Sting 26.1

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One of Rachel’s dogs growled, long and loud, an alien, unsure sound.

She shushed it, setting her hand on the side of its head.

“Ugh,” Cozen mumbled, “The smell.”

The smell.  Summer heat, the mingled scent of blood, shit and overripe bodies, with traces of other things in the wind.  Caustic chemicals, ozone, smoke, burned flesh and plastic.

It wasn’t unfamiliar.  Not an exact combination of smells I’d smelled before, but it put me in mind of Brockton Bay in the days soon after Leviathan had attacked.

I looked up at the man who’d been strung up overhead, spread-eagled.  Chains stretched from his wrists to buildings on opposite sides of the street, and more chains extended from his ankles to the bases of the same buildings.  A number was carved on his chest.  One-seventeen.

Beneath him, the sign from outside the town limits had been slammed down onto the hoods of two cars so it stood upright.

Welcome to Killington.  Heart of the Green Mountains.

They probably thought it was funny.  Especially with the bloody handprint on the word ‘heart’.

“They got the children too,” Cozen whispered, as she averted her eyes from a mother who had died holding her child, both burned black.  The only parts of their body that hadn’t burned were patches of skin in the shapes of numbers.  Two-fifty-four.  Two-fifty-five.

Two of the Red Hands, Getaway and Rifle, had come along for the ride.  They were sticking close by her, and formed a small contingent with Grue as a consequence.  Getaway wore a cowl with a hood that peaked in the front, to the center of his mask.  His costume had straight, clean lines, as though he’d modeled it after a car.

Rifle, by contrast, didn’t look like he wore a costume.  He was dressed like a special ops agent, complete with a complicated night-vision mount around his eyes, a number of scopes with lenses glowing in hues ranging from blue to red.  Violet scopes were currently fixed over his real eyes.  He carried a weapon, a modified gun that wasn’t, as far as I could figure it, an actual rifle.  It looked like it was set to fire specialized loads from canisters.

Of course they got children, I thought.  I had to bite back a retort.  Why was she here, if she wasn’t ready for this?

But she wasn’t a fighter.  None of the Red Hands were, really.  They were professional thieves.  Break in, get out, sell the goods.

They were, maybe, what the Undersiders might have been with a little more luck, slightly different personalities, and a quieter existence.

Without me, even.

The Undersiders had made it for a year and a few months with their original strategy, avoiding fights, slipping away, staying off the radar.  They would fight when they had to, but they didn’t make it a thing.  The fact that they didn’t have firepower meant they couldn’t make it a thing.  If anyone got into trouble, it was the dogs.

And then I joined.  Starting with the bank robbery, I pushed them to switch up tactics, catch the enemy off guard.

If I’d never joined, what would have happened?  Maybe the bank robbery wouldn’t have worked out, and one of them would have been picked off and arrested.  Maybe they would have taken a different direction with the robbery.

Bakuda might have killed them, Coil might have pushed them to be more aggressive as he scaled up his plans.  Or they could have found a way, could have continued going the way they did, less violent in general.

Some good, some bad.  Rachel might never have reached the point she was at now.  Grue wouldn’t necessarily have gone through what he did.  Regent might be alive.

I glanced again at Cozen, saw her looking at me in turn.  Catching me looking, really.

“What?” she asked.

You don’t need to be here.  You’ll be happier in the long run if you aren’t.

“Nothing,” I responded.  She looked annoyed, but she didn’t say anything.

There was a kind of art to the setup.  No doubt at all that it was a display, a showpiece.  Trails of blood, ash and other substances marked where bodies had been moved.  They were spaced out just enough that we would run into a fresh one just as we left the last behind.

I might have missed it if not for my swarm-sense.  The bodies were placed at positions high and low, the methods of death differing here and there, but there was a pattern to their distribution.  The kind of pattern that might become clear if one were to set up a map and note the location of each body on it.  A spiral.

I pointed the way to the central point of the spiral.  I could see a plume of smoke in that general direction.  Not the middle of Killington.  Skewed off-center.

Weaver, report,” Revel’s voice.

“I’m here,” I responded.  I kept a finger at my ear to make it clear that I wasn’t talking to myself.

Killington?

“Yes.  Progress is slow.  I’m sweeping the area for traps and potential ambush, and I’m marking a path to travel for when the others get here.”

We saw the two traps at the outset.  There are more confirmed?”

“Yeah.  I’m not touching anything.  Pass on word that any capes entering the area should be hands off.  I activated one and it was only a decoy, a prelude to a gas attack.  One of Bonesaw’s, I think.  Grue warded it off.  No casualties.”

I’ll make doubly sure to pass on word about the traps and about the route you’ve cleared.  I would have warned them anyways.  The initial casualties were enough, with the helicopter and first responders.  Give me a second.”

I led the way as our group rounded a corner, and saw the smouldering wreckage of the helicopter, smoke still streaming skyward.

The collision apparently hadn’t been enough to topple the corpse that stood upright in the middle of the intersection, desiccated.  A number was drawn on the mummy’s chest in blood.  Number thirty-six.

I could make out a tripwire strung between him and another corpse, a woman.  She had apparently been shot execution style, propped upright on her knees.  A number, again, had been drawn out in the midst of the blood spatter from the original wound.  Number two-sixty-five.

The tripwire was almost obvious, coated in congealed blood.

Red string, I thought.  In Japanese superstition, it was the string that bound lovers.

The pieces suggested Crimson and Winter.  Neither was Japanese, but the idea of mingling romantic imagery with violence in that way fit them.  The red knight and the soldier.

I’ve got the feed open now,” Revel said, “Seeing what you’re seeing.

“Only part of it.  The way the bodies are laid out, it’s a spiral.  I think it all points to something.  Making our way in.”

Technically you aren’t.  You’ve stopped.”

“Tripwires,” I said.  “Being very, very careful.”

“I like being careful,” Imp commented.  She’d only be hearing one side of the conversation.  “Careful is good.  Keeps us alive.”

“Being too careful gets you killed,” Rachel commented.  Of everyone present, she seemed least concerned with the amount of death that surrounded us.  Then again, that didn’t surprise me.  “Have to act when you see the chance.”

“You want to hop on your dog’s back and charge ahead?” Imp asked.  “Go activate every trap between here and wherever?”

Rachel frowned.  “No.”

“I like careful,” Imp restated, for the record.  “Let’s be careful.”

“Yeah.  Fine.”

I pointed to indicate.  “Obvious tripwire here.  Covered in blood.  Connects to the two bodies and… I think claymores, at the base of that building over there.  There are other tripwires around it.  Look too hard at it, miss the others.  I think there’s a pressure plate, too.  I’m not sure what to call that.”

“I don’t see anything that could be a pressure plate,” Grue observed.

I pointed at a pane of glass at the base of a pile of rubble.  It was broken, with a narrow thread of wood still attached along the one edge that was straight and unbroken.

“Maybe.  Kind of hard to believe,” he said.

Because we could see through it?  Yeah.  But it was situated beside a pile of rubble, and the balance of the glass with the surrounding brick and concrete seemed too convenient.

Was there something attached to the edge of the glass where we couldn’t see?  If the glass was broken, would the wood weigh the remaining fragment down and pull something?

“Let’s play it safe.  We avoid the tripwires, we avoid the glass.”

“Whatever you say.  I’m all for playing safe,” he responded.

I led the way around the trap.  I left a trail of dead bugs behind us as we made our way to the center, murdering them with larger bugs and mashing them into the ground.  A path.

I wondered about Grue.  Couldn’t read his expression, couldn’t note his tone either.  Was he thinking about the same thing I was thinking?

We’d already fallen for one trap.  Not here, but back in Brockton Bay.  Back then, when he’d had his second trigger event.

It had been the Nine, back then, and though he wasn’t giving me any clues there was something wrong, he wasn’t indicating that he was his old self, from back in the good old days.  I suspected he hadn’t fully bounced back, even after all this time, might never.

We circled around eight teenage girls, sitting in a circle, crowns of splintered wood nailed through their skulls.  One had fallen over in response to the wind, but the others were still upright, propped up with wooden planks nailed into their spines.  Less blood than the head wounds, I noted.  Some pre-death, others post?

The numbers were on the pieces of wood, registration numbers or something from the crate that had been smashed for materials.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, nine.

I looked up.  Number eight sat on the bulb of a street light, a long dress blowing in the wind, directly above the circle.  Her crown was the tallest, and for her to be so rigid, there had to be a whole assortment of planks nailed to her.

“Nine Kings,” I said.

“A woman king?” Imp asked.

“She’s the victim,” I said.  The killer is her… husband, for lack of a better word.”

They’ve resurrected all of the old members.  Cloned them,” Revel said.

Clones, I mused, agreeing.  My suspicions were confirmed, and I wasn’t surprised.  I’d hoped for different, but the reality of what we faced had been hinted at early on, when it had been revealed that the Nine had hit a tinker’s laboratory and made off with materials that could be used to mass produce lifeforms.

King.  The leader, the founder of the group.  Were the numbers in an order corresponding to when they had joined, then?  Would the second member of the Nine be ten through eighteen?

“Got a live one!”  Imp called out, interrupting my thoughts.  “…Kind of alive.”

I turned to look.  A fat man was shifting in a restless way, his chest rising and falling quickly in unsteady movements.  One arm jerked.

“Leave him,” I said.  “Don’t touch.”

“He could be a witness,” Rifle said.

“Or a trap,” I responded.  “I doubt he’s in a state to fill us in on anything.  We’ll move on, wait for heroes to follow the path I’m marking.  They’ll handle medical care for wounded.”

“That’s fucked up,” Rifle said.  “We could at least put him out of his misery, then.”

“I’m not willing to get close enough to check,” I said.  “And I’m not willing for you to get close either.”

“I-” Parian started.

Then she stopped.  The fat man deflated in an instant as a small collection of what looked like trilobites found their way out of his rear end.  Slick with gore, they darted forward a short distance on their hundreds of little legs, then turned our way, bristling with spines.  Tails trailed behind each of them, twice as long as the foot-long creatures, narrow, with stingers on the ends.

I could hear a hissing, but I wasn’t sure if it was from the creatures or the way the spines rubbed against one another.

“Oh… god,” she said.  She took a step back, with Foil stepping forward, as if to defend her.

“Breed’s power,” I said.  “They’re mostly harmless, for now.”

“For now?” Rifle asked.

I watched as they made their way up the side of a building to a corpse that was hung there.  The corpse had been cut into sections, the arms and legs each severed at the joints and reconnected with lengths of chain.  Breed’s creatures found their way into the body through the holes in the neck, mouth and rear end.  It jerked a little as they worked bodies the size of footballs into apertures only a fraction of that size, then went still.

“For now,” I answered Rifle.  “They start off the size of a lemon, lurk in spots where they can get access to orifices or sites of injury, or like you see here, corpses.  Inside beer bottles, in toilet bowls, bedcovers, on the underside of kitchen tables, even inside food.  Then they burrow inside, wait until the target is still and quiet for an hour or two, paralyze the target, and emit pheromones to call others of their kind to them.  They devour the target from the inside out, molt once or twice as they digest the fats and proteins they ate, then find a new target.  It’s a process that takes a week to two weeks, depending on the availability of food sources.”

I could see Getaway shift position, folding his hands behind his back, as if he could shield his rear end.  His mouth had shut into a firm line.

His nose was still unprotected, I noted.

Even Rachel seemed a little concerned.  She glanced at her dog.

“They aren’t a danger to us,” I said.  “Probably.  They choose easier targets over harder ones, and there are enough corpses around here that we aren’t worth the trouble.  What we should worry about is the later stages.  When they’re about the size of a full-grown human being, they’ll do two or three major molts with big physical changes, gaining some natural weapons, including a pellet-spit that kind of acts like a shotgun blast with fragments that dissolve into flesh-melting acid.”

“Um.”  Rifle said.

“You know this how?” Imp asked.

“Read his file,” I answered.

“Shouldn’t we kill them before they get big?”  Foil asked.

“Not worth the time it would take to track them down,” I said.  “We don’t have any strong offensive powers, they’re durable against stuff like conventional ammunition and physical blows, and he generally produces about nine or ten per day.”

“That was ten,” Getaway said.

“Even assuming it’s only been one day since Breed woke up,” I said, “The scenes they’ve left behind suggest there are nine clones of each copy of the Nine.  Going by the numbers-”

Twenty-nine copies, at least,” Revel said.

“Twenty-nine copies,” I said.  “Two-hundred-and-fifty-plus members of the Nine currently active.  Nine Breeds among them, meaning there’re probably nine other clusters around here, taking advantage of abundant food.”

Breed’s creatures.  Can you control them?” this from Revel, taking advantage of the stunned silence.

I glanced up at the body the things had invaded.  I tailored my response so both Revel and the Undersiders could make sense of it.  “I can’t control those things, and I can’t sense them either.”

A shame.  That would simplify things just a little.”

It would.  I wouldn’t have minded the firepower, either, even with their particular diet.

“Let’s keep moving,” I said.  “If we stop for every horror show, we might be stuck here a while.  My gut’s telling me time is of the essence.”

“I’m feeling a little out of my depth,” Getaway said, his voice quiet, as he fell into step to keep up.

“That’s a good instinct,” I replied without looking at him.  “Trust it.”

“You’re telling me to leave?”

“I can’t make you do anything,” I said.

“But you think I should leave?”

“If you feel like you should, yeah.”

“And does that extend to me and Rifle?” Cozen asked, her tone cold.

“I don’t know.  Yeah, if your instincts tell you to go, then get going now,” I said.  I pointed at the ground around a hose.  There was a puddle that had spread beneath the hose’s opening.  My bugs had died on contact with it.  “Acid, not water.  Don’t walk in it.  Rachel, watch your dogs.”

Rachel grunted acknowledgement.

“Don’t change the subject.  You want us gone,” Cozen said.

“No.  All the help we can get is appreciated,” I said.  I glanced at her.  “At the same time, if push comes to shove and you can’t hold it together, it’s going to hurt us all.”

“You don’t think we can hold it together?” Cozen asked.

“You’re an unknown quantity.  Anyone else that’s here, I can trust them to hold their own because I know how they operate.  I don’t know you.  I don’t know how you react in a crisis, how you’ll respond if you’re pushed to the edge, one way or another.  Grue and the others are vouching for you, so I’m shelving those concerns and trusting they have a good sense of your abilities.  I’ll maintain that trust until you give me an indication I shouldn’t.  Getaway saying he’s spooked is an indication.”

I’m spooked,” Imp said.  “Can I go home and sit on the couch in my underwear, eating cake?  I’ll cross my fingers for you guys, if you want.”

“You’re talking like you’re in charge,” Cozen said.  “Grue leads the Undersiders.”

“I’m not an Undersider,” I said.  “It doesn’t matter.  I’m in charge anyways.”

And Grue can speak for himself, I thought, but I didn’t say it aloud.

I could see her reacting to that, even without the extra quip.  I watched expressions cross her face: irritation, anger, indignation, and a trace of fear.

“Grue is a good leader,” I said, “But this is my project.  Something I’ve been working towards and thinking about for the last two years.  Leaving the Undersiders, making contacts, helping hold things together, maintaining the peace and eliminating possible issues.  Everything I did, it’s been to prepare for this in some fashion.”

“A little unilateral, don’t you think?”

“It’s her project,” Grue said.  “My orders are to follow her orders.”

I could see how little she liked that.

But she maintained a professional demeanor.  “Accepted.  You realize we don’t have to follow your orders?”

Grue nodded, silent.

Cozen seemed to come to a decision.  “We will anyways.  As Weaver pointed out, this is unfamiliar ground for us.  We’ll defer to your experience.”

“Thank you,” Grue and I said, almost in sync.

I turned away to hide my smile, in case it could be made out beneath the fabric of my mask.

Progress was slow.  The traps seemed to accrue in number as we drew closer to the center, as did the corpses.  More than once, we were forced to take the long way around, as traps or pools of acid barred our paths.

We passed an area with rows of identical looking cabins, then ran into the Protectorate.  Chevalier, Exalt, and others, examining the area, a block and a half away.

I got their attention, then pointed in the direction we were headed.  It wasn’t much more effort to mark out traps around them as well.  I made sure to mark each with a cluster of bugs, and bug-letters spelling out the nature of the danger.  Less trouble to move in parallel directions than reunite.

The center of the spiral wasn’t the center of the town in a geographic sense, but in a sense of where the town’s heart and focus were.  We closed in on the front steps of what looked to be a town hall.  Empty ski racks stood to our right, two draped with corpses that had been flung and broken over them.

By the time we were halfway through the plaza, navigating a maze where we tried to find a path that didn’t force us to tread on potential traps or corpses, Tecton and the others had caught up, reaching the edge of the area.

Thoughts?” Revel asked.  “Before you reach the center of the display?

“He wanted to present this for effect,” I said.  “It’s why he set up Pyrotechnical’s stuff to blow any aircraft out of the sky.  The traps are to force us to take our time, force us to savor it.”

“Savor?” Grue asked.

“Everything Jack does is for effect.  The same way a dog sort of raises its hackles to look bigger, tougher, or the way we used our reputation to seem more unstoppable than we were, Jack keys his actions for psychological effect.  All of this is to scare, to drive us to hesitate when it comes to confronting him, push us to think of ways to avoid dealing with him instead of ways to catch up to him and beat his face in.  Or, conversely, some personality types might get pushed to be reckless, to deal with him so he couldn’t bother them anymore.”

I glanced at Rachel as I said that last bit.  She’d instructed her dogs to stay, so they wouldn’t trip any of the traps in our way.

I made my way over a hump of bodies.  The members of the Nine who’d spilled acid all over the place had melted nine police officers and left them in a heap.  Crawler?  Only one that fit.

Our destination was the kind of spot, like a courthouse’s steps, where someone could give a speech.  There were two objects covered in tarps, a man who was in a reclining position at the far end of the stairs, and ten dead bodies arrayed in a star shape, limbs bent to mark the direction of the spiral.

I checked under the tarps, then bit my lip.

I turned around and gave Golem instructions as he made his way past the traps.  He created platforms to step over to serve as a shortcut.  Grace, Tecton, Wanton and Cuff hung back, looking grim.  They were joined by Chevalier and the others.

Golem joined me at the top of the stairs.

“How’s your headspace?” I asked.

“Terrified.”

“In a way that’s going to impact our job here?”

“No.  No.  You told me what to expect.  Kind of.  I didn’t imagine this.”

I shook my head.  “No.”

There was a voice from beneath the other tarp.  A strangled scream.

“What was that?”

“A recording,” I lied.  Then I elaborated.  “It’s a trap.  Two tarps, have to guess the right one.  Guess the wrong one and you blow up.  This one.  Move the tarp.”

He hesitated.

“Trust me,” I said.  Even as I lie for everyone’s benefit.

Rachel and Golem worked together to move the tarp aside.

A television.

“The tape’s already in the machine, you can hit play to start it,” the man sitting at the edge of the stairs said.

Wait, Weaver, stop.  Who was that?”  Revel asked.

“Who?” I asked.  “What do you mean?”

Look to your right.”

I did.  The other tarp, more corpses, the man who was now standing at the edge of the stairs, the little crenelation at the top of the stair’s railing, then beyond that, cabins, restaurants, hotels and motels, the rest of the town, and mountains in the background.

“Not sure I get what you’re saying,” I said.

“What’s wrong?” Grue asked.

“I don’t know.  I’m getting communications from Revel, and she’s acting funny.”

“Here,” the man said.  “Let me get that for you.”

The others stepped out of the way as he approached me, Golem, and the television set.  He reached for the play button.

I caught his wrist.

He’s dangerous,” Revel said.

“I beg your pardon?” the man asked.

Attack.

Attack?

I shook my head a little, releasing the man’s wrist.  “I appreciate the offer, sir, but let’s be safe and make sure this isn’t a trap.”

“Can’t argue with that,” he said, smiling.

This is what hell is like,” Revel said.  “Listen to me.

“Tattletale, are you there?”  I asked.

I am.

Tattletale?”  Revel asked.  “Damn all of you.  It doesn’t matter.  Listen, Taylor, Master and Stranger protocols are in effect.  Your perceptions are altered, understand?

I felt my heart quicken a little at that.  “I understand.”

There is a person to your right.  Not a teammate, former or current.  I need you to kill that person, don’t ask why, don’t think too much about it.  Draw your knife.

I drew my knife.

Look.  I’ll tell you who to attack.

I glanced to my right, my eyes falling on Rachel.  It was a bit presumptuous to say she wasn’t a teammate.  Not a team player, but she’d done her share.

No, to her right.

I looked past the man and set my eyes on Golem.

“I’m more inclined to think you’re a voice in my head that’s fucking with me, than to suspect Golem’s up to something, but-”

Oh hell,” Revel said.

I got this.  Taylor, do me a favor, give the order to ‘go dark’.

“Go dark,” I said.

To my left, Grue surrounded himself in thick darkness.

Nothing happened.

It didn’t work.”

Wait.”

A spray of blood leaped from the man’s throat.  We each stepped away, and I hurried forward to stop Rachel from backing into the other tarp.  We watched in stunned silence as blood poured from the wound.

“Hey,” a female voice said, “Do me a favor, let me know if there are any traps at the bottom of the stairs?”

“Who-” Golem started.

“Just tell me.”

“Acid,” I said, raising my knife so I could defend myself if I had to.

Imp appeared as she booted the bleeding man in the small of the back.  He rolled down the stairs, leaving spatters and sprays of blood as he made his way down, and then collapsed in a pile of bodies.  He started screaming, a gurgling sound.

I could see Chevalier and the others staring in shock, adopting fighting stances, unsure of how to proceed.  It looked like Chevalier was talking to someone, gesturing with his free hand.  Was it Revel, on the comms?

“My schtick,” Imp spat the words at the dying man.

I could mark the moment he died, because the blanks in my perception began to fill in.

Nice Guy, I thought.  I’d badly underestimated the severity of his power.  I’d known he would be in their roster, had kept it in mind throughout, even told myself to be ready for him, and then the moment we ran into him, well, he was another face in the crowd.  The connection wasn’t possible.

I watched as the acid ate away at him, burns creeping upward and spreading across his flesh, bubbling as it reached the cartilage of his nose and ears.

Thank you, Tattletale,” Revel said.

All good.

I… think I can tolerate your presence on this channel for the moment.  Provided you don’t cause any trouble that makes me regret it.

I’d do that anyways.  So.  One more trap down.  Keep in mind there are eight more of him.

“What was he going to do?” Golem asked.

Probably ask you all to stand there and stay still while he murdered each of you in turn,” Tattletale said.

“Oh.”

“Tattletale,” I said.  “Call my phone, and I’ll put you on speaker.”

Okay.  Let’s see.”

Six-three-zero-five-five-” Revel started.

My phone rang.  I picked up and put Tattletale on speaker, as Revel sighed audibly in my ear.

“Is the video player safe?” I asked.  I turned my head towards the television.

Yeah.  All the rest of this, it’s to scare.  It’s also meant to delay.  Jack probably expected the heroes to take a little while to find this, to get by the traps.  The spiral you mentioned, it would have been maybe a day or two before they put the pieces together, then another three to six hours before they navigated it to the center.

“Yay us,” Imp said.

She got more powerful, I thought.  She’d been able to speak while using her power.  Nuances.

Press play.”

I hit the button.

It was Jack, here, in the center of the plaza.  The camera wobbled as someone followed him, recording.  I could see shadows of the other Slaughterhouse Nine in the background.  Hookwolf.  Skinslip.  Night Hag.

“This message is intended for Theodore Anders.  Kaiser’s son.  Stop the video here and go find him.  Time is of the essence, I should say.  How much essence and time you have available depends on how incompetent you heroes are.  Hurry now, I’ll wait.”

No need to wait,” Tattletale commented.  “He’s standing right here.

There were a few looks of surprise at that.  Eyes fell on Golem.

There was a pause, then Jack started speaking.  “You missed the deadline, Theodore.  Simple game of hide and seek, and you had two years to do it, to find and kill me.  You failed.”

Golem’s gloves made a small creaking sound as he clenched his fists.

“You remember the deal, right?  Two years to find me.  Two years, you fight past my minions, you look me in the eye, and then you kill me.  And if you fail?  A thousand people die.  Your sister joins them, and you’re the last on the list.”

Golem,” Revel said.  She started to say something else, but Jack cut her off.

“That pain you feel, that self loathing?  The fear and dawning realization of what you’ve done?  Capture that, Theodore Anders.  Hold on to that feeling and use it, because I’m pulling your leg.”

Golem startled as if he’d been slapped.  His eyes had lowered, and now they returned to the screen.

“Circumstances beyond my control delayed me.  So I’m going to do you the favor of extending the deadline, and you’re going to do me the favor of forgiving my lateness.  Agreed?  Agreed.”

“Can we not agree?” Imp asked, uselessly.

Jack continued.  “This is a prelude.  See, all of these guys just woke up, and they needed a chance to stretch, flex their abilities and make sure everything works right.  Turn the camera around, Bonesaw dear.”

The camera panned around.  There were other members of the Slaughterhouse Nine present, standing in a loose half-circle.  Hundreds of them.  Nine of each.  Thirty groups.  I recognized most, could guess as to the others, who didn’t have their powers or full transformations going.

In the middle of that semicircle, lying on the ground, civilians had their hands folded on the backs of their heads.  In many cases they’d been stacked like cordwood.  Many bound, others too terrified to move.

“Oh god,” Golem said.

Jack spoke, his voice calm, clearly relishing this.  The camera returned to him, focusing on his face.  “I promised a thousand bodies.  A thousand kills, if you failed to meet the challenge we set in our bargain.  Except there’s a bit of a problem.  See, things have changed.  The Endbringers have apparently doubled down.  Terror is a fact of life.  As commodities go, this one has depreciated quite a bit in the time I’ve been gone.  We’ve really got to step up my game if I’m going to pass muster and get on the front page of the paper, don’t you agree?”

“No,” Golem said.

Silent, I took his hand, holding it.  My eyes didn’t leave the screen as I studied it for details, matching members of the Slaughterhouse Nine to the files I’d studied in recent months.

“Now, I’m still a man of my word,” Jack said.  “The original deal stands, of course.  That’s why each member of my army here is going to walk away with three or four of the locals here.  We’ve whittled down the number to an even nine hundred and ninety-nine.  Let’s say you have… hmm.  Until the twenty-fourth.  Five days.”

We watched in silence.

What’s the rub, the trick?

“If you fail to kill me, I disband the Nine.”

“What?” Imp asked.  “What?”

I frowned.  Not what I expected.

“That’s not an enticement to leave me alive,” Jack purred the words, sounding pleased with himself.  “See, Bonesaw did a very good job of putting my army together.  Each is in the prime of their life, fit, in fighting shape.”

“Aw shucks,” a girl’s voice said, offscreen.

“Their psychologies are close to what they should be, all things considered.  Except for tweaks, here and there.  I’m good when it comes to wrangling the wicked, but Bonesaw apparently felt two hundred and eighty would be too many, even for me.  She’s made them loyal.  They’ll listen better.  The most unpredictable and dangerous have been touched up, the edges rounded off.  While interacting with me, anyways.  I won’t sully your experience on that front.

“No.  They’re obedient and servile only when I require them to be.  If you fail in your task, then I’ll give them one last task, to kill the one thousand people we agreed to in the terms of our wager, and then I’ll disband the group.  They’ll be free to run rampant, to do as they see fit.  Wreak chaos.  I’ll take a vacation, sit back with a Mai Tai and watch the show.”

Fuck me,” Tattletale said.

“Fuck,” I echoed her, agreeing.

Golem, for his part, had gone stone-still.

“I’ll be leaving members of the Slaughterhouse Nine behind at regular intervals as I beat a not-so-hasty retreat.  Your choice if you deal with them or leave them be.  But if I get one report from them that you’re getting help, one report that you’re using others as a crutch, then that’s it.  Order goes out, hostages die, Nine go off leash, and you get to watch the body count rise.”

“Five days, Theodore.  Noon on the twenty-fourth.  I look forward to meeting you.”

The video cut out.

“Tattletale?” I asked.

Already on it.  Word’s going out to all the major players.”

I noted Chevalier’s approach.  He had used Golem’s platform to reach the base of the stairs, stepping around Nice Guy.

“Major players?” Grue asked.

“Everyone Tattletale’s been meeting with,” I said.

“I heard through the feed,” Chevalier said.  “The restrictions stand.”

“The restrictions stand,” I agreed.  I explained for the benefit of the others.  “We treat this as a Simurgh situation.  Control feedback, control exposure.  Anyone and everyone that potentially comes in contact with Jack could be a factor in Dinah’s end of the world scenario.  Powerful individuals are especially important in this.  The more powerful they are, the more important it is to minimize or prevent contact.”

“Um.  I probably sound dumb as I ask this,” Imp said, raising a hand as if she were asking a question in class, “But what about the nearly-three-hundred lunatic psycho people with crazy powers that he’s threatening to unleash on the world?”

“We’ll deal with them,” I said.  “With your okay, Chevalier?”

He fell silent.

“Chevalier, I thought-”

“Yes.  You proposed your strike squad. You’ve shown their ability to deal with different situations.  Fine.  But I’m assigning two tertiary squads to you.”

“Chicago and Brockton Bay teams.”

“I was going to say-”

“They’re teams I’m familiar with,” I said.  “Please.”

He fell silent again.

“Work with me here, and if we’re all standing at the end, I’m yours.  Whatever you want to use me for, however, it doesn’t matter.  If this blows over and the end of the world doesn’t happen, like some think it won’t, then the deal stands.”

“I’ll get in contact with Miss Militia and Crucible.”

“If it’s alright, can we have Clockblocker take control of the Wards for this excursion?”

“Whatever you need,” Chevalier said.  “You realize we’re pinning a lot on you?”

“On Golem more than me,” I said.  “We’re going to cheat our way through this, bend every rule, but it all hinges on Golem being able to hold his own.”

Jack’s going to try to set Golem up with a long chain of lose-lose situations,” Tattletale said.  “Force him to either let the innocents die and maintain the chase, or let Jack pull away.  We already got one big advantage by getting to this tape as fast as we did.  Let’s not show our hand.  Dragon’s on the line.  We’ve got Dragon’s Teeth and Azazel models moving to the front.

“Close in the net, then act decisively,” I said.  “Coordinated strikes.  If the Thanda are willing, a meteor strike in the right time and place could do wonders.”

There were nods of agreement from around the group.

Golem turned around and walked away.

“Golem,” I said.

He was already halfway down the stairs.  He used the panels at his waist to form an even footpath, with hands turned at right angles, positioned where he could put his feet on them.

“Golem!” I called out.  I handed my phone to Grue, then hurried after him.

He stopped as he set his foot on the first outstretched hand of pavement, but he didn’t turn around.  His voice was low, barely a whisper.  “Stop, Taylor.  Leave me alone.  Please.”

“You’re running?”

“I’m… no.  I’m definitely in.  I have to be, don’t I?”

“But?”

“But this is a lot to take in.  Jack, he talked to me about ripples.  About stuff extending outward, the lives that are affected.”

“I remember.  You told me that.”

“Right here, in this dinky little ski resort, he murdered a few hundred people, just as a warm up.  How many people on the periphery of it all are affected?  How many people across America, across the world, know people in Killington?  Or know the people who know people in this town?”

“You can’t think about things on that scale.”

“I have to.  Jack does, and I have to understand him.  If I don’t pay attention to it, if I ignore it all, pursuing only the end result, the target, then I’m acting like my dad.  Kind of.  Either way, I lose.”

“You care about the people who died, and you’re thinking about them that way for a good reason.  That’s not putting you on a path to being like either of them.”

“But that kind of consideration, letting it really sink in, it eats away at you, doesn’t it?  Shouldn’t it?”

“It should,” I said.

“There’s a reason we go numb, and I get that, but I don’t want to go down that road, not so quickly.  Not knowing just how easy it would be to revel in it, or to stop caring about the dead.  I’m there, and I’m…”

“What?”

The stoic face on his helm stared down at the ground.

“Theo?”

“I hear you guys talking about it, and you’re right there, in your element.  This is something that you’ve been working on for a long time, and there’s almost an excitement to you.  Like you’ve been in a kind of stasis for the entire time I’ve known you, and only now are you really coming back to life.”

“It’s not like that,” I said.

“No.  I mean, I’m not blaming you, or saying you’re a bad person.  You’re good at this, at taking a challenge head on, finding workarounds, manipulating the system to our advantage.  You’re doing it for good reasons, to help, to stop bad people.  I saw glimmers of that excitement, of the real Weaver, while you were dealing with our bosses, and making connections, offering deals to the bad guys you thought you could bring to our side.  But I’ve spent a long time thinking about Jack and watching old footage of him, and figuring out my enemy, my nemesis, and it’s like… that’s you.”

“Me.”

You’re his nemesis, Weaver.  I’m the reason he’s here, the reason these people died like this.  But you’re his counterpart, his mirror.  You’ve got that same excitement Jack has, you think along the same lines, in strategy and counter-strategy.  You thrive on conflict, just like he does.  And I… I’m not like that.”

I couldn’t muster a response.

“So right now?  You should go back.  Forget I said this, because it’s… I’m regretting opening my mouth already.  Work on formatting the strategies you already worked out to fit around the rules of Jack’s game, because that’s a good thing.  It’s what we need.  But let me have half an hour or an hour or however long I need to myself.  Until we stop waiting and stop letting Jack think we haven’t found the tape yet.  Let me take a moment and think about these people.”

“You’re not to blame for them,” I said.  “The Nine would have killed anyways.”

“I know.  I get that.  But I played a part in the sequence of events, and maybe these people wouldn’t have been the ones to die if I hadn’t made that wager with Jack… and I guess I think everyone else that cares has better things to do.  You trained me, the others trained me.  I- I guess I’m as ready as I could ever be.  I’ll fight when the time comes, wade through the gauntlet he sets in his wake and I’ll succeed or fail.  But I’m not a strategist, and these people need someone to mourn them.  Let me be useful in my own way, right here, right now.”

I opened my mouth to voice a reply, then shut it.

A moment passed, and Golem set about walking on the hands he’d raised from the ground, just two or so feet above the bodies and the streets that were painted with blood.

I stood where I was, watching as he steadily made his way to the safe zone I’d drawn out on the ground.  He stopped only to gesture for Tecton and Grace not to follow, then walked on, out of sight.

It’s not that I don’t care, I thought.  But-

But what?

I couldn’t articulate my thoughts.

But… we need a strategist, we need a plan, before all hell breaks loose, I thought.  Developing that, coming up with answers, fighting, it’s going to do a lot more good in the long run than compassion all on its own.

I looked down at Nice Guy, at the foot of the stairs, a fleshy mess that was slowly dissolving into the acid pile, which only spread and served as more acid to melt flesh.  I realized I was still holding my knife, from the time of the brief skirmish.  I sheathed it.

Then, as Golem had told me to, I pushed him, the dead, the maimed and the lost out of mind and turned back to the core group, to offer my services, to coordinate and administrate.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

400 thoughts on “Sting 26.1

    • “He wanted to present this for effect” I said. “It’s why he set up Pyrotechnical’s stuff to blow any aircraft out of the sky. The traps are to force us to take our time, force us to savor it.”

      Missing punctuation after effect.

      • Grue never wouldn’t necessarily have gone through what he did. <– double negative

        Her crown was the tallest, and for her to be so rigid. <– sentence fragment

        Cloned them,” Revel said. <– extended italics

        put the pieces together, then another three to six hours before they navigated “ <– missing period, possibly more words?

        I’m a good when it comes to wrangling the wicked <– a good what?

    • Grue never wouldn’t necessarily have gone through what he did. << Oddly written.

      I could make out a tripwire strung betw << doublespace

      Her crown was the tallest, and for her to be so rigid. << Doesn't make sense?

      Clones, I agreed, my suspicions confirmed. << No quotes

      “He wanted to present this for effect” I said. << Missing punctuation

      ther three to six hours before they navigated “ << Missing punctuation

      “If it’s alright, can we have Clockblocker take control of the Wards for this excursion?” << shouldn't he be Protectorate by now? Or is it like a Protectorate team member leading a Wards team like has happened before?

      • Clockblocker leading the Wards is just part of Taylor’s plan. I’m sure a member of the Protectorate has assumed control of the Wards before, but even if they haven’t, the S9K situation sort of calls for non-standard actions.

    • “I’m a good when it comes to wrangling the wicked …” Perhaps either “I’m good when it comes to wrangling the wicked” or “I’m a god when it comes to wrangling the wicked”

    • “She’s the victim,” I said. The killer is her… husband, for lack of a better word.”
      Missing the opening quote after “I said.”

    • “We each stepped away, and I hurried forward to stop Rachel from backing into the other tarp.”

      Should that actually be “tarp” (as in tarpaulin)?

      Or should it be “trap”?

    • Talk about loss/loss scenarios. Jack wins, he disbands the nine and won’t be there to keep them in check. Jack loses, dies and he won’t be there to keep the nine in check anymore.

      • Yes! Clocky is alive! For now.

        Damnit Jack this is why nobody wants to play with you. You totally skew the damn thing, then unbalance it more. Competitive balance man, competitive balance. See you want them not to cheat, you need to not be a cheater when you make the rules dude.

      • When you look at it that way, there’s no real reason to play by the rules he’s set out… Heh heh heh. Weaver, other sideline characters, it’s time to cheat.

  1. Wow, Nice Guy was an interesting inversion of Imp and reminds me of the little kid in Vegas. Prince or something like that.

    I guess his power was that he appears as someone you don’t want to attack. Which is quite powerful.

  2. Well.

    Damn.

    Jack’s “games” never cease to terrify/awe me, I have to say.

    The powers of the two Nine members shown this chapter are interesting…Breed’s reminds me of Nilbog’s. Nice Guy’s seems halfway between August Prince and Imp.

    • Breed’s shouldn’t remind you of Nilbog.

      It should remind you of XCOM.

      Because Breed’s power is “can spawn vast numbers of chryssalids”. More or less.

  3. Glad to see they are looking into just bombing them with a meteor. Theo was right, and trickster said it as well. She seems to thrive the more dangerous the fight. Glad to see old Clockie is still around. The red hands only have two members? Well its Jack vs. Weaver, with Cauldron having some kind of plan. Place your bets people.

      • Unfortunately nuking the site from orbit doesn’t actually confirm anything when dealing with the S9. There are quite a few of them that would laugh off the actual explosion from a nuke, and then Bonesaw would deal with the radiation, which would be the real killer for most people.

          • Crawler probably could, anyone inside a container Manton was protecting could, I will laugh in the face of anyone that thinks Bonesaw is dying to a nuke, and Grey Boy could probably also walk it off. There are plenty of them you probably wouldn’t actually catch with a nuke as well. Nukes just don’t cut it at the higher ends of power in Worm.

            • Crawler is probably more vulnerable to nukes than, say, Mannequin. As I’ve said in another post, he was ridiculously though but no Siberian. The Siberians can shield them but I don’t think they can come with a practical solution that brings them all under their power. So most would probably survive, but not all of them. We have no idea what Grey Boy can do. If his unfair power is solely people-based (something I doubt, by the way) then a nuke can kill him.

            • But they’re not all at the higher ends of power, so a bomb could kill quite a few. At this point, it’s a lose/lose situation. A fireball of death is unlikely to make things worse.

              • Ah yes, the Godzilla Threshold. It was said somewhere that they have tried nuking Endbringers.
                It didn’t work.
                Still, it might work for most of the Slaughterhouse.

          • I say Cauldron pushes that button Bonesaw gave them. Then they send in Contessa to kill the rest. Why can’t it ever be that easy :(

            I slowly begin to understand how Cauldron operates. Contessas power, ‘The Path To Certain Victory’ is addictive.

  4. ““If it’s alright, can we have Clockblocker take control of the Wards for this excursion?””

    YES! God damn I waited too long to hear that he’s still alive.

  5. This is not directly related to the chapter itself (which is glorious and to which I’ll leave a review later, when I reread it), but something I have to say.

    One thing I would LOVE to see (as a fanfic / omake/ etc) is an alternative heroic S9 (from a parallel world). Because heroic Crawler? It’s a stuff epic tales are made from. A hero that loses his humanity each time he fights. That has to suffer to get power to stop others from suffering. That becomes more and more monstrous in appearance with each day he tries to make a difference.

    And mr Nice Guy is just made for non-lethal takedowns.

        • Wait, that would make Panacea a true villain, too, with Bonesaw frantically tinkering to try to keep up with the biological horrors she warps people, creatures, and germs into. Plus, she would have teamed up with Skitter to produce relay bugs and relay shrimp that can eat and reproduce enough to cover the whole world by now.

          • Now I want to figure out the AU-S9. I guess Taylor would be the alternate Jack Slash, and Panacea the alternate Bonesaw.. would Regent be the alternate for Cherish? Or would it be more appropriate to count in old members like King and Grey Boy rather than shorter-lived ones like Cherish and Burnscar? I’d nominate Defiant for the alter-Mannequin, though.

            • Taylor doesn’t work as an alternative Jack Slash – too young; Jack was one of the first parahumans ever.

              I think that just going straight for reverse is not really a good idea. Too simple and,at the same time, convoluted (in how situation has to twist).

              You could do it this way:

              Flip Jack Slash with Harbringer, thus making Number Man the leader of the evil team, Grey Boy with Eidolon and Alexandria with Manton. This leaves you with the Triumvirate of Syberian, Grey Boy and Legend.

              Keep Mannequin evil (because Simurgh). Keep most of S9 evil.

              Replace Crawler with… Hmm, I’m not sure. Weld maybe? Ages don’t fit, but still.

              Perhaps flip Panacea with Bonesaw. This could indeed work. But keep “no epidemics” rule to stop large scale deaths.

              Skitter remains the same, I think, only now she’s against Number Man / Harbinger, not Jack.

              And I can see her being one of the few to actively volunteer to be Bonesaw’s test subject.

              • Taylor doesn’t work as an alternative Jack Slash – too young; Jack was one of the first parahumans ever.

                I assumed the ages would be reversed as well.

              • You know, with Siberian and Lung as heroes, they could probably combine to give Leviathan a more than interesting fight.

            • Keep the turnover rate. They keep being betrayed and taken down by enemy fire. Heck, keep some portion of their recruitment – they’re notoriously harsh, always pushing each other to the limits (and beyond) in order to deal with threats beyond the scope of most other teams. Treat them not so much as the Protectorate but a vigilante group outside that, and I think it could work.

          • Flip Grey boy with Eidolon and Jack with Harbinger for a beginning of alternative horror team, I think.

            You get a triumvirate of Grey Boy, Syberian and… You could probably leave Alexandria where she is.

            I don’t think (dearly hope) that Panacea isn’t a member of the alternative analogue of S9.

            Too young to be one (well, bad logic, given Bonesaw, but still).

          • Well, depending on how far we extend the parallel, Amelia might not be a member of the AUS9 very long — presumably being taken down at Riley’s hands, if I may insert a time-reversal into that plotline. My instinct might be to use the analogues New Wave members and the Brockton Bay Wards and Protectorate as ‘ordinary’ supervillain gangs, a la the E88 and the ABB.

            On which subject: given the greyish nature of Glory Girl and Kayden Anders’ heroic self-conception, I think swapping the Pure with New Wave would be poetically apt (heck, she’s even got an adopted child who ends up joining the opposing team!); that would put the rest of the E88 in the Wards, including Kayden’s on-and-off-boyfriend Max. The ABB I would turn into the Protectorate — Kenta is certainly as ambitious as Colin, and his power as deadly as Hannah’s — possibly folding in analogues of Circus, Uber, and Leet to fill out the numbers.

            …this is fun!

              • I don’t think this actually works. Canon undersiders are a bunch of teenagers who are local villains working for a larger organisation.

                MIrror!Undersiders would be a bunch of teenagers who are local heroes working for a larger organisation.

                On that note, Alexandria could actually work as Mirror!Coil. At least partially, I think.

              • EDIT of the previous post. Actually, no, Alexandria would work best as Syberian analogue.

                Manton being the director of PRT and Syberian the member of truimvirate is something that can be easily pulled off in-story.

        • It was late 2011 when Taylor Hebert, then alias Weaver, left the vigilante group, the Oversiders. The deeply disturbed youth had made a game of infiltrating the hero team, one of several funded by parahuman philanthropist Equilibrium (whom it was later discovered she murdered), only to defect to the villainous Destructorate. In what she termed a “going away present”, Hebert used her powers to badly poison her former teammates: Oracle, Sanctum, Copilot, Alpha, and Sprite, along with new additions to the team, rogue-turned-hero Parian, and newly reformed villain Foil (now calling herself “Fletchette”.

          Upon joining the Destructorate, Hebert, now calling herself “Overqueen”, possibly as a reference to her former team, quickly rose up the ranks, eventually killing Barbaria, the otherwise indestructible leader of the super-villain team. Taking Barbaria’s position, Overqueen assembled a team of the most powerful young villains in the Destructorate and set to work establishing control over large swaths of land. Her small strike-squad consisted of Blight (not originally a member of the Destructorate), Shaanxi, Deadstop, Artifice, and Doom-Ringer (formerly an employee of Equilibrium corrupted by “Weaver”). She wanted to include Dread Vision, but the perception-warping villain had been rendered permanently incapacitated by her adopted sister Blight earlier that year.

          Cunningly using Doom-Ringer’s precognition to guide her to victory, Overqueen used ‘relay bugs’, dragonflies and shrimp made by Blight to resonate with her power, to control all protostomes in the northeastern United States. Using Shaanxi and Artifice as shock-troopers, taking advantage of their powers to manipulate terrain and quickly erect structures, she cut a path of destruction across the eastern seaboard. Deadstop, leading a contingent of monstrosities created by blight, established her power by tactically eliminating all dissidents.

          When it seemed all hope was lost, what might have been the only power capable of taking on such a menace arose from the ashes. The Sanctuary 9, previously disbanded after the tragic deaths of half of their members (Phoenix, Invincible, Sweetheart (a sister of copilot), and Cathedral), was called back into action to face Overqueen’s thread. Note: at the time of their tragic disbandment the Nine was looking for a ninth after the death of Paladin during a Scion attack.

          The surviving former members of the Nine, Suture, Preserver (formerly the villain Dr. Extinction, turned good by the Olympian Hera), Archangel, and their leader, Jack of Spades, reunited and set about recruiting five new members. They first found Vitalis, a tinker specializing in creating life. He and Suture began trying to find a way to make arthropod, mollusk, and annelid populations immune to Overqueen’s power, and to undo Blight’s monstrosities.

          In the meantime, Jack recruited Iron Cross, former member of the parahuman social advocacy group, Colony Thirty-Three. C.T.T. fell apart after it’s leader, Missionary (father of Artifice), was assassinated by Destructorate villain Arms-Race. He also recruited Safety-First, a hero who manipulated reality to prevent injury within a selected range of herself. Two founding members of the Nine, First Citizen and Technicolor, came out of retirement to join the cause.

          The amassed forces moved for Overqueen’s lair. By sheer power they managed to overcome some of her forces, making their way towards her “capital” in Brockton Bay. Most of her forces were incapacitated, that is, the bulk of the Destructorate and all of her personal strike team except for Blight and new additions Hydra and Hateful (formerly Arms-Race). When it seemed Overqueen’s reign of terror would finally come to an end, the one element that could stop the Nine came into play: Scion!

          -Interlude-

          “What the fuck are you even doing? You think you’re gonna save humanity or some shit?”, shouted the most powerful man in the world. “Well let me tell you something, goldy-boy. Humanity is fuckin’ awful, and is so fucked anyway you couldn’t do nothin’.” He took another swig from the brown bottle and turned away from the resplendent figure before him.

          “Th’fuck are you doin’ mutt?”, he shouted at his dog who was presently relieving itself on a very expensive armchair. He kicked the dog. “Hey, get away from there. Fucking stupid animal. You know what?” He turned back to the golden man. “Why don’t you just fuck people up some? Why come into my house and bother me, when you can just ruin someone else’s day? Or week? Or life?”

          He imagined that the golden man, who clearly had no regard for common decency, naked as he was, perked up at the idea of wreaking havoc on the people of the Earth. “You like that, huh? Well get out of my house and fuck some people up, son!” He may have slurred the last word a bit.

          ***

          The most powerful man watched in awe as the television flicked between clips of the golden man pushing cars off bridges, knocking down buildings with golden beam attacks, and lightly rapping people with their own arms while whispering “stop hitting yourself” barely loud enough to hear. At some point or another, he had repeated “fuck some people up, son”, but was so quite that the cameras had only caught the last word, and had misheard it as “Scion”.

          ***

          “Great work, you shiny asshole, but there’s one more thing. When one of those “Olympian” motherfuckers shows up, get in their way. Don’t let them do-gooders go around helping people.”

          -End of Interlude-

          Scion, being the asshole that his is, brought the Hoover Dam to Brockton Bay and flew around with it to get in the way of the Sanctuary Nine going to apprehend Overqueen. While that was happening, Overqueen had Blight use her power to give Overqueen the ability to control any animal, just like she could with bugs. Then, she started combining members of the Destructorate into one individual with all of the powers of every member (save Hydra) with Overqueen at the head.

          All seemed lost until the Olympians showed up. Zeus, with his dynakinesis, Poseidon with his hydrokinesis, Hera with her mind-games and telekinesis, Hades with his time-warping columns, Demeter with here ability to warp entire landscapes, and Hestia with her ability to take on the powers of three parahumans at once pooled their forces into the first ever six-way Olympian effort. The six Olympians were easily able to defeat the Destructorate-Overqueen.

          After a time, the Travelers headed the cleanup effort, lead by Gaia, who used her power to revive all of the people killed in the fight.

        • It was late 2011 when Taylor Hebert, then alias Weaver, left the vigilante group, the Oversiders. The deeply disturbed youth had made a game of infiltrating the hero team, one of several funded by parahuman philanthropist Equilibrium (whom it was later discovered she murdered), only to defect to the villainous Destructorate. In what she termed a “going away present”, Hebert used her powers to badly poison her former teammates: Oracle, Sanctum, Copilot, Alpha, and Sprite, along with new additions to the team, rogue-turned-hero Parian, and newly reformed villain Foil (now calling herself “Fletchette”.

          Upon joining the Destructorate, Hebert, now calling herself “Overqueen”, possibly as a reference to her former team, quickly rose up the ranks, eventually killing Barbaria, the otherwise indestructible leader of the super-villain team. Taking Barbaria’s position, Overqueen assembled a team of the most powerful young villains in the Destructorate and set to work establishing control over large swaths of land. Her small strike-squad consisted of Blight (not originally a member of the Destructorate), Shaanxi, Deadstop, Artifice, and Doom-Ringer (formerly an employee of Equilibrium corrupted by “Weaver”). She wanted to include Dread Vision, but the perception-warping villain had been rendered permanently incapacitated by her adopted sister Blight earlier that year.

          Cunningly using Doom-Ringer’s precognition to guide her to victory, Overqueen used ‘relay bugs’, dragonflies and shrimp made by Blight to resonate with her power, to control all protostomes in the northeastern United States. Using Shaanxi and Artifice as shock-troopers, taking advantage of their respective powers to manipulate terrain and quickly erect structures, she cut a path of destruction across the eastern seaboard. Deadstop, leading a contingent of monstrosities created by blight, established her power by tactically eliminating all dissidents.

          When it seemed all hope was lost, what might have been the only power capable of taking on such a menace arose from the ashes. The Sanctuary 9, previously disbanded after the tragic deaths of half of their members (Phoenix, Invincible, Sweetheart (a sister of copilot), and Cathedral), was called back into action to face Overqueen’s thread. Note: at the time of their tragic disbandment the Nine was looking for a ninth after the death of Paladin during a Scion attack.

          The surviving former members of the Nine, Suture, Preserver (formerly the villain Dr. Extinction, turned good by the Olympian Hera), Archangel, and their leader, Jack of Spades, reunited and set about recruiting five new members. They first found Vitalis, a tinker specializing in creating life. He and Suture began trying to find a way to make arthropod, mollusk, and annelid populations immune to Overqueen’s power, and to undo Blight’s monstrosities.

          In the meantime, Jack recruited Iron Cross, former member of the parahuman social justice advocacy group, Colony Thirty-Three. C33 fell apart after it’s leader, Missionary (the father of Artifice), was assassinated by Destructorate villain Arms-Race. He also recruited Safety-First, a hero who manipulated reality to prevent injury within a selected range of herself. Two founding members of the Nine, First Citizen and Technicolor, came out of retirement to join the cause.

          The amassed forces moved for Overqueen’s lair. By sheer power they managed to overcome some of her forces, making their way towards her “capital” in Chicago. Most of her forces were incapacitated, that is, the bulk of the Destructorate and all of her personal strike team except for Blight and new additions Hydra and Hateful (formerly Arms-Race). When it seemed Overqueen’s reign of terror would finally come to an end, the one element that could stop the Nine came into play: Scion!

          -Interlude-

          “What the fuck are you even doing? You think you’re gonna save humanity or some shit?”, shouted the most powerful man in the world. “Well let me tell you something, goldy-boy. Humanity is fuckin’ awful, and is so fucked anyway you couldn’t do nothin’.” He took another swig from the brown bottle and turned away from the resplendent figure before him.

          “Th’fuck are you doin’ mutt?”, he shouted at his dog who was presently relieving itself on a very expensive armchair. He kicked the dog. “Hey, get away from there. Fucking stupid animal. You know what?” He turned back to the golden man. “Why don’t you just fuck people up some? Why come into my house and bother me, when you can just ruin someone else’s day? Or week? Or life?”

          He imagined that the golden man, who clearly had no regard for common decency, naked as he was, perked up at the idea of wreaking havoc on the people of the Earth. “You like that, huh? Well get out of my house and fuck some people up, son!” He may have slurred the last word a bit.

          ***

          The most powerful man watched in awe as the television flicked between clips of the golden man pushing cars off bridges, knocking down buildings with golden beam attacks, and lightly rapping people with their own arms while whispering “stop hitting yourself” barely loud enough to hear. At some point or another, he had repeated “fuck some people up, son”, but was so quite that the cameras had only caught the last word, and had misheard it as “Scion”.

          ***

          “Great work, you shiny asshole, but there’s one more thing. When one of those “Olympian” motherfuckers shows up, get in their way. Don’t let them do-gooders go around helping people.”

          -End of Interlude-

          Scion, being the asshole that his is, brought the Hoover Dam to Brockton Bay and flew around with it to get in the way of the Sanctuary Nine going to apprehend Overqueen. While that was happening, Overqueen had Blight use her power to give Overqueen the ability to control any animal, just like she could with bugs. Then, she started combining members of the Destructorate into one individual with all of the powers of every member (save Hydra) with Overqueen at the head.

          All seemed lost until the Olympians showed up. Zeus, with his dynakinesis, Poseidon with his hydrokinesis, Hera with her mind-games and telekinesis, Hades with his time-warping columns, Demeter with here ability to warp entire landscapes, and Hestia with her ability to take on the powers of three parahumans at once pooled their forces into the first ever six-way Olympian effort. The six Olympians were easily able to defeat the Destructorate-Overqueen.

          After a time, the Travelers headed the cleanup effort, lead by Gaia, who used her power to revive all of the people killed in the fight as a more perfect version of themselves.

    • This has actually been discussed a long time ago. I think the subject was heroic villains with powers that simply don’t work as heroes. I mean a heroic nilbog raises all kinds of moral/philosophical question with his goblin army. A heroic breed might work if you gave him dead bodies from the morgue to do his thing. Bonesaw would save who knows how many lives from finding cures to diseases.

      • Indeed. Consider this hypothetical Heroic!Crawler’s (I really like the image) relationship with other heroes. In order to become more powerful and more effective, he has to be hurt, and hurt badly. The most efficient way to develop defences against powers is to let those with powers hurt him. And not “smack around” hurt him, but “carve his flesh open and boil his insides with lasers” hurt him. So he’ll have to ask his teammates to do the deed.

        Heroes may have problems with interpersonal communication due to their trigger events, but I’m pretty sure this would make for a nice moral dilemma.

        Oh, and if he got powers when he was still below 18, i.e. when he would have been a ward…

        And P.R. Oh god, P.R. Well, I mean it could be spun as an ultimate “monster with a heart of gold” thing, “a martyr suffering for your sins” kind of a deal, but still, especially when the transformation truly takes off (tentacles, slime, additional eyes, etc).

        Or Nice Guy. How do you grade him properly to promote him in any organisation? He’s a nice guy.

        Or, hell, Bonesaw. She’s a tinker. A ward tinker. A very young ward tinker. Whose speciality is body modifications. She has to practice. She needs test subjects. Do you let other wards volunteer? Other heroes only? Normal people? Do you let her practice on herself? What about mandated psychotherapy sessions?

        • >Indeed. Consider this hypothetical Heroic!Crawler’s (I really like the image) relationship with other heroes. In order to become more powerful and more effective, he has to be hurt, and hurt badly. The most efficient way to develop defences against powers is to let those with powers hurt him. And not “smack around” hurt him, but “carve his flesh open and boil his insides with lasers” hurt him. So he’ll have to ask his teammates to do the deed.

          Not necessarily. He could what Crawler does in the serial. Just throw himself at his enemies. To make him lees creepy you could have him as a Leeroy Jenkins type instead of a Combat Sadomasochistic, always running ahead of his teammates to have a chance at taking the villain by himself. Such strategy should help him develop the Nigh Invulnerability Worm’s Crawler eventually got.

          • It still runs into the problem of him becoming more and more inhuman every time he is damaged.

            As a sidenote, how about “Comeback” as a heroic name for Crawler?

          • I think he could even be more powerful. Imagine someone who threw limself at every Endbringer, every time he could, and somehow survived and adapted. If he did:
            From Behmoth, he’d gain an increadible resistance to heat and radiation.
            From Leviathan, he’d gain a great resistance to water pressure and probably water breathing.
            From Khonshu, he’d become immortal and capable of hibernating in status to survive, or something like that. Maybe start to grip on to follow Khonshu around.
            Not so sure on the others. Maybe flight to survive Simurg, and probably a ranged attack so that he could stay away from her madness thing. Or just an immunity to it. The others are a little too new to tell, but general durability would help.
            Of course, this assumes that the Endbringers don’t kill him, but it does make you wonder why Crawler didn’t become a hero if all he wanted was a challenge. In Worm, the heroic characters face the greater challenges. Presumably he only decided that he wanted a challenge after he’d killed a lot of people.
            An adaptable hero is a really interesting idea, now that I think about it.

            • Remember Crawler, especially at the start of the S9 arc, is ridiculously though, but he’s not Siberian. Bakuda bombs managed to off him. An eEndbringer may be too much for him, especially we are imagining a heroic Crawler who is still at the start of his career and relatively human.

            • Behemoth would kill him early on to prevent all this, if Crawler gets into his “insta-kill” range.

              Unless Crawler spends lots of time being shot by Flechete and torn apart by Siberian to develop immunity to reality-breaking attacks.

              I can actually see him being held back from Endbringer fights, at least until he gets into ridiculously tough levels.

              • >I can actually see him being held back from Endbringer fights, at least until he gets into ridiculously tough levels.

                Which could actually tie with PR problems you were talking about.

                “You’re always telling monster boy is a good guy and that he’s helping us but how come we never see him at Endbringers attack if he’s as though as you say he is? What, he doesn’t want to hurt his monsters pals?”

              • >Which could actually tie with PR problems you were talking about.

                Indeed. One has to remember, Crawler’s power is primarily defensive in nature. Any offensive powers he develops (superstrength, tentacles, some sort of corrosive spit, etc) are just side-effects of his biology altering itself to withstand extreme conditions and powerful attacks.

                So, he would definitely be held back against Simurgh, and probably against Behemoth (at least until he gets really, really monstrous).

                It’s a good strategic and tactical decision, but PR would be a nightmare.

    • I think Marvel may have done something like that with Beast (of the X-men) at one point. Not exactly the same though.

      Actually, I think he may just have gotten stupider and more animal like the more he used his abilities.

      • X-Man named Darwin had a slightly different take on his power. He automatically changed in order to best meet the situation he was put into. This wasn’t necessarily a consistent thing. While he might have become stronger or more durable against the Hulk in World War Hulk, his power finally just teleported him away.

      • *NOTE TO ALL PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS AU-FIC IDEA. PLEASE READ.*

        I would like to make a possible suggestion. I say that we set up some sort of list (possibly on the Fanfiction page of this website) of potential fanfics that we’d like to see (such as this one, or the weird fantasy setting one from a couple of chapters back). That way, any fanfiction writers that can/want/are able to/are interested in writing any Worm-based fanfic will have ample ideas to choose from to start out. Kind of like those challenge things that fanfiction.net seems to have every so often.

        What does anyone else think? Good way of getting potentially interesting fanfics written, possibly by multiple authors with different takes on the topic? Or does this sound stupid/time-consuming/[insert adjective of choice here]?

        • We could really use a forum to discuss such things.

          Wildbow, any preferences / suggestions? Because all I can suggest is relocating this discussion to spacebattles forum, which is far from the optimal decision.

    • Okay, we have a lot of good ideas here.

      My take on it would be this world’s Dragon as the main villain. I’d probably call her Worm, because I think I’m clever.

      I would go with a considerably more authoritarian world. The heroes are rogues who fight the system, the villains are servants of Worm who enforce the AI’s control over the world. People like the Undersiders are outlaws who are no better than the authoritarian faction. Seems like it would be easier to transfer group dynamics and histories that way.

      I think the “protagonist” of the series, if I were writing it, would be this world’s heroic Bakuda. She fits the Nine given she was in Taylor’s dream sequence version of the Slaughterhouse Nine. She has enough traits defined to be interesting, but not quite so many as to make it hard to stay true to the character. She even comes to Brockton Bay at around the same time as Worm begins, so anti-Worm could easily cover the same time period. That’s assuming we aren’t reversing time, which is interesting but I think is a bit too complex for my tastes.

        • Off-topic: Back when I was playing Magic: the Gathering, I once made a green-and-white deck purely to fit a punnish title that was suggested to me: “Gummy Wurms”.

          It ended up being the best deck I ever constructed.

          I was never very good at MtG.

          • Goos and Wurms, roundabout the original Selesnya? I can see that working. Especially if you had a nice Saproling engine to fuel Convoke.

            • Not Goos – it was a simple fast-large-creature deck with lots of search-the-deck-for-land-and-put-it-directly-in-play. The white was mostly because I didn’t have green flying creatures.

            • Also, looking at the dates on Wikipedia of the Magic: the Gathering sets I recognize and don’t recognize, I got out of MtG late-1997 to early-1998 — I played from around the time of Unlimited and Arabian Nights until Tempest.

        • I’d be tempted to leave it as an O for the reference, but yes. I like it for a number of reasons.

          1. Wyrm is a term for dragon.
          2. It’s also a computing reference, being a kind of malware.
          3. Obviously, a reference to the original work.
          4. The way I’m thinking of taking it, Worm is basically a secret ruler of the world. Worm has connotations of a parasite hiding in a gut. Dragon is a large and notable force in the world, while Worm would be a more secret and subtle creature.

      • Marvel has a Oneshot series called “What If..?” and it does ok. its fun and it would provide an awesome way to have fanfic that doesn’t need to meet canon standards.

        • I was talking about this in the IRC, but one possibility, if the next story I write doesn’t lend itself to interludes, would be to write side stories and what ifs for the Wormverse as donation incentives.

          I think, at the time, the topic of discussion was on “What if Taylor joined the Wards” (with the ensuing scrap between her and Sophia)

          • When I was thinking about writing a What-If of that kind, my favorite point of divergence was in Gestation 1.6: instead of trying to maneuver Taylor into giving him full credit for the Lung takedown (a plan which would never have worked in the long-term anyway), let Armsmaster offer Taylor a ride back to the PRT headquarters to see Lung placed in custody, where she both warns the doctors of the venoms Lung has been injected with and meets one or more of the friendlier Wards.

          • I am all for this idea. Especially Packbat’s idea below. By the way, i’m curious to know how Emma and Sophia are these days.

        • Heh, I’ve been thinking for a while the names for members of an AU good Slaughterhouse 9. Or as I call them the Saviourhouse 9! They rotate members because not only to they only take the best, but the are under heavy stress due to the threats they face and most need the downtime. The core three are…
          John Slice- Because slice rymes with nice.
          Bonegraft- A medical tinker who perfoms miraculous surguries.
          The Bengel- A mysterious silent women who never engages their foes in violence, but rather uses her powers to save others.
          Other noteworthy members include…
          Sphere- A former mad scientist who found love and now seeks to make the cities of the future, and save the world.
          Glass Dove- Who fears to use the full extent of her powers for fear of the destruction it would cause.
          Creeper- Dispite the monsterous apperence his powers have given him, he’s one of the most human members.
          Bonfire- Who needs to end fights fast as she gets more empathic the more fire she makes, and won’t want to hurt anyone after a while.
          Woodsman- He only uses that ax on trees, Honest!
          The President- Founder and duly elected leader until he hit his term limit, at witch point he stepped down.
          Rainbow Boy- Legendary member who’s example John Slice strives to live up to.

          • Please don’t take it the wrong way, but those names were hilarious! I especially love The President :) .

            Sphere the mad scientist who reformed after finding love as Mannequin’s counterpart is brilliant.

            • They were supposed to be. I wanted them to be as cheesy as possible after a while. The first few were just alternates like Siberian/Bengal or Bonesaw/Bonegraft, but then when I was trying to think of Jacks I thought “Okay, slash, what’s sort of like slash? Stab? No… Slice? Wait, slice ryemes with nice!” and I went from there.

  6. Jesus Christ. Slaughterhouse 9 came out of stasis not two hours from where I live. I’ve been to that ski resort, or at least one in the same town. That felt a little close to home, there.

  7. - man, their monstrosity is starting to get almost passé at this point. Come on, Riley, step up already. Contessa, what the fuck? Get on this shit, you fedora-wearing shitbird
    - didn’t expect the Red Hands to be master thieves. Expected something closer to The Teeth but with more smarts and sophistication
    - Skitter is there now, isn’t she. The violence, the lethality, the scariness, this is where she lives now. Theo gets it. I suspect Grue does too. Hence, Cozen. She’s a romance of happier times
    - Clockblocker’s alive. Fuck. Yes.
    - it’s all good. One way or another, this means the end of the Nine and Jack. It will be glorious.

    • Quote
      “Then, as Golem had told me to, I pushed him, the dead, the maimed and the lost out of mind and turned back to the core group, to offer my services, to coordinate and administrate.”

      I think Wildbow agrees with you.

      And ‘Queen Administrator’ makes a hell of a lot of sense.

  8. When I first started reading worm, I thought that the best part of this serial were the unique powers, and how the capes use them. I look forward to being introduced to a whole new slew of powers.

  9. So Nice Guy is a stranger in the same vein as Imp.

    Ouch, yeah Taylor is really the one whose Jack’s good opposite, may not have been the best way to say it. And the Protectorate in general doesn’t know about Theo’s dad?

    The chase is on, just like the original S9 arc, with everyone cheating like a bad gambler down to his last dollar.

    • Remember the Undersiders, Cozen, and two of the Red Hands were there as well. They probably didn’t know.

      Also, I’m fairly sure Taylor spent the last two years training Theo not to pull his punches. And it’s not like she can’t roll with the punches, be they physical or emotional.

    • Ouch, yeah Taylor is really the one whose Jack’s good opposite, may not have been the best way to say it.

      Does anyone else get the feeling that the “Jack’s good opposite” thing never really occurred to Taylor before this point?

      • Why would it? For all that she took a page from Jack’s book when it came to using her reputation as a circumstantial bonus on Intimidate checks, she never had any real reason to spend much time contemplating the parallels between herself and him. The major traits she shares with him — that she’s cunning, bright, charismatic, perceptive, and possessed of a power that’s a lot more powerful than it sounds at first glance — she acquired independently.

        • I bet after Jack had a chance to catch up on the news since he went to sleep he really wishes he picked the Bug Girl to be his nomination for the nine. “WTF she set up an Endbringer to get that hammered, bumped off 2 heads of the PRT and suspected of taking out Alexandria and I went with Oni Lee!

      • Actually at one point, don’t exactly remember where, she needs to manipulate someone and explicitly says she’s learning from Jack. Fortunately, she’s suitably disturbed.

        • Taylor’s been really good about learning something from everyone. If she wasn’t acting like Jack, she’d be acting like Lisa or Coil.

          But I think the way they’re most alike is how damn adaptable they are.

          • Taylor’s been really good about learning something from everyone. If she wasn’t acting like Jack, she’d be acting like Lisa or Coil.

            Or Grue.

        • 20.5. One of the quotes I stole for TV Tropes, actually.

          I shrugged. Image, confidence, reputation. I hated myself for doing it, but I was thinking of Jack Slash. He didn’t wear a mask or a costume. His power didn’t make people shit their pants. What he had was his presence, an atmosphere of confidence.

          Weeks or months ago, I might have had a hard time wearing that confidence the way Jack did. The history, the long sequence of events and conflicts where we’d come out ahead in our respective teams, it could just as easily be a burden, the accumulated weight of the various precedents we’d set, but we’d made it into our armor, something to make our enemies hesitate at a critical juncture.

          She also draws inspiration from Bakuda in that chapter, as long as we’re on the subject.

        • That was when she got outed as a villain. Her inner monologue specifically noted wearing her rep like Jack does.

  10. Brockton bay S9 encounter writ VERY LARGE. Jack has his rules, and everyone else is going to play by them right up to the moment where they go for the kill.

    Sure looks like each of the (then) S278 made a kill in their own unique style. I’d bet that there was someone ‘living’ under the second tarp, either a Bonesaw experiment or a Grey Boy victim. Could go either way – Grue would definitely have PTSD issues that Taylor might want to spare him… and Grey Boy is being kept an ominous absence as much as possible. Assuming that the bodies were placed in order of joining… has to be Grey Boy victim.

    Oh, and Clockblocker clearly survived New Delhi.

    Someday, when or if you’re feeling it, you could do 2-3 books on the Ward years. Book 1: Prison to New Delhi (currently 153k words. Plenty). Book 2: Protectorate combat doctrine gets rewritten by Weaver demonstration of how to go hunting. Book 3: The new Endbringers cometh… and the CUI goes to war.

    No idea what Jack’s game is, but as long as he keeps the S277 concentrated, there’s a swift route to victory via replicating Tunguska. Assuming that you can kill 277 parahumans rapidly without triggering the end of the world accidentally. Remember how Glaistig Uaine thought she needed a lot of simultaneous deaths? Alternately, ever wonder what Crawler would look like after something like that? And who knows what other powers are not yet known to the reader?

    As long as Jack’s alive, if anyone’s got a trick like Valefor, he’s also a single point of failure: get him to ask everyone to suicide.

    The Nice Guy left in ambush could have reported to Jack about Theo having assistance already… if he’d had a mind to do so. Dragon might be able to jam all electronic communications, but unless she genuinely fuzzes the whole spectrum, that Stranger can probably still make a call somehow… and that issue will persist for anything within line of sight to any engagement with the S277.

    If Jack’s willing to let his Harbingers run some strategy, this could be nightmarish. That is, more nightmarish.

    • The problem with playing by Jack’s rules is Jack cheats. He makes the game very one sided, so if you play by the rules you will lose. Then he gets all pissy when the other side decides to fuck that shit, and play to win. Man Jack is so childish.

      • That’s why I say bomb them. The options are kill Jack, presumably disbanding the group and allowing them to do whatever they want, or let him live so that he can… still disband the group. Jack doesn’t play fair, as you said.
        Just bomb them, and kill most of them. It might not work, but at this stage there’s nothing to lose.

        • Remeber Bonesaw telling Defiant that if he killed her he’d unleash a dangerous plague on the world? Maybe that’s how the end of the world happens. The good guys nuke the bad guys and all those dangerous biochemical weapons Bonesaw implanted in the clones are let loose.

          • Which would explain why Cauldron’s trying to turn her!
            Unless they’re still trying to get the world to end that is
            Also Contessa’s going to have a remote, don’t forget that

          • What!? You mean a fireball of death will make things worse?
            Ignore me. I need to go away and reassess my philosophy.

        • “The options are kill Jack….” *immediately racing through my mind* Sup, sucka? It’s Tina. I wrote you a poem and it goes a little somethin’ like this BREAK IT DOWN. Ahem. Kill Jack. Kill Jack kill Jack kill Jack KIIIILL JAAAAACK! (beat.) Kill Jack. A poem by Tiny Tina.

      • I think that cheating is the point of the game. Jack’s all about the psychological angle. Putting people in situations where they are ‘responsible’ if they fail or if they use tactics he doesn’t approve of. Part of Jack’s goal here then is implicitly to push them to escalate that far. Being smart Jack realizes they’ll cheat as much as they can get away with. The goal here is not “don’t cheat” but “Don’t let me catch you cheating”. Unless Jack is a lot less canny than I’d imagine.

        In another sense Jack makes his ability to abide by restrictions he sets into a survival strategy. If he was too capricious to hold to those rules, they’d simply ignore the wagers and games he sets at him directly with overwhelming force from the outset. But because they know Jack plays by the rules, and more generally, because they know Jack is always holding some mass destruction trump close to his chest, it makes it less prudent to corner Jack, given what he (via, say, Bonesaw) might unleash. It’s a psychological tactic that works to Jack’s advantage. Moreover, if Jack ever does decide to ‘cheat’ against the rules he sets, it will come as a complete sucker punch to all involved.

        On the other hand Jack’s ‘game’ is only using options he could have played at the start if he didn’t voluntarily limit himself. He could have started BB with the gas that Bonesaw used or he could have immediately set everyone off the chain when they woke up. Not doing so to ‘play by the rules’ reduces the damage he’d cause. It’s a straight up advantage to the heroes regardless. Just one that applies psychological pressure to an intense degree, reinforces the image and idea of the S9 in people’s heads and creates an opening if Jack ever decides to ‘cheat’ against the rules he sets.

  11. Huh, so Gray Boy didn’t just off Riley first chance he got? For a guy who supposedly has poor impulse control, he sure is being patient with somebody he knows to be a traitor.

    • If the theory about him retaining his original consciousness is true, he might be gearing up to usurp Jack and take over the Nine, exposing Riley so soon wouldn’t be the best idea.

    • I don’t think he has poor impulse control – he’s very controlled, he just makes very controlled decisions on the extremely bloody side. I think he’s setting her up for something like what S9 were going to do with Cherish. That, or just going to watch it play out, laugh lots, and kill anyone left at the end

  12. I really, really, really want to see an S278 (or so) fight against an Endbringer, initiated by the control placed into Contessa’s hands.

    • ^like. Bonesaw kind of wanted to do that earlier anyway, they might do it on their own just because the Endbringers are stealing their thunder

      • Even if it happened by sheer the sheer coincidence of an Endbringer chance to hit a city at the same time the S278ish are attacking the results would be epically awesome and horrifying, so situation normal for Worm.

        • They’d probably kill everyone in in the area, including the Endbringer, just so that the next three or so would be their fault. The they’d be able to claim all the devestation as technically Slaughterhouse kills.

  13. Re: Jack and Gray Boy knowing about Bonesaw’s treachery
    It is unlikely they know for a fact, unless that is part of Gray Boy’s power set, but they woke in a situation that was not as expected and Jack is notably good at spotting and dealing with in-team treachery. The first evidence of treachery is rarely attack – it is something happening that is not quite right. So, both Jack and Gray Boy are probably aware that the unusual circumstances around Bonesaw’s handling of the resurrection raise the possibility of treachery, and Jack in particular didn’t stay alive by ignoring such evidence. Jack will position himself so that he can kill Bonesaw if needed, but in the meantime he will use her abilities to the fullest.

    • Plus, he likes to let them think they are going to get away with it, then bring their plans down around them just when they thought they’d won. Remember, he almost killed Tattletale for spilling the beans on Cherish’s plans early and ruining his fun.

    • Well, Bonesaw hasn’t betrayed them yet, so they’re probably waiting for her to make her move, and then they’ll foil her plan and punish her. Like they planned with Cherish.

  14. So it’s Taylor vs Jacob
    The path here was epic … from scared little bullied girl to an strategic mastermind that could rival Jack Slash …. i did see that coming.

  15. Well, looks like two years in stasis hasn’t changed Jack one bit. The only thing new he’s got going is numbers now, which is damn good for the heroes, since they have been changing. ALOT. New tactics, more experience, lessons from past fights to draw on. Weaver’s leveled up to shit and then this mid level boss comes around thinking he’s hot shit because he’s got a few more mooks? I smell the rude awakening coming. A shitnami tidal wave that will engulf Jack Slash and extinguish his shit flames forever, and with any luck he’ll die in the undershit of that wave.

    Or things can go horribly wrong and everyone dies and Weaver misses the apocalypse. That might happen too. But I’ve seen no reason to not be optimistic so far. Kick his ass Weaver! He’s just a ghost from the past, and bustin’ll make you feel good!

    And not to say Theo’s off the mark or what he said isn’t interesting, but I’d be totally cool with it if Weaver just starting punching people out when they try to armchair psychoanalyze her. She already has a therapist for that, and Yamada doesn’t bug her during scary-ass combat missions.

  16. Hope I’m not repeating someone else, but I liked the bit with Taylor wondering how much effect she had on the metamorphosis of the Undersiders. Without her, the driving forces of the team would be Grue and Tattletale, neither of whom has her killer instinct.

  17. I don’t like that Golem walked out of sight of the others like that. Two bits says he gets separated for the duration.

  18. Guysguysguys. Can we all just take a moment and appreciate that CLOCKBLOCKER IS ALIVE!! :D
    Okay. Moment over. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!
    Congratulations, Breed. Your bugs have successfully squicked me out, something that a setting containing a child mass murderer, hellhounds, eldritch abominations, a sociopath with emotion control and bad parenting skills, body horror, unfortunate lockers, body horror, an evil clown, more body horror, and a gecko had not yet managed. Urgh.

    Also Nice Guy freaking terrifies me, even though I knew what his powers were going to be.

      • Yep. They’re not dead until you see the body. And even then, as Alexandria and the New Slaughterhouse have just showed us, that’s still no certainty that they won’t come back from the dead in some form.

  19. CLOCKBLOCKER LIVES!!!!

    Ehm ehm. Let us now return to our scheduled programming.

    Good to see that Jack is a s trollish and monstrous as ever. (Seriously having fun by telling Theo he missed the deadline was cheap even for him.) He is however not genre savy enough to know that you never boast on how you have mindcontrolled an army of dangerous madmen. He has pretty much signed his death sentence.

    Also,wildbow you tease. We have scores of new powers in town and you show us just two. And we already knew what Nice Guy could do.

  20. The good news is taht Clockblocker is still alive. The bad news is everything.

    To make matters worse I think Jack is not nearly as important as he thinks he is.

    The slaughterhouse nine might not really be connected to the end of the world as closely as everyone assumes.

    The number of people Jack plans to kill is a fraction of what the ‘good guys’ were willing to sacrifice to the African warlord for help against the Endbringers.

    even unleashed the new slaughterhouse nine is not nearl as dangerous as the end of the world that Jack might trigger or might already have triggered, someone should ask Dinah if killing him at this point would make a difference towards the end of the world.

    • Probably no. Dinah’s prophecy said the important thing was that Jack got out of Brockton Bay alive. He could have died in the next town and it wouldn’t have mad a difference.

      • I had thought of that. It could’ve been guaranteed everything would happen as it has if he escaped, but seems off… Let’s see, consequences of him leaving the city intact:
        -miasma
        -Skitter getting all obsess-y
        -Coil… some stuff with Coil.
        -Panacea went to the Birdcage (this seems most likely issue to me, though might not have been a direct consequence of his escaping with his life)
        -Theo got powers (I thought this would be it, but he seems kinda weak for an apocalypse-bringer)
        and
        -Jack’s game proceeds on-schedule. This one could also be it, but as you said Dinah didn’t require he live any longer than to escape BB. As such, none of S278 are a good explanation either.
        He did wreck up Boston immediately afterward though, causing -Accord to go to BB and -Blasto to get his shiny new lab. The lab-thing could make any of S278 viable actually, but not as a whole, unlikely Blasto would’ve cloned all of them en masse like that.

        • Taylor is always going to be present, right?
          So if Jack escaping influenced her psychologically, what are the odds that Taylor causes the end of the world?
          Scary thoughts.

    • I was genuinely surprised Clockblocker was still alive. Glad he is though.

      Now that you pointed out the ratio of Cauldron’s to Jack’s promised kills, I seriously don’t even know what to say. For every one person Jack kills, Cauldron has five killed. Sure is one way to combat overpopulation, geez.

      • Well, in total, throughout the Slaughterhouse’s entire career… yeah, Cauldron’s killed way more people, both directly and indirectly (by not bothing to save people sooner).
        However, if the Slaughterhouse disband, that may change. Think of the chaos!

        • Still not entirely sure how what I think about Cauldron, especially with the human experimentation, imprisonment, and execution. I’m kind of hoping the bastards will have to clean up after the S9 for fear that it will interfere with their goal.

          I must say though, I am definitely looking forward to a good dose of chaos.

      • Do remember that these are people taken from battlefields and the like in other existances that would have died anyways if not for Cauldron’s intervention. So while they’re being callously disposed of…. Well, they were already dead before Cauldron came along in the first place. Slightly ameliorates their death count, though doesn’t excuse it at all- That’d be like trying to excuse the Nazi war campaign because of the breakthroughs in medical science that occured because of their doctors and torture and such. *shudders*

        • I wanted to say it wasn’t any better, but they did agree to be taken and experimented on. It doesn’t quite hold up that they agreed to be potentially held captive for the rest of their lives or made to do horrible actions, but they did choose to be Case 53s.

  21. Taylor’s To-do list:

    Mannequins on display: 0
    Cherishes locked away in a hope chest: 0
    Siberians reassigned to Antarctica: 0
    Shatterbirds eaten by gluecats: 0
    Crawlers run over by a mad, wheelchair-bound granny: 0
    Burnscars put on ice: 0
    Hatchet Faces that have to wait for the sequel: 0
    Murder Rats cheesing it: 0
    Kings that have left the building: 0
    Screamers run over by a hoarse: 0
    Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
    Breeds slain by Dark Templar: 0
    Crimsons clovered, over and over: 0
    Nyxes nixed: 0
    Psychosomas treated by a Frontier Psychiatrist: 0
    Damsels of Distress in another castle: 0
    Winters in Death Valley: 0
    Chuckles’s hit in the faces with pies: 0
    Hookwolves arrested for hooking: 0
    Skinslips given a pinkslip on life: 0
    Night Hags coyote uglied when the guy woke up: 0
    Nice Guys finished last: 1

    Bonus Round:

    Snowmenn snowballed: 0
    Nighty Nights bitten by bed bugs: 0
    Laughjobs had it handed to them: 0
    Tyrants stabbed in the ass: 0
    Spawners violated: 0

    Bonesaws boned: 0
    Grey Boys whited out: 0
    Jacks knifed: 0

    List is missing some names, I think, but it’ll do for now.

  22. God, I’m looking forward to this. The conflict between not only Weaver and Co. with the Nine, but also when Bonesaw ends up fulfilling the prediction and how that turns out. Meeting the past members of the Nine is going to be interesting or at least getting an idea of their full scope of power. Grey Boy so far seems to be the most interesting. Question about the clones: Are they guaranteed their old power? Because I’ve gathered that it’s one passenger per individual, but I don’t know if that’s right. Can the passengers have reign over several people with the same programmed memories and traumas or will they have the powers that they had previously regardless? Kind of confused.

    I can see mentally why they would enjoy setting up the display like they do. It’s fairly macabre, but an art in its own sense, making sure they are positioned just so for maximum psychological effect. Rather gruesome, but an enjoyable subject to muse over. What sights and mishaps cause the most mental distress upon humans, and how can that distress be expounded upon with other sequential creations? Both the physical and mental stressors play significant role in the way the Nine work. Be constantly aware of your surroundings; if you aren’t, you will die. Don’t get distracted; if you do, you will die. Pick the correct answer; if you don’t, you will die. Don’t trust anything; if you do, you will die, etc. Mental games are the best games. Their reputation has been justly earned.

    Sidenote comment from last chapter. Is it bad that I like Bonesaw? Not just in the “holy cow you’re a creepily adorable mastermind” way, but the “I’m starting to feel bad for you and hope everything works out, but you’re still a danger to society” way. Her character is fantastic.

    • Wildbow has stated that the clones all get the same powers at the same full-ratio strength as the originals. He used the Echidna clones as a precedent for this.

      And no I don’t think you should feel bad for how you feel about Bonesaw. I think that “I feel bad for her but she’s still incredibly dangerous” was what the last chapter was aiming for.

    • The “How could the clones get their powers replicated” question bugs me quite a while now.
      Does one Passenger grants different powers to different Individuals? From what i gathered, the unique brain structure is not genetic and caused later in life through the trigger event. And “normal” genetic Clone should be just a mere Human. But thats the point when Blastos tinker-tech comes into play.

      It’s a big deus ex machina moment.

      • Hence why Bonesaw was implanting memories and psychological issues that would have brought the same trigger event to the fore. And it was still a very “trial and error” thing.

              • I thought Blasto’s interlude made it clear that it was his deus ex machina, not Bonesaw’s — she just borrowed his equipment.

          • Trigger events can’t be forced; you’re right. Neither party can even entertain the idea for someone to trigger. It’s the same for second triggers.

            The while mind thing I think was more toward programming their behaviours and personalities more than anything. There’s practically nothing worse than having 200 psychopaths with lethal powers made without having a clue to how they operate under stress and function with others. I think it was more so that they would “remember” Jack and act like they used to so they could be managed. If Bonesaw hadn’t programmed the memories, they would have no idea of enemies or allies and could pose as a detriment to Jack’s plans.

      • Not really, Bonesaw always studies passengers and triggers. She even have a trigger event monitored iirc.

        If Cauldron can rig the trigger game so can she.

      • My understanding of it is the passengers ARE bound into the cape’s genetic code. After a trigger event that person’s biology is rewritten ( up to variants like Weld or Newt).
        Bonesaw had trouble with the clones, because they were growing with the passenger (which seems to be genetically just another organ) dominating their brain from a very young age, no trigger event required.
        This goes someway to explain the way 2nd gen capes trigger more easily and younger (since they inherit a mix of the genes for their parent’s passengers).

        The implanted memories were more about creating the disturbed individual personalities of the originals, not their trigger events.

        • This goes someway to explain the way 2nd gen capes trigger more easily and younger (since they inherit a mix of the genes for their parent’s passengers).

          Quick note: according to Piggot, the second-generation effect is environmental, not genetic.

        • As Packbat noted, the 2nd-gen cape triggers are environmental, not genetic (I would point to Panacea+New Wave for this, but you would then point to Marquis). I think it’s a matter of what the specific passenger has an eye on at the time. A Passenger finds a person they like, trauma making them much more visible for some reason, and decides to help them out for vague reasons. After that, they travel around in the Corona Whateveris and recommend the cape’s immediate family to other passengers (“Hey, my cape’s sister’s kind of a hothead, I think you’d like her.”). At that point, other passengers will be keeping an eye on the linked passenger’s friends and family, and will need less of a trigger excuse to jump in and grant powers.

          It all depends on what the passenger can see through its cape’s eyes. (Second trigger events, meanwhile, are the passenger crying out for help from daddy, and daddy choosing to humor them, judging from Grue’s second trigger vision).

          • Just realized my point got lost en route. Once a cape dies, their passenger would be set adrift. Once it found a cape with a similar mind and a Corona gland, it would jump right back in. Hence why Bonesaw’s clones (at least the first copies, anyway) would get the original powers. The main problem with my theory is this: how did copies 2-9 get the same powers while copy 1 was still around?

          • It should be noted that Panacea’s powers DO take more after Marquis than New Wave. Reshaping the living body was his thing whereas New Wave tended more to flight and forcefield.

            That still doesn’t mean it’s genetic, of course – could just be that she was exposed to Marquis’s passenger first.

      • From my understanding, the Corona Pollentia doesn’t even exist in most people, it grows as part of the trigger event. So, because she’s growing them with the Corona in the first few iterations, they are getting their powers far too soon. But, that’s just my take on things.

      • Nope, Bonesaw explainedit last chapter. The Passenger can reconect if it finds a human with the exact characteritics of its former host.

        So, the clones made by Echidna where different since they connected in a more random way to the same passenger. Bonesaw used a semi scientific method to guarantee reproductivity.

        • Not really though? I mean, the whole thing started out as something to do over the two years when everyone was in stasis. She wanted to program them as close as she could to where they were emotionally when they joined the S9. It was never specifically geared toward their power set in mind, I don’t believe. Granted, we also don’t really know the specifics of the cape that set up the incubation tubes to begin with. At least not the nitty-gritty specifics. Maybe acquiring the exact same powers had something to do with the way his power worked? But that goes against everything we know about trigger events. Neither party can hope for powers in the process. I’m so confused how it worked. It is possible for the being-things to control several parahumans’ powers at once, considering that we really know nothing about them, but the statistics that the clones would have the exact same powers is just impossible. Maybe it’s more to do with the way the Corona Pollentis developed when they triggered. That could possibly explain the same powers among the clones, but there is no guarantee that they would acquire the same exact powers as the original member they were modeled after. Sorry if this seems run-on. I’m thinking while I type, and I think I’m thinking a little too much into it.

          • The trigger event has already happened, in the former host. The trick is “deceiving” the passenger so that it will come and connect to this new host as if it was the former.
            So, make this host as close to the former as you can.

              • Is there any reason why a passenger can`t connect to two or more hosts? Not as far as I´ve seen.
                So, this eldrich abomination finds a suitable host and uses a traumatic event to help connecting to it.
                Then another host, identical to the first appears in its radar (or whatever) and suffers a suitable trauma that helps things along.
                So, why not? Two hosts are better than one.
                Besides, who is to say that the being from beyond the universe sees any difference between one and many?

              • I assumed that the passenger physically latched onto the Corona Potentia or whatever it’s called, and couldn’t “ride” on two people at once (as implied by the term “passenger”). Looks like that’s not the case.

              • Presumably the passengers, being Incomprehensible Cosmic Beings, don’t really understand or care for things like bodies and so when they sense that there is another someone perfectly identical to their host they simply spread themselves.

                If you think about this explains Fenja and Menja: they are identical twins with the exact same power, whereas other relatives, even other siblings, usually have some variation.

    • Why should it be bad that you like Bonsaw? She’s a smart, intelligent, adorable kid. What’s not to like?

      Ok, the insanity is not to like. But if you post on the comments long enough you learn to let it slide.

  23. You know what I found very interesting? Revel gave Taylor the order to murder a man on her word, and not only did Taylor not have a problem with the idea, Revel fully expected her to follow through without any real problems. I can’t help but wonder just how bloody the raids Taylor has been organizing have been. I think a fair few of the nastier villains probably never made it into a cell. If Wildbow ends up making this into a series of books he will really need to show a bit more of that timeskip, because this is kind of a big change.

    • No, I saw that as part of the slaughterhouse 9/ s-class stranger protocol. When minds and perceptions might be affected, you automatically are supposed to obey the orders of those outside the area affected. They’ve been preparing for the S9 rerun, so the master/stranger protocols would have been briefed and rehearsed.

      • Actually, looking over her past, i.e. Tagg, Alexandria, Enchenida, where did you get the impression that she is NOT perfectly ok with killing, when she feels someone needs to die.

        • For Coil there was a pretty massive buildup, and for Tagg and Alexandria she admits she killed them out of rage and revenge. She was opposed to killing Echidna when it was first brought up. I also wouldn’t think the Protectorate would normally be quite so cavalier about having a Ward member killing people.

          Are you seriously saying you don’t see a difference between pre timeskip Taylor and a Taylor ready and willing to stab someone to death when Revel tells her to?

          • The difference is that killing Coil was pretty much an execution. He was kneeling, disarmed and got a bullet in his head. Of course Taylor felt disturbed. Not to mention it was the first time she ever killed anybody.

            This is a war. It might not have been the original idea but the protectorate and the Wards are now an army. Revel is Taylor’s commanding officer. The S9 are the enemies, are dangerous and are trying to kill you.

            Besides we know that the PRT trains their people on how to fight Strangers. For us it looked as if Taylor took Revel word for it and was ready to kill some random guy. Probably Taylor’s training told her instead that Revel was warning her of someone nobody else can see: wait a minute Revel isn’t here which means powers probably don’t affect her, which means…oh crap.

    • This is a far different situation than the run of the mill villains Taylor has been encountering. She’s going to kill on another’s say-so because this is an extremely dangerous environment, she knows what a master/stranger can do and she trusts her objective teammates.

    • She is also chomping at the bit to be let of her leash and allowed to take her hand-picked team of super powerd lunatics on a hunter/killer mission targeting the opposition.

      This is not exactly an example of the sort of “do not kill” rule that superheroes like Superman and Batman have.

      I expect that once we see her team in action we will see some parallels to how the Slaugtherhouse 9 operate.

      • That’s because wildbow isn’t the kind of author that creates contrived nigh impossible scenarios so that his heroes can always retain the moral ground. Besides even Batman realised that his hatred of guns wasn’t a good reason to not stop Darkseid from destroying the universe.

        Also,what? Superpowered lunatics? Both the Chicago and the BB Wards seem to be perfectly normal and of the Undersiders the only one I’d call a lunatic is Imp (and maybe Rachel).

      • Because she’s totally like a vicious dog?… and the Undersiders/Wards/Red Hand and lunatic hunter killers? Because they’re hunting down serial killers?

        lolwut?

      • I expect that once we see her team in action we will see some parallels to how the Slaugtherhouse 9 operate.

        What precisely do you expect, and at what odds? What I anticipate is a mixture of the styles we saw with the Chicago Wards vs. Topsy, Chicago+Undersiders vs. Echidna, and Undersiders+Travelers versus Brockton Bay S9 (~75% probability).

  24. Amazing as always. Jack never ceases to surprise. A real class villain. Gonna miss him when he finally goes down.

    It’s interesting watching Taylor slowly change over time. She’s become more and more emotionally cut off and goal-focused. Years of stress have turned her from a talented amateur to a brilliant tactician, but she doesn’t seem able to turn it off any more. No life, no time for anything but the war that needs to be won. She reminds me a lot of Armsmaster now. Not Defiant, but the man he was before it all came crashing down. I wonder what she would say if someone pointed it out to her. She still worries about Grue being broken by his experiences, but isn’t very self aware.

    • Kind of too early to make judgements on Taylor’s mindset. I’m going to go ahead and give everyone going for the “she’s becoming a broken hards and/or psychopath/sociopath” interpretation the side-eye until we get more information.

      • I don’t mean that she’s a sociopath. Far from it. I just think she is getting increasingly unable to express her emotions and focused exclusively on getting the job done. It’s not that she’s somehow become a bad person, she’s just gotten used to setting her own feelings aside for the greater good. Consider this train of thought from Taylor:

        “But… we need a strategist, we need a plan, before all hell breaks loose, I thought. Developing that, coming up with answers, fighting, it’s going to do a lot more good in the long run than compassion all on its own.”

        She makes a strong point, but would the Taylor who negotiated with Pher Se have agreed? Back then, she argued that caring for and trusting others was vital, even if it made things riskier and more painful. I may be seeing things that aren’t there, but I’m not talking about a change since the time skip, but one that has been ongoing since she first crouched on a rooftop eavesdropping on Lung. In the face of terrible trauma, she has had to learn to toughen herself so she can bear up and keep going. It’s not a bad thing, considering the world she lives in. It’s kept her and many of her friends alive. I feel bad that she doesn’t seem to have room for a life outside of work any more. It could be a sign of growing maturity, or getting more in sync with her passenger, but she keeps choosing to deny herself happiness for the sake of helping others. It’s one of the tings that makes her a hero, but it’s a pretty crappy deal for her.

        • I spent a while to come up with a response to this — even looking up an article about people dying in hospitals someone linked to on Twitter earlier today, and which I would have festooned with trigger warnings for graphic content were I posting it on any other website — but in the end I found myself agreeing with almost everything you said. It says terrible things about the world that Taylor has reached a point where she can look horror in the face without reacting, but it doesn’t say terrible things about Taylor.

          The only caveat to my agreement is that I’m fairly sure this chapter’s Weaver still stands by everything that the Weaver of 24.4. I suspect she is less afraid of herself, less afraid of her passenger, and less afraid of taking charge and making the hard calls, but I get the sense that she still believes in humanity and she still believes that working together.

    • reminds me a lot of
      Armsmaster now. Not Defiant, but the man
      he was before it all came crashing down. I
      wonder what she would say if someone
      pointed it out to her. She still worries about
      Grue being broken by his experiences, but
      isn’t very self aware.

      I think she’d say she already recognized it in herself when she was talking to Mockshow. Weaver is still Skitter is still Taylor, underneath and merged with the badassery. She held Theo’s hand in a moment of distress and she couldn’t stop herself from smiling when she and Grue showed they were still in sync despite everything.

      If you’re able to be harmlessly petty, you’re still human.

    • It should be noted though that Armsmaster had a great drive for *personal* victory. Taylor probably doesn’t, since she’s repeatedly shown willingness to forgo personal credit so long as the job gets done.

      It’s a subtle but important distinction.

  25. I think this is that moment. When Jack causes the end. Dinah said he would cause it by affecting someone. And watch the ripples spread. To Theo, and from there to Weaver. In that short talk she decided that her plans are more important the compassion. As Dinah said: You will be there, and you will be different. Her plans have helped a lot of people, but it is the human part of her that guides the plans, chooses direction. And letting go of compassion, that makes her a little but more reliant on her passenger, a little less human, After 2 years of actively hunting people, 2 years effectively at war, how much of her humanity is left? How much of her desire to help people after killing and harming and hunting for so long? Try and check, when is the last time you see Taylor feel good, loved or safe? At peace, even of a couple of minutes. There are 200+ bodies there in various forms of mutilation, and she is acting as if this is a day at the office. Not letting emotion get in the way is important, but that does not mean that you do not let yourself feet it after the fight.
    Do you think she will morn any of these people once this is over? Or just move on to the next task? Like a Queen Administrator? Instead of a human being? She might stop the end of the world. But answer me this? If the end-bringers suddenly disappeared, and the End of the World was called of, what exactly would she do? If suddenly she was no longer needed as Queen Administrator could she live as a human? Or is she so far into that role that lacking external threats she would decide that she is a good fit for Administrating a government or world?

    • There are plenty of cape threats in the world without the Endbringers. She is, as you say, in a war, but she’s also making strides. She’s less vicious that she used to be, she’s introspective and aware of the role she’s playing in the lives of those around her, she’s still in therapy, etc. I think that’s its both good and smart of her to compartmentalize the horrors in this town while she’s there in the middle of it and leading multiple teams.

    • That’s alot of cold reading based on her being focused and cautious after a timeskip of two years.

      Compassion is all well and good, but it’s not going to stop Jack from killing people. I don’t see the problem with any of this.

  26. > I. AM. NOT. ASKING. PERMISSION. I. AM. DOING. IT.

    Usually no permission is required if someone inspires you. :P

    You could add thanks to your Hogmuse in the credits of your work I guess?

  27. So: Who or what is under the other tarp?

    Nice job writing strangers as usual Wildbow, you’re getting really good at this. Nice Boy narrative was seamless. Maybe part of that is because of his power, but I think you’ve improved a lot since the first Imp appearances.

    As a side note of the timeskips we can now be surprised by both the bad guys and by whataver Taylor cooked up.
    That’s good, we were getting a little too much omniscience lately, and this makes room for more surprises.

    Taylor as Jack’s nemesis? Maybe more like they’re competing for the same environmental niche, but I guess Theo is way too kind to say that to her.
    With all the Cherish around Jack is going to be -really- pissed he did not chose Taylor after all. Or maybe not, he’ll probably enjoy “sparring” with her… he might try and recruit her anyway.

    Or, dunno, Bonesaw has technology to alter someone’s appearance and their tells. He could probably go kill Danny and wear his face.

    • Yeah the way Nice Guy just disappears in the background, with everyone taking him for granted, was very well written.

      Talking about the Imp/Nice Guy scene, am I the only one who is a bit worried? Imp and Nice Guy have pretty similar powers and we have just been shown that the best way to off a Stranger is to have another Stranger do it. I know not every scene holds a Chechov’s Gun or some foreshadowing, but I’m a little scared for Imp,now.

      • I get the feeling that Nice Guy’s powers require him to be aware of someone in order to affect them. It seems like Imp is a natural trump against him in this manner. And now that she knows his face, I imagine she’ll just start murdering his clones on sight without any hesitation. Also, I love the fact that it seems more like she killed him not because he was a member of the S9, but because she was annoyed that he was infringing on her style. Regarding a Chekhov’s Gun, I’d say the existence of 9 clones of Cherish would be a bigger issue, seeing as she was able to locate Imp without much problem.

        • Masters seem to trump Strangers. Valefor, for all that he was touted as a Stranger*, is most definitely a Master and he caught Imp just fine. Same goes for Othello who would more accurately described as a Master-Stranger hybrid anyway, no? Cherish too.

          *he could use it to achieve Stranger-type effcts but it was still ultimately mind-control

          • Bear in mind that Taylor is a Master as well, but she tends to have consistent issues with Strangers. Parian is also a Master as well, but I doubt she’d be able to accomplish much against a Stranger either. I wouldn’t say one class trumps another, because as we’ve seen, they are just labels and don’t really account for the powers at hand.

            • I believe the moment I realised that the classification system made no sense is when we found out that Parian’s power isn’t to animate puppets or something similar as her Master classification would make you think but is actually simple low-level telekinesis. Seriously. How the heck can that be considered a Master power!? It seems that the PRT isn’t incompetent only in trying to stop villains but also in assigning labels.

              • The classification is based on the nature of the end result, not the source. You could have telepathy that creates illusions that can harm people, but it’d be a master power, not a thinker power.

              • >The classification is based on the nature of the end result, not the source. You could have telepathy that creates illusions that can harm people, but it’d be a master power, not a thinker power.

                Oh, I understand that. Still, a classification system based on the results instead of the actual power seems, at least IMHO, not only counterintuitive but fairly dangerous. It just calls for a clever villain to use his more general powers in a more specifically/limited way, so that when the heroes come geared for a fight against,for example, a Brute he kicks their asses by revealing his actual Breaker powers. (i hope I picked two power sets that make sense.)

        • Also, I love the fact that it seems more like she killed him not because he was a member of the S9, but because she was annoyed that he was infringing on her style.

          Not to rain on your parade, but I think that was just her continuing the ancient tradition of the Bond One-Liner.

          …just a second, I need to edit TV Tropes.

    • Taylor as Jack’s nemesis? Maybe more like they’re competing for the same environmental niche, but I guess Theo is way too kind to say that to her.

      The same niche, maybe, but different environments — even as a villain, Taylor was never playing the mass-murderer game. They’re no more competing than Jeff Gordon is competing with Michael Schumacher.

      • The ends are different but the more she goes on the more she looks like Jack 2.0

        I know that things like mass murder do not seem unimportant for character analysis, but given the setting more often than not is just a case of having the right (or wrong) experiences influence you.

        • Except for the fact that she:

          -Is not killing tons of people.
          -Does not manipulate and play her team members against each other to get them to work together.
          -Does not set up elaborate conditions and games to fuck with her enemies and turn everything into a lose-lose situation.
          -Does not actively try to convince people to become psychopaths.
          -Is demonstrably not a psychopath.

          I mean, the parallels are there. But calling her “Jack 2.0″ is really reaching. Some of the reactions to this chapter are really weird and overblown imo.

          If this were any other fight I’d be raising eyebrows too, but given the current situation she really hasn’t done anything inappropriate or that disturbing.

          • Agree with most of your points but…

            “-Does not set up elaborate conditions and games to fuck with her enemies and turn everything into a lose-lose situation.”
            I’m sorry? Did you not read the arc where she took down Topsy’s team?

            • Yeah, the use of harrying fear tactics is one of the parallels that rings true. But I had Jack’s MO of treating things of treating things like an actual game and setting up arbitrary rules to fuck with people.

              The more I think about it, the more Weaver and Jack Slash look like Batman and the Joker.

        • First, like I said to Jerden, my specific objection was to the word “competing” — to compete is to seek the same end.

          Second, I agree with Reveen that “Jack 2.0″ doesn’t make sense — Jack is using mayhem and mass murder as a tool to seek glory and fame, and Weaver is out to protect people from mayhem and mass murder and gives exactly zero shits about glory and fame. A Taylor without moral compunctions would probably be a fanatical idealist along the lines of Purity or Crusader (or Alexandria), not a serial-killer performance artist.

          Third? Weaver and Jack Slash really are similar in a lot of ways. Theo wasn’t off base with the comparison. All I’m saying is that there are some pretty obvious bounds to their resemblance.

      • I’d say that the lack of mass murder shows that they are competing. At the moment, their goals are completely the opposite. I’d say a nemesis is the perfect description of Jack to Weaver. Opposite goals, similar tactics and personality, only the sides are different really. Therefore, a nemesis relationship.

        • I think there’s a confusion of language going on — to be “competing” is to seek the same goal at the expense of your rival’s (or rivals’) success. When I made the metaphor of Jeff Gordon and Michael Schumacher, I was emphasizing that despite both men being famously-successful race car drivers, they are not competing with each other because Jeff Gordon drives NASCAR and Schumacher drives Formula One. Similarly, while Weaver and Jack Slash are both famously-successful and famously-badass capes, Weaver isn’t trying to beat Jack Slash in the world’s-most-famous-murderer competition, and Jack isn’t trying to beat Weaver in the world’s-most-famous-antihero competition.

          That said, if you said they were antagonists instead of saying they were competing, I’d agree with you almost across the board. (To say that only the sides are different is a bit hyperbolic.)

    • Sorry if I reply to you all in one go.

      I intended “competition” as what you got from two different species of animal vying for the same spot in the foodchain. (e.g.: lions and sabertooths. Lions won)
      That’s one of the fiercest competition in nature, because by being successful you automatically damage the other tribe.

      Yes, it is a meta-analysis issue somewhat, and someone inside the universe is less likely to draw the same parallel. (unless he has, e.g. spent the last two years studying the one and crushing on the other)

      So, in the end, it cames down to:
      - Deeply in synch with their passenger: check
      - Feared by their own allies: check
      - Have a weird “familiar” relationship to a pre-teen brain-powerhouse: check
      - Lie, cheat and steal: check
      - Even to their own allies: check
      - Have the full attention of Theo: check
      - Have “rules of conduct” but are otherwise morally lacking: check
      - Command a vast horde of scary things: check
      - Have morally slapped Mannequin: check
      - Several times: check
      - Have tried to kill the other one: check
      - Have hugged the other one: check
      - Have a knife on hand: check
      - “Using” Theo for their own end: check
      - Prone to killing/maiming people without any kind of prior notice: check (I’ll remind you that Jack has had way more time on his hands to up the bodycount, and thse thing tend to snowball)
      - Have betrayed a paternal figure: check
      - Deeply driven in what they do: check
      - Able to work around and with extremely dangerous people: check
      - Have the end of the world as planned endgame: check

      Versus:
      - Mass murderer: different
      - Likes vanilla ice cream: different
      - A series of traumatic experiences has them snap: different… so far
      :)

      • Those are all very tangential and pretty meaningless things that have nothing to do with what they fundamentally are as people.

        And I’d just like to add:
        -Weaver has the capacity to form relationships not based on manipulation. Jack does not.
        -Jack is concerned with fame and show first and foremost. Weaver is not.
        -Weaver is fundamentally motivated by helping people, despite questionable methods. Jack is not.
        -Jack takes a heavy interest in molding the psyches of his teammates to his ends. Weaver does not.

        That’s not even half of it. They have completely different attitudes and motivations even when they have similar tactics, a talent at deception, and a excitement for combat. Again, I’m really wondering whether some dudes have gotten hung up on Weaver’s post S9-Echidna-Surrender self and haven’t been paying attention to the progress she’s made as a hero.

        • Perhaps all the comments of this nature are exposing some of what needs to be added to Arc 25; evidence of Taylor’s growth as a person while in the Wards.

        • I’d just like to clarify that I’m not challenging the nemesis thing. But the concept of a nemesis as often use in fiction describes characters that are not only similar, but also very different in opposite respects. Batman and the Joker, both are very smart, very driven to their goals. But one is stoic and wants justice, and the other is crazed and wants chaos.

          Putting too much emphasis on what makes Jack and Taylor similar without also acknowledging the fundamental differences kinda warps what Theo was saying.

          And yeah, it’s probably just the lack of detail on her Ward career, but I don’t know how in the hell that leads people to assume she’s just the same as she was when she joined the heroes. That’s just really odd to me.

          • I’m not sure why people keep saying a person’s nemesis tends to be similar to them. I generally think of a Nemesis as being their opposite in most ways. Physically-powerful Superman has mentally-powerful Lex Luther. The world’s greatest detective Batman has the incomprehensible Joker. The powerful Thor has the scheming Loki. Tech-hero Iron Man has the Mandarin with his magical rings. etc. etc.

            There are definitely some nemeses who are similar : Holmes/Moriarty, Green Lantern/Sinestro, etc. but…

      • I intended “competition” as what you got from two different species of animal vying for the same spot in the foodchain. (e.g.: lions and sabertooths. Lions won)

        That’s exactly what I thought you meant, and exactly what I was disagreeing with. Hell, if it weren’t for the end-of-the-world thing, Jack and Weaver could both have dominated in their respective niches without ever running into each other.

    • I’m not so sure about that. The S9k would be harder to run to ground if they split up but they’d have a lot less raw power than as one massive group.

      Jack is the linchpin holding the S9 together. Without him they’d fragment into individuals and small groups that could be picked off one at a time in coordinated strikes like the one that took down Topsy and Co.

  28. I’m also a bit of a Bitch fan. And Taylor’s relationship with Rachel has been awesome from the start — it’s definitely worthwhile trying to capture some of that magic.

  29. I’m glad we’re back to this; despite all the death and destruction, I found the last chapter to be far more depressing. Something about the description of what Jack and the rest put pre-Bonesaw Riley through really hit a nerve. It is too much to hope he dies a slow and painful death?

    • He just made the mistake of claiming that he has perfect control over the Slaughterhouse Nine Unlimited. Of course he’s going to die a slow and painful death.

      • I don’t think that’s practical. Much as I’d love that, a slow death gives him time to do one last Fuck You. Fast and painful.

        • Yeah, I know.
          Revenge 101: Gloat only AFTER they’re dead, and preferably from a safe distance.

          Still, I can dream, can’t I?

  30. More:

    - I really like Winter despite her never appearing on-screen
    - I’ve said it before: Strangers get the coolest powers. That said, Nice Guy is a nightmare. Fucking villain Strangers *brrr*
    - interesting. You have no weatherbenders so far. I assume a meteorokinetic would be a Shaker?
    - yeah, bring on the Thanda and the Dragon’s Teeth (whatever they are.) The more surprises they can throw at Jack, the better.

    • Despite Bonesaw discussing it at great length in the previous chapter I still don’t understand what Winter’s power is.

      Yeah Nice guy is pretty scary. Forget Jack not being able to control Grey Boy. If Nice Guy didn’t want to play along with Jack how the heck can he be controlled. (Unless Bonesaw implanted some Stranger-tracking device. Ohhh boy.)

      I believe Dragon’s Teeth is another of Dragon’s suits or ships. It was mentioned along the Azazel.

      • Winter slows things down. This is either a molecular slowdown, resulting in cold, or an emotional slowdown, leading to depression, depending on what Winter is focusing on at the moment. Or maybe it’s an AoE thing, I don’t remember.

    • Dragon’s Teeth huh?

      -Combat robots and drones with less advanced AI that act as Dragon’s “children”?
      -Wounded and crippled capes given cyborg enhancements that fight with Dragon?
      -A new combat system controlled by Dragon that uses several smaller units rather than one biig suit?
      -Defiant’s new identity after he did something really fucked up again? I notice how he wasn’t mentioned. Or maybe he ended up turning himself into a non-centralized AI like a goddamn moron?

        • If I had to venture a guess, I would think the Dragon’s Teeth are the drones that Dragon deployed to try to capture the Undersiders at the same time she deployed the Azazel suit. And let’s hope that Dragon has worked out the bugs with the AI in the Azazel model this time around. On the plus side, I really don’t think someone like Nice Guy would have any chance against an Azazel, a drone, or even Dragon herself. As I recall, Imp’s powers had no effect on Dragon whatsoever. It makes me wonder if Cherish would be able to affect Dragon either.

          • The name Dragon’s Teeth is from the myth of Cadimus. He sowed the teeth of a dragon he slew and they grew into an army. So my guess is that they are a self replicating drone. Really it’s just an advancement of that suit that kept repairing itself.

            • Eh, I just like the idea of her having built her own team and/or army to be way cooler than getting her hands on a new toy.

            • I immediately thought of the same reference. I was more imagining a combination of Armsmaster’s miniaturisation with Dragon’s technology so you can have a portable army.

              They may or may not grow once ‘sown’. Dragon could actually use some smaller drones. You can escape the current ones just by crawling into a narrow space.

    • In Greek Myth (Jason and the Argonauts) you sow the earth with a dragon’s teeth to make a powerful army rise from the ground. I’m thinking a Legion of lesser Dragon bots.

  31. I feel like Wildbow is standing over a forge, bringing down a hammer on the keys. Sparks fly again and again in a steady rhythm. One after the next, heavy metal tablets fall from the forge, inscribed with the chapters that reveal to us the end. We can do nothing to hasten or delay the coming of the story, only wait in terrified anticipation for the next moment when the latest tablet will be quenched in our tears.

  32. Big thank you goes out to William and Stephen for their donations.

    Author’s Notes: As I upload the donation counter image, the Captcha continues to appear self aware. ‘Better Half’ this time. An eerie reference to the concluding paragraph in the latest chapter.

    • You are welcome. I wanted to make a statement about how I felt about the time skip. So I doubled my usual monthly donation.

      You do not have a way to let us set up a subscription payment do you? I would like to just send you five dollars a month automatically.

      • I could look into it this weekend.

        Stuff on my list includes:
        Looking into a possible forum.
        Subscription options.
        Doing editing for a book for someone in my writer’s circle.
        Catching up on chores.

        • Just one thing: While I would probably like a subscription option (otherwise I plainly forget to bring up paypal), most of the nice people I met on IRC so far are quite young and unlikely to be able to pay for one.

          Since subscriptions usually mean bonus material, I would not want to get on a discussion with a fan, only to discover midway that s/he does not know what I’m talking about because s/he’s still young and does not have ready access to a credit card to pay for the bonus content.

          If I may offer an alternative suggestion, for the next thing you want to publish:
          Offer an ebook “draft” collection of posted chapter each month, or each arc. With maybe a similar “draft” version of worm (say, 5 or 6 arcs each) as a bonus or something.

          (by draft I mean: fix the typos and the hypens, and just copy the chapters as they are)

          Maybe offer the final edited ebook for free if someone subscribes for a certain number of months or something like that.

          How does it sound?

  33. This was creepy. The Slaughterhouse Nine are the most disturbingly realized villain group I’ve ever encountered.

  34. And area code 630? Weaver’s a burb-girl?

    Chicago Proper: 312
    Greater Chicago: 773
    Chicago Suburbs: 708 for south suburbs, 847 (with a 224 overlay) for north and northwest surburbs, 630 (with a 331 overlay) for southwest suburbs
    Upstate Illinois: 815 (with a 779 overlay)

    • Chicago has been hit by at least one Endbringer; it could be that in the wake of that, they found they no longer needed one of their area codes and it was later reassigned.

        • Get you some all black contacts, make some face makeup, or even just some fake dried blood streams down your head too if you do it that way.

          Unless you just want to be the guy walking around all normal with the giant isopod hat. “Hey Martha, how’s Jerry doing? You stay fit, girl.”

      • Jerden appears on the popular British TV show, Dragons’ Den.
        Jerden enters wearing a giant bug on his head.
        Jerden: “I’d like 30,000 Pounds to develop my business, which will sell gigantic isopod shells as headgear.
        Collection of businessperson so rich and successful they literally have stacks of cash piles up beside their chairs: “What!?”
        Jerden: “There’s a definite target market in lunatics wanting to freak people out. Plus, it’s organic. And creepy.”

  35. Ahhhh, Worm. The setting where things are bad enough that Skynet is one of the good guys and a fully functional cousin to the xenomorph of Alien(s) is casually dismissed as “not dangerous enough yet, not our priority right now.” :D

  36. Oooh…well, thanks to Imp, we have confirmed that these members of the S9 don’t have all the same advantages of the originals.

    Imp has tried to throat slash an Niner before to no effect. You know, subdermal sheathes and other protective implants that individually made them much harder to kill. However her control method is, it’s most likely something biological and possibly even psychological, because it looks like the Slaughterhouse Army didn’t get themselves some upgrades installed.

    Oh, and while it’s been on my mind, my guess is that Spawner is a mix of Breed and Crawler.

      • I agree. to an extent. I think that Jack wanted to get his show on the road. I also think that the cloned members are considered ‘expendable’ for the moment.

    • It seems like she only used the knife to disbale the Nice guy and ended up dispatching him with the acid trap that Taylor helpfully pointed out to her.

      Chances are he might have lived if all she did was use her knife to try and cut his throat.

      There is also the fact thta because of his power the Nice Guys’ improvement might not be focused as much on defense since they think nobody will be able to hurt him anyway.

      • Imp throwing Nice Guy in the acid may simply have been her knowing that even for perfectly normal people a slashed throat is not as fatal as most people think.

          • Tattletale didn’t get a throat slashing, did she? I only remember a cut to the cheek and a windpipe crushing, which is alot more survivable than losing a jugular.

            • Well, it’s similar enough for me to be confused. Forgive my ignorance, oh greater one who remembers details that evade my feeble recall. I’ll shut up now.

        • I think the Undersiders’ protocol for dealing with the S9 is that there is no such thing as overkill when it comes to them. It’s also pretty well-known at this point that Bonesaw is able to reanimate corpses to a certain extent, so even leaving a somewhat intact corpse is not advised. I would not be surprised if burning/dissolving/disintegrating the corpses of any S9 member were the established standard procedure on the books at the Protectorate.

          • Shoot them, stab them, cut their throats, draw and quarter them, drown them, steamroll them, work them over with a sledge hammer, burn them to a crisp, throw whats left into a food processor and hit ‘puree’, pour the mix into a liquid nitrogen cooled container and launch it into the sun.

            I think that may just do the trick.

      • From Interlude 13.5:

        Bonesaw screamed, shrill and loud, which caught Aisha off guard. With a knife in her throat, the girl was screaming?

        Reacting more on instinct than wit, Aisha pulled the knife out and then slashed it horizontally across Bonesaw’s throat.

        She’d expected a spray of blood or gurgling. Neither happened. Bonesaw screamed again.

        So she pulled the knife free and stabbed Bonesaw in one eye. The blade scraped against the bone of Bonesaw’s eye socket.

        Flame erupted and pieces of glass came to life around Aisha. She backed away quickly as a wall of flame rolled over Jonathan on the table and divided her from Bonesaw. There was a rumble and the sound of falling furniture as Crawler stood.

        “Ow, ow, ow, ow!” Bonesaw shrieked. ”It hurts!”

        Why isn’t she dead?

        So, no significant bleeding, and still able to talk. Now from this update:

        A spray of blood leaped from the man’s throat. We each stepped away, and I hurried forward to stop Rachel from backing into the other tarp. We watched in stunned silence as blood poured from the wound.

        “Hey,” a female voice said, “Do me a favor, let me know if there are any traps at the bottom of the stairs?”

        “Who-” Golem started.

        “Just tell me.”

        “Acid,” I said, raising my knife so I could defend myself if I had to.

        Imp appeared as she booted the bleeding man in the small of the back. He rolled down the stairs, leaving spatters and sprays of blood as he made his way down, and then collapsed in a pile of bodies. He started screaming, a gurgling sound.

      • I was thinking that she just didn’t want to wait for him to bleed out. That and destroying the body makes it harder for Bonesaw to reanimate them.

  37. What I would like to see is the SH9< look up from their work to see where that blasted buzzing is coming from to, to see the sky darken as a huge swarm of locusts, all carrying venomous spiders and assorted other bugs, all infected with parasitic worms for good measure, descends upon them. On another note. I wonder if Golem can use his power on bone.

  38. Imp likes being careful now? And can talk to people while using her power? Nice way to really make us feel the timeskip.

  39. Well, Clockie should definitely have graduated to the Protectorate by now, maybe most of the BB Wards have. Except for Vista, of course.

    But that’s a great thing because if you think of the Protectorate Northwest-North at the start of the series: Armsmaster was arrested, almost killed and became Defiant. Battery was killed by Bonesaw’s spider-bot. Dauntless is in the time bubble. The other speedster (Velocity?) was killed by Levithan. So unless htey shipped in permanent reinforcements from elsewhere, (quite likely) the BB Protectorate would look like Miss Militia, Assault, and Triumph. Reasonably formidable, but not exactly the thing to make evil-doers crap themselves. I’m thinking this tem will be largely the grown-up Wards and I can’t wait to see how Kid Win in particular has grown.

    • Kid Win was what, fourteen? So, he’s now in his late teens, and probably still in the Wards. Ditto Vista, except even younger. The BB Wards are currently under the leadership of, get this, Crucible.

      Clockblocker (who’s ALIVE! FUCKING AWESOME!) should be nineteen, turning twenty at the end of the summer.

      How the time flies.

      • Vista was thirteen — don’t know Kid Win’s age (at least fourteen circa Leviathan, seeing as he was allowed to patrol alone, but younger than Gallant, and Gallant was younger than Clockblocker). The other Brockton Bay Wards circa Arc 3 were Aegis (dead), Clockblocker (nineteen-almost-twenty, as you said), Shadow Stalker (may or may not be out of juvie), Gallant (dead), and Browbeat (moved away) … so assuming Kid Win is still in the Wards, it’d be him, Vista, Crucible, and whoever else got added during the last two years.

  40. “Rifle, by contrast, didn’t look like he wore a costume. He was dressed like a special ops agent, complete with a complicated night-vision mount around his eyes, a number of scopes with lenses glowing in hues ranging from blue to red. Violet scopes were currently fixed over his real eyes. He carried a weapon, a modified gun that wasn’t, as far as I could figure it, an actual rifle. It looked like it was set to fire specialized loads from canisters.”

    I’m surprised that Taylor didn’t get the meaning behind Rifle’s name with her mom being an English teacher and the Red Hands being thieves so Rifle does not refer to:-

    a. A firearm with a rifled bore, designed to be fired from the shoulder.
    b. An artillery piece or naval gun with such spiral grooves.

    But refers to:-

    1. To search with intent to steal.
    2. To ransack or plunder; pillage.
    3. To rob: rifle a safe.

    Did Taylor lose the ability to make such mental connections over the years as she gained more power and a deeper connection with her passenger without realising it?

    • So in a situation where hundreds of dead people are all around you, your on high alert for traps from some of the most dangerous people in the world, your focused on protecting people against a move thats supposed to end the world and you dont make a connection that may or may not exist between “Rifle” and her group and what it means.

      I dont think not making connection (that may or may not exist) really means anything beyond the fact that she’s focused on the extremely important mission.

  41. Tecton, Tecton… Do you still doubt that Taylor is more powerful as a member of the Protectorate than as a criminal warlord?

  42. Hey, Wildbow, you should update the ‘Updates Tuesdays and Saturdays’ tagline. I’ve been only checking back those two days, and have been really confused at all the ‘extra’ chapters.

  43. Yes! Clockblocker is alive! :)
    Queen Administrator indeed.
    I like the Thanda.
    It’s impressive that the 9 (maybe they should be called the 272?) were able to get all that done without word getting out and the hammer being dropped on them.

  44. “That pain you feel, that self loathing? The fear and dawning realization of what you’ve done? Capture that, Theodore Anders. Hold on to that feeling and use it, because I’m pulling your leg.”

    I lol’d

  45. about Breed. i feel his power should have been mentioned a little more in the past. his name is mentioned, but the effect of his power could have used some time to sink in and generate fear before Taylor became so hardcore. nothing concrete, something like “i felt empty, hollowed out, like one of Breed’s victims” would make me SCARED, wondering what kind of messed up power can hollow out a guy. as is the effect of his power is only mentioned twice and i feel you missed an opportunity for an impact.

  46. Yup all that pity and almost sympathy I had for Riley last chapter is gone now. She may be playing a mask for rooting for the good guys now but she could’ve stopped all this with a simple pulled cord. Fuck her, I may not wish Cherish’s fate on her anymore but she should still die.

    Cozen is annoying. She’s having a pissing contest with her husband’s old flame in the middle of the S9000′s killing fest? This girl is rapidly approaching the Too Dumb to Live category.

    Ah Imp, I’ve missed you! Leave it to the little one (though not so little anymore) to come up with wildly inappropriate comments in the middle of a highly stressful location and relieve some tension.

    LOVE how Weaver is in charge here and everyone is defaulting to her! Also I really love Revel. That woman is awesome. Soooo glad that BEHEMOTH didn’t end up getting her.

    YAY CLOCKBLOCKER LIVES!!! Love that guy.

    Okay so I know Taylor had been compared to Jack from a while back but Theo really hit the nail on the head there. It’s scary to think about things from that perspective. Imagine if their roles had been swapped? Scary. I saw mention of a fanfic where Taylor was the leader of the S9 and Jack was essentially her but both their core personalities were intact. I think I’m going to go search out that one after I finish this serial. Plus…wow she has gotten so pragmatic it’s…a little disturbing.

    Breed reminds me of the shit-weasels from Dreamcatcher. Creepy bastard. Shame that Taylor can’t control the Critters. Nice Guy on the other hand is hilarious. Imp is soooo going to decimate him and he will be sitting there with a stupid look on his face unable to understand why he keeps losing.

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