Scarab 25.4

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Touché, PRT. 

You got me.

Touché.

You’re attempting to reach Glenn Chambers, co-president of Faceti.  For our mutual convenience, please categorize your message.  Press one to contact my personal assistant, who can get your message to me in text asap.  Press two if you got my number from my business card.  Press four if you are an employee.  Press five if this is a personal call.  Press nine if the call is of utmost urgency, to put yourself on the line immediately if I’m on the phone, or set off an alarm if I’m not.

I seriously debated pressing nine.  I felt like this was a nine.

I hit one instead.

This is James, receiving a call for Mr. Chambers.

“It’s Weaver, I… I don’t know who else to call.”

I wasn’t coherent, which was unusual, considering how I could normally keep myself together in a crisis.

Oh, Weaver!  He’s actually talking to someone about you right now.  I got his attention.  He’ll be with you in a second.

“I’m not sure I have a second,” I said.  There was no response.  He wasn’t on the line.

“Oh man,” Golem said.  “I’m… oh fuck.”

Quite possibly the only person who was as concerned as I was.

Glenn here.  You should have called earlier.”

“I didn’t get a chance,” I said.  I would have explained, but time was precious here.

I imagine you didn’t.  Well, there’s good news and bad news.  You’ve already run into the bad news.  Here’s the good.  This?  It’s my plan they’re using.”

I could believe it.  I didn’t respond.

Their timing is off.  I would have done this differently if I were your enemy.  It’s too much of a gamble as it stands.

“They planned this, have been setting it up for a while.  I expected interference with the missions, being supplanted with the Protectorate squad, not this.  I just need to know-“

There was a fanfare, musical, light and jazzy.  By the time it faded, a crowd I couldn’t see had started applauding.

It’s starting,” Tecton said.  He was a pillar of confidence here.

Glenn was talking, but I couldn’t hear over Tecton and the crowd.  I stepped away, my free hand raised to block out the noise.

…nds like the show just started.  They have to have leverage against you if they’re pulling this.  Your probation?

“They’re threatening to declare a breach if I don’t play along.”

Play along.  I heard what you did, announcing what the PRT was doing to the entire building.  Word got around, in certain channels.  Do not do that again.  Don’t call your bosses out and let people know that you don’t want to be here.  They’ll be ready for it, and you’ll hurt worse than they do.”

“Okay,” I said.

Did they prep you?

“No.   I got off a six-hour graveyard patrol with Gauss and returned to the base to hear about this.  They even put our new Protectorate member on the comms to keep me out of the loop, then fed me just enough information I had to listen without telling me enough.  I’ve never even seen this show, and I barely had time to get my costume brushed off and my hair in order.  They tidied it up some here, but-“

Glenn cut me off.  “Okay.  It’s not the end of the world, but I don’t think this show will help you.  These shows almost always result in a ratings dip over timeIt boosts your appeal but hits you on respectability.  It’s only worth it if there’s merchandise or media to sell, which there isn’t.  They’re tanking you.  Still, this is minor in the grand scheme of things.

Being in front of millions of people was minor.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t had appearances before, but most had been without my knowledge.  The unveiling of ‘Weaver’ was a good example of how tongue-tied I was liable to get.

“What do I do?  How do I approach this?”

I’d tell you to just be yourself, but that’s a terrible idea.  Be yourself as you normally are with the Wards.  Be the teenager, the friend.  Play up the fact that you’re a group, that there’s camaraderie.  Build a relationship with the audience by sharing things they probably don’t know.  Nothing sensitive.

I wondered if the dildo prank that the Wards had initiated me with would qualify as sensitive.

More than that, I wondered if I even had enough of a bond with the others, something I could draw on.

Be engaging.  It’s more important to keep the conversation moving than it is to say what you want to say.

“Wards!”  A woman called out.  “All together.  Hurry up now.  You’re on in two minutes.”

Like a kindergarten teacher herding students around.

“Two minutes,” I said.  “I should go.”

Good luck.  This is a day the strategist needs to take a vacation, understand?  Or delegate a task to it.  They’re putting you out there because they think you’ll either take a hit to your reputation or you’ll try to be clever and self destruct.  You stand to lose more than they do, and this isn’t live, meaning they can pull anything they don’t want on the air.

“I get it,” I said.  “They aren’t just giving me enough rope to hang myself with, they’ve put me in a rope factory.”

Exactly.

“Thank you, Glenn.”

I joined the others, my heart was pounding with enough force that the thumps rocked my entire body.  Tecton was closest to the stage, followed by Grace and Wanton.  The core team members, the veterans.  Veterans in one sense.  Wanton didn’t have half the field experience I did, even with our sustained campaign against the local villains, starting to help out in Detroit and trying to deal with that one jerkass in Milwaukee who we hadn’t yet managed to pin down.  Tecton and Grace were a little more seasoned, but not by a lot.

The stage manager was checking the microphones everybody wore.  She paused by me, and ensured it was plugged in, and that the connection was unbroken.  I was essentially wearing the same costume I had in the winter, but had skipped the extra layer beneath.  I suddenly felt intensely conscious of every wrinkle and all of the grit that had gathered up around my ankles and feet as I’d patrolled.

The costumes the others wore were immaculate.  Wanton had styled his hair to be messy in a good way, and was draped in flowing, dark blue clothing with lighter armor situated across his chest, his waist, his boots and along the length of his arms.  I suspected that the cloth afforded him more protection than the thin plates of metal, but it served to mask his artificial arm.

Grace’s costume was light, in contrast to the dark of Wanton’s.  Her new costume was white cloth, almost a martial artist’s outfit, but designed to offer more coverage.  Reinforced pads were situated at every striking point, complete with studs to offer more traction and focused impacts.  There wasn’t a single hair out of place beneath her combination headband, hairband and mask.  She had glossy, wavy locks I was a little jealous of, and a trace of lipstick.

I wish I’d considered some make up.  Not that I wore a lot, or that I’d had the time.  I had only what they’d given me in the studio, and they hadn’t gone overboard, on the assumption that I’d keep my mask on.  No, if anything it forced me to keep it on.  Heavy eyeshadow to make it easier to see my eyes behind the blue lenses.

Cuff seemed to be in the same department as Grace.  She’d done herself up, with a more ornate braid to her hair, and had altered her costume a fraction, to allow for more decorative tailoring at the ends of each panel and the nose of her visor.  Slivers of skin were visible between some slats of armor at the upper arms and collarbone.  Of everyone here, she seemed the most excited.  She couldn’t sit still, but she was smiling, and it was a genuine expression.

That left Annex and Golem.  Golem was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t blame him.  Like me, he had details he’d want to hide.  His family, his background, the fact that he was in foster care.  His costume, too, was a work in progress.  It was a resource for him, and maximizing that resource often set him back in the appearance department.  Annex, by contrast, had settled into a ‘look’.  It was plain, intentionally so.  The white cloak was form-fitting, with ribs to keep the fabric straight and close to his body so it was easier and quicker to absorb.

“Grace,” Tecton said.  “No swearing.”

Wanton snickered a little.

Tecton pitched his voice lower.  “Golem?  You’ve got to stop calling adults sir while you’re in costume.  You do it as a civilian, dead giveaway.  Hasn’t mattered up until now, but this is the test.”

“I probably won’t say much,” Golem said.  “I’m so nervous I feel like I need to puke.”

“No puking,” Wanton said.

“No puking is a good idea,” I agreed.

“Weaver…” Tecton said.  He gave me a look, with only his eyes visible behind his helmet.  “…I don’t even know.  But I’ve kind of gone the extra mile for you, and you’ve done a lot in return, but-“

The stage manager stooped down a little to talk to us, even though both Tecton and I were both taller than her.  “Alrighty, guys!  You’re on in five, four…”

“I still owe you one.  I’ll be good,” I told Tecton, just under my breath.

“One!”

The jazzy fanfare played.  As if that wasn’t cue enough, the stage manager gave us a little prod, literally pushing Tecton forward.

It was surprising how small the studio was, both the stage with its slate gray floor and fake cityscape behind it and the studio audience.  Tecton led the way to the half-circle of a table with the three hosts on the far side.  The largest chair closest to the hosts was undoubtedly his, shipped here by the PRT so he could sit down in his armor without crashing to the floor.

We sat down.  Tecton, Grace, Wanton, me, Annex, Cuff and Golem, in that order.  The music died as we took our seats, opposite the three hosts.  An adult man, African-American by the looks of it, a woman with peroxide blond hair and a girl who could have been her daughter, a brunette who bordered on overweight, with a winning smile and an overly generous chest.

“Welcome back to Mornings with O, J and Koffi,” the woman said.  “School’s out for the day and we’ve got the Chicago Wards here for breakfast.  Good morning, guys.”

We voiced our replies.  Wanton gave me a look, smiling, and I made myself smile as well.

The young girl gave a small wave, “So nice to meet you.  We had the team here before, but you guys have definitely changed things up since.  Campanile was the team leader then.”

“Campanile graduated to the Protectorate a little while ago,” Tecton said.  “He said to say hi.”

“You were there too, weren’t you?” Koffi, the man, said.

“In my old costume,” Tecton said.  “Which I’d prefer we didn’t talk about.”

There were chuckles from the hosts at his comment, and the audience echoed them.  It was oddly surreal.  I intended no offense to Tecton in thinking it, but the comment just wasn’t that amusing.

“The updated costumes look good,” Koffi said.

“We can thank Weaver for that.  Any cloth you see is spider silk,” Tecton said.

“Spider silk, wow!”  This from the blonde woman.

“Cuff and I sort of missed out on that front,” Tecton added.

“I don’t know whether to be amazed or freaked out,” the younger woman said.

“We had a giant Japanese crab on the show just a month ago, I think.  Jo had to leave the stage,” Koffi said.  “I think she’s a little nervous with Weaver here.”

“That was so embarrassing,” the young woman said.  I made a mental note of her being ‘Jo’.  “And you’re never going to let me live it down.”

More laughter.

Oh hell, I thought.  It was all so fake.  Fake responses, fake conversation.  The personalities, the way they were over-talking, it was like they’d taken everything that irritated me and condensed it into this, and situated it all in front of countless viewers so I couldn’t even respond the way I wanted to.

“I don’t dislike you, Weaver,” Jo said.  “It’s bugs I don’t like.  I’m not nervous.”

“Thank you.  Good,” I said.  Then, in an attempt to recover the clumsy sentence, I added, “I’m glad.”

The blonde, who was ‘O’ by the process of elimination, said, “There’s been a fair bit of attention directed at your team.  The leaked video thrust you all into the spotlight.  Then you dropped off the radar.”

“Recuperating,” Tecton said.  “We’re teenagers.  We go to school and play video games and being a cape is only part of it.”

“Except for Weaver,” Wanton said.

Both Tecton and I shot him a look, and then I remembered that there were eyes on me.  There was a reaction from the audience.  Light laughter.

“What do you mean?” Jo asked.

How could I even explain that I was working towards stopping or mitigating the degree of the world ending, when I wasn’t allowed to mention the fact?  Or that we were systematically targeting the most problematic villains, when I didn’t want anyone to see the show and hear the battle plan outlined for them?

“Wanton has been poking fun at Weaver about how she doesn’t go out or maintain any hobbies,” Tecton explained.  “Which isn’t entirely fair.  My apologies to Weaver bringing this up, but it’s not a secret that she’s on house arrest.  She’s on probation, and so she’s limited in what she can do.”

Koffi seized on the topic.  “You had a pretty colorful life as a villain, Weaver.  We’ve seen the cell phone video of you in the cafeteria of your high school, opposite Dragon and Defiant.”

I felt simultaneously glad that the conversation was moving and horrified that I was the subject.  I blamed Wanton.

Still, I said, “Clockblocker too.  I wasn’t actually attending school, though.  It was a couple of unlucky circumstances that put me there, and… yeah.  At that point in time, I’d wanted to focus on taking care of my part of the city.”

“That’s interesting, isn’t it?” O asked.  “You were a criminal overlord.  How were you even qualified for that?”

“It wasn’t like that,” I said.  I was more nervous now, half-convinced I was damning myself further with every sentence.  I’d inevitably come off too harsh and ‘dark’ for the civilians who were watching and too soft for any villains who happened to see.  Damn it.  “Taking the territory and being a villain were independent things.  Related, but different.  It was after Leviathan attacked, food, water, shelter and safety were hard to come by.  It was a way to help.  If I’d been a solo hero then, I’d have done much the same thing.  I’d have been gentler, but yeah.”

With less money to spend, I thought.  I’d avoided mentioning I was an undercover, aspiring hero when I’d started out.  That had never worked out for me, and only complicated things.

“And Alexandria?  I think everyone’s curious about your thoughts there.  You were shocked, in the video, when she made a reappearance.”

I shook my head.  “It’s not her.  I’m… I’m not happy, obviously, to see her up there.  It’s an ugly reminder of what happened.  But to have another person fighting Endbringers?  I’m okay with that part of it.”

“A long, bumpy road, and it’s brought you here,” O said.

“With the Chicago Wards,” I said, in a vain hope to turn the conversation away from me.

She took my cue.  “New costumes, a new group.  Behemoth is defeated and it looks like the Endbringers might have reverted to the schedule they had pre-2002.  An attack every four to five months.”

“Yes,” Tecton said.  “Everything’s new.  There’re a lot of changes going on.”

“Are you excited?” Jo asked.

Oh man, was I ever starting to dislike her.

“I’m really excited,” Tecton said.

The response caught me off guard.  Was he lying for the sake of appearances or was it honest?  How could someone be excited when the end of the world was nigh?  Did he not believe it was coming?

Whatever the answer was, I felt oddly disappointed in him.

Cuff shifted in her seat, and metal scraped against the metal of the chair’s footrest with a high-pitched noise.  She whispered, “Sorry.

O leaned forward.  “It’s fine.  Let’s hear from some of the others.  Wanton, your thoughts?  Are the changes good?”

“The changes are good.  I give Weaver a hard time, but she really kept us alive.”

“She did, by the looks of what happened in that video,” O said.

Bringing the conversation back to me.  Again.

“Grace?” she asked.  “Thoughts on your team member?”

“If you told me way back on the first time we met that I’d come to respect her, I’d have been surprised.”

Jo looked at me.  “Does that bother you?”

“No.  I respected and liked the Chicago Wards right off the bat, but I don’t blame them if there was any suspicion,” I said.

“Pretty generous.”

“If anything, I was pretty amazed by how they all pulled together in New Delhi.  Three of them were new, two hadn’t even been in a real fight before, and they went up against Behemoth?”

Cuff was perched on the edge of her seat, doing her best not to move and make things squeak again.  She had the ability to liquefy the metal touching her skin, which would have eliminated the problem, but the act would have ruined the look of it.  Part of that stiffness was anticipation, like a child who hadn’t done their homework, sitting at their desk and dreading the moment where the teacher called on them.  A stark contrast to her excitement earlier.  Had the screech knocked her off cloud nine?

“Cuff,” Koffi said.  “What do you think?  We saw the video, and you were pretty scared at the start, there.”

“Terrified.”

“You got injured?  We didn’t get to hear how.”

“A burn,” Cuff said, smiling a little.  “I recuperated in a few days.”

A lie.  She still hadn’t fully recuperated today, eight months after the fact.  She might never.

“I love to ask this question,” Jo said.  “What’s it like, being a superhero?”

She loved that question?

“It feels weird to think of myself as a hero,” Cuff said.  “I’m… I don’t think I’ll ever be one of the big heroes.  I’m not a cape at heart.  Fighting isn’t in my personality, and I got powers like this.”

“Cuff is a girly-girl,” Wanton commented.  “Her bunk at the Wards headquarters has pink sheets and rainbows and there’s a unicorn picture on the-“

Cuff leaned around me to mock-punch him.  “I’m not that bad!”

“You’re bad, though.”

Tecton raised a hand to cover Wanton’s mouth.  “I’m thrilled to have her on the team.  She hasn’t disappointed me yet.”

Cuff smiled at him.  “Thank you.

I wasn’t sure I’d have been able to say the same about Cuff, but my standards might have been higher.  She’d always done the job, but there was a reticence to her that wasn’t going away.  Three months ago, in our first real conflict outside of fighting Behemoth, she’d needed a push to carry out an offensive.  Four days ago, in Milwaukee, she’d needed that same coaxing.

Cuff was competent.  She had her strengths, and was stellar in some narrow cases.  At the same time, I still worried if a moment’s hesitation on her part would get one of us hurt somewhere down the road.

She was talking, happy to be in the limelight, stage fright forgotten.  “I was saying what it’s like being a hero.  It’s overwhelming.  It’s something that eats into every part of your life even if you want to limit it to four hours a day, four times a week.  If you don’t train and exercise then you fall behind.  If you don’t read the briefings on the bad guys, then you look stupid when you do run into them and have to ask someone.”

“I certainly hope you’re not getting into serious fights,” Koffi said.

“Um,” Cuff said.  Stage fright back in full force.  She’d touched on something that would get her a slap on the hand from the PRT, and now she didn’t have her footing.

I was trying to think of a way to rescue her when Tecton said, “Fights happen.  We’re actively trying to avoid direct confrontation, but we patrol and we practice our abilities so we can handle ourselves in the real crisis situations.  Many of our members patrol with other capes so they can get experience while having someone to rely on in case of an emergency.”

All true, but he was omitting the fact that we were actively seeking out indirect confrontation.  It was an admirable spot of double-speak, simultaneously reinforcing the atmosphere we were hoping to establish.  Heroes are safe.  Everything is under control.

“I kind of like those times,” Annex said.  “You get to hang out with the local powerhouses, hear what they have to say, learn from them.  I had a brief stay in a few other teams, but the one thing I really like about Chicago is that everyone is okay with me asking questions, and I have a lot.”

“Who’s your favorite cape to hang out with?” Jo asked.

“Shuffle.  Our powers work well together, if we’re careful not to let them interfere.”

“And Golem?  I can almost guess.  When Campanile appeared in the evening news, he had some promising words to say about the Protectorate’s newest member.  When we asked him who the most promising new recruit in the Wards was, he named you.”

“Ah,” Golem said.  “Yeah.”

“Do you think you can live up to that?”

“I hope I can,” Golem said.

The conversation was faltering.  I thought of what Glenn had said.  Showing some of the bonds between team members.  If I had one with anyone, it was with Golem.  The running, the shared perspective on the end of the world, the fact that we were both Brockton Bay natives…

“Everything Tecton has been saying about Cuff is true for Golem,” I said.  “If he’s getting praise from the heroes, he deserves it.  He’s a classic hero at heart.”

“A classic hero?” Koffi asked.

“He’s like Tecton.  Grace and Annex are too, to a lesser degree.  He’s genuinely good-natured and kind.  When everything starts falling apart, he’s still there, naturally courageous.”

“I like how I’m omitted from that list,” Wanton said.  “Only person who hasn’t been praised so far.”

I think you’re awesome,” Jo said, smiling.  The audience cooed.

“Golem’s steadfast,” I said.  “He’s working out, he’s studying hard for both regular school and cape stuff.  And with all of that going on, he’s still generous enough to help me out with my stuff.  Like Tecton said, I’m limited in where I can go and when, and Golem helps with that.”

The running, primarily, but not wholly that.  He’d walked with me to the mall once or twice.  I didn’t want to share details, though, in case people decided to try to find us while we were out, with Golem not in costume.

“Do relationships develop in this environment?” O asked.  “Anything besides friendship?”

“If you’re talking about Weaver and me, then no,” Golem said.  “We’re friends.”

“Friends,” I asserted.

“You had a thing going on with Grue,” Wanton chimed in.

“And this is the third time you’ve turned the conversation awkwardly back to me,” I retorted.

He gave me a sheepish grin.

“A tender moment on the battlefield,” O said.  “I think a lot of people were surprised.”

It was a personal moment, I thought.  If I harbored any ill will towards Glenn, it was for that.  He’d deleted sound or video where it gave up identifying details, like the nature of Cuff’s injury.  He hadn’t erased the scene with the woman in the suit, but the reception hadn’t held up that deep underground, so there was no need.  He’d also been kind enough to erase the scene where Imp had promised to get revenge on Heartbreaker.  The villain hadn’t been notified of her plan.

But all of the bonding, the closeness, leaving interactions with Rachel open for hundreds of millions of people to speculate on?  That was scummy.

Necessary on a level, but still scummy.

I hadn’t replied to his statement.  I almost wanted to let the silence linger awkwardly, just to nettle them and drive home that it wasn’t their business.

Jo didn’t give me the chance.  “You talked about Tecton and Golem as naturally heroic people.  What about you?”

Man, her questions irritated me.  Asking questions where they already knew the answer or where the answer was so immaterial…  Who watched this kind of garbage?

Why was I being forced to support it by my presence?

“I was a villain for three months,” I said.  “Maybe I’d like to think I was a little bit heroic as a villain, and I’m a little bit villainous as a hero.  But I’m working on that last part.”

“Hold on, hold on.  You think you were heroic, before you switched sides?” Koffi asked.  “By all accounts, you killed Alexandria and a law enforcement official.  You were quoted as talking to schoolchildren about the huge quantities of money you earned from criminal activities.”

Was he just sitting back, waiting for an opening?

Grace stepped up to my defense.  “She said a little.  She fought the Slaughterhouse Nine.  She helped the people in her district.”

“That actually sounds impressive,” Jo said.  “If that’s a little, then I wonder what being a little bit of a villain nowadays is like.”

She tittered along with the audience’s reaction.

“No response?” Koffi asked.

They were ganging up on me.  I wished I knew who these guys were, what their normal style was, so I could roll with it.

“I’ll let my actions speak for themselves,” I said.

Tecton was quick to speak, backing me up.  “I think that’s the best way to go about it.  It’s untreaded ground, in a way, to have a notorious ex-villain on the team.  Whatever happens, people are going to wonder where she stands, if I’ve been corrupted by association, or if this is all some elaborate scheme.  But we can work on it.  She can keep doing good work, and hopefully a few months or years down the road, I’ll still be able to say that Weaver’s a good person at heart and she’s done a lot for the good of the city and the world, you know?  Some people won’t be convinced no matter what she does, but time and reliability should let Weaver prove her worth.”

“Makes sense,” O said.  “We’re rapidly approaching another ad break.  I don’t suppose we could get any of you to step up to the plate?  A demonstration of powers?  A neat trick?”

I almost volunteered, but then decided against it.  I didn’t want to spend more time in the spotlight.

Annex stood from his chair.

“One of the new members!  Excellent!”  Jo said.  “We’ve got a crash test dummy, a beat up car…”

“I can do something with the car.  Maybe we could remodel the exterior?” Annex asked.  “Maybe the audience could name a car?  What should we make?”

Jo hopped out of her seat, arm raised like a kid in class.  She was short.  I mentally re-evaluated my estimation of her age to put her closer to her late teens than her early twenties.

A series of beeps, not even a half-second apart, interrupted all of us.  Our phones?

I was still drawing my cell from my belt when I saw a commotion backstage.  People who’d been standing still were running now, talking into headphones.

My cell phone screen was surrounded by a thick yellow border.  A text was displayed in the middle.

Stand by.

Disturbance recorded.

Possible Class S threat.

The others had identical messages on their screens.

There were murmurs among the audience members as someone from backstage stepped up to talk to Koffi and O.

“It can’t be,” Cuff said, her voice quiet.

“We got texts just like this for the incident where we met Weaver,” Tecton said.  “It could be a similar situation.”

The lighting changed.  Tecton stood from his seat, and I joined the others in following suit.

A studio employee advanced to the front of the stage.  When he spoke, the microphone headset he wore carried the sound, “A possible emergency has come up elsewhere in the world.  If this blows over in the next few minutes, we’ll edit out anything problematic and resume the show.  For now, remain calm while we prepare for an emergency broadcast from the news team upstairs.  There is no danger here.”

My phone buzzed.  I checked it to see another text.

Chicago Wards are to remain at current location.

Transportation en route.  Will deploy to studio B parking lot for quick pickup.

A little more ominous than the ‘maybe’ the studio employee had given us.

Panel by panel, the backdrop of the ‘Mornings with O, J and Koffi’ set transformed, images flickering to show a composite of a grainy, long-distance shot of a city.  It had been taken with a cell phone, and the resolution didn’t translate well with the size of the ‘screen’.  There were tall buildings, neon signs glowing in the late evening.  Somewhere in Asia.

“Japan,” Wanton said.

The camera was shaking, and the view on the screen reacted in kind.

Dust rose in clouds, billowing, until they obscured the camera’s view.

The audience was reacting.  Moans, cries of alarm and despair.  They knew what was going on.

“Please be the Simurgh,” Cuff said, her voice small.  Grace put an arm around Cuff’s shoulders.

That may be the first time in history anyone’s thought that.

She’s right, too.  Even the Simurgh would be better than this.

The timing, the fact that it was happening so soon after Behemoth had died… it was all wrong.

Behemoth had come from deep underground.  Leviathan had emerged from the ocean.  The Simurgh had approached from the far side of the moon and descended to hover just above the tallest building in Lausanne.

The fourth, it seemed, was appearing in plain sight.

The dust took forever to clear.  But for a few mutters here and there, small animal sounds of despair from the audience and studio employees who were watching, the studio had plunged into quiet horror.

It stood somewhere between Leviathan and Behemoth in height, if I ballparked by the number of stories in the adjacent buildings.  I waited patiently for the view to clear, revealing more details.  Clues, as if there was a solution to what we faced here.

I pegged him as a he before I saw too much else.  He was broad, a Buddha in physique, if more feral in appearance.  He was as black as night, with something white or silver giving definition around the edges of his various features.  He didn’t wear clothes, but he had features somewhere between leaves and fins, with elaborate designs at the edges, curling away from elbows, his wrist, his fingers and around his legs. It made his fingers and toes into claws, and left dangerous looking blades elsewhere.  His face was a permanent snarl, frozen in place, his teeth silvery white behind the ebon lips.  Tendrils like the whiskers of a catfish marked the corners of his mouth.

All across the exterior of his body, there were gaps, like the gills of a fish, and that brilliant white or silver glimmered from beneath, a stark contrast to the absolute black that marked the rest of him.  It made me think of a tiger.  And at the center of it all, quite literally, there was a perfect sphere of that same material, a marble or a crystal ball, his body perched on the upper half and his legs attached to the lower half.

Arms extended out to either side, he took a step, almost waddled.  He floated as though he were walking on the moon.

“He’s not a fighter,” I murmured.

“No,” Tecton agreed.

“What is he?” Grace asked.

People were fleeing, still in close proximity to the site, evacuating tall buildings.  The Endbringer stopped and extended a hand.  His arms weren’t long enough to reach around his girth, but his upper body rotated on the sphere that formed his midsection, giving him the freedom of movement needed.

The camera shook as he used his power, and an unseen cameraman had to catch it before it fell.  A faint glowing line appeared on the ground, a perfect circle.   The light gradually intensified, reaching higher, and the space within the circle seemed to darken in equal measure.

It moved, the circle roaming, the glowing lines adjusting to scale obstacles and account for higher ground and dips in the terrain.

When it intersected a building, the effect became clear.  Barely visible with the camera’s range, they were nonetheless a blur, moving within the circle’s perimeter.

“They’re trapped,” Golem said.  “He’s manipulating time in there and they’re trapped.”

Golem was right.  How many days were they experiencing in there, with only the food they had on hand?  Was water reaching them?  There didn’t seem to be power.

“Oh god,” Cuff said.  “Why isn’t anyone stopping him?”

“There’s no heroes on scene,” Tecton said.  “Japan doesn’t have many dedicated heroes anymore.”

It took six or seven seconds for the blurring of their movements to slow.  In another second, it stopped altogether.

He left his power where it was.  The glass on the building’s exterior cracked.  Cracks ran along and through the other material, in the street and at the edges of the structure.  It leaned, then toppled, and the destruction was contained inside the effect.

Wanton spoke, almost hesitant.  “Is that- doesn’t that remind anyone of-“

“Yes,” Grace said.  “The barrier, the time manipulation.  It’s similar.”

Similar to what we did.

All in all, the Endbringer was there for a minute.  The effect moved on, and it left a ruined husk of a building behind.  Though there was no sun shining, the stone and terrain had been sun bleached, worn by elements, eroded.

The Endbringer extended his hands out to either side, and two more glowing circles appeared.  Like the first circle had, they flared with light.  Like the first, they moved, drifting counterclockwise around him.  It was a slow, lazy rotation, slower than a moving car but faster than someone could hope to run.

He advanced with floating steps, and the circles maintained a perfect, steady distance away from him and from each other, orbiting him like the shadows cast by three invisible moons.  Here and there, people and cars were caught inside.  He wasn’t a full city block down the street before one circle had a crowd trapped within, half-filling the base of it, another circle perhaps a quarter of the way full.

He moved through a less populated area, and he left trails of skeletons in his wake, in odd fractal patterns that followed the circles’ movements.

He chose what entered and he chose what left.  An attack form that couldn’t be defended against, only avoided.

“Movers will be important,” I said.  “Maybe shakers too, if we can find a way to stop him or his circles from progressing.  His threat level depends on how fast and how much he can move those time-stop areas.”

There was no reply from the others.

I glanced at Cuff, and I saw that she was hugging Grace.  She was silent, but tears were running down her face.  Grace was more resolute, but her eyes were wet.

The timing, it was wrong.

Strategy, figuring out a battle plan, it was crucial here.  The first attacks were often some of the worst for cape casualties, if not necessarily the overall damage done.  Too many lives would be lost in finding out his general capabilities.

But it didn’t matter.

I reached out and took Cuff’s hand, holding it.  A glance in the other direction showed me Golem.  I took his hand too.

This was the key thing in this moment.  Not the future, what came next.  Support, morale and being a team in the now.

Silent, we watched as the heroes engaged.  Eidolon and Legend joined the Japanese heroes in fighting the unnamed Endbringer, keeping a safe distance.

One circle disappeared, and the Endbringer reached out.  Defending capes were too slow to escape the perimeter before the effect took hold, a new third circle forming.  Eidolon tried hitting the effect with three different powers, but it didn’t break.

No, no, no…” Cuff whispered.

In a minute, the capes were dead.

Our phones beeped, and I felt a moment’s despair.  We’d have to fight this thing.

Ship is outside if you want it, Chicago Wards.  Attendence not mandatory.

Temp. codename is Khonsu.

“I’m…” Cuff said, staring down at the phone.  “I’m staying.”

“Okay,” I said.

“You’re going?” she asked.

I nodded.

She nodded back, swallowed hard, before she turned her eyes back to the screen.  In that moment, the Endbringer, Khonsu, reversed the direction the circles were drifting, extending the distance they were orbiting around him in the same movement.

Capes who’d been trying to time their advance to close the distance to Khonsu were caught.  Four trapped and doomed to die a slow death, a fifth caught between a building and the orb’s perimeter as the circle continued its rotation.  When the circle had left the building behind, there was only a bloody smear where the fifth cape had been.  Skeletons for the rest.

Now he stood still, weathering attacks with the same durability the other Endbringers had.  Damage to his flesh exposed silver, and damage to the belly or other silver parts showed ebon black.  The onionlike layers Tattletale had described, plain to see.

I tore my eyes from the screen, marching towards the emergency doors.

So much was wrong with this.

It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right.  Fucked on so many levels.

A woman was sobbing in the hallway as we passed.  A group of twenty-somethings in dress shirts sprinted down the hallway, carrying bags.

The dragon-craft was waiting for us outside, ramp doors open.

Odd, to see the sky so bright, when the battlefield was shrouded in night.

We stepped inside, entering the center of the craft.  I found a seat by a monitor, with a laptop ready and waiting for use, login screen displayed.  The monitor was showing the battlefield, roving over the dead, the buildings that had collapsed under the weight of years.  Oddly, the cameraman wasn’t focusing on Khonsu or the defending heroes.  A few heroes were fleeing, but most weren’t in view.

“We’re ready,” Tecton called out.  “Ship?”

The craft hadn’t taken off.

My growing sense of dread was confirmed as the image on the monitors changed.

Even with those circles being as devastating as they are, it wasn’t enough.  There wasn’t the same broad scale, the promise of lingering devastation.

No.  There was something more to Khonsu.

The monitors showed him in a different city.  A caption on the bottom of the screen showed the words ‘Cape Verde’.

He’d teleported halfway around the planet.

All of the problems with getting to Endbringer fights on time, with mobilizing and dealing with the fact that half of our best teleporters and movers had been slain in past battles… he was capitalizing on that weakness.

My phone vibrated to alert me to a new text.  I didn’t need to read it to guess what it said.  I read it anyways.

Stand by.

“No,” I whispered to myself.

The heroes were engaging, now.  Legend and Eidolon had caught up.  Khonsu had situated himself near some kind of military installation, and they’d wasted no time in readying for a fight.  Missiles and shells exploded around him.  The columns of frozen time that rotated around him caught many, and they exploded within the delineated structures.

For long minutes, he fought.  I watched, my eyes fixed on the screen, to see his behavior, to look for the cue.

He waded into and through the arranged military squadrons with their parahuman supplementary forces.  He was as tough as Behemoth or Leviathan.  No attack delivered more than scratches or nicks.

Five minutes, six, as he leisurely tore through the forces he’d caught off guard.  Eidolon ducked between two of the pillars of altered time and delivered a punch that sent the Endbringer tumbling.  The orbiting columns were pulled behind Khonsu as he moved, and Eidolon came only a hair from being caught.

Alexandria and other capes joined the attack.  Too few.  Everyone else retreated.

Khonsu didn’t pursue.  He remained where he was, arms extended out to either side, palms down.

Then he disappeared in a massive, tightly contained explosion.  Trucks and sections of fence were thrown into the air by the movement.

Long seconds passed.  Then my phone vibrated.  Another text.

Cannot deploy until we have a way to pin him down.

Stand by until further notice.

I struck the laptop that sat in front of me.  One hinge holding it in place snapped.  I shoved it hard, and it fell to the floor of the craft.

“Fuck!” I shouted.  “Fuck it!”

I kicked the fallen laptop, and it went skidding across the floor, down the ramp and into the parking lot.  My foot stung with the impacts.

The other Wards were gathered, sitting or standing around the craft that was taking us nowhere.  There was no way to approach if he’d teleport by the time we arrived.  We’d never catch up to him.  The others were as quiet and still as I’d been violent, haunted, scared.

Nobody talked.  Nobody volunteered ideas, because we didn’t have any.

I wasn’t sure any of us knew how to fight this one.  Nobody in the Chicago Wards did.  Nobody elsewhere.  Speaking, commenting on the situation, it would only remind us of what we were facing.

Above all else, I wasn’t sure I wanted to think about the detail we hadn’t spoken aloud.  The thing, above everything else, that made this so fucked up.  In the nine years that we’d been fighting Behemoth, Leviathan and Simurgh, they’d never attacked this close together.

Even if we found a way to beat this Khonsu, to mount a defense and stop him from picking us apart, settlement by settlement, darker possibilities loomed.

Two attacks, two months apart.  Had their schedule changed?  Would the next attack come in a mere two months, or would it be more unpredictable than that?

No, I thought, with a dawning horror.  No, it was worse than that.  The Endbringer’s schedule of attack had always depended on the number of Endbringers in the rotation.

If they were keeping to their usual rules, it promised a fifth, waiting in the wings.

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377 thoughts on “Scarab 25.4

  1. Oh god there is new Endbringer. I can’t say I am surpised. What I am even more terrified is that there is supposed to be a fifth waiting to happen.

    • Oh man. If Khonsu is this bad… will the next one be even worse? If so… how?

      Hell, we don’t even know if Big B might resurface still. Fuuuuck.

        • Oh, wow. I just got how to beat the Endbringers…..

          Screw fighting them. You can’t win that way. They’re insanely overpowered and they’re replaceable. So don’t waste time on them. Find the people/things that made them instead. Crush the source, or better yet crush the source and steal the ability to make them yourself.

          Yeah, maybe the source is even more powerful, but what if they’re not?

          • And THAT is why Tattletale is probably one of the five or so most important people on the planet right now. She’s probably the best chance for figuring out what the source of the Endbringers is, and if they are somewhere they can be fought, going after them. No war can be won if you can’t go on the offensive.

            • I’m sure the appearance of Khonsu is very useful data for Tt, especially given the timing. I wonder what she’s making of it…

        • This one seems designed so it can always be able to slow down or run away from Zion before he kills it, I wonder wht the fifth one will be able to do to avoid Zion kills

          • They locked Behemoth down with time manipulation and skeletonized him. So it does what was done to Behemoth to those he finds in return.

          • if zion is immortal, the time stop won’t stop him. no, the danger is, what if more than one fight together. simurgh and leviathian are hurt faster than they can regenerate? ohh, they just got a FIVE YEAR recharge in a second.

      • All credit to this post and unearthing this info goes to Sage from the IRC, and Wikipedia for the article she got some of it from. ’tis her post copied verbatim, and will hopefuly help explain Khonsu a bit for people.

        “Khonsu gradually replaced the war-god Monthu as the son of Mut. In other words, Khonsu the egyptian god of the moon and travelling and slaying the enemies of the king and god of light in the night… Came about as a replacement in the pantheon for a straight-up war god.

        ‘Khonsu can also be understood to mean king’s placenta, and consequently in early times, he was considered to slay the king’s (i.e. the pharaoh’s) enemies, and extract their innards for the king’s use, metaphorically creating something resembling a placenta for the king. This bloodthirsty aspect leads him to be referred to, in such as the Pyramid texts, as the (one who) lives on hearts. He also became associated with more literal placentas, becoming seen as a deification of the royal placenta, and so a god involved with childbirth.’

        If Wildbow went rather balls to the wall with this I think I’m a wee bit terrified of a Nilbog-style Endbringer.”

        Scary thoughts.

        • I didn’t want to say anything because it tends to lead to awkwardness to assume, but Khonsu’s belly is looking kind of big there, isn’t it? I think Leviathan is about to throw it a shower.

        • Passenger extraction and repurposing would be a genuinely terrifying surprise to pull on people.

          One does get the feeling that the world threw up its hands and called bullshit a long, long time ago… not that the Endbringers care.

          • Not sure how accurate this is, but in Marvel Comics Khonshu is also the god of vengence. So that’s sort of fitting for the new Endbringer that appears after BEHEMOTH was slain.

    • I agree. Looking back, I should have seen it coming. Maybe it was the murder of Behemoth that triggers the end of the world. Maybe it’s the trigger that makes more Endbringers, which I have taken to describe as “Godzilla, but worse” to people who don’t read this, pop up, and hell starts there.

      • I don’t think it can be the end of the world — the end of the world is a single event. Meaning this is still a sideshow to the main event.

        • Maybe they keep killing them until one of them does just cause a single event? But I see what you mean, it could be something else.

    • I’m fairly new to the community here, so I’m sure this has been pointed out, but the Endbringers seem to be getting smarter in that their powers are less physical, but toughter to counter or more psycologically damaging.

      Behemoth was basically just a big powerhouse; a death-brick (not a flying brick). Leviathan seemed to be faster, slippery-er, maybe smarter or more clever, and the larger damage was secondary (from the flooding) instead of directly eminiating from his being.
      Simurghur (sp?) has her flight, tech, and precognition.
      This guy seems like if he would actually stand still, the fight should be over in short order. Except that he doesn’t, and whereas past Endbringers could be fought head-on by tough enough capes, countering this guy requires an entirely different kind of immortality.

      For comparison, it seems like they’ve gone from an axe, to a sword, to a knife, to a scalpel.
      Or to look at it another way, when you line up the classic elements (fire, earth, air and water) the endbringers so far sort of line up with them. I’m not sure if Behemoth is more Fire or Earth, but when you get outside that standard cosmology, you start to find cultures with elements like metal, wood, spirit, light and dark, and void/oblivion.

      With the tech-aspect, I could see Simgurgh being a combination of air (often asscociated with knowledge or travel) and metal. So this guy (Khonsu) continues the direction of being less traditional, having powers based on time and space rather than physical materials.

      And…I think I’m just blathering now, so I’ll end there and think on it some more.

      • Which makes wharever comes next even more worrying. Random guess – something small and/or insanely fast fast to dodge everything?

        • Hmm….the Enbringers seems to have a very specific feel to them, at least IMO, and something small just doesn’t feel quite right.

          I was trying to imagine new ways they could be terrifying, like an invisible endbringer or one made out of mist (so that there’s no solid body to damage), but those didn’t feel right either. From what we’ve seen, the Endbringers are all larger than life, nearly invulnerable, and obviously terrifying. But even accounting for the inherent unusual-ness with their powers, the Endbringers have a very classic “monster” archetype about them.

          With regards to the order of emergence for the Endbringers, Behemoth was just pure power. Ridiculously hard to counter, but relatively straightforward. The capes couldn’t take him head on, so they had to get smart to fight him.
          So then Leviathan, the “smart/cunning” enbringer emerged, and the capes had to coordinate better.
          So then the Simurgh showed up to disrupt that coordination.
          The heroes managed to kill Behemoth with a record numbers of heros and some tricky combinations of powers, but now we’ve got an Endbringer that won’t be pinned down by force fields or defensive lines, and won’t hang around long enough to be caught by Scion.

          There where comments after Behemoth’s defeat that suggested the next Endbringer/attack’s would employ the sort of things Khonsu is doing (hit and run, basically). But so far, I’ve seen relatively little in the way of suggestions of how things can escalate still further from here.

      • Scion does as he is told too. What I’m curious about (and dying for an interlude to reveal I know you read these..) is how Scion was severed from his original controller. It seems like he didn’t know what to do once he lost that connection and just ended up floating around until that homeless man eventually came to be his handler. For that matter, I’m curious as to the process that resulted in his control over Scion – or rather the 2nd person’s control.

        Its even possible the Endbringers are similarly following orders in a dementedly literal fashion. Maybe their handler died at some point in Scion’s [what I'll term] awakening? I’m just assuming Scion is intimately involved in this, I feel like we all do. Either they’re all under the same person/entity’s control and Scion was the first (failed) Endbringer, or each Endbringer/Scion is like the champion of a god sent to this Earth. God reference being tied to the whole passenger thing. Hell, maybe they’re each just more powerful entities undiluted by a use of humanity to propagate. But I’m voting for human corruption to be behind it.

        • I don’t really have any ideas about the Endbringers, but personally my suspicion is that Scion isn’t real in the same sense that the Siberian isn’t. Maybe the homeless guy is the one with superpowers, and Scion is just a projection. It’s entirely possible the homeless guy doesn’t even realize it, it’s all subconscious. Of course if that’s the case that means once he dies the world at large is kinda screwed.

    • The problem with an intelligence designing these things is that it’s a little late in the game to be bringing forward some new vast foe that we’ve had no inkling of before now.

      I think it may be safe to reconsider what we know about the Wormverse based on the possibility of Endbringers being designed like that. There has been some hinting at it with the Cold Capes and Cauldron bringing it up.

      • Well this clinches the theory that Cauldron knows more about the Endbringers then anyone else. When BEHEMOTH died, pretender still acted like it was the end of the world and know we know why. This implies they knew that more would show up.

    • Actually, I’m not so sure.

      it was indicated heavily that this Endbringer is a pure retaliation for the success against Behemoth. It uses the same (broadly) tactics and abilities that made that victory possible. Without much innovation.

      This kind of automatic retaliation points more to an automated process for Endbringer spawning, rather then a deliberate will.

      • Or it’s like Taylor described her passenger. It can act on it’s own, but it’s not exactly smart. Or it’ll turn out that it’s evil aliens who have a base on the dark side of the moon, and Taylor will get there and have her bullet ants crawl up their asses before biting.

        Probably not the latter.

  2. Well….shit. It got worse the series. So this one will attack the whole world, and everyone dies through starvation and thirst. Hopefully this one gets tired soon. I was surprised at this chapter, thinking that Wildbow would never throw Taylor into another Endbringer fight so soon, and then we find out that he didn’t. She can’t affect the fight because no one can catch him. Well there is still Scion’s new kill order to help things, IF he can catch the damned thing. Great concept for the new monster Wildbow, I was sure it would be a Master type. Well, the world might change after this. Suicides, despair, cult of Scion, doomsday predictions, etc. Maybe the world will finally/truly unite and form a Nerve type organization to fight them.

      • Echidna was a Master, so I think that makes it a little less likely that a new one will be. Of course, Simurgh’s manipulations are a sort of Master power, too, so that’s two instances of Endbringers/maybe-Endbringers having/maybe-having Master powers, so that adds up to at least one Endbringer having Master powers. My money is on the fifth being a full-fledged Tinker, far beyond Simurgh’s clairvoyant tech sense. (I wish *I* had the power to know what’ll happen when I push the red button.)

        • Well, I Iwas thinking about what would be unique and effective. Perhaps something that produces a toxic gas or poison, or even something that is made of a gas or liquid. The fact that Alexandria and Eidolon can get up close to hit Endbringers is a major hinderance, so something that makes brute force impossible would be the most difficult Endbringer fo fight. Endbringer. Or maybe something that can phase into buildings or the ground, perhaps disintegrating them as it leaves.

          • Hmmm, I can see why Wildbow included monsters in his story. Thinking of new ways to devastate the world is fun!
            I just thought that a giant blob Endbringer would be good. Slow, but very hard to damage.

  3. I would like to add Holy Shit Quotient to the tropes page now. The first example is when Skitter killed Alexandria as everyone was saying holy shit. This chapter gives another Mass Oh Crap for the world and the readers. I thought it at the words Time Control.

  4. I just realized, the title of the Arc refers to this. Khonsu was an ancient Egyptian God, and Scarab is an egyptian beetle.

      • Also a travel God. Name means “traveler. Also a god of healing, can he heal himself faster than the other Endbringers?

          • You know this is just going to make us assume that the people who picked it already knew about it because they made him or REASON, right?

            Also, this makes us wonder if the last few endbringer fights had them targetting teleporters just for Khonsu’s arrival.

          • I’ll copypaste part of my braingasm from IRC:
            Scarab = Khonsu
            Something to do with revival
            Resurrection and shit

          • On one hand, this is awfully terrifying and soul crushing.

            On the other hand, I think wildbow can think of something even more horrifying and soul crushing than another behemoth for the fifth endbringer.

              • Not bad enough, just make it look exactly like Scion. That way, people are even more terrified. They can’t tell the difference.

              • Prehaps a gecko, or more apt a giant wildbow whose power is removing and consuming your sense of accomplishment and safety with a rusty, cold spork.

                As long as we’re considering resurrections, there is our old friend Nobel.

            • Considering the portal seems to be one of the last hopes, perhaps the the fifth Endbringer could focus on that. The ability to open and close portals on an even grander scale than the Smurf could be absolutely terrifying.

              • She appropriated Haywire’s equipment to tear that portal. Without it, she probably doesn’t have the ability. Sure, she might have learned it from the machine, Blue Magic style, but she hasn’t used it since.

            • Something gasseous, gelatinous and toxic, to make brute force ineffective and dangerous to the attacker. Something like a giant slug that produces chlorine and leaves a trail of poisoned earth. Sammy the wonder slug would leave an uninhabitable trail, would literally bouce back after every hit, it might be able to kill Eidolon and Alexandria via poisoning, and just think how demoralizing it would be to lose to a slug.

          • Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. If he really is made to counter what killed BEHEMOTH then the ability to fix himself faster and regain full functunality is a good idea. I can see him turning his time distortion on himself, and presto! Also since he’s a teleporter they won’t have an easy time tracking where he goes when he’s not resting. No chance of any prediction or premptive strikes.

    • To pile on with all the people attacking Khonsu with F-bombs…present in Egyptian mythology, and in other mythology, is the notion of a god that dies and returns from the dead. Just laying that out there for my own amusement.

  5. Well, damn.

    And I think this isn’t so much an anti-heroes measure as it is an anti-Scion measure. Teleportation isn’t a power he seems to have, after all, so this Endbringer is one that he can only respond to if either he’s already on the scene or he attacks it from the other side of the planet. And even then, it can still escape instantly.

    Here’s to hoping that Clocky did in fact survive New Delhi. He has one of the only powers I can think of that can deal with both aspects of this new Endbringer’s bullshit at the same time. Phir Se would be another, assuming anyone can find and contact him. Or Cody, if he weren’t a Simurghed fuckup who’s either on the run, dead, or stuck in a cave and Yangbanged.

    Otherwise, you’d need somebody who can grapple it and then pound it into ruins. And whether that works depends on just how tightly it can control those accelerated zones it kills things with, as well as whether it can choose not to take things with it when it teleports.

    • Oh wow, I can’t believe I didn’t notice that till you pointed it out. Half the problem with Endbringers is waiting on the Golden Slowpoke to show up. Now this one can teleport? Seems someone/thing is creating these with purpose and planing, which is decidedly ungood.

      • However, the rapid teleportation also increases the likelihood of Khonsu rapidly teleporting near to where Scion is, possibly attracting his attention even more quickly.

        So is Simurgh helping Khonsu move around, like an Endbringer version of how Cauldron teleports, or does Khonsu have some way to figure out where it needs to go itself?

        • Man, it would be hilarious (sort of) if Khonsu is teleporting away (possibly with a “goodbye, suckers!” ) only to appear right in front of Scion. With awkward stares and embarrassed silence and all of that.

          But of course this is Worm, so it’s unlikely we’d be so lucky.

          • In response to the above.
            Scion hands the kitten he just saved back to the little girl who owns it. A panicky Konshu tries hitting them with the time distortion. Scion shatters with a wave of his hand. Konshu Teleports away. It turns out Scion can teleport if he wants. Konshu craps himself before dying.

        • My guess is it isn’t actually teleportation. What he actually does is a kind of time stop effect that allows him to walk to wherever he wants before ‘restarting’ time again.

  6. An Endbringer that can kite Humanity’s finest. Lovely. Good thing they have capes like Strider who can.. oh, right. Fucking attrition.

    So much for long term plans, the rout may be on, get thee to a portal town! Director whatshisface better mind his manners, that job is the only thing standing between him and his family being part of the 97% that maybe get smoked right off the bat. But man, those people Weaver thought were settling down, hoping for a better world? They’re gonna take this badly.. probably all different kinds of badly, from apathy to despair massive blame-laying to panicked grabs for portal access.

    • At which point the Smurf might attack Brockton Bay again if everyone puts their hope in the portal. Though Faultline will probably be making a lot more portal for people after this.

  7. It’s interesting to note that the powers are getting more esoteric with each new model.
    Behemoth was scary but basically just a ‘see a thing, kill a thing’ type of monster.
    Levi was more focused on enviromental based damage.
    The Smurf fucks with people’s heads, turns the victim into the enemy.
    Now we’ve got the basic building blocks of the universe as a weapon. Leaves me real apprehensive about número cinco’s powers and tactics.
    Especially if whoever makes these is actively learning from the hero’s tactics. That’s honestly the scariest part, because it pretty much cinched the deal on this being a highly organized premeditated attack, rather than just bad luck.
    And one final brain-twister. A new endbringer was generated /very/ rapidly, with an implication of another on its heels. Given that whoever is behind this is now proved to be able to field more than three of these critters at a time without much trouble, what was holding them back before?

    • I think/theorize that Noelle’s passenger which was already warped and different from the rest was meant to fall to earth and become an Endbringer itself- specifically, it was meant to become Khonsu, as childbirth is associated with him as well. So… yeah. Killing her freed the Endbringer’s Seed Passenger, which then was able to feed- probably on dead parahumans’ passengers- and grew quickly into the Khonsu we now know.

      • I thought part of the problem with Noelle’s “passenger” was that she only drank half the vial. In Battery’s interlude Cauldron was very specific about how she had to drink the whole thing in one go no matter what. Noelle got half, and Oliver took the other half. I’m trying to think of what the powers would have been if Noelle had been brave enough to drink the whole thing, but I got nothing. Probably the same except she would look normal? Or she would be able to turn herself into someone’s clone! (Oliver was able to change his appearance slightly over time)

      • I was answering the question from metalshop:
        “what was holding them back before?”

        Logically, whatever being is creating the endbringers wants to destroy the world slowly, making it suffer in the process.
        A slow “death by endbringers” is probably the most sadistic way to destroy the world and it also explains why the endbringers where not using their full potential. The goal is to destroy slowly, painfully.
        If the goal was to simply destroy the world a plague something similar would do 90% of the job alone leaving the rest 10% as easier pickings.

    • The Endbringer’s whole thing is that they come up with new strategies whenever their opponents come up with something that works, right? Well, maybe the Fifth is the Endsender’s Plan B for dealing with the winning strategy used on Behemoth.

      Don’t know what that would be, other than probably very different from Khonsu.

      • I’m more inclined to believe the response thus far has been based on flight or fight mentality. Yes Khonsu’s got power, he’s an EB after all but a large part of the problem in dealing with him is he’s ability to hoof it.
        My money’s on fight mode for the next EB (should there be one). Probably much worse than what we’ve seen thus far possibly a ScionKiller?? If you can’t avoid it kill it.

    • Actually, given this line of thinking, I’m leaning toward the fifth one having some other sort of epistemological power aside from Tinkering. We already have Simurgh, who can know things she shouldn’t be able to know, so I’m thinking it’ll be the opposite sort of epistemological power: destroying knowledge, rather than creating it. Something along the lines of Bonesaw’s red mist and Imp’s power… Just imagine an Endbringer nobody can remember anything about. They can make up a name for it and track the devastation it leaves in its wake, but they have no idea what it looks like, what it does, how to fight it, or where it is.

      • Ohh, that’s terrifying. A kind of (Stranger?) power similar to Scion, but really more like The Silence, who you remember everything about when you can see them, but when they leave your sight you forget you even encountered them.
        I’m for a Changer, as that is one of two classifications I have not seen the Endbringers show any possible traits for.

    • I’d be making a beeline for the Brockton Bay portal. No giant malevolent monsters running around? Relatively safe and free? Sign. Me. Up. Don’t even care that Bitch is in charge, with all the risks that implies.

      • No infrastructure at all, potentially new and untreatable diseases (and since there’s no infrastructure – no way to develop treatments).

        Oh, and Simurgh will still get you with its/her interdimensional tech.

        So, no, I’d b putting a bullet into my brain about ten minutes after learning the news.

        • Also has anyone considered that they infected Earth Aleph with the Simurgh’s effects via the Travelers? Or perhaps her endgame with them was Noelle and then whatever Trickster is going to do in the Birdcage regarding all the villains getting out.

        • I would bet the new world doesn’t really have that many new diseases, mainly because those diseases would have to hop to humans from alterna-bisons and pigs and whatnot: there are no humans on the other side to be the hosts of evolution for bugs like that. Also there are bison, the world probably isn’t that divergent from our own. IIRC, there might even have been civilisations that were then wiped out, so even closer.

  8. 1. At least it wasn’t the s9000
    2. O, J, and Koffi. *snicker*
    3. So we’ve moved out of Hebrew mythology and gone from monsters to gods. Who’s next? Typhon? The Midgard Serpent? Avalerion? Some dumb joke about Golem’s grandpa when Odin shows up?

    • And we weaver could really use some sort of awesome second to get to get to the fight!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • We already have the Midgard Serpent. One of Leviathan’s other names is Jormugand.

      On the other hand, Typhon the Godkiller is a catchy name. (And yes Typhon didn’t kill any god but Typhon the guy who ripped Zeus’s sinews from his body and made all the gods run away in fear isn’t as catchy.)
      Maybe an Endbringer designed to specifically fight Scion?

      • Typhon beat Zeus in a straight up fight and had him captured. Then the other gods realized he was trouble. Hermes took Typhon out for a night of wild drink while the others rescued Zeus, gave him time to heal, and made sure he had his lightning bolts ready for round two, when Typhon came back hungover in the morning. After all that, the best they could do with Typhon was contain him either in Tartarus or under Mt. Aetna. You know you’re a badass when the only way Zeus can beat you, not kill you, is to toss a volcano on top of you.

        It’s very nearly the most macho way to die, but we’d need him to ride a shark strapped with 250 lbs. of TNT. And it would need to actually kill him.

  9. A question for Wildbow. How do you get the inspiration for the endbringers and their names? Do you come up with the powers and then search mythology for the name? Or do you look through mythology for the being and then adapt it for your story?

  10. This almost certainly proves that there must be some malevolent force, human or otherwise, deploying the Endbringers against the world. Between what Tattletale discovered regarding Behemoths artificial nature and how each new one seems made to counter whatever strategy or power that the heroes have found a degree of success with against the existing ones some one or some thing has to be responsible. Discovering the ultimate source of the Endbringers and permanently neutralizing it strikes me as just about the only hope they have of survival the way it keeps escalating. Given that the Simurgh has already demonstrated the ability to build portal devises that reach into parallel worlds, evacuating via the gateway in Brockton Bay or Cauldron’s Doormaker would probably prove futile in the end. On a better note at least the PRT directors should have more pressing things to worry their tiny little minds over than trying to destroy Weaver out of spite, at least for a little while.

  11. I am very curious about what other offensive abilities Khonsu might have, not that he necessarily needs them. So long as he can speed up those circles and alter their rotations at will he can probably kill any cape that isn’t a very good mover, but all of the endbringers seemed to have at least one way of causing harm on an absolutely massive scale, and I just don’t think his explosive teleport is quite up to the task of absolutely giant earthquakes, tsunamis, or crazy songs that impact entire cities. So I think he must have at least one major area of effect trump that he will wait to toss out.

    • Taylor seems to believe this as well with her comment about how the first attacks are always the worst because they don’t know what they are capable of. There is also the escalation thing when someone hurts them. A mass wide time bubble where everyone in the city ages a few years?

        • No idea. For all we know, he simply mass teleports everyone around him into space. It’s just speculation. For example, He never moves his “bubbles” until everyone inside is dead. So what happens if a somewhat immortal being is in there? For example a Dragon Copy might be able to spend time building stuff to offset the natural loss due to decay.

          • Without fresh water, humans can’t live too long. Less than a week. Recycling their own urine does a little to help this along, and living off your own blood can only take you so far. That’s your number one priority.

            If one has water, one can survive for longer, provided you have access to something sharp, like a knife, and are good at closing off a wound. Theoretically you could extend your life for some time by amputating and consuming limbs as necessary, but there is a limit to this. It certainly won’t be the healthiest of diets.

            As for how long they are being left there, they are not being buried, so they are exposed to some elements. That also means exposed to ice if they are in a temporal bubble in an area where freezing occurs. However, it seems unlikely they have to worry about carrion eaters except for what few bugs may be in there. Given the time bubble and the ability to survive on dead flesh, it’s possible for the bubbles to rapidly increase the population of bugs in a very small area. There are also bacteria present that aid in the digestion of the body.

            • What they have to do is see him trap some people next to a river with a stable farmland/food supply. Then they can see the limits of his power and plan accordingly. Though having everyone carry around a giant amount of water with them is impossible.

            • If they live in an accelerated timebubble, having “seasons” doesn’t make sense, except as entropy as the bubble’s energy evens out because nothing is coming in from the outside. This means no sunlight.

              In a time-bubble like that, you could theoretically survive as long as you have technology and a power source that lasts long enough: you could grow vegetation under lamps, for example, and recycle the elements with energy for water and oxygen if needed. Anything outside of the bubble would be an ultimate, cold darkness, with shadows of a nigh-unchanging scene outside pouring in as slowed down EM radiation. So at least the people inside won’t be fried (unlike people within stasis bubble should be).

              But skeletons and broken down buildings decayed by the energy and “seasons” contained within a closed bubble? That sounds like a long, long while. A really long while.

          • “The effect moved on, and it left a ruined husk of a building behind. Though there was no sun shining, the stone and terrain had been sun bleached, worn by elements, eroded.”

            How can something be sun bleached unless it’s receiving more sunlight than the area outside the bubble? Eroded and worn by elements when it received no extra storms or gusts of wind?

            I suppose I could also ask, if that spot is in the future, why is it in relatively the same spot as its past self was when they’d be a huge distance apart in space, but we tend to ignore that one with time travel.

            I’m going to at least ask the question though, and we’ll see if anyone has any ideas. Could it be something other than time?

            Dimensional, in some way? I mean, if time were speeded up for me at least, I’d run to the edge of the time effect. For some reason, they never manage it even though to their senses they have the time to do so and escape.

            • Well I though it was all dimensional. He transports them to a dimension where time moves faster relative to ours. Though there might be something weird or unusual about that dimension. Things like side effects, hallucinations, etc. I’m picturing weird animal life like the from Stephen Kings’ the mist.

            • Part of the failure of the “run out of the circle” plan is the fact that the circles are bordered by ~impenetrable forcefields that Khonsu renders selectively permeable. If you can punch through impenetrability, go ahead and run to the edge. If not, good luck getting out. You’ve got plenty of time to bang on the wall before you die, though.

              • Jumping through that sort of time differential would have parts of your body moving at very different time rates to other parts, even if Khonsu let you. This could easily be fatal.

  12. Well that was a fun chapter. I really like the idea of the PRT taking revenge on Skitter by putting her on a talk show. I’m wondering if Wanton was working as a plant for the leadership here, he kept forcing the conversation back to Taylor…

    I’m not sure that I follow Taylor’s logic about a fifth Endbringer based on the timing. If I’m remembering corrctly, the endbringers were appearing roughly every three months, making it a nine month rotation. Since there was only a 2-month interval here, that would make a ten month rotation…or an eight month rotation, assuming Behemoth doesn’t count anymore.

    Maybe the “roughly 9 months” actually added up to 10?

    Anyway, I’m not sure I’d the problem here is my memory or Taylor’s logic. Is clarification available?

    Thanks for writing!

    • They were showing up every 3.5 months when there were three of them. There was considerable speculation earlier that the 72 day timing between Brockton Bay and New Delhi indicated there had been four active at that time – but of course, Behemoth died then.

      A two month interval sure looks like there are four active now.

      • Hmmm…

        Okay, so 3.5 months is roughly 100 days

        100 days times 3 endbringers = 300 day rotation

        300/4 = 75 days, hence the New Delhi attack indicating a 4th endbringer

        2 months is roughly 60 days

        300/60 = 5, hence a potential 5th Endbringer now

        Okay, got it. Thanks for the clarification.

        Now I’m wondering what will happen in Behemoth’s slot. Will he reappear despite being vanquished, will the next one in line just go early, will there be a 4 month break, or is there not just a 5th but a 6th Endbringer waiting in the wings to fill the hole? Tattletale must be going into overload right now.

        • It’s not a straightforward question of division, unfortunately. The pattern we’ve got so far is ~240 days / 1 EB, ~150 days / 2 EB, ~105 days / 3 EB, ~60 days / 4 EB.

          Current thought is that a 5th Endbringer would mean 4 Endbringers active (Behemoth being dead) or that Behemoth came back, and you have Behemoth, Leviathan, Simurgh, and Khonsu making four active. I don’t think anyone thinks there are five active at this time.

          Unlikely that Behemoth has a specific slot – the only hard and fast rule (beyond the timing) was that the same one hasn’t gone twice in a row since Leviathan showed (and Behemoth had someone to take the other shift). So with Behemoth, Leviathan, and Simurgh all active, you had spans that went B/L/B/L/B/L… S!, like some demented game of duck duck goose.

  13. Alright fine! You can have the fucking world if you want it so bad!

    I guess it’s time for the Protectorate reform to happen, NOW. The only thing that made the current methods and the PRT necessary was their ability to consolidate and have a significant presence of support on the battlefield. Now we have a cocksucker who confounds any attempt for mundanes to make preparations before hand. Capes will start deciding to hole up in their own cities during Khonsu attacks, weakening defenses and eroding the position of the PRT.

    Now they need something like a fast, first responding task force that needs to be highly co-ordinates and unrestrained by bureaucratic oversight. Something the current brass will never allow if they want to keep their golden goose of a law enforcement agency alive.

    I guess it’s time for a certain AI lady to come out and start getting shit done, eh?

    • I know. Hell, I wouldn’t mind if she became fucking skynet at this point. She would decide that the Endbringers are her natural enemies and help humanity accordingly. Come on governments of the world. Give Dragon every single resource you have. We need an army of Dragon Suits yesterday.

  14. When I started reading this I thought nothing could top a talk show for pure horror factor, going claw to claw with Behemoth would be less terrifying…. And then this fatso shows up.

    So now, lets see. Counters to Mr Khonsu.

    Clockblocker (Still dying to know what what happened to him) Should be able to just freeze himself or others inside the time bubbles to survive indefinitely, no?

    Eidolon can surely use his Echidna-slowing bubbles to counteract Khonsu’s effect.

    Alexandria is immortal, does the same go for Pretender while he’s at the helm? Can’t imagine sitting around in there for however many years would be fun though.

    Khonsu also seems like he’d be kinda easy to fight if you got close enough. Doesn’t seem to do anything close range, and he’s probably too fat to reach his head. Land on his big ol’ noggin and start hacking away. With luck, maybe you’ll even teleport along with him.

    I’m sure other people can think of more. Cheer up, heroes! I’m sure Khonsu isn’t really that bad once you get to know him.

    • While Alexandria doesn’t seem to age, she might still require food and water.

      Clockblocker still has to touch people, and the effect wears off. If he got caught in the bubble, it would take a lot longer for those trapped to die, but they would probably die regardless.

      Eidolon might have already used those bubbles in an unmentioned attack and had nothing happen.

      What they really need are more of those time stopping bakuda bombs.

      • Well fine then. Dash all our hopes. I’m still betting Eidolon has some type of power that can at least preserve himself or others inside the bubble, he just can’t penetrate it from the outside.

        Now I just want to know how our self proclaimed Timelord works with this new threat. Epoch, how’d you like to join the Protectorate? We have money. Lots and lots of money.

        • Eidolon I think could probably keep everyone alive. He could pull a power out of his ass that lets them survive, but it would still keep him out of the fight. Maybe forever if he never lets that time bubble go. Having one less time bubble to play around with might be worth keeping Eidolon from bothering you ever again.

    • Clockblocker can’t freeze himself, he just freezes his costume. He’ll still starve in a few inside days, and be unable to restore the timestop to the other people.

      What’s interesting is that the bubbles moved when Khonsu was forcefully moved by Eidolon. Can they push him around enough without being caught themselves to stop the bubbles from killing people? How many external seconds of exposure does it take to die?

      • Depends on how much time is passing. At least a few years considering the state of the buildings and the skeletons. You might be able to force him to move it to block an attack. But hit him too hard, and he simply teleports away.

    • Also, Clockie can’t freeze himself, he just freezes his costume as a defensive measure sometimes. His power works in intervals of 30 seconds to 3 minutes, randomly, so I’m also not sure how much it’d be practical for him to freeze everyone, even if he wouldn’t eventually die and leave everyone just a couple of days ahead.

    • Don’t forget Dispatch when you’re listing time-power capes. There’s no telling how his pocket of stopped time will interact with the circles.

      Also, Citrine. When he started drawing Breaker circles on the floor, she was my first thought. Let her get swept inside a circle, and she’ll have plenty of time to get her circle tuned to counteract his. Doesn’t get the people inside out of the forcefield, necessarily, but at least they don’t age to dust while everyone else is fighting.

  15. One the one hand, it’s really nice that the story’s sufficiently thought through and internally consistent, such that looking at the intervals given really does let you predict Endbringer #4 well before his appearance.

    On the other, I was pretty sure that a fourth Endbringer (with three active) was the worst case scenario. Guess now we really do know why Scion wasn’t killing them – because that would make things worse.

    New theory! The Endbringers are someone’s idea of a search function: if you run into something that can put one down, you’ve found your target. Refine and intensify the search!

    On the upside, cheesy talk-show appearance canceled because the guests need to go fight an Endbringer… is probably about as lightly as Taylor could survive that particular challenge. Letting her actions speak for themselves, certainly. The last shot they’d have of her, which they might run with or not, would be Cuff standing down and the rest of the team standing tall with her, walking silhouetted against the footage of Tokyo on their way to a Dragon pickup. So there’s that.

    Renewed terror of extinction might also diminish some of the office politics – might not.

    And it’s worth noting that Legend and Eidolon continue to fight the good fight, going head on into Tokyo and then Cape Verde despite the total lack of backup, and despite the fact that the first engagement with any Endbringer is necessarily the most dangerous to them. Pretender/Alexandria showed in Japan… but, despite access to Doormaker, didn’t show in Cape Verde. Not sure why.

    The timing says there’s a fourth active Endbringer. Two ways that could go: a fifth Endbringer could be something new and terrifying… but there’d be a certain dull finality to just bringing out Behemoth once again. Contempt, given form. A dare: ‘You beat him once. Do it again, if you like what that brought you.’

    • I’m still hoping for a nilbog type master who creates a self replicating army of monsters. Then the militaries of the world will have to mobilize and stamp them out before they breed too much.

      • You think Wildbow will repeat a trick, and an S Class one at that? Good luck. I think Echidna’s the closest you’ll ever see.

    • It passes almost unmentioned, but Taylor’s program of surgical strikes has apparently gone well enough that the campaign is primarily focused in Detroit and Milwaukee right now, and continues to expand. There’s an elided reference to Taylor having announced to the whole building that the PRT was cleaning up the villains who wouldn’t play ball when the Endbringers knock – and that this was the proximate cause for the talk show. So it sounds like she’s been executing on her plans without real hindrance from the villains or the Director… until the start of this chapter.

      Estimated time-skip since last chapter: ~1-1.5 months. She starts planning the takedowns immediately after the 40 minute Simurgh fight over the Atlantic; this chapter dates itself as two months after that. I don’t think she could have taken more than a month to pull together the assault on Topsy – could have been as little as a week’s worth of work to set up that operation and the initial follow-ons.

      Assuming that to be so… Chicago is now, and is known to be, a bad place for the wrong kind of villain.

      • New offscreen moment of awesome. I am a bit disappointed that we didn’t get an arc describing her cleaning up Chicago. It would have made this chapter’s reveal even more special.

        • Could have been fun… but basically, if they followed the pattern of the one we saw? Not very interesting to read about.

          Research, plus local omniscience, plus planning, plus adaptable and expert generalship… means that Taylor hasn’t actually been fighting almost at all. Just winning without fighting… repeatedly.

          Sun Tzu would be proud.

          Some might question her rep, wonder how she’d do in a stand up fight… that was Mockshow’s complaint, after all. The smarter ones will appreciate that being able to win a fight is not inconsistent with being able to win without a fight. For the harder headed… Skitter had as hard a rep as anyone short of Jack Slash, from maggot-filled eyeballs to killing the immortal Butcher to going hand to hand with Mannequin to fighting Echidna while blind and crippled. And besides – Nilbog took a town of a few thousand away from the government. The Undersiders took a city.

          The fact that she’s leading strikes into two different states is pretty good evidence that there’s no one left in her city who fits her strike criteria right now, and that’s a rep of its own.

          Anyway – offscreen moment of awesome indeed, but it’s hard to take a series of low tension one-sided beatdowns and make them gripping. Best option would be to run the first one, before we know the pattern (as Wildbow did), and then maybe run a highlight reel, the date on the dateline flickering upwards as the faces of the defeated flicker past.

          It’s also hard to make it anything close to an even fight, without a counteroffensive. Let her pick the time, terrain, and tactics… and there won’t be a fight. If you’re a quick thinker, very lucky, AND a good Mover, you can get away. But to – once surprised – reverse the ambush? Siberian could have done it, but that’s the kind of super-heavyweight you’d need to pull it off. Let a villain group go on the offensive, and try and catch Taylor off guard, and it might get dicey… but (Undersiders aside), apparently assaulting a PRT headquarters is seen as a bad risk.

          • There are all sorts of ways the fight with Topsy could have gone wrong, and all sorts of powers we’ve already seen that could turn the tables. Looking at powers might be deceptive, though- It wouldn’t take an Alexandria to beat Weaver’s Wards… it would take a Skitter, a Tattletale, a Faultline…

            I’m thinking a well prepared Blasto style bio-tinker could probably devastate them. So could someone like Vista or Gregor. Not to mention Labyrinth.

            Though devastating them wouldn’t be required- Collateral damage would probably be enough to screw over the mission, and it would only take that happening once for future targets to realize it.

            Heck, villains even getting a nonspecific warning from someone among the police could have derailed the campaign.

            • Agreed that there are always ways a surprise could go wrong. But that’s what the research and planning prevents, at least when she’s on the offense. Against someone who knows your powers, has picked their moment, has contingencies in play and backup on call, and has preemptively shut down your known or predictable contingencies and backups… Tattletale’s the most likely to pick your plan apart, but she doesn’t really have an answer to a blitz attack on her personally. Faultline can’t cut bugs. Skitter’s got a fantastic blend of sheer force, misdirection, and local omniscience… but Taylor’s still quite vulnerable to being knocked unconscious. Blasto is someone you split off from his minions, and then crush. Vista may someday be terrifying, but has trouble altering space when there are living things on it… like bugs. Labyrinth is the highest rated Shaker we’ve ever seen… and is still squishy at the center of it.

              I’m not saying she’s invincible; I’m saying that she’s picking fights that aren’t fights, and if she can’t see a circumstance where she can win without fighting, she’s hitting a different target where she could. And a nonspecific warning would have to go out to a dozen or more targets – if they go to the mattresses, she picks off whoever was sloppy. It’s hard to stay forted up indefinitely, and doubly hard to be doing your regular villainy while in maximum defense mode. Someone with a mole in the police could well fort up briefly and in a timely fashion, but doing that repeatedly a) burns the mole and b) invites someone to watch the repeats to find the weaknesses in your lockdown. Clearing out of town is an efficient use of a mole… but servers Taylor’s campaign almost as well.

              Agreed that forcing the Wards to actually fight, with casualties or major damage, is the fastest way to reduce organizational support for what she’s doing. Thing is, we saw that a surprise clairvoyant speedster couldn’t compel them to fight, and that’s a power combination that’s almost perfectly adapted to do so. Most of the time, without a thinker or sensor of a sort well adapted to the challenge, they’re never even going to see the Wards at all, just keep running into trap after trap, barrier after barrier, distraction after distraction, with the occasional ambush or surgical strike mixed in.

              The optional way to force collateral damage, if the Wards can’t be brought to battle, is for the villain to just start thrashing around and destroying their surroundings… at which point, use-of-force restrictions go out the window and Weaver pulls a trick from Skitter’s playbook: bury them in bugs, followed by Golem playing Gumby with them.

              Wouldn’t be at all surprised if there are a number of fresh inhabitants of the Birdcage complaining about how they could have taken her in a fight, because she’s nothing in a straight up fight… which likely prompts Lung to take specific exception.

              • Occasionally. Modeling a consistent universe is highly entertaining… to me.

                Turning that into something readable and entertaining to others is quite hard.

              • Very good points, but I question the Vista one. Her power would be essentially useless if it didn’t work on space with bugs in it – almost *all* space has some bugs in it.

          • It may not make good reading to narrate the entire thing, but you know what I hope we get? Names. A list of names to add to the litany of those who have been crushed by the almighty prowess of Taylor Hebert, age sixteen.

        • My current thinking is that that’s a Ward fight that happened in a timeskip, and was a month or more after New Delhi, but I just don’t know for sure.

        • Possible, but a scrivener’s error on Wildbow’s part if so. Glenn referred to having ‘heard about’ that incident. He was right there in the room with Taylor for that confrontation. If it gets re-edited to him having been fired and having left the premises before she started transmitting, it’s a fit.

  16. Okay, so I have to ask. Are things sufficiently dark enough for the governments to open the birdcage? Giving villains a reprieve if they fight the endbringers is probably sounding more and more like a great idea to many governments of the world. A Panacea/Skitter combo with self-replicating giant bugs could come in handy right about now.

    • That’s called “And now Skitter is the Queen of Blades” maneuver. But I really don’t expect this to help. At all.

    • “NO! I must kill the Endbringers!”
      The radio said “No, Weaver, you are the Endbringers.”
      And then Skitter was a S-Class threat

        • Skitters second trigger event – expanding control to more lesser creatures – Endbringers hypothesised to have lesser, non-intelligent minds. Their entire attacks being instinctual/controlled. Skiiter in charge of the endbringers, like regent with shatterbird? I would pay to see that.

    • I’m really hoping they decide to open up the Birdcage. Information is power, and I’m not sure what Panacea figured out about the passengers but it could be of use.

  17. Another cheery thought: Endbringers are an adaptable weapon against humanity, right? Leviathan was the adaptation to the need for global damage. Simurgh was an adaptation against cooperation.

    The new one is the adaptation against logistics / localized counter-measures. It was produced as a response to New Delhi fight, where the record concentration of heroes gathered.

    There is, however, an additional, unrelated factor that was in New Delhi fight – Scion. So… I think the fifth one would be a specific anti-scion weapon. Something that would be designed to demoralize / kill / neutralize him or at least prevent his intervention. Like, I don’t know, an Endbringer with an Imp-like area-of-effect power (here’s a scary thought, isn’t it?).

  18. Well my theory on Endbringers was totally wrong.

    So my guess for the new Endbringer:

    Gaia, a Endbringer that superchargers growth and reproduction. Unlike the others it is literally made up of many beings so when it goes to rest it just sort of falls apart. Anyways in the short term in means cities being taken over by masses of growth and wild beasts who’ve been super-charged (but aren’t controlled). In the long term? Super plagues.

  19. The last few chapters feel oddly rushed.

    Taylor gets arrested … timeskip
    Taylor gets some jail vacation … timeskip
    Taylor gets to meet Behemoth … slowmo
    Taylor gets to meet the Bosses … timeskip
    Taylor joins the Wards … timeskip
    Taylor watches Leviathan … timeskip
    Taylor gets some Fightaction … timeskip
    Taylor is on TV and watches the new Endie … timeskip?

    • Yeah, I’ve been internally complaining about the timeskips since they run completely opposite to the almost day-by-day style before Taylor surrendered. The reasoning behind is obvious though: Wildbow is hurrying the story along to the end of the world.

  20. Cronus, born of Earth and Sky (Well, he did come after Simurgh and Behemoth), a deity associated with time (that one’s obvious). Time swallows all things, after all, and Cronus was known for eating other superpowerful beings (The Greek Gods). Associated with a scythe as well, and if we know our book of revelations then we know the fourth rider is death, who tends to get depicted with a scythe and as linked to time, because even if you avoid pestilence, war, and so on, time will catch up to you in the end.

      • Actually Kronus and Chronos are two different beings who got mixed together much much later. The scythe is because he was an agricultural god (maybe…from what little we know it’s possible he was never actually worshipped and existed only to give the gods a genealogy.)

        And Chaos isn’t as bad as we think. For the Greeks it was just the shapeless mass that existed before creation.

  21. This may be the first time that Taylor honestly NEEDS a second trigger or some other upgrade (drink cauldron potion or even more new tinker tech) to even attempt to fight the enemy.

    • Well, she might still be able to control the bugs in his time fields, and have them breed. Completely covering him in insects might irritate him. Maybe…..Hopefully.

      • Don’t think the breeding works… but one does wonder how it feels to have a major chunk of one’s sensorium – and possibly one’s thinking processes – overclocked. Plausibly anything from disorienting headache to blinding flashes of insight to just losing the connection to the swarm stuck there as it times out. It is one of the very few ways to potentially get realtime data out of those areas, though Dragon might pull something off with a remote and an AI as well.

    • She needs to spend a few decades living in a fast time bubble training and honing her powers and living of insects. Looks like she might get that chance.

    • I don’t know about that. If Chevaliers interlude told us anything it’s that trying to outpower the Endbringers is NOT the way you win a fight with them unless your name’s Scion. Broader powers or more power won’t necessarily help Taylor (barring “and now you control Endbringers” which pretty much ends the story in 1d4 chapters).

      Also, she doesn’t really need more power. Taylor’s already got the most badass weapon in the universe to fight them with. She’s really damn clever and knows how to get people to work together to accomplish more than they could alone.

  22. How is no one in these comments screaming about the secrets Panacea found out about powers, and potentially the endbringers, as the Smurf obviously wanted it to be kept secret from Dragon. I keep hoping it’ll come out sometime, but I fear we won’t find out till the very end.
    For all we know, Pancake found out the answers =[

    • I know what you mean. we have Panacea and her hypothesis, marquis and Lung listening seriously. Also, Lung was last seen starting a two year power up with inference of it being for fight worthy of his ego.

      Many people here have mentioned Taylor spending time in the birdcage or Dragon releasing the prisoners. What i think may happen is that towards the end,d desperate for numbers, she doesn’t break out of but breaks into the Birdcage to get as many out an into the fight as possible.

      And that might be the time that defiant finally has solved Dragon’s issues allowing Dragon to double check everything at quite possibly, increased speed, Mybe allowing them to get in a critical hit.

      ..and if one theory I have is right, it ‘ll be a non arc chapter on Saturday. (which) is when I’ll explain said theory. Lik an ehepebian philosopher I’ll have to get something right at some point.

  23. I’m sort of expecting a Stranger for the next Endbringer. The worst Endbringer is one you can’t find.

    What categories do we have so far?
    Behemoth and Leviathan seems to be classic Brute and Blaster types.
    Simurgh looks like Thinker and Master(with a side dish of Brute and Blaster).

    • I’d have Levithan as a Mover (still the fastest speedster on record, when swimming) and Shaker (area effect attacks.) Though I’m thinking every Endbringer gets a high Brute class.

      I’m thinking Khonsu is likely also a Mover and Shaker, plus whatever tricks he has in reserve.

      • Behemoth: Blaster and Striker.
        Leviathan: Mover and Shaker
        Simurgh: Master and Thinker
        Khonsu: Mover and Shaker, though in very different ways from leviathan

        We’re missing anything big in the way of Tinkers, Changers, Strangers, Shifters, and Trumps. Strangers would be very unusual, as would Tinkers; They don’t fit the Endbringer motif.

            • In the 1988 section of Alexandria’s interlude, Doctor Mother says that there are projected to be 650,000 people with powers over the following twenty years, and that while she produces more heroes than villains, the number of natural trigger events suggests three to ten villains will come into play for every new hero. Even if every natural trigger were a supervillain, I think this would imply that less than one-ninth the new parahumans would be Cauldron capes — which puts an upper bound of about 70,000/20 years = 3,500/year.

              I think it’s likely to be lower than that — other than with corporate purchases, like the Yangban and the Ambassadors, every customer, even a no-name civilian buying powers like ‘Jamie’, seems to have had a fair bit of personal treatment, including Doctor Mother’s presence. I think it’s probably 500/year or less, excluding Case 53s.

  24. My heart was beating and I couldn’t even read, there was that much tension. Took me ages before I got into it. Then bam, a new Endbringer – thank god! Taylor wasn’t humiliated on national television!

      • I did notice that she became a lot more confident as soon as she could stop worrying about people liking her and start thinking like a cape again.

        • “Oh god. They’re making me look bad. What do I do? I can’t handle this. This is getting out of control. What if they ask me about LISA? … Oh, thank god. An Endbringer. I know what to do with those.”

  25. I think that the fact that whoever is sending out endbringers is now apparently able to send out two new ones on quick notice seems to indicate that they could have obliterated mankind completely if they had wanted but just want to keep up a certain amount of pressure instead.

    It has been observed by one of the charcters that Simurgh was a response to improved coordination.

    The new one seems to be designed to avoid what happend to Behemoth: being pinned down by capes and finshed off by Scion.

    the only way to counter him seems to be to anticpate his targets or to perhaps use capes with spacebending powers lie vista and labyrinth to keep him from teleporting away. And hes has defenses for that.

    I wonder where the spaces of fast time get their light and heat from? Perhaps another example of this powers work through parallel world thing?

    I hope the PRt reacts by adding emergency rations or tinker toys designed to put people in suspended animation to their standard equipment for fighting this endbringer.

    “You will be there, but you will be different.” The little precog said. Maybe a decade older would qualify?

    In any case the new endbringer will be a formidable challenge and a blow to moral.

    All that makes you wonder what the next one will be like perhaps something desgined to recapture the terror the endbringers are supposed to instill?

    A zombie master or perhaps an invisible assasin….

  26. “The first Endbringer made contact in Marun Field, the second attack hit São Paulo, then the third one hit New York. Then we learned, this was not going to stop. In order to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own. We needed a new weapon, the Weaver Program was born.” :D

    Man, this was… unexpected. What a crazily OP power, even by Endbringer standards it’s a nightmare. Perhaps that’s the point of Khonsu, even more so than the others it’s a Terror Weapon, while the others achieve their effect through raw physical unstoppability, creeping dread and looming destruction Khonsu promises a very personal death, a being that promises that a moment’s slip up means you will starve to death trapped in time. And the intercontinental teleportation? Holy shit. As Alexandria thought when Behemoth first appeared “how do you even fight that?” of course, look what happened to Behemoth… Currently though I’m not sure what could ice this sonovabitch short of a random bum-rush by Scion.

      • Maybe they were well-prepared and brought plenty of water. Maybe they’re Ligeia. You ever think of that? Huh? Jeez. Making all kinds of assumptions about “everyone.”

        • Hmm. Makes one wonder what would happen if Khonsu trapped Ligeia in his field, and she opened a portal to her waterworld and hid in there. She’d have to hold her breath but if it genuinely is another dimension it might be safe from the time field.

          Be ironic if she couldn’t swim, though. xD

  27. just musing on possible implementable counters. This is REALLY out there, but also one that mannequin could have helped with. Deploy cryo chambers to different cities around the world for heroes to use if they get caught. Would this ever work? No. Would tinker tech?…..probably still no, but a fun idea.

    • Oh I don’t know. Remember Cherish got locked in a Mannequin made chamber that’s supposed to keep her alive and well for Thousands to tens of thousands of years. Not to mention this new Endbringer can turn entire shelters into tombs. But if each shelter had been a self suffeciant ecosystem to itself… Smurf is still team Endbringers MVP.

  28. Am I the only one to think that Khonsu may be counter-productive? I mean, trap Panacea or Nilbog or Dragon or Bonesaw or Eidolon with appropriate powerset (bio manipulation + unaging + matter generation) and you just give them years to upgrade themselves (and create nasty little critters).

    Hell, even Taylor would be far more dangerous after such entrapment (directed evolution where you know how the biology of each bug differs from all else is QUICK). If she can secure a source of food of course.

    • It looks like there are three main hazards shown so far:
      -You could be trapped in an accelerated time zone and be aged to death(the structural damage is indicative of possibly more time passing than a human could survive, likely a century to kill everyone and reduce their corpses to bleached bone).

      -You could be clipped by the time differential(part of object moving at one speed and the rest effectively stationary, applying a century of shear forces to the boundary) and ripped to a bloody mess. Normal cape immunities and toughness don’t even apply, given how much it fucked up Behemoth and Echidna.

      -You got the teleportation shockwave, probably caused by displaced air. If someone could get close enough this might indicate a possibility of tagging along….unless it’s not actually teleportation. Might be just freezing time and moving before unfreezing.

      • 2) Seems to be the one thing hardest to defend against.

        3) Seems like it would just require some ordinary toughness to survive.

        the first option seems like a lot of heroes could survive it if they somehow get enough light and heat from some sideffect of the powers as the sun-bleached effect and skeletons suggests. Life should be possibly in the time bubles or there would be no decomposing going on at all. Peopel would be mumified as if they had died in the arctic instead of turned into sun bleached Skeletons.

        People probably die because they can’t grow enough food or simply of old age. I wonder if they will find human bite marks on the bones of the victims or other signs of canibalism…

        Someone like Alexandria would probably be able to tough out a century under such condidtions without too much outward chnages. Eidolon would be able to call up a power that enables him to survive. Dragon is a robot and would not need any food or fear old age.

        A buch of the cauldron victims with their changed bodies could probably tough out the timeout.

        Many tinkers could probably wip something up that would freeze them or similar and anyone with plant based powers could at least stay well fed.

        I could see Taylor spending a few decades inside a bubble maturing and eating bugs and doing this transferring her conscience into the swarm thing that bonesaw was talking about. (This would explain the “You will be there, but you will be different” prediction.)

        This is of course all assuming that powers work inside the bubbles at all. They didn’t work for chevalier when exposed to Behemoths core and they didn’t work for those trapped inside Echidna.

        • Further analysis. Re-reading, the people inside the accelerated time zone took 6-7 seconds to slow down, before stopping a second later. These being normal humans there are several possibilities:
          -Oxygen depletion is unlikely, due to the sheer area of the zone. Also given the time difference if they ran out of air they wouldn’t take a whole second to stop for that, they’d just drop.

          -Dehydration/Starvation. If this is the case then we’re looking at a ratio of 1 day: 1 second, with about a week before the people inside are too starved to move anymore. Death comes not long after.

          -Thermal issues from energy differentials. Like oxygen depletion, people wouldn’t be moving around much in that case. Death would come much more quickly and we’d see thermal damage.

          Noting also that he could selectively include or exclude things in the columns. A person might be swept in and trapped, but a building allowed to pass through. Other things I noticed is that no HUMAN has been clipped yet, crushed yes, but humans seems to be either in the zone or out of it. Manton effect might be applicable.

          • I would disagree on the issue of timing for thermal issues. I would actually argue that it would take longer than one a week for the area to cool down beyond human capacity to survive. We could actually calculate this (I’ll do this in about eight hours, when I have time).

            • Yes, but people who freeze to death don’t skeletonized. They get mummified of a sort.

              If people are turned into skeletons there must still be warmth enough for micro-organism (and possibly insects) to decompose them.

              There is also the structures having a sun-bleached appearance also this might come from other means than actual light.

              My guess is that the insides of the places are well lit and heated similarly to the outside with Tattletale’s explanation of powers working though quatum and parallel world making a reappearance.

              • My guess is, insane as it is, that the insides have their own day-night cycle. The bleached bones suggest it.

                Maybe his field really is ‘just’ borrowing a section of space from a dimension where time moves faster…

    • So, for any such hijinks you’d want to be able to survive indefinitely without food, water or even air. You’d need to be able to avoid the clipping effect by staying on either the inside or outside entirely(thus requiring Mover powers).

      I’d say get a Tinker recording device into the zone to work out the actual mechanism before any such plans can be made.

    • Some additional thoughts on the (possible) side-effects of time bubble:

      1) From the inside it should appear as if everything outside has gone dark. The intensity of incoming light (which is total energy per time per unit of surface area) would increase – the flux is the same, but the time is different. Conversely, active light sources from inside the bubble will be greatly amplified. This won’t apply to reflected light.

      2) As the consequence of 1, the area within the circle would appear very hot to the outside observers, due to radiant heat generated by the structures being compressed into a smaller time frame. As a side-effect of this, it’s going to get very cold inside, potentially down to oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere becoming liquid (at the very least it’s going to get as cold as -80C inside – think the most extreme North Pole temperatures, only worse)

  29. Maybe Scion somehow knew that killing an Endbringer would result in two more rising to take its place, which was why he never went that far until “ordered” to do so?

  30. I’m wondering at what point people would just break under realization that Endbringers will wipe out all human life. There’s no stopping them. Fighting them only makes it worse. No hope. I wouldn’t be surprised if some would claim killing Behemoth was a mistake after this. I can see how they’ll open Birdcage at some point out of pure desperation, just to do something to hold off destruction or perhaps in vain hope that human monsters can somehow beat inhuman ones. Except a lot of people in the Birdcage are because they were making things worse, so I can’t see how well that would work out.

      • The source of the Endbringers can turn off abilities of the Capes and it can make Endbringers. I don’t see how it’s possible to take them out. The only chance is to understand their intent and then either fulfill it (if it’s ultimately benign to human race) or demonstrate that their methods won’t work.

        Well, maybe if Capes can become as strong as Scion (as he breaks regular Cape rules). Perhaps that’s the idea behind Endbringers – pushing the Capes and separating those who can handle the power from those that can’t. I’m not certain if that’s happening, but perhaps Taylor’s passenger has been growing stronger and Jack’s as well. Maybe they can unlock Scion’s Powers without it burning out their minds.

  31. Wow, I didn’t see that coming – I would have expected a subtler Endbringer to show up (since one of the reasons Behemoth was taken down was because he was anything BUT subtle)

    but a time manipulator? makes me think that the next one would be some kind of space-manipulator. you know, a time-space theme for the duo.

    some kind of teleportation/intangibility to protect itself from scion and then maybe aggressive teleportation – splitting people apart and all or teleporting foreign objects into them?

    though, personally, I’d prefer an Endbringer that’s less about head-on damage and more like the Simurgh, a stranger, thinker and/or master. then again, the simurgh may be effective enough on her own on that front

    maybe a monster-spawner like nilbog or echidna.

    OR a swarm-entity. many small entities that act independently. no core for scion to destroy and it can respawn from a single surviving fragment. would also be a foil for weaver – her power, taken to the extreme, but without her main weakness – a squishy central body.

    • A swarm entity might be kind of cool, and it is essentially attacking several places at the same time which forces the capes to split their forces. I’m thinking a high powered shaker. Something that can warp space and isolate a large part of the earth. That way everyone under it’s field is on their own, and it can destroy as it’s leisure.

  32. So… The noble Geomancer reincarnated to cleanse the world after dying for the capes’ sins in the battle against Behemoth? I’m going to stick with that explanation, because frankly, it is a lot less scary than believing that someone or something is just manufacturing endbringers like we do cars.

  33. You know who I think would be helpful here?

    Mannequin. I’d bet he could just live through the time warp effect.

    • Considering he made a rig that will keep Cherish alive for a very very long time… Yeah. If he had still been Sphere and teamed up with Defiant and Dragon to miniturize the tech, I can see them making some sort of portable survivial system the capes can carry with them. But Smurf made sure that wouldn’t ever happen.

  34. On the issue of the forces creating/controlling/sending out the Endbringers.

    I think it was hinted very heavily, if not blatantly said, that those forces are reactionary. They don’t actually think on their own / have ideas of their own. They look at what humans do, and then crank those successful strategies up to eleven to fight them. Think about it:

    1) Behemoth – appears after the golden age of superheroes. Flying bricks dominate the cape population. Behemoth is the classic example of a brick (even if not flying). He’s Legend+Alexandria taken up to eleven.

    2) Leviathan – humans learn to retaliate against local attacks by Behemoth, probably try doing something large scale / global (mentioned RKVs, nuclear weaponry, etc). leviathan gets large-scale powers.

    3) Simurgh – humans start actively using thinkers and tinkers to negate Endbringers. A super-thinker/tinker//master appears.

    4) Khonsu – humans start employing space-time attacks, teleportation (to gather troops and deploy forces) successfully against Endbringers. They get teleporter / time-space manipulator in retaliation.

    Basically, I get a feeling that Endbringers are a PURELY reactionary force.

    And I won’t be surprised at all if the first one was caused by Cauldron starting to spam flying bricks (Eidolon, Legend, Alexandria).

    All-in-all, it seems like whoever/whatever is using /creating Endbringers is trying to create/evolve/produce an ideal unbeatable individual, by running his creation against humanity and its capes. Perhaps it plans to use that ideal Endbringer against something else after it’s created.

    • While I like the reactionary force idea, however I do not buy the motivation of creating an unbeatable individual.

      There are several other possible explanation (and Hanlon’s razor applies to whatever the hell is making endbringers), but imo the main issue against such a theory is that, with access to such diverse designs, it’s useless to evolve a “perfect” one.

      It’s impossible to make something totally unbeatable (opposition summoning bigger fishes, new power might introduce a weakness, and so on), and by the time you start getting a real “take all comers” you’re in interstellar warfare territory anyway (so it’s useless to test it on a planet).

      Better to do what it seems the entity(ies) making them (let’s call him the GM, has the right connotation of omnipotence and being a jerk trying to kill the party), and employ just enough force to do the maximum damage for the minimum expenditure of resources.

  35. I’m very interested in what’s going on with the timeline of Endbringer attacks. Looking at the timetable from the Chevalier interlude, Behemoth attacked every 7 months or so. The Leviathan turned up 5 months (give or take a few days) after a Behemoth attack. Leviathan and Behemoth start alternating, with roughly 5 months between attacks. However, Leviathan and Behemoth seem to accelerate slightly a few attacks before the Simurgh emerges (Leviathan attacks Shanghai about 4 and a half months after Behemoth attacks Lagos, Behemoth attacks Bogotá less than 4 month after Leviathan attacks Shanghai).

    This might mean Simurgh was alive for a period before her first attack; the 3-Endbringer schedule seems to have kicked off before her first appearance. Also of note during the 2-Endbringer period is that Behemoth’s attack on Ankara is quite late; nearly 7 months after Leviathan hits Madrid. Following this, Leviathan’s attack on Kyushu is considerably early; just 3 months and 12 days after Ankara. Does this mean that late attacks follow early attacks and vice versa?

    Moving to more recent attacks; Leviathan hit Brockton Bay two months, 18 days after Simurgh hit Canberra. Behemoth hit New Delhi two months, 11 days after Leviathan hit Brockton Bay. Given these two short intervals were back-to-back, rather than being a short/long aberration like Madrid/Ankara/Kyushu, there seems to have been a genuine acceleration of the timetable. Given that “three-and-a-half months” is/was common wisdom for how long passed between attacks, we can assume it hadn’t been this accelerated for very long.

    Then Behemoth died and the Simurgh attacked 5 and a half months later, which would make sense with a two-Endbringer schedule. But now Khonsu is attacking two months later, in line with a 4 Endbringer schedule.

    I have a theory; a scary theory. We were on a 4 Endbringer schedule since early 2011. When Behemoth died, we went to a 3-Endbringer schedule, with 3 and a half months between attacks. The 4th Endbringer attacked sometime in September 2011 and we didn’t know about it. Then Khonsu came to life, we went to a 4-Endbringer schedule again, the Simurgh attacked sometime in November 2011 and Khonsu attacked sometime in February 2012 (as best as I can make out the timeline).

    Behemoth is a vastly scaled up Blaster. Leviathan is an apocalyptic scale Shaker. Simurgh is an uber-powered Thinker. Khonsu is a horrifyingly powerful Breaker. I think that the unknown Endbringer is the mother of all Strangers.

      • Well, the reason I say uber-Stranger is that if this theory is right, it’s already done one attack without people noticing (or perhaps without them remembering).

    • So, I have mentioned this in other places, but with lots of new info on how Behemoth was structured, a core and other such things, Noelle counting as an end bringer seems much more likely to me. I haven’t actually checked the timeline, but if we’re getting two new ones, it is entirely possible in my mind she counted! Even in death, Echidna, the Greek mother of all monsters, may have indirectly been responsible for one more.

      • Hmm. If Noelle counts as an Endbringer for the purpose of setting the schedule, then that’d explain why Canberra, Brockton Bay, New Delhi happened in such quick succession.

        I think that theory would tend to mutually exclusive with my Stranger Endbringer theory; if it was Noelle speeding up the schedule, then Simurgh was right on time given that Noelle and Behemoth were dead. So yeah, if Noelle counted as an Endbringer, we can expect Khonsu and the unknown Endbringer to have both come into existence recently.

        • Noelle triggered in July 2009, so the timing doesn’t fit unless she suddenly started ‘counting’ for Endbringer cycle purposes in early 2011.

    • If you’re saying that Khonsu is the fifth Endbringer, with a fourth having been created prior to Behemoth’s death … that actually brings me a little optimism. It looks like the Endbringers are to some extent designed at the time of their creation to counter known counters, so being as Khonsu is well-designed to counter the Behemoth counter, that implies that the fourth isn’t.

        • …I don’t know. Something before the story started, I guess. Presumably it takes them at least a few months to come up with a new Endbringer.

        • Possibly a counter to what stopped Echidna.
          Behemoth countered Alexandria.
          Leviathan countered Legend and other capes that could outrun Behemoth.
          Simurgh countered Hero and Eidolon, who could whip up answers to problems.
          Khonsu countered Phir Se.
          The fifth (or fourth) Endbringer countered Taylor Hebert, age sixteen, a greater threat to the Endbringers than any other being yet to walk the Earth.

        • The increased co-ordination and teamwork? Can’t co-ordinate against what you can’t see or can’t remember.

  36. I predicted wildbow would play with our expectations a while ago in a way similar to this, but as usual, he still outdid himself, this is waaay grander in scale than I’d considered.

    Also, the people predicting a fourth endbringer were proved correct, kudos to them.

  37. I can see it now. Khonsu attacks Brockton Bay but fails to pay full attention and ends up freeing the time-locked heroes and villains like Dauntless when his time acceleration orb collides with the slowed time field from Bakuda’s bomb. Oops.

    • That would be interesting. And Dauntless’ power is explicitly to get stronger with every day that passes, making him the first true counter to Khonsu I’ve heard of. Spend the first few days imbuing his armor with the power for him to persist without food or water or age, and then spend as long as he needs upping his spear until he can pierce the heavens with it.

      My earlier thought had been that Citrine would release him, as she likely could, but that’s a very elegant way to tie that thread off.

  38. It just hit me, where would this guy go after hitting a city? There’s no obvious safe haven for him like the bottom of the ocean or the earth’s mantle. Any place he can go is still reachable by human weapons and Scion.

    What if he doesn’t just attack once? What if he keeps attacking for weeks or months? Randomly hopping around for days taking out isolated communities and damaging smaller cities until one of his buddies comes knocking and he can teleport to somewhere he can hide for a while?

    • The Earth’s a really big place if you aren’t stomping on cities. I say this is Khonsu’s pattern, he appears out of nowhere, and he vanishes until the next attack.

    • If his big thing is manipulating time, then maybe he can just shunt himself out of time; basically going invulernable like Clockstopper does to people. Then he could park himself wherever he wanted, for however long he wanted. Frankly, that sounds like a great way to destroy a city without actually damaging it.
      Who is going to want to live or work next to an Endbringer that could wake up at any moment?

      • Well, if we’re going for time shenanigans, maybe he can teleport through time. For all we know, after he’s done attacking, he teleports to the future, where humanity has been wiped out.

        I mean, sure, that sounds far-fetched, but he could also travelto the age of the dinosaurs…or at least, do we have any proof he can’t? I’m not ruling anything out, at least not yet.

        • Today’s question, class, is what wiped out the Dinosaurs.
          Ooh, I know! it was Behemoth!
          And what caused the drop in Ocean levels during the last ice-age?
          Leviathan!

          But that’s a good point. With the teleportation, maybe he (Khonsu) can dimension-hop as well.

        • It’s not far-fetched at all, I mean.. he could very well stick one of his inviolable time-acceleration fields on himself mid-fight to regen to full health any time he wants, or to wall himself in with a particularly high value target like Eidolon. I don’t think the Endbringers are meant to be remotely fair.

  39. So, just leaving this here one more time. Does anyone else think that maybe Noelle/Echidna counted as an end bringer that died? I realize she is very debatable for a number of reasons, including her being human at one point, but her core structure was similar to Behemoth’s. She was also great at changing tactics when the situation changed, and they only beat her because they got her early, and with sundancer’s amazing blasting power-add that to your theories on what the new guys is around to counter. Slow moving fusion furnaces.

    • It depends on how you define “Endbringer” I guess. Given that she could make multiple copies of heroes who where willing and able to go absolutely all-out with their powers, I would say the potential for similar amounts of destruction was there (although the really powerful ones seemed to slow her down; there was only 1 copy each of Alexandria and Edolion, right?).

      But given her origin, her lingering connection to her humanity and past life, and the relative ease in defeating her, she seems to be a second-string Endbringer at best. I’d rate her more like just a really powerful cape. I could see Lung getting up to Endbringer-levels of destruction if the fight goes on long enough, but neither he nor many of the other inmates of the Birdcage are up for Endbringer-nomination, right?

    • I think she could fit the bill. The general physiology fits if she just hadn’t accumulated enough mass yet. The threat level fits, if Echidna had held on a bit longer and spit out a whole bunch of Alexandria and Eidolon clones, she could have smoked the Protectorate’s best then and there. She still got Myrddin and many others. And I wonder how much of the decision in-world that she wasn’t an Endbringer was based on the fact that they won at all, at that time that wasn’t something anyone associated with Endbringer fights.

    • Oh hell. What if Noelle was ‘endbringer-lite’ because she only drank half of the dose?
      I mean let’s face it, out of all the characters and organisations we have seen Cauldron is the only one that even comes close to having the ability to produce Endbringers.

  40. As a semi non-sequitor, man, there are so many parallels between this and the upcoming pacific rim in terms of the end bringers global impact, when you look at some of the material they have been putting out. The time period it have been going on for, the way pilots are treated by society, the enemy always getting stronger when humanity gets better ways of fighting back, and the implied something else orchestrating the whole thing. It also makes me shudder to think about how if cauldron could do something like make their own endbringer to fight the new ones, they probably would.

        • I was under the impression that Cauldron’s powers were stolen from one or more trapped passengers. Perhaps the Endbringers represent some kind of reaction, like Purity wrecking the Docks demanding her child back?

            • There was Old sci fi film, ‘Gargantuan’ I think it was called, dealt with a Kaiju being captured and then confined. Then a kaiju ten times the size turns up and just strolls through all conventional defenses towards the first one. The defense scientist at the containment area watches until something clicks and then switches off the last line of defense. Once reunited, mother and child kaiju just turn round and walk back out to sea

              • You either mean the British film Gorgo, or the late 90’s made for TV Gaurgantua. Both had that same sort of plot, although Gorgo had more military vs monster, if I remember correctly.

  41. You know, and it’s just a thought, but this Endbringer is very… blatant. In its appearance (layers, core), tactics (directly taken from heroes), abilities and attacks…

    It is a terror weapon.

    I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t tons of people triggering in those circles. Because this is the method of killing that seems pretty much dedicated to triggering people.

    • I think that’s where Khonsu’s critical weakness is. With Leviathan and Behemoth people who trigger because of them will be responding to very natural and incidental shit; fire, drowning, crowds, being crushed with rubble. With the Simurgh you’ll get triggers due to the discord afterwards.

      But with this guy you have a very specific power being used, and when someone triggers because a family member is stuck behind a time wall who’s to say that their new power won’t let them slice right through the effect?

      There’s something more going on here, such a focused Endbringer with an out there power is just asking for someone to find an exploit and ruin his shit. I’m guessing this guy isn’t to stay, whoever’s creating the Endbringers will be starting to create A LOT more with wildly different powers to keep off balance by rendering any tactics they figure out against one ‘bringer moot against the next.

      • Funny thing is nobody is even talking about the first two thirds of the chapter. Right from the opening I had an idea of what was going on. I was thinking, oh hell the bastards are making her do a public apperence, aren’t they. But even I couldn’t imagine the PRT director would sink to such a level as to stick her on a talk show! The bastard! And of course the Endbringer shows up and puts it all in perspective as to how petty it is.

        I find things interesting with Cuff. She clearly isn’t a fighter at heart. But she might actually be well suited to PR for the Protectorate. She seems fairly comfortable with being interviewed. As for Tecton, this clearly isn’t his first time either.

        On the upside it seems like Glenn still has a job.

          • Because, even though it’s true it *sounds* like spin. “Oh so you headed out to fight crime and just *happened* to team up with your fellow future warlords and took out their biggest rival? How convenient”.

            Even if people *do* buy it, it just makes Taylor look shifty. People will buy into a good heel-face turn. But a hero becoming a villain becoming a hero? Just makes you wonder when she’s going to flip back again…

  42. Oh wow. That’s horrifying. They’ll need hordes of undead and immortals to take him down. Or an army of Time Lords in their war Tardises going all out to end his temporal damage.

    • Time Lords in their War Tardises going all out? They did that in the Time War and look where and when it got them. Perhaps we should just keep throwing Captain jack Harkness at it.

  43. … Touché, Wildbow.

    You got me.

    Tou-fucking-ché.

    ———————–

    Okay, time for Cauldron to save the day. Doormaker to let the heroes catch up, Eidolon to counter the timefuckery,Number Man and Tattletale to solve him/them, everyone else to hit, hurt and harry.

  44. Hmmm. I don’t know if anyone’s mentioned it yet, but I’m thinking Weaver has the means to use the time-speed effect to whip up some pretty powerful stuff.

    1. If her bugs are inside the sped-up zone, and she can still sense them as normal, what would that mean? Given the theory that she actually uses the bugs for extra parallel processing, she should be able to think at a few million times faster than normal with those bugs.

    2. Since her bugs have proven capable of carrying out her commands even when she is no longer able to command them, she could, conceivably, command them to start reproducing and building giant web-based structures, or even breed for selection for size, venom, durability, longevity, etc. I’m thinking about what ten thousand years of breeding can produce from fruit flies who are self-selecting for badassery. Or how much silk ten thousand generations of spiders can produce, assuming they live off their environment and only consume and breed enough to maintain a large, stable population. Or even just the sheer mass of bugs that could be bred over ten thousand years — they’d convert every single scrap of organic matter into multiple tonnes of insect, all under Weaver’s control when they come out.

    On a related note, someone mentioned Citrine, and I’m guessing she may be able to make herself and a small group immune to Khonsu’s power. Others may also be able to protect themselves or others (aside from Eidolon, or course, who would have plenty of time to make himself time-proof). What kind of funky reverb effect could Phir Se produce? Would Clockblocker survive if he just kept time-freezing himself, over and over, until the effect had passed? Can teleporters teleport OUT of the time zone? And wow, gee, imagine if Crawler was still alive, and caught in there? What would he look like when he came out?

    Hg

  45. I don’t know if you’ve considered this, Wildbow, but ever since Skitter started making “human clones” with bugs… I’ve been wondering, what if her passenger continues to get stronger in its presence? Could it be possible for one of her “bug clones” to get the sentience of her passenger? If not to have a conversation… then some kind of physical interaction with it… it would be very interesting at least. Not sure if it’s something you have planned, but it seems like… Skitter’s ability to sync with her bugs is getting so well, I’m surprised there isn’t more “bleeding” like that.

  46. Oh, because I don’t think it’s been talked about:

    It was a personal moment, I thought. If I harbored any ill will towards Glenn, it was for that. He’d deleted sound or video where it gave up identifying details, like the nature of Cuff’s injury. He hadn’t erased the scene with the woman in the suit, but the reception hadn’t held up that deep underground, so there was no need. He’d also been kind enough to erase the scene where Imp had promised to get revenge on Heartbreaker. The villain hadn’t been notified of her plan.

    I’ll own it — I was wrong about Glenn not editing the tape and Hobbes et al. were right (although Truthseeker’s hypothesis about transmission losses contributing to the tape cutting out turned out to be correct — guessing the Dispatch-bubble bit would be missing, too).

  47. A nifty trick would be to figure out dome way of attacking from inside the timefuckery fields. The speed advantage would be massive and it would be the second time in history an Enbringer got trolled (the first of course being Grue’s anti-radiation lolnope to BEHEMOTH’s Final Pyrrhic Attack.)

    • VERY nice. His upper body makes a lot more sense than it was making in my head. The one thing I’d change is to connect his lower body into a single unit, rather than having his legs float around the ball independent of one another.

    • Nice. I figured him/it with a smaller sphere and more… “fat” for lack of a better word, on his “body” but it’s very good regardless, and imo almost spot on.

      • Well… I had considered giving him more “upper body”… but this was like a 30 minute sketch just to get the idea down and show a friend that he was rather scary more so than awkward. Or scary because he was awkward, and I thought the large sphere was the perfect object to fill out the “buhda” build, so why not run with it. Another slight flaw is that the “gill” stripes were supposed to be more on the outside like a tigers but I put all the leaf fins there instead… supposed they could intersect more and the fin patterns allow the gills to split through them… but… 30 minute sketch.

    • Very nice. I pictured the lower body as one unit, less “shoulderpad” for lack of a better word and a much harsher monochrome effect. You know, totally black or glowing white with nothing in-between. Still, very nice.

    • <3 glad you decided to do some more art boss :) love your style so much (which I should considering I mostly learned from watching you ….hmmm guess I better go draw poor dead BEHEMO

  48. Leviathan went to Brockton Bay for Echidna
    Behemoth went to New Delhi for Phir Se
    Simurgh went after the plane to mess with all our minds (still bugs me)

    I’m wondering if they going after future threats to themselves or looking for recruits?

    Also, does this mean that Khonsu could free Dauntless? Maybe someone should ask him, just remember to say “Pretty please”

  49. And Taylor Hebert woke up. “What the…? Capes? Passengers? Endbringers? Scion? Ah, hell nevermind. Nothing matters after today.”

    And the lonely fourteen-year-old girl who’d lost her mother, only to find her best friend inexplicably turning on her, left for her last day of school. It all ended now. She’d finally managed to sneak her father’s gun into her bookbag last night.

      • Cauldron strikes again! They made Taylor forget everything think she was back at school and reverse age (in a secret deal with Panacea) two years. Damn you Dr mother!!

          • Worm Comments Drinking Game:

            1. Every time someone blames Cauldron for something that has gone or is going to go wrong, drink.
            2. Every time someone asks if a favorite character is dead, drink.
            3. Every time someone expresses hope that a favorite character isn’t dead, drink.
            4. Every time someone suggests a character should get a second trigger event, take two drinks.
            5. Every time someone declares that this update is the one that finally drove them over the brink of despair, finish the glass.

  50. New Endbringer, with unheard of levels of ability to say “Nah, I don’t feel like dealing with you” to the heroes? On top of Taylor being shanghaied onto a talk show at one of the worst times? Holy carp and annoyance, respectively.

    On a side note, this is where Worm was when I started reading if I recall correctly.

  51. It’s interesting that three months had such a massive influence on Taylor. How is she closer to the Undersiders with three months partially built on lies than eight months with the Wards (who are nicer people than the Undersiders)?

    Reading on it seems she’s with the Wards for two years, but is somehow still more attached to the Undersiders? She must have been corrupted very strongly.

  52. Gnyaaah. Mood whiplash like anything! One minute cringeworthy daytime TV, the next a truly despair-inducing development that looks pretty terrifying (just like the other Endbringers, of course). Eeevil.

  53. I’d really like to know how Tt’s plans are at the moment. Why isn’t Taylor thinking about that? That would be vital, to go for the source. That, to me, would be more like Taylor, more proactive. :-)

  54. a story inconsistency: “I heard what you did, announcing what the PRT was doing to the whole building…”.
    Not only did Glenn hear this, he was there at the scene of the crime as it unfolded! You should word this differently.

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