So, at 6×650 mph I do think you can get vehicles at 1 mile per minute, easily. That is just 60 mph. 600 mph is 10 times that speed, or a mile every 6 seconds. 3600 mph is 1 mile per second. At mach 3, published SR 71 speed, 3 x 761.2 for the technical mach 1 speed, you have over 2200 mph.

        Just looking at numbers.

        • The space shuttles and the Boeing X37-B can manage 17.000 mph. They’re way faster than the SR 71. Then again, they’re spaceplanes, not airbreathers.

    • I assume that, given his mental state, he flies at a pretty leisurely pace–for him, that is. His top speed is probably a lot faster.

    • Well why should he be that fast? There’s no reason on why he would have super speed along with his other powers.

        • My guess is he can completely control all aspects of the world that his golden energy touches. In other words, he is a reality warper and can do almost anything as long as his golden light touches it.

            • We also know he’s immune to powers in general, and I don’t think that’s covered by ‘tough’ since it’s been explicitly stated to include things like precognition.
              Also he did some ‘oil on the waves’-thing when fighting Leviathan. Not even going to try and figure out what that was.

              All in all, my guess is Scion’s powers are the same as silver age Superman’s. That is he’s strong, tough, flies and gets to pull new powers out of his ass whenever figuring out how to do something with his stated powers would require thinking.

              • Nah, pulling out new powers as the plot demands (well, sort of) is explicitly Eidolon’s power. Scion reminds me more of the Plutonian from “Irredeemable”: apparently a flying brick but actually a reality warper.

    • Considering that Scion functions in a universe where Simurgh can make someone eat an extra cookie somewhere to somehow cause the destruction of Pittsburgh 5 years later, maybe he’s trying his best to avoid the Butterfly effect.

      You know, a butterfly across the world flapping its wings begetting a hurricane, which would make much more sense if any prominent heroes were connected to butterflies lately.

      Plus, he’s working around people. If he has to physically carry anyone, they have to be able to survive going that fast without a cockpit or comfy chair. If he is flying through a populated area, he has to make sure he doesn’t destroy the town by flying through the air as fast as he possible can.

  22. “The Triumvirate had often posed in that classic ‘v’ formation, with Legend in front, Alexandria to his left, Eidolon to the right” So if Eidolon is on one side and Alexandria[Ver2] has the other who has lead? Looks like Weaver to me and I do not think she has noted it yet.

  23. Huh.

    My comment was cut off for some reason. Anyone experiencing such glitches before? It was all rphysics applied to superpowers so you guys didn’t miss that much but I need to see if the glitch was on my end or not.

  24. Dangit taylor. Your first priority should have been to get golem and annex that leg, so you have something as indestructible as an endbringer on your side.

  25. So I was browsing the tvtropes page, and I came across “Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.” Is this a thing that people actually think applies here? I ask because it says that applies specifically to Black and Black Morality cases, not Evil Versus Oblivion or whatever, and the given example is Behemoth surviving the strike, which seems more to me like Failure Is The Only Option…

    • So far I’d say that worm manages to avoid it.
      Not by much, but it does.

      After all we have some genuinely heroic characters, and hope is still there. Not much of it, but still there.

      Kinda like WH40K. Except there’s no orks for comic relief. Or Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!.
      For those things we have Regent&Imp… no wait… we have Kid Win… umh no… Uber and… not either… umh… Ok, we probably do need an inverted knight of Cerebus. D&D discussion is not the same thing with Dragon on the mute setting.

      • It’s also very much a matter of opinion. I’ll admit I don’t have much of a tolerence for darkness (Do love Ciaphas Cain though.) For me it depends on wether the work is trying to be dark for the sake of being dark, or if it is balencing it well. So far Worm hasn’t fallen into it. Honestly this arc is just Taylor’s biggest not win. I can’t call it a faliure, but I can call it a not win. On the other hand if it feels like Wildbow has fallen into “Death and death so this gets taken serously and it’s all mature because its dark” kind of thinking, then I’d have darkness induced Apathy. Not saying it’s anywhere near there yet, just saying a hypothetical.

    • I added that because I saw a number of readers in a kind of despair state, or even stop reading because they saw no hope. If I misread the trope, I’ll take it off and be glad of it, but I think it’s a thing that’s been happening.

      • I think there are two big things.

        1-BEHEMOTH has kept going. All the other times you’ve had a serous threat get nailed by something that does signifigant damage, it either kills them or forces them away. He’s only somewhat inconvienced.

        2- An Undersider died. For the first time in the story and Undersider died. They’ve had some tight spots before, they’ve been scarred, but they’ve always made it before. Not this time. Regent is dead, and this is so far a Universe where dead means dead.

          • Umh… not really tbh. It looks a bit like that because we don’t know why most factions are fighting, so it seems they’re just being jerks for the hell of it.
            But as I said there are several genuinely heroic characters, and Cauldron must have an objective after all. Probably the endbringers too. And the space bus crystal whale slugs.

            BUT the whole pooint of YMMV is that if it looks that way for you, then you can add it.
            It’s like with the darth wiki, pages and pages of squick and some people were all “meh, I f*p to this”.

            Don’t worry about it, it’s the correct trope for someone for sure, so it’s cool :)

            • Course we also don’t know how the overall story will play out. We aren’t at the end of the story yet. Lots of stories would be dark and depressing if they just stopped at their darkest hour. For all we know it will end with a 40 something Taylor training a new generation of capes while being hailed as the worlds greatest hero, and she’s happily married. Okay probably not, but compare the situation at the end of Empire Strikes back to the situation at the end of Return of the Jedi.

              • Honestly the situation at the end of the Empire Strikes Back isn’t all that bad. There’s not the slightest indication that the rebellion is through or that Han Solo will be unrecoverable.

              • Don’t Dinah’s best numbers have something like 60-70% of humanity surviving the event?

                I can remember if it was 60-70% surviving or dying, actually, but I’m sure that percentage was important vis-a-vis the best case for the end of the world scenario.

                This seems to match what one might expect from an aborted apocalypse, I guess.

          • I’d say it works. It’s multiple readers acknowledging the darkness, and at least two of us have been actively rooting for the end of the world because of how shitty a place it is.

            At this point, if someone told us every molecule of oxygen in the Wormverse had been altered to randomly turn into flesh-eating virus, we’d all just ask why Cauldron did it.

    • I’d say Worm warrants a mention against that trope just because it’s a subjective trope and there *have* been people saying in the comments that they’ve reached their limit of despair and they give up.

      Personally, I haven’t given up hope. I don’t know if Worm will end well or not. But where some people seem to be seeing an endless procession of “it got worse”, I’m seeing a series of hard-won victories.

      Things look bleak but I’m far from giving up on the Wormverse yet. :)

  26. This one was a bit depressing for me.

    With Clockie and Regent dead, we now have a grand total of zero interesting “mainline” male heroes (ok, Alec was a HeroInNameOnly, still…).
    Brian is … hollowed. Weld and Newt are over the hills and far away. Wanton is crippled. Kid Win is hiding. Theo is an unknown so far. Defiant is past the age bracket, and into AdultsAreUseless territory. [1]
    Wildbow, are you trying to make all the ships lesbian? :D

    But the thing I found most sad was … oh wth, no spoiler so ROT13 TIME! [2]
    Vg jnf Gnlybe tbvat Zvat gur zrepvyrff jvgu Enpury. V qb trg gung ure “erny” cbjre cebonoyl vf gung fur’f n dhbehz znfgre (nf va qvfgevohgrq pbzchgvat), naq gur cnffratre vf abg nzhfrq ol gubfr ha-pyhfgrerq uhznaf orvat nyy varssvpvrag naq fghss.
    Ohg Enpury… pzba, rira vs vg jnf na vagreany zbabybthr fur qrsvavgryl xvpxrq gur chccl guvf gvzr.
    Gung jnf cebonoyl hanibvqnoyr fbbare be yngre, V’z ernyyl trggvat gur srryvat bs na vzcraqvat GbzngbFhecevfr pbapreavat jung cnffratref npghnyyl qb, naq Gnlybe qvq enyyl irel jryy jvgu ure qbt-vfu rkcynangvba. Fgvyy: fnq. :(

    Oh, and I have an epileptic tree to offer! Aisha is pregnant with Alec’s baby. :)

    [1] Dragon is not, she is what? 12?
    [2] you can get a rot13 extension for firefox here

    • “This one was a bit depressing for me.

      With Clockie and Regent dead, we now have a grand total of zero interesting “mainline” male heroes (ok, Alec was a HeroInNameOnly, still…).
      Brian is … hollowed. Weld and Newt are over the hills and far away. Wanton is crippled. Kid Win is hiding. Theo is an unknown so far. Defiant is past the age bracket, and into AdultsAreUseless territory. [1]
      Wildbow, are you trying to make all the ships lesbian? :D

      *Disclaimer- The following isn’t about Worm in particular, but fiction in general*
      I too liked Clockblocker a lot. Personally I feel that an author has to be careful when killing charecters. There is a far worse thing than having the stakes seem low, and charecters not die. Because if you’ve got a setting where dead means dead, you loose whatever that charecter brought to the table. And if it was something important… Maybe a signifigant portion of the audience really only tuned in for that characters apperences. Maybe they turned out to actually be a vital component of character interplay, and without it something is missing. Maybe they just managed to turn an otherwise lackluster story into gold. They don’t have to be a main charecter, often it’s because of their minimal role but crucial role.

      Now I’m not saying killing charecters is wrong. I’m just saying you need to be very careful about how it’s going to affect things and not just “Well time for some deaths to show it’s serous, and prove that anyone can die.” Sometimes creators feel that anyone can die means someone must die so as to show anyone can die, so someone must die… I personally find that a fault with Joss Wheadon. He managed to kill off all may favorate charecters in BTVS just to show that charecters can die.

      • I do understand your point, and agree about the risk of killing characters.

        However this arc looks planned since the beginning: Behemoth’s nickname (hero-killer) was dropped several times, and he shows up right after a cast increase. It is a viable way to “prune” the cast I guess.

        About Whedon: he is also in the habit of having main cast member not stay dead no matter what tbh.

        • Well as I said that rant wasn’t about Worm. Thus far Wildbow has been handling all the death very well. So far we haven’t had any fridging, for example. Regent’s death was surprising because we figured he had plot armor due to having to deal with his father. But at the same time the way it played out was perfect. And the effect of his death on Taylor is being felt more by how Imp is reacting to it. Much like Brian’s second trigger event, the repercussions of this are going to be felt for a long time, and it’s not just a cheap shock of “Oh hey people can die”.

          In short Wildbow has avoided all my complaints thus far. Still gonna miss Regent and Clocky. Who are going to be our smart asses now?

          • Funnier thing too is that people got caught again talking about how good something was and then getting it thrown back on them. I think it was the people laughing at how people watching Game of Thrones reacted to that Red Wedding thing.

            I remember a comment mentioned that it looked like everything had been set up with all these characters to have big roles in future events…and then Leviathan showed up, wrecked the place, and the story was hugely changed.

            And then people went and were like “Regent won’t die. Everything has been set up with him to have a big role in future events with his father Heartbreaker.”

            But we’re nearing the end, now. Everybody can die. You hear me? Every-

            • I’m fine. Just chatting away here from the Russian Roulette Grand Championships.

              So what I was saying is that you have to be careful about tempting fate like that.

              I hope I win. I need a loss here like I need a hole in my head.

              • You got it backwards, he’s talking with the voices. I do it all the time too. They’re great conversationalists when they can be bothered to stop screaming to kill everyone.

                Btw Gecko, the voices say to go watch “Sonatine” for a really cool joke to play during russian roulette.

              • The best trick is to have a gun that fires backwards. Tinker-tech forever!!!

              • You must be at least this tall to get that joke. Otherwise, it’ll go right over your head.

                “Everybody can die. You hear me? Every-”

                But talking to myself is ok. You know your audience is interested in what you have to say, at least.

                But while we’re on the subject of voices, I’ll just drop this here…I don’t actually watch that company, but I found the song somehow as a road stop along the path to find the perfect song for me.

                youtube.com/watch?v=PQWwO0vGu44

      • Or you can stay happily in the land of denial with the rest of us, and assume that Clockblocker is still alive. Show me the body…

            • Ah the denial. I know it well. That’s why you should never actually get attached to any fictional charecters in settings where death occurs. Also never get attached to any ships. I learned that one the hard way. Oh and assume the ending will piss you off until proven wrong.

      • Ok… why is Mark Reads relevant? O.o
        Sorry, I’m genuinely not getting it, and from your post it should have been obvious.

        • Umh… no.

          Sorry, but I’ll go on discussing only the less plausible theories and either refrain from posting the saner ones, or covering them if that’s not possible, as I did above. I do not have some advanced knowledge, besides what the voices tell me btw.

          It’s not difficult to un-rot something, and I offered other comments in plain, so I don’t get what the problem is. If anyone wants to read it it’s only a couple of clicks away.

  27. So, the dreaded day has finally arrived: I’ve caught up with the story and have to wait for the next update. :-/
    And of course it lines up with a cliffhanger of Behemoth about to murder everyone.

    I want to thank you, Wildbow for an amazing journey up to now. It is truly mind-boggling to see how much quality writing you have produced in a rather short time.
    This is actually the first web novel I have ever read, and it surpasses lots of published books out there, and not by a small margin.
    Time and time again I find myself impressed with the different powers you design and their application and interaction.

    What makes this story work so well for me is the sheer amount of background you provide, in no small part through the interludes.
    While they may ‘stop’ the main story from progressing, it just provides so much depth that I’d venture that I wouldn’t like Worm half as much as I do without them.
    Though I may change my feelings after having to suffer a couple of cliffhangers like this one. ;-)
    Add to that the little things you mention, like designing cape organizations and structures elsewhere in the world that only get mentioned in passing but still feel believable. Or fleshing out a whole game concept just to build a foundation for the Travelers. Funnily enough, I found my way to Worm through a “What are you reading”-thread on an esports site.

    You once said that you enjoy comments from readers who finished the archive, so I thought I’d post a few random thoughts on the story:

    – Canary Interlude: God do I hate that judge/trial with a passion. It isn’t the fact that I couldn’t see this happening, but rather that I feel that the Judges reasoning coupled with the restrictions placed on Canary are completely unreasonable to a point where I feel his elaborations are just plain wrong
    and disregarding the laws you have set forth (Rogue-Act).

    -Grue’s second trigger event: This was probably the part where I was most scared for the story in terms of simple progression and storytelling. This could have easily been a Deus-ex-machina moment. And while it sort-of was, the psychological repercussions you placed on Grue made it believable.
    Also congratulations on creating a truly terrifying image/prospect with the way Bonesaw ‘put Grue on display’, it’s rather rare for an author to be able to make me feel that way.

    -The Slaugherhouse-Nine-Arc: If I had to shorten Worm in any shape or form, and I wouldn’t really, it would probably be here. The amount of tension you produced was so high and more importantly constant that it felt almost exhausting and therefore lead to my longest ‘break’ from Worm.

    -The recent Clockblocker/Taylor/Glenn-Banter: I know you say that humor isn’t your strongest suit but this part had me grinning throughout the chapter. I really like the dynamic between Taylor and Clockblocker and I once harbored hope that he’d defect to the Undersiders (either after Noelle or after Taylor’s outing). I’m going to be pretty sad if he is really dead.

    -The Simurgh: In my opinion by far the scariest Endbringer. The amount of knowledge and influence she has bodes pretty ill for the Wormverse. Being able to (for-)see and alter digital communication (Amy’s memo to Dragon), her ability to alter people in a way that they influence critical events years after being exposed to her plus her ‘normal’ attacks on the population make for a truly scary package.

    So in conclusion: Thank you again for a wonderful story and I sincerely hope to one day place a physical copy of Worm on my bookshelf. :)

    • What he said. Plus the realization I had that the Smurf is able to assist other endbringers with her plots makes her even scarier.

    • Waaaait. Wait wait wait. Is- is this your first time commenting? Because if it is… *hands over a helmet* you’re going to need this, mate. The Geckos around these here parts, they be excitable.

    • Sure, you like Wildbow now. You’ll even like Wildbow when the story is updated just past midnight on Saturday.

      Then you know where you’re at? Waitsville, bro, population: you. It’s a sister city to Ouchtown, which is known for its pecan industry and toy recycling center. Because no place cracks nuts and busts balls like Ouchtown.

      But fear not, fair maiden, for you are not alone in Waitsville. You have the Super Justice Mega Team !Now! on your side! The names of all of them elude me, but they too bravely sally forth in the comments section between updates in order to make sure that even the 9,000+ chapter only makes up a tiny part of the page.

      The rest of it? Wild mass guessing, mild mass guessing, piled ass blessings, morality debates, WMD debates, master debates, 20+ people saying they have no words, 30+ people saying holy shit, 1+ person shipping Imp with Garrote (think about it, it works!), a longwinded discussion on the physics of a superpowered time laser attack, a shorterwinded discussion on how lasers and nukes are supposed to kill everything, one single sentence where someone points out that physics majors make a poor audience for superhero fiction, fanfiction, unrelated fanfiction, entire rewritten musicals, speculation on Scion (we know nothing), speculation on Cauldron (we know some things), speculation on Taylor’s sexuality and love life (We know EVERYTHING).

      And the funniest part is that you only think I’m kidding. But people around here know me for being nothing but deadly serious. Do you know what I’m doing right now? I’m revealing to you your fate.

      You can stay, and join this mad, mad parade. Or you can go now, and try to preserve whatever is left of your- Oh, who are we kidding. Take a number, hop in the van, mind the ducktape and candybars, and welcome to the comments section, Crenok.

    • In some cases, I’d think of enhanced durability as a kind of stasis effect that resists any physical change to the target. In Worm, since no one has the same powers in the same way, not everyone is going to be like this. So Alexandria would have no need to cut her hair because her power would resist it growing.

      It would just try to keep her body at a certain status quo, though without healing abilities. Really, if you think about it, there’s no way Alexandria has healing abilities because if she did, she’d have two eyes.

      The status quo invincibility is probably not likely, though, as her power was not enough to stop Skitter from having her sign for a package, handing her the package, and Alexandria opening the package to find her own ass was just handed to her by Skitter, and thus have her mind fucking blown. Or at least brain damage and the loss of all data within the brain pertaining to who she is.

  28. Excelent chapter. Not much to say, just waiting to see where this leads. And it appears that I am not the only one.

  29. Other note, the water dimension girl almost pulled behemoth through a portal into the water dimension her water comes from. Anyone know what would have happened had she succeeded?

    Darn, looking forward to Saturday.

  30. Regent is dead, and I can think of no better requiem than “fuck.” Way to send him out. And if Imp doesn’t kill Heartbreaker for him, I’m going to tear a hole in the multiverse and do it myself.

            • Which raises one related question and one random one:

              1) Could cult-deprogrammers (if they’re even legit) or, alternatively, a cape with empathic powers return Heartbreaker’s victims to a state of normality?
              2) Are we ever going to see Crucible again? :D

            • Another reason I’ll miss Regent, I figured he was one of the few people who could have forced Heartbreaker to undo at least some of what he’s done.

        • On a serous note you have to account for any of his kids that Heartbreaker brought with him. Cherish could sense Imp, and Valfor was able to overcome her power. Didn’t Cherish say one of her siblings could see through other peoples eyes? So Imp probably won’t be able to just sneak up to Heartbreaker and stab him in the back. But if they plan this out things can work. I can see Lisa finding all sorts of ways to sow dissent with daddy in the kids…

  31. There was something that seemed odd about the comments this time. Then I realized what it is. Psycho Gecko hasn’t been putting in their usual sense of humor in their posts. Damn you know the story has gotten serous.

      • No one is safe, man. NO ONE.
        Although my current theory is that he has already been exposed to an Endbringer, after the Simurgh accidentally hit a combination marijuana farm and LSD stockpile on the way to a city. Few have any clear memories of what happened after, but by all accounts the hallucinations were a bit… different than usual. Less KILLYOURFAMILYKILLYOURFAMILY and more MY HANDS ARE BEAUTIFUL RAINBOWS. And then the Smurf knocked over a waffle factory and went home. Nobody talks about it much.

    • Yeah, usually he’d have started a comment thread involving the phrase “happy happy joy joy” by now. He’d been having a field day all chapter.

      • It’s almost like Wildbow was on my side with that one. “What? Readers think this story is inspiring? Allow me to pull out…my kill button.”

        However, there is a fine line between gloating and too annoying gloating. A very fine line. With all kinds of bangin’ curves on it. Mm, mm, mm. That’s one fine ass line.

    • Rika isn’t there too.
      They’ve probably met IRL, fallen in love at first sight, and now they’re on their way to Vegas to get married.

      Best wishes, and watch out for the bat country.

  32. “Last stand!”

    That’s probably one of the worst things you could possibly hear coming from your own dudes, short of “All is lost”

  33. So, can they repeat the chain trick? Seems like they have everything they need for it, including replacements for the dogs … Or will it go spectacularly wrong?

    Just thinking if Scion kills Leviathan, Behemoth gets sliced and diced and the Smurf becomes Se’s next target, given he can teleport his bombs, we might learn all sorts of ecology lessons.

    Not to mention that they are going to start looking for ways to duplicate the chain trick.

    Ok, I’m off the reservation. Back to waiting patiently for what really happens.

    • I dunno, it seems like the “it only works once” trope is in effect here. They try it again BEHEMOTH is going to be ready this time. Taylor keeps stressing that the Endbringers will change tactics, adapt and retaliate, and they have to do so as well. I suspect all trying to do the chain trick again will achieve is making BEHEMOTH actively target Lilly. If he isn’t already.

      • Yeah, that is what I thought. Though the chain trick is a variant of the spider web Clockblocker trick and the next iteration I was thinking of was a wire whip.

        Projectile capes seem to keep hitting. Alexandria keeps punching. I am trying to estimate the parameters they operate from.

        In a prior life I was a game designer and it bleeds through.

        Test, probe, adjust, kill. I am just hoping Se adjusts his weapon so that it does not go disastrously wrong on his next strike.

        Too bad Regent could not grab Behemoth’s neural net, whatever it is.

        Darn, wish I knew the details of other attempts. That water girl almost swept him away has me thinking. We know some portal attacks failed. Anyway, I am going to getmyself stuck in a lacks needed data loop.

        Not as if I can guide, review and adjust attacks on end bringers and start deriving.

        But from the splash of Se’s weapon I am already making estimates.

        Darn. Wish Clockblocker were still alive. Other than killing him I did not see them solving his power application any time soon.

        I had better wait for the interlude and Cheveliar telling the last stand story in a television interview or flashback.

        That, and we are close enough to series end for an Endbringer to die. As long as the results are not world ending.

  34. Oh, I am Ethesis — just depends whether I am posting from my phone or from my home base computer how it comes up in comments. And darn, I was hoping Accord would survive after all.

    • So you’re Othello from the Ambassadors!

      Hey Dude, not cool letting the girls fight an endbringer and staying in Brockton Bay with your imaginary alter ego Ethesis. :)

  35. *will be posted to next chapter for visibility, since so few read comments this close to new chapter release, but this was too creepy not to post right away.*

    This was from IRC, Wildbow -being tame and holding back-. Was so good, just had to share.

    “La, la, la,” Bonesaw murmured a lullaby, as she stepped around the ‘altered’ babies that littered her laboratory. Each was plugged into a life support system, lone tubes that served to feed them food, water and oxygen, simultaneously draining their waste. Cherubs, she liked to call them… She traced a hand along the cryogenic chamber as she passed it.

    “Hush-a-bye, don’t you cry…” She paused to think of the words, reaching up to spin one of the infants who was suspended from the ceiling by the life support tube.

    “…creepy, little baby. When you wake, you shall have all the pretty little tortures…” she placed one child in the chamber, then injected it with a customized seed derived from Blasto’s work.

  36. Holy, holy carp. Unholy carp. Geez, they’re coming so close to destruction so often.
    And this is the end of the chapter?

  37. “We were divided, scared, fighting among one another, and our defenses were being eroded. We were being forced into pockets of defense, instead of a united one where we all stood together. Those pockets, in turn, were at risk of being wiped out with a series of decisive blows.”

    This makes no sense whatsoever. It is one of the most fundamental and commonly understand motivations of human beings. They band together against an external threat. This is why regionalism exists, a town hates the rival town, a city hates the rival city, the country hates the rival country. When there is no common enemy you expect human to squabble, they form groups that aren’t large or particularly cohesive since the only thing holding them together is individual interests. When a new tribe appears on the savannah, the tribe stops it’s infighting and bands together to fight the new, worse enemies.

    The Endbringers should have rallied humanity under a single banner against them, they are a common enemy shared by all and to suggest, even for a moment, that this would cause division is one of the most unbelievable things I’ve ever heard. It implies a serious serious misunderstanding of humanity and it’s motivations.

    It’s getting harder and harder to read through this.

    • You’d think so, but…well, some humans are stupid. They might hate the Yangban because of their methods, or because they’re foreign, or because they think that the Endbringers would bring a better fate, or because they think the Yangban would betray them, or because the Yangban don’t trust them. Same the other way around, more or less.

      And you know what the easiest kind of threat to ignore is? One where the ultimate payoff is far down the road. Sure, the Endbringers are more immediate and visible than global warming or whatever, but most Endbringer attacks still happen far away from whatever town any given person lives in. It’s a one-in-a-ten-thousand chance that you’ll get hit with an Endbringer attack, and a one-in-a-thousand that someone you know will be. The real danger is the sum total of attacks…but given how spread-out humanity is (especially with how many people would have moved away from big cities once they realized the Endbringers were attacking big population centers), and how much money is funneled into rebuilding (letting cities heal in months at times), this endgame is far, far off. Certainly farther than the two-year deadline of the apocalypse.
      Which brings me to another point: Why band together against this threat if the end of the world is coming so soon anyways?

      Besides, the Endbringers are being fought off about as well when people don’t trust each other but work with them as they are when they trust each other. Consider: Given the sheer variety and lack of knowledge of other capes fighting the Endbringers, about the closest to “teamwork” you’ll get is “Okay, you attack from the left, we’ll attack from the right”; trust doesn’t help this enough to be worth trusting everyone from superpowered murderers and warlords to a mindwashing assimilating organization.

      Oh, and there IS some trust, like the Protectorate letting the Yangban borrow a few capes’ powers.

      TL;DR: Humans are idiots, there’s less reason for trust than you see, and more trust than the quote mentions.

  38. “…and Behemoth was momentarily distracted by orange cords that bound his head, lashing him to the cape.”

    Leashing is the word intended I think!

  39. “But,” Tecton cut in, turning his head her way, “Skitter had a good reason as to why we shouldn’t. We need to recover, recuperate. Other heroes are picking up the slack, applying some pressure. Or they were until he burrowed,”

    That last comma should be a period.

  40. Okay so since the Regent and Imp Show got cancelled (*tear*) I’ll switch to the Rachel and Grace Show. 30 minutes of two girls beating everyone up! Come one, come all! Anyway, those two seem like they’d get along smashingly.

    As depressing as the first conversation about Eidolon and BEHEMOTH was it was darkly humorous as well.

    I noticed Tecton called Taylor Skitter near the beginning. Was that intentional? Personally I’m sure I’d lapse as well at points but he’s been good so far at calling her Weaver and things were relatively calm at that point so I’m not sure if that was his lapse or just a typo.

    I love the curse toast to Regent. He’d have loved that. And Imp’s idea to honor his memory by killing his dad. Awesome. She’s probably the best suited for it too. Only problem is she can’t really make him suffer for long because then he has the chance to get her as well. It’ll be a good tribute to Alec.

    Grace seems to understand Rachel…yeah they need to be on a team or show together. Poor Tecton. I hope both him and Weaver survive and that she actually does explain that Rachel really doesn’t have similar methods of thinking/feeling that others have so that he gets perked up. That was great advice just not for her. It’s nice to see that Cuff will be okay. I like her.

    Yes! I was right! Alexandria is Pretender! Well half right…I had been thinking he possessed her corpse but I guess that wasn’t quite right. Eh, the spirit is what counts. Pun unintentional.

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