Sting 26.2

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It started at the center of town, a rolling plume of fire, sparks and smoke that seemed to almost lurch skyward, in fits and starts.  Each set of charges that went off pushed the flame up through the smoke of the ones that had come before.

Then the charges around the perimeter of the city went off, each focused inward.  The rolling mass of fire and superheated air at the center of the city shot through the cloud cover, and the entire sky turned colors.  Reds, oranges and yellows, interlaced with the gray and near-black shadows of the smoke.

Killington was officially gone, the buildings leveled, the bodies and bloodstains scoured from the earth.  Families wouldn’t get to put their loved ones to rest the way they wanted, but that was on the Nine, not on us.  There was no safe way to recover the bodies, to ensure that there weren’t any traps or time delayed tricks in each and every one of the corpses.  It also meant Breed’s minions were torched before they reached an adult stage.

The area would be marked off for a duration after this, in case there were any heat-resistant bacteria or the like.  Cheap, prefabricated walls would seal in the area, and roads would be put in to allow people to make detours.

Quarantine, I thought.  Every step of the way, we had to be on guard.

It was time to move on.  I looked to the book in my lap, turned down the corner of the page to mark it, and then stood, stretching.  It was a nice spot, a long porch just outside a cabin, one that was probably rented out at a premium price during the skiing months.  Far enough away to be safe, high enough to serve as a vantage point while letting me reach to the necessary areas with my bugs.

The entire porch was layered with pieces of paper, organized into rows and columns with some overlap.  The edge of each paper was weighed down by a mass of bugs, almost insufficient as the hot air from the quarantine measure blew past us.  Millipedes that had been moving across the various pages remained still, striving only to stay in place.

The moment the wind died down, I bid the bugs to shift position, carrying the pages to me, sorting them into the appropriate order.

I bent down and began collecting the pieces of paper.  I could feel the raised bumps on the pages as I brushed them free of specks of dirt and leaves.  Each set of bumps corresponded with a letter or punctuation mark, which had been printed over the dots in thick, bold, letters.

I gathered the pages into file folders, then clipped them shut, stacking them on the patio chair.  I made my way to the patio table, bending down to collect the pages as they made their way to me.  The writing on these was different; the letters were drawn in thick, bold strokes, fat, almost as if I’d drawn them in marker.  My notes: thoughts, things that needed clarification, ideas.

At the patio table, I took hold of a beetle and used its pincers to pick some petals out of the shallow bowl, grabbed the caterpillar I’d been using as a brush, then tossed the two bugs over the porch’s railing.  I tipped the ink from the bowl back into a small jar, then screwed it tight, sliding it into a pocket at the small of my back.

I was still getting organized when Defiant appeared, ascending the stairs on the far end of the porch.

“Quite a view,” he commented.

I looked at the resort town.  The fire hadn’t yet gone out.  It was flattening out, scouring everything from the area.

Almost everything.  One or two things would remain.  Probably until well after the sun went out.

“Pyrotechnical’s stuff?”  I asked, distracting myself.

“And some of Dragon’s.  Are you ready to go?”

“I’m ready,” I said.  I picked up the files, then passed them around behind me, where the arms of my flight pack pinned them in place.  I was left with only the book to hold.

He walked beside me as we made our way down to where the craft had landed. His suit had been augmented and altered, and he now stood a foot and a half taller than he had when I’d first met him.  Broad ‘toes’ on either side of his boots helped stabilize him, while his gloves ended in clawed gauntlets that extended a little beyond where his hands should be.  His spear was longer, and both ends of the weapon were heavy with the devices he’d loaded into it.

On his forearms, shoulders and knees there were panels that were like narrow shields, each three or four feet long, each marked with designs like a dragon’s wings, or with a dragon’s face engraved on the front, mouth open, with red lights glowing from within.  Wings on his back served less to let him fly and more to accentuate his movements, a more complex, bulkier system than I had with my flight pack.  Then again, I was only a hundred and thirty pounds at five feet, ten inches in height, and Defiant must have weighed six hundred pounds, with all that armor.

I’d seen him fight Endbringers in that suit, seen how he could move as fast as anyone who wasn’t a speedster, turning his spinning weapon and those shield-like extensions on his armor into a whirling flurry of nano-thorns, cutting through seventy to eighty percent of the Endbringer’s flesh before they reached material too dense to penetrate.

Which was when he’d use his other weapons.

I envied him a little, that he could take the fight to the enemy like that.  We were similar, on a lot of levels, but we differed on that front.  On a good day or otherwise, I’d never be able to truly fight an Endbringer.  I had to depend on others.  The best I could do was coordinate.

“The moment you or one of your teams lets something slip, this falls apart.”

“I won’t fuck up.”

“You will.  Or someone working under you will.  You’re good, but we can’t account for every contingency.  Something’s going to go wrong at some point.  The later that occurs, the better.”

“Yeah,” I responded.

“Every minute that passes is a minute where we can gather information, close in on Jack and figure things out.  We’ve got a lot of good minds and good eyes working on this, but there are a lot of bases to cover.  We let Golem get close, mop up everything we can and contain everything else, and then we take Jack down.”

I nodded.  “But we don’t want to stand back and wait when people could be hurt, or when every second that passes is a second that Jack could be making contact with that critical person.  Causing a certain trigger event, saying the wrong thing to the wrong individual…”

“There’s a balance.  I trust you’ll find it.”

“I hope I can,” I said.

We’d interacted less and less in recent months, and those interactions had been short and to the point by necessity.  It didn’t hurt that the two of us weren’t terribly social people.  We didn’t revel in small talk.  We could be adroit when circumstances forced our hands, but we could also stumble, say things in a way that was just a little off, or give the wrong impression.

I liked that we had a professional relationship, that we didn’t have other stuff getting in the way.  No pleases and thank yous.  We both knew what was at stake, we were on the same page, and we were doing what we felt we had to in order to get the necessary shit done.

“I spoke with Alcott,” he said.

I drew in a breath, then sighed.  “What does she say?”

“The numbers haven’t changed dramatically.  The window’s closed, but not considerably, which suggests a lot of things.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Ninety-three point eight percent chance the world ends,” Defiant said.

Up from Eighty three point four percentThat’s not considerable?

“She’s done us the favor of plotting the changes in the numbers over time.  When things stabilized for a considerable length of time, she scaled down from noting the numbers twice a day to noting them once.  Eighty-three point four percent, as of the beginning of the crisis in Brockton Bay, the Nine’s attempt to test and recruit new members.”

“I remember,” I said.

“Eighty-eight point six percent after they escaped the city.  It was quite possibly our best opportunity at killing Jack, and we missed it.”

I frowned.

“With each destination the Nine reached after Brockton Bay, the numbers shifted, and not for the better.  Half a percent here, two percent there.”

“Chances where someone could have theoretically killed him but didn’t.”

Defiant nodded.  “We ran things by the thinkers, and that’s the general consensus.  Low chances, but he had the Siberian with him up until the fight in Boston.

The same fight where Dragon and Defiant had taken on the Nine, and the Siberian had been killed.

“We had one opportunity there.  That failure is on me.”

He turned his head slightly, then amended his statement.  “On us.”

I didn’t disagree.  Denying that would mean denying my own responsibility in failing to kill Jack in Brockton Bay.

“Ninety-three point eight,” Defiant repeated, for emphasis.

“Six point two percent chance we’ll pull this off,” I said.

“It remains tied to him.  If we kill him in the next ninety hours, the chances vastly, vastly improve.  Depending on how we kill him, it could mean reducing things to a mere twenty-two percent chance or a one percent chance.”

I nodded, making a mental note.  “Theoretically, if we nuked the northeast corner of America…”

“Only a sixty percent chance of working, with some decimal points that Dragon’s urging me to include as I speak, and a high chance we set things in motion anyways.  Twenty eight or so.”

He asked Dinah, I thought to myself.  The same question I had in mind, give or take.

There were clues there.  “A nuke won’t kill him for sure.  Bomb shelter?”

“Possible.  Or he’s keeping Siberian close at hand.”

“And whatever role he plays… he greases the wheels, he doesn’t guarantee it.  You’re saying there’s a chance things get set off even if he dies.  If that doesn’t happen, then there’s some point in the future, roughly fourteen years from now, where things get set off anyways.”

Defiant nodded.

“Every time I think about it, I can’t help but think it’s a trigger event,” I said.  “Someone getting a power that finally breaks something essential, or a power without the limits that keep other powers in check.  But I don’t want to think along those lines if it keeps me from seeing the obvious.”

“Sensible.  But let’s not dwell on it.  The thinkers are handling it, as best as they can, and we have to devote attention to this crisis.  We’ve got all of the big guns lined up.  The moment things fall apart and Jack decides the rules of his game, Dragon is going to try and jam communications, and each of us moves in for a quick decisive victory over the members of the Nine on site.”

I nodded.

We were just arriving at the perimeter of Killington.  I could see some of the big guns Defiant had been talking about.

Two Azazels had set up thick hedges of that blurry gray material just behind the barriers the heroes had erected to protect themselves and contain the fire.  I also saw the Dragon’s Teeth.

Soldiers was the wrong word, but it was close.

Each wore armor in gun-metal and black, with parallels to the standard PRT uniforms I was more familiar with.  Their helmets, however, had three eyeholes, with blue lenses glowing faintly from beneath.  Two lenses for their eyes, a third for a camera.  The armor was bulky, offering thick protection around the neck and joints, with a heavy pack on the back for both oxygen and for the computers they wore.

They were, in large part, wearing stripped-down versions of Defiant’s outfit.  Sacrifices had been made to account for the fact that their suits didn’t render them seven and a half feet tall.  Each carried a sword and a laser pistol.

I’d never liked the cameras.  Heads turned as I approached, and I knew they were recording, tracking details about me and feeding them back to a main server, where they compiled information, discarded excess.

The combat engines that the Dragon’s Teeth were wearing were still in early stages, the data patchy, depending on the target.  The people in uniform had spent weeks and months training with the things, learning to shift fluidly between their own tactics and awareness of the situation and the data that was provided.  Protectorate Capes and Wards that were just starting out were being trained with the things, but those of us that had experience fighting tended to find them a distraction.

Useful?  Yes.  A bit of a boost, a bit of an edge.  But not quite at the point where everyone could benefit.

Not yet.

Not that there was much room for developing any of it if the end of the world went ahead on schedule.

I could see Narwhal, standing off to one side, two of the Dragon’s Teeth flanking her.  Masamune wasn’t present, but from what I knew of the guy, he wasn’t even close to being a front-lines combatant.   They’d recruited him from the ruined area of Japan, a somewhat crazed hermit, and gave him work in figuring out how to mass produce their stuff without the maintenance issues snowballing out of control, like tinker tech tended to do in large quantities.

Thanks to him, they had the Dragon’s Teeth, they had the combat engines and they had top of the line gear for various members of the Protectorate and Wards.

Of the other members of the Guild, the only other one who could theoretically be on the front lines of the fight would be Glyph.  I could only assume she was somewhere close.

The Thanda weren’t here.  If Dragon had managed to get in touch with others, they hadn’t yet arrived.  I could only guess as to what Cauldron might be doing.  Faultline’s crew, the Irregulars…

Too many maybes.  With Endbringers attacking every two months, a lot of people were busy reeling from recent attacks or preparing for the next.

I looked at the assembled capes.  The Undersiders, two Wards teams, the Protectorate, the Guild.  Clockblocker, Vista and Kid Win were in the other Wards team.  A little older.  Clockblocker had expanded his costume, adding some light power armor that seemed primarily focused on holding a heavy construction at his back.  Vista, for her part, was a little taller, her hair longer, tied in a french braid that was clipped just in front of one shoulder. She was packing a heavier gun.  Probably something Kid Win had made.

And Kid Win was hardly a kid anymore.  I hesitated to call him a teenager, even.  His rig looked like it packed more artillery than any of Dragon’s craft.  No neck, no arms, he barely looked capable of walking.  Just two stumpy legs, a simple gold helmet with a red pane covering his face and enough gun nozzles that he looked like a hedgehog.

“This is probably the last time we’ll all be standing here together before this ends,” Chevalier said.  “I won’t do a big speech.”

He turned his head to take us all in.  “I’ve done too many of them over the past two years, I’d only repeat myself.  Everyone here knows what we’re here for, why we’re doing this.  We’ve talked this over with each of you in turn and you don’t need convincing, you don’t need a reminder of what’s at stake.  You already know the role you’re going to play in this.  Words aren’t going to change any of that.  Good luck, be proud, and maybe say a little prayer to God, or ask for a little help from whoever or whatever you believe in.”

The instant he finished, the Azazels and other Dragon-craft began opening up, doors sliding apart and ramps lowering.

“The one time I do show up for one of these things, and no speech.  I feel gypped.”

I didn’t see who had muttered the comment, but I could guess it was Imp.

“No dying,” I said, as everyone started moving.

“No dying,” others echoed me.  The voices of the Undersiders and the Chicago Wards were loudest among them.

My teams gathered in the Dragonfly, while the Chicago Protectorate and Brockton Bay Wards made their way to Defiant’s larger ship, along with a contingent of the Dragon’s Teeth.

Golem stood apart, until my ship was nearly at full capacity.

“It all comes down to this,” he said, as I joined him at the base of the ramp,  “All the training, all the planning and preparation, studying about the Nine backwards and forwards…”

“Yeah,” I responded, as I stepped up to stand beside him.  Our teams were getting sorted out, finding benches and seats.  I reached behind my back to get the file folders I’d brought with me.

“I’m sorry if I was harsh yesterday.”

I shook my head and reached out to put my hand on his shoulder.  It was support, and maybe a bit of a push.  He made his way up the ramp.

Stepping inside just behind Golem, I used the same controls that managed my flight pack to indicate that the ship could close the door.

The Chicago Wards had seated themselves on one side of the ship, the Undersiders on the other.  Something of a mistake, that, because it meant they sat facing one another as we made our way to our destination.

A little awkward.  I sat with them behind me as I took the cockpit.  The thing flew itself, but it freed me to focus on other things.

Chevalier had talked about making peace with the powers that be.  I frowned, staring at the control panel as the ship lifted off.

Passenger, I thought.  Been a while, trying to figure out how to make peace with the fact that you’re there, that you’re affecting me somehow, taking control whenever I’m not in my own mind.  I think we’ve made strides.  I’ve sort of accepted that you’re going to do what you’re going to do, whether that helps me or hurts me. 

So maybe, just maybe, you could help me out today.  Whatever it is you do, whatever motivates you, I can continue to play along, but I need a bit of backup here.

My eyes fell on the bugs that crawled on the back of my hand.  Not even a whisper of a movement.

Yeah, didn’t think I’d get a reply.  Guess we’ll see.

The ship’s acceleration kicked in, and the bugs took flight.

My eyes scanned the screens in front of me.  I had camera feeds from Clockblocker and Revel, from Chevalier, Imp, and the airborne Azazel.  They all focused on a single area, each from a different direction.

A thick white mist lingered throughout an area.  It was early in the morning, and that might have played a role, but there were no people.  Even for a smaller city like Schenectady, that wasn’t so usual.  At nearly eight in the morning, there should have been people leaving for work, people running errands.

Desolate.  White fog.

“Winter’s here,” I said, speaking over the comms.  “Others to be confirmed.  We’ve talked about this one, Golem.”

I turned the computer off and strode out of the ship.  Rachel was waiting for me outside, standing guard with her dogs and her wolf.

Winter means Crimson too, doesn’t it?” Golem asked.

“Probably.  Probably means-“

We see you,” The words were like a whisper, barely audible.  See you standing there.  Oh, I do hope you’re not Theodore.  Tell me you aren’t, because it means we get to play all we want.”

“Screamer,” I informed the others.  Early Nine member, psychological warfare, pressure, distraction.  Sound manipulation.  Her power meant her voice didn’t get quieter as it traveled great distances.  That wasn’t the full extent of-

“Nice weapon,”  Her voice sounded in my ear, at a normal speaking volume.  I didn’t flinch.  I could sense my surroundings with my bugs, and I could hear things with them, hear how the sound panned out in a weird way over the entire area.

“You’ve got friends, Theodore.  I sure hope they aren’t planning on helping you.”

It was a sinuous sound, seductive in how convincing it was.  Every time she spoke, she sounded a little more like me.  It would be the same for the others, hearing themselves.

She was somewhere in the area.  The question was how she’d gotten a sense of our voices so quickly.  There was supposed to be a limit to how quickly she could pick up on that stuff just from overhearing us.

Confirm, team leader,” Golem said, over the channel.  “And can we use the password system we talked about?

“Queen.  Password system is a go.  What do you need confirmation on?”

Ring.  Enemy headcount.

“Stag.  No headcount given, I think that’s Screamer fucking with you.  Others include Winter, probably Crimson, and probably Cherish, if she’s finding us like she is.  All allied capes, be advised, we’re putting passwords into effect.  Stay calm, don’t panic.”

I do like it when they make it challenging,” Screamer’s whisper hissed in my ear.  It had changed in tone, pitch, cadence.

The Dragonfly took off as I made my way closer to the site.  Outside of the area, there were people reacting.  Some fled, others were taking cover, followed by disparate voices.

Haymaker.  I’m engaging,” Golem said.  “Recommendation?

Screamer interrupted, “Getting advice is against the spirit of this challenge, isn’t it, Theodore?  You are Theodore, aren’t you?  I think you should confirm for us.”

“Mantis,” I said, voicing the password,  “Don’t respond to her.  It’s what she wants.  Take out Cherish ASAP, if she’s here, Screamer after that.”

I’m hurtI rate second after the new girl who barely lasted a month?

Have to find them first,” Golem said.

I’ll help with that, I thought.  Then I stopped.  “Golem, the password?  Horsefly.”

Steeple.  And gauntlet, to reply to the last one,” his voice came over the comms.

I stopped.  We’d agreed on a simple password set.  There was a pattern, each corresponding to our powers and the various pieces on a chessboard.  Mine were related to bugs, his to hands.  It was abstract, something that tended to only make sense in retrospect.  The chess ones we knew off by heart, because they were the first ones we’d practiced.

And steeple wasn’t one of them.

“Steeple?” I asked.

I’m drawing a mental blank,” Golem responded.  “It works, doesn’t it?  Pinkie.

Screamer wasn’t stupid, but was she that smart?  The ‘stag’ should have thrown her off regarding our pattern.

“It works,” I said.  “Ant.  I’m close.

If that was Golem, he wasn’t as focused as we needed him to be.

I could feel the effect as my bugs entered the radius of Winter’s power.  She wasn’t concentrating it, so it was mild at best.  Slowing the movements of molecules, cutting down the ambient temperature, to the point that the moisture in the air froze.  It also affected my bugs.  Torpor.

For anyone within, it would include a mental torpor.

If the only members of the Nine who were present were Crimson, Winter, Cherish and Screamer, then this was a fight that involved attrition.  Attacking Russia in the wintertime.  Psychological warfare, emotional warfare, the effects of Winter’s power… it meant that Winter’s guns and Crimson’s power were the only physical threats.

They were going easy on him at the outset.

Golem was walking on rooftops at the edge of the effect, and he was surrounded by a nimbus of whirling material.  By Wanton.  We’d already altered all of the data on the group, to imply by news reports and Golem’s powers on the websites that Wanton’s telekinetic storm was Golem’s power.

The vantage point put him high enough that he could stand above the mist without being in it.  From the moment he engaged, he’d have to move fast.  He’d have to be indirect-

Weaver,” Golem said, interrupting my thoughts.  “Iron fist.  She’s offering to tell me where Jack is.

“We expected this,” I answered.  Iron fist was the ‘king’ in our chess sequence of passwords.  Crab.  Get the info and go.”

I’m not that foolish,” Screamer whispered, her voice extending throughout the entire area.  “Underestimating me, for shame.  I give up the information, and you leave me for your clean up squad to executeI want concessions.”

Concessions?”  Golem had left his channel open.

Let’s ensure your friends aren’t in a good state to mop up.  We’ll start with this Weaver.  Why don’t you cut off your toes, Weaver?  Keep you from running after us.

I frowned.

Oh, you’ve got an alternative?  Something you can cut off or throw away?  Yes.  Let’s put off the self-mutilation and have you throw that off the edge of a building.

Chances were good that she was in Cherish’s company, getting information from the source.

What if she tosses it, then walks into the mist?” Golem suggested.

No, not Golem.  Her.  Screamer.  An easier suggestion to acknowledge if I thought it came from a teammate.

Not buying it, huh?” he asked.  She asked.

She’d narrowed down my location, was refining her voices.  That had been convincing.  I had to move, make it harder for her.

I advanced, but I didn’t step into the mist.  The closer I got, the more of the affected area I could sense.  The torpor forced me to be efficient, to manage where bugs went and how, to check areas in a cursory way.  There were a number of people still in Winter’s area of influence.  People were standing utterly still, slowly dying as the cold ate away at them.

I want to kill myself.

My own voice, indistinguishable from the one in my head.  Fuck me.  She had a bead on me, now.

It’ll be painless, a way to avoid all of the horror, so I don’t have to watch my friends die.  So I won’t have to watch Bitch or Tattletale or Imp die the way Regent didSo I don’t have to watch Grue die.

No, a moment’s consideration and the spell was broken.  I’d stopped thinking of Rachel as ‘Bitch’ some time ago.

Aw,” Screamer whispered.  “Golem’s refusing my deal, and Cherish says you’re not playing along with the rest of it, so I’m gonna have words with some of the others.”

I raised a hand to my ear, opening my mouth to warn them, “…”

My lips moved, but my voice didn’t come out.  Bare whispers of sound formed, instead, even as I raised my voice to a near shout.

That would be the next stage in her tactics.  Isolate.  She had a sense of my voice, the way I spoke, and was canceling it out.

I signaled Golem with my bugs.  I drew a smiley face in the air with my bugs, crossing out the mouth with an ‘x’.

He nodded.

So he was on mute as well.

There.

In the midst of a small duplex, there were two young women huddled together on an upper floor.  There were computers arranged around them, and each was playing a different video.  In some cases, it was the same video playing, just from a different point in time.  Me in the lunchroom with Defiant and Dragon.  The New Delhi Endbringer fight.  Golem on the news with Campanile.

She had to be almost as good a multitasker as me to take all of that in.

Tattletale here.  Wormtongue.  Doing damage controlI’ve got your video feed, so you can spell things out for me if you want to give the signal.

I spelled out the word ‘thanks’.

My bugs had died inside the area of cold.  The people inside wouldn’t be doing much better.  I had to send another batch in.  This time, I knew the destination.

Cherish was acting as the eyes, Screamer as communications.  No doubt Screamer -all nine of the Screamers- was providing communications between this group and the nearest group of Nine.  She was talking, in a low and steady voice, but her voice wasn’t more than a murmur.  No doubt someone in a more distant location was receiving the intel at a normal volume.

And all of that raised the question of what Winter and Crimson were doing.  I scanned the building.  Nothing on the top floor, or the next lowest.  Further downstairs, a number of people were in the sway of Winter’s power, their thoughts slowed to a crawl.

The basement of the same building.  Winter, Crimson, and their hostages.  Some would be the ones from Killington.  Others were ones that had fallen into the sway of Winter’s torpor.  Crimson was feeding on them.

His schtick was a little bit of a vampire one, but the end result was more Mr. Hyde.  Big, muscular, fueled by rage and impulse.

The ones lying on the floor, cold, they’d be dead already.

I spelled out basic instructions for Golem, pointing the way to the building, drawing a cloud over the building to mark it.  He gave me a thumbs up.

Another arrow pointed him to the concrete rooftop behind him.  There, I drew out a basic layout.

And in that same moment, Cherish cottoned on to what we were doing.

“They’re attacking,” Cherish said.

Screamer’s voice reached all of us.  “Cocky, cocky.

Screamer turned her head, swatted at the bugs that crawled on her face, and then spoke, silent to the insect’s hearing.

Winter and Crimson reacted.

Sure hope your boy can fight.  Screamer was talking in my head again.  Not telepathy, only hearing a voice that sounded damn close to the one in my head.

“Fuck off, Screamer,” I muttered.

“Grue no!” Imp’s voice.  I flinched despite myself, before I remembered they weren’t anywhere nearby.

Screamer laughed, her voice floating through the area.

Crimson made his way outside.  His flesh would be engorged, purple-red, the veins would be standing out.  He’d be as hard as iron, strong.  His sword was as long as he was tall.  I couldn’t get a good measure of its appearance or quality.

Winter hung back with the hostages.

I wrote out the information with bugs.  Tattletale relayed it.  “Crimson Incoming.  QuislingGot confirmation and you’re good to go.  Six stories, elbow deep.

Golem turned his head, no doubt in response to the warning, then turned back to my diagram.

I’d given it a title, words running along the top.  ‘Slap them down.’

Golem’s uniform was roughly the same as the early incarnations, though solidified into a more solid color scheme, dark iron and silver.  The materials differed, but it matched.

There had been one or two additions, though.  The rigging of different panels included a frame that looped over the shoulders, much like a rollcage.  Golem paused, then drew out a panel, attaching it to the right.  He began to reach inside.

And a hand emerged from the center of the street, large enough that it could hold a car inside it.  Crimson paused as he watched it appear.

Then he moved.  It was the kind of movement that came with super strength, a bounding, powerful stride that could have carried him through a wall.  He had to pause before he reached the base of the building Golem stood atop.

The hand had emerged up to the second knuckle.

Abandon the fight,” Tecton’s voice.  “Run!  Move!  You’ve got six Siberians headed your way.”

No password?

“Tecton, confirm.”

Confirm what?

And a chuckle from Screamer, just in my ear.

Crimson ascended, climbing the outside of the building while holding his six-foot blade in his teeth, blood trickling down from the corners of his mouth where the blade was cutting into flesh.

My bugs died of the cold before I saw what happened next.  I was forced to send in a second wave to see.

The bugs were too slow, but the upper edge of the roof was outside of Winter’s realm of influence.  I could sense Golem reaching out with a hand of brick, a gentle push on Crimson’s collarbone with his left hand, pushing him away from the roof, away from any point where he could get a grip.

Crimson reached out and up for the hand, but the material broke apart as he put too much weight on it.  He dropped.  I’d bemoaned the effectiveness of rooftop combat, but Golem made it his own.

Golem advanced to the edge of the roof and created more hands, trying to bind the villain to the street.  An arm lock, a headlock…

Crimson pulled his way free of the asphalt shackles through sheer brute strength.  More appeared, but he destroyed them faster than they could be created.

Screamer and Cherish had to know what we were doing, yet they weren’t moving.  Cockiness?

No.  They had to have an escape route.

Except they didn’t have a teleporter.  That left only a few options.  Siberian wasn’t one I could do a whole lot about, but she’d be fighting if she were anywhere nearby.  The others…

I drew out silk thread in their direction.  Only so much to spare.  I knotted it between their necks and the computers that surrounded them.

Theo’s massive hand was still growing, the wrist exposed.  Almost halfway there.

Crimson ascended the building once more.  This time, he had support.

Together, we’d gone over the various members of the Nine, past and present, we’d detailed battle plans, the techniques we knew about, even contacted heroes who had encountered them in the past, for stuff that might not have gone on record.

But Screamer was called screamer for a reason, and there wasn’t a lot we could do to stop it, not unless we wanted to deafen ourselves.

Crimson was three stories up the side of the building when Screamer used her namesake power.  She could ensure that everyone within a mile’s radius could hear her voice as if she was right next to them, and she used it now, producing a high-pitched, full volume scream, right in my ears.  In Golem’s ears.  Everyone’s ears.

I joined Golem in doubling over, using my hands to try and ward off the sound.  It didn’t help as much as it should have.  It was loud, deafening, and it was leaving Golem vulnerable as Crimson closed the distance.  He wasn’t recovering fast enough.

Bugs flowed into Screamer’s open mouth, much as they had with Alexandria.

I gave Tattletale the signal.  All out attack.

This was it.  They’d been okay with a little bit of involvement on our part.  Tattletale had speculated they would.  There were only a few who were so regimented they would report it to Jack at the first opportunity.  Winter was among them, but she was largely in the dark, here.  Screamer wouldn’t fill her in if it meant spoiling the fun.

In truth, the only ones who wouldn’t let us get away with this were Mannequin and King.  King was distinct enough for me to notice, and Tattletale was ninety-five percent sure Mannequin would need more time to set up.  This was an approach we could only use with this first skirmish.

But whoever we were up against, the moment they started losing, the moment we actually pulled an offensive, the line was crossed.  This was an all or nothing.

Stinging bugs attacked Cherish, going for the eyes, nose and mouth.  Screamer choked.  Somewhere in the midst of it, they managed to give a signal.  It wouldn’t be Screamer.  Cherish?  Creating an emotional push?

Winter made her way out from downstairs, hefting a grenade launcher.

I spelled out words for the camera: Need Reinforcements.

The other teams are getting harassed, can’t close the distance.

I was going to spell out a response, get further details, but my focus shifted as Winter caught sight of Golem and Crimson and advanced.

Her dynamic with Crimson was one of synergy.  She captured people so he could feed.  He was the front line so she could safely attack from range.  She slowed down opponents so he could advance.  He was immune to her munitions fire, in large part.

My bugs swarmed her, but she was already concentrating her power.  Smaller area, greater effect.  She still held the people in the building in the area, but my bugs were lasting only a fraction of the time.  Seconds.  I activated my flight pack and approached.

Golem finished creating his hand, but there was a limit to what he could do with it.  It stood there, tall and useless.

No, his focus was on escape.  He thrust both hands into two different panels, slightly out of sync.  One hand was created, almost twice the usual size, and another was simultaneously created from the palm of that same hand, a fraction smaller.

Campanile’s idea.

Both hands thrust out at virtually the same speed that Golem might have stuck his own hand out into the air, but that speed was compounded by the fact that both hands thrust out in unison.  Golem set one foot down and vaulted himself up and out to land on the adjacent building, one story up.  He spun around as he landed.

Crimson gave chase, crossing the rooftop with heavy footsteps.

Golem jabbed out with one hand as Crimson bent his knees to leap.  The hand that appeared jabbed at the underside of one foot, lifting it.

It was the sort of trick that would only work once on an enemy.  The next time, the enemy would adjust, or jump off one foot.  Here, it caused Crimson to stumble.  He missed his mark, the jump failing, and he nearly ran straight off the end of the rooftop.  He struck out with his sword, slamming it into the brick of the building face opposite him.

Winter raised her grenade launcher and fired.  Golem managed to vault himself away as he had earlier, a shallow movement that was forceful enough to nearly launch him off the building.  He rolled on landing as the grenade disintegrated a corner of the building.

These two were warriors.  Crimson was a mainstay of King’s era, when he’d ruled the Nine as more of a brute squad, not dissimilar to the Teeth back in Brockton Bay.  I had trouble marking why Winter had been recruited, but it likely had more to do with how she was off the battlefield, her predilections for torturing people she’d caught in her torpor.

I reached the edge of the battlefield.  My bugs streamed forth, a silk cord trailing between and behind them.  The silk streamed out from the spinning spool at my belt.  Hundreds of feet of material, and it extended out towards Winter.

It was only a matter of feet from her when she jumped, startled, leaping to one side.  I missed, and my bugs were dying in a matter of seconds.  The cord went slack.

A moment later, she was looking around, confused.

Cherish, I thought.  She alerted her, a burst of alarm.

It didn’t matter.  My swarm approached from the other direction, finding and picking up the dropped cord.  Moving them within Winter’s effect range was a matter of relay, handing off to fresh bugs as they died.  Slow but steady progress.

The moment the silk thread was around Winter’s neck, I dropped down to the edge of the rooftop, and used the mechanical arms on my flight pack to reel in the cord.

Darwin’s spider silk.  Stronger than kevlar, a narrow cord of it made for a thin, almost unbreakable cord.  The noose cut into her neck, and my arms and legs provided leverage to keep me still as the combined efforts of the mechanical arms provided the strength.

When she reached the base of the building I stood on, she was lifted off the ground.  I shifted my position to improve my leverage and waited, hiding.

I could barely tell in the midst of her power, but I sensed her raising her arm.  Raising the grenade launcher.

Nets of spider silk peeled away from the gray-white portions of my costume as my bugs pulled them free.  I drew it out, connected the narrow sheets with knots of more silk.

It moved into place just in time to catch the projectile out of the air.

Golem managed to find a moment to use his power.  A hand of stone struck the grenade launcher from Winter’s hands.

He was holding his own against Crimson, who was adapting.  Golem thrust one hand into his armor to create a hand beneath Crimson, and the villain leaped closer, forcing Golem to vault himself away and maintain a safe distance.  The sword swipe that followed after Golem’s retreat passed within a foot of the hero.

Wanton, surrounding Golem, advanced on Crimson, and Golem tossed out a bag.

Wanton took hold of the bag and emptied it of its contents.  Razor blades, caltrops, hooks and my threads joined the miniature maelstrom, and Crimson was slowly bound.  He tore some free, but it found its way into his flesh again a moment later.

Then Golem slid his right hand into his armor.  Crimson leaped in anticipation of an imminent attack, landed, and then glanced back at the point where he’d come.

Nothing.

Golem continued sliding his hand into his armor, slow, inexorable.

Crimson charged, and Golem backed away, using his free hand to erect barriers.  Wanton ran defense, and Crimson stumbled.

A rumble marked Golem’s real direction of attack.  A second hand, down on the street below, gripping the large, six-story tower he’d created earlier in the fight, pulling it down.

It toppled on top of the building that Winter and Crimson had emerged from.

Toppled towards Screamer and Cherish.

In that same moment, Chuckles made an appearance.  He moved so fast it was almost as though he teleported, appearing beside the two girls.  My bugs barely had time to make contact and try to get a sense of him before he was moving again, holding the two villains this time.

They jerked to a stop.  I felt a fraction of the same confusion Chuckles no doubt did.  I sensed his arms, extended to ridiculous lengths.  He realized they were caught, bound to the computers.  Too entangled to take along.

And then he was gone, out of the building as the hand struck home.  Two floors crushed, the two villains crushed with them.

Tecton had provided the calculations on what the building could withstand, I’d provided the general data and information on where the hostages were.  The damage was controlled, the hand crashing a specific, certain distance into the building before coming to a halt.

Bitch and Foil tried to intercept Chuckles just now as he left the city.  He escaped, but Foil hit him with one shot,” Tattletale said.

“Right,” I said, even as I swore to myself.  Shit, shit shit shit.

Far too soon for Jack to get a report on the fact that we’d helped.

Chuckles can’t talk,” Tattletale said.  “He laughs, but he can’t talk.

I shook my head.  Couldn’t worry about that right now.

Crimson was only staring at the wreckage.  He mumbled something around a bloated tongue.

Does he think Winter’s still in there?

Then Crimson charged Golem once again.

Golem had both hands free, and he used the same double-hand technique to strike again.  A second hand, sprouting from the first, which emerged from the rooftop in turn.  The hands caught Crimson in the side of the leg, slamming into the knee, using the curve of the thumb to catch the leg and limit the range of movement.

Strong as Crimson was, he was still bound by physics and general physical limitations.  Being struck in the knees hurt, and he still needed to maintain a sense of balance.  He toppled.

Another double-hand strike, and Golem caught Crimson in the groin as he landed on his hands and feet, shoved him off to the right.

Two more strikes, this time not doubled-up, catching Crimson in the left arm and left leg, respectively, keeping him off-balance.

The key was to deny leverage.

An arm looped over one leg and one arm, binding them to the rooftop.  Crimson tore free with little effort, but the act meant he shifted his weight to one side.  Golem capitalized on it with another double-speed strike to his side, pushing in the same direction the blood-gorged killer was already moving.  That was followed in turn by one larger hand, moving slower, to scoop Crimson up and tip him off the edge of the rooftop.

Crimson fell.  Not a fatal fall, but it would hurt some.

A gauntlet of concrete seized the large hand Golem had just created and tore it free of the rooftop, then let it roll free to fall right on top of Crimson.

With the villain in an alley, the ensuing takedown was just as brutal and tenacious as before, with the added advantage that there were walls on either side to strike from.  Hands struck out, and they remained there.  As the villain was denied any footing, any balance, the hands around him increased in number, folding around him, sliding into gaps.

It was a parallel to Kaiser’s pyramid of blades technique, that he’d used to try to entrap Lung.  I’d passed it on to Golem, but I hadn’t told him the source.  I got the sense he wouldn’t appreciate it.

I turned my attention to Winter, who dangled beneath me.  She’d gone silent and still.  I continued to wait, but I raised one hand to my ear.  “Tattletale?  All four are down.”

I could speak.  A benefit to Screamer being dead.

Good.  Too soon to tell if Jack’s got wind of what you’re doingBut if Chuckles passes on word, or if there’s a Nice Guy in the area…

“I wouldn’t think he’d use the same guy twice in a row.”

No,” Tattletale agreed.  “The numbers fit, makes sense he’d start with four with a fifth as backup, considering how he can scale up the numbers in successive attacks.  Still-

“There was no graceful way to do it with Cherish there, and I couldn’t not help.  Golem was incapacitated.”

I’ll let Chevalier know what happened?” she made it a question.

I sighed.  No point in keeping secrets amongst ourselves.

“Do.  And send Foil here,” I said.  “She can punch a few holes in Crimson while he’s trapped.”

Will do.”

I waited another minute as Winter dangled from the thread, then cut her free.  Her body crumpled in a heap at the base of the building.  I made my way over to Golem and Wanton, where Wanton was still in his breaker form.

This was the warm-up, for the Nine, for us.  Four down, two hundred and seventy-some to go.  Jack had a little information on us, no doubt.

I didn’t dare hope it would stay this simple.  We still needed to find a way to narrow down Jack’s location, killing him.  He already had an advantage, wearing us down, costing us time, and he surely had some intel on us.

I could only hope that intel didn’t include the fact that Golem had help.

Chevalier here.  We have reports that they’re showing themselves for the next locations.

I met Golem’s eyes.

“Locations, plural?”  Golem asked.

“They want you to choose,” I answered him, as the realization dawned on me.

He stared at me, lost.  He was heaving for breath, his hands shaking visibly, even with gauntlets on.

“Go with the Chicago teams.  I’ll take the Undersiders and Brockton Bay Wards to the other location,” I said.

He nodded, pressing one hand to his ear as he started making his way to the ground.  I watched him for a moment, then took off.

This was a statement, I suspected.  I could guess what that statement was.  Jack fully intended to double down on the challenge each time we came out ahead.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

245 thoughts on “Sting 26.2

    • “No,” Tattletale agreed. “The numbers fit, makes sense he’d start with four with a fifth as backup, considering how he can scale up the numbers in successive attacks. Still-” <– inconsistent italics

      “I’ll let Chevalier know what happened?” she made it a question. <– italics again

    • “Up from Eighty three point four percent.” – unnecessary caps

      “Steeple. And gauntlet, to reply to the last one,” his voice came over the comms. – Italics cut out halfway through

      “Crimson Incoming.” – possibly unnecessary caps? Or maybe deliberate but confusing transcript of the capitalisation Weaver used in her message.

      I loved the use of “steeple”.

    • “No doubt Screamer -all nine of the Screamers- was providing communications between this group and the nearest group of Nine.”

      ‘Screamer’ is singular, so takes was, but ‘Screamers’ is plural, so takes ‘were’.

      I’d suggest ‘No doubt Screamer–and each of her clones–‘, so that ‘was’ fits both.

      Also, you’ve used hyphens in place of dashes.

      • “Except they didn’t have a teleporter. That left only a few options.”

        -In Blasto’s Interlude, Defiant mentions that the Nine have a teleporter.

        “Bonesaw went into the subway system, and it will take time for her to get free, but if she gets in contact with their new teleporter-“

  1. At the patio table, I took hold of a beetle and using its pincers to pick some petals out of the shallow bowl, grabbed the caterpillar I’d been using as a brush, then tossed the two bugs over the porch’s railing.

    I think it could use a comma — and, using

  2. Ok, so they have some time left to stop the end of the world. That gives them hope. Which scares me because Wildbow crushes hope.

    And Speculation here, but I think Jack or her will somehow awaken the passeners and trigger the end.

    • Taylor second triggers. Her second trigger? Bugs she can control can now have trigger events. They don’t lose powers after they leave her control area.

      Because really, that Taylor is the main driving force of the Apocalypse makes lots of sense.

    • My current theory on the end of the world is that it has something to do with the birdcage and Saint. The main thing that Jack has had to do to cause the it is to stay alive. What happened when he escaped from BB? Dragon was sicced on him, leaving even her with less attention on the other things she would be doing. So the longer Jack stays alive and distracting, the longer her attention is diverted, with a higher likelihood that she will be looking the wrong direction when whatever it is happens. Whatever it is, it’s something she can only hold off for so long…

      My alternate theory is still that Jack will somehow cause the most powerful woman in the world to tell Scion to help, but give him really faulty directions, resulting in him killing the worst people, too. Since someone is always worst, he eventually kills everyone.

  3. woah wtf stopped in the middle of the chapter to say

    Narwhal is alive? I’m almost 100% sure Leviathon killed her.

    • She’s mentioned as being a casualty in the same line as Tattletale–and just after she wonders exactly what being mentioned means. As in, are they definitely dead or merely injured?

      It seems as though Dragon’s communications devices don’t work perfectly for diagnosing medical status.

        • Yes! I’m not the only one who remembers that!

          Checking Wikipedia, the technical definition of military (as opposed to civilian) casualties is “removed from combat” — which could be by death, injury, capture, desertion, or any other means. The fact that Skitter kept fighting after her arm was broken meant she wasn’t a casualty at that point; the fact that Bambina vamoosed (apparently without even being seriously injured) meant she was one. And Tattletale and Narwhal being knocked out made both of them casualties.

        • Definitely true–though the person using the word casualty to describe the people on the list is me, not Wildbow that I saw. I’m using it because not all the people on it have turned out to be dead.

  4. And here we have Jack’s first attempt at cheating. Two locations, spawning from each place where the heroes win? That’ll get out of hand sharpish.

    • Don’t worry, the heroes are cheating too, by helping Golem as much as possible while trying to pretend that they’re not. Really, the winner will be the better cheat.
      The interesting thing is that it boils down to who you’d trust least. A group of psychopaths or the heroes of the setting? Probably the heroes.

  5. Oh fuck.

    Oh fuck.

    I just got it.

    It’s not Jack Slash who’s going to cause the end of the world.

    Bonesaw just found a way to mass-produce capes with any powers she likes, and how to psychologically condition them to be loyal to those she chooses.

    And Cauldron put their finger right on her hot-button.

    Cauldron gets ahold of this, and there is no way that the world is not fucked.

    • But Blasto is dead and can’t clone anymore, and it took Bonesaw, the greatest biological tinker, two years to perfect their memories. Could Riley work with Cauldron? Maybe, but blasto is still dead and they can’t use his power to make cheap clones again.

      • My concern here is if she /clones Blasto/.

        Granted, it’s difficult, but the knowledge that it’s possible, well…

    • …because the last thing the world needs is to give the organisation that can create people with superpowers the ability to create people with superpowers.

      • But large numbers of the same power? Imagine 9 contessas… Or if someone got their hands on Dinah’s genetic material. Even Cauldron acknowledges she’s strong…

          • Exactamundo. It’s not about being able to create people with superpowers, it’s about being able to perfectly recreate powers. There are gamebreaker powers out there. And being able to recreate them, well…

            • And the splicing, like how Snowmann and Nighty Night were put together. How would you like to be facing an Alexandria-Eidolon hybrid? Or even worse, Eidolon-Contessa? Who could stand up to the might of Super Sue and Epic Win? A Numbers Man-Legend hybrid wouldn’t be anything to laugh at either. Stick a pair of wings on him and you can call him Fallen Angle.

            • My suggestions:
              Eidolon, but with Tinker powers to make him even more versatile.
              Siberian, but the projection can fly and is super smart, thanks to Alexandria’s powers.
              Heck, giving the person (with the Yangban) who amplifies powers the abilities of Eidolon or Alexandria would be awesome. Imagine them being able to safely charge into battle and amplify everyone’s powers.
              Even just replicating people like Panacea then making them loyal would be awesome, but splicing takes it up to a whole new level. Why not just splice everyone together!? Actually, lets not do that. Way too dangerous.

              • I am not sure that giving Alexandria’s power to Manton would give additional powers to Siberian. It would still be a projection. However it would still be a gamebreaking combo, pretty much deleting Siberian’s only achilles heel. If Manton’s clones also get Alexandria’s power they would be nigh invulnerable ( the only one being capable of really hurting Alexandria being Siberian’s itself) and the projections wouldn’t have to worry about having to go defending their controllers.

    • Contessa being the cause of the end of the world by blindly following her power seems like a good theory now.

    • Naw man, Cauldron is clearly the good guy. But isn’t it kinda shady the fact that it’s impossible to capture Scion on camera? Pretty suspicious… That Scion fella is hiding something clearly. He’s who we need to watch out for. Not Cauldron. Scion bad. Cauldron good. Cauldron is probably just trying to secure a way to utilize the S9001 against the Endbringers!

      • Why, what do you think Cauldron is going to do with the S9000 if not using them to fight Endbringers?

        Letting aside that they’re doomed to fail spectacularly, if only for storytelling purposes, they’d be some pretty elite cannon fodder. Think what just Screamer and Cherish could have done if they had been at Endbringers fights.

        Screamer could have stopped Behemoth from killing dozens of capes simply by roaring or clapping his hands and, for less specialised uses, would be great to coordinate attacks without having to rely so much on the armbands.(Seriously, how many times have those armbands had some malfunction or another?)

        Aherish could fear and dread at bay and give courage to the fighters. Seeing how the Endbringers were specifically created to strike terror in the hearts of their foes, that’d be pretty significant.

        And those two are pretty low on the power scale compare to others inside the S90000.

  6. The S274 have several significant ways disrupt coordination – which will be interesting, since that’s Weaver’s job. Winter, Nice Guy, Screamer, and Cherish all – in their own ways – can disrupt coordination quite effectively.

    Interesting that they can tell where the next site is – perhaps signalled by Jack? If they could deduce it, pretty sure they’d skip straight to hitting Jack himself.

    The Dragon’s Teeth are the start of something big – but not yet complete. Putting soldiers against Endbringers with a decent chance of effectiveness would be an enormous difference.

    The offhand scene of Taylor running her office, using a caterpillar as a pen because using hands to write are for people who aren’t the swarm queen, was an elegant way to demonstrate the ways in which her power has deepened. I can only assume she uses braille because touch is still easier than compound vision in all directions – though, in theory, with enough processing power she could use a swarm as quite an interesting telescope.

    The acknowledgment that she and Defiant are very similar is… interesting. Not unexpected, not now, but still fun to see.

    Still insufficient data to even begin see how this is going to pan out – besides the obvious conclusion that at some point Jack declares the rules broken, and things get worse. There’s no earthly way that this stays 4-5 members for a challenge – too many to go through. Possibilities – Jack gives a scatter order. There’s an enormous melee. Or, more likely, the both. Alternate delay – there’s a renegotiated set of terms.

    The thought that Crimson requires multiple shots from Foil to put down makes him disturbingly tough.

    The password system is a nice callback to the very early days of taking on the ABB, and splitting up the Undersiders… and an open invitation for a later problem.

    • Yes, this code was nostalgically familiar to the code that brought us “Stringbean-L”. Good times, good times…

    • Speaking of disrupting coordination: I was waiting for the Siberian squad to actually show up, it having turned out that Screamer muted Tecton’s password and manufactured the “Confirm what?” response…

    • Yeah, there are a number of similarities between Weaver and Defiant. They’re both heroes who want as much power as possible (if offered, would Weaver turn down robot armour?), they’re both adaptable (Taylor does well in pretty much any situation, while Defiant is good at creating plenty of gadgets to takeon anything from bugs to Endbringers) and they both hate losing (One turns himself into a cyborg and changes his name, the other takes over a city, because going to a nice quiet jail is not an option for either of them).

  7. Awesome Chapter Wildbow. I STILL WANT TO KNOW WHAT KING CAN DO!!! >:|

    Crimson and Winter are fucking dangerous together. D: I love it! :D

    • Screw King, who or more accurately, WHAT is Gray Boy? The kid gets out of a cloning pod, naked and wet, dressed AND COLORED like he just stepped out of Casablanca! And, as if that weren’t enough, all signs point to anyone who touches him either dying or being as good as dead!

    • Wasn’t it something like mind-control? After King is killed,When Harbinger says he wants to quit and Jack tells him that after what they did they can never go back, Harbinger remarks that they could say they were mind-controlled.

  8. You said you worried that this wasn’t advancing the story enough. I didn’t get the impression that that was the case. This segment sets up the rules of the game for the stuff that is to come. I like it.

    I also really liked the bit showing more on the relationship between Weaver and Defiant.

    • Aim for the best phrase – eventually you’ll have a final version. If that means updating, update. If that means keeping what worked… keep.

    • For those keeping track at home, here’s out killcount:

      Mannequins on display: 0
      Cherishes a distant memory: 1
      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 gagged by Mistress Taylor: 1
      Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
      Breeds slain by Dark Templar: 0
      Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
      Nyxes nixed: 0
      Psychosomas treated by a Frontier Psychiatrist: 0
      Damsels of Distress in another castle: 0
      Winters ended by global warming: 1
      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

  9. Great chapter, and a good indicator of what the challenges will be like.
    Love that Defiant is a fucking terminator at this point, and is probably married to Mrs. Skynet with all her expanded drones and soldiers now.
    Clockblocker is using tinker equipment probably to do an advanced trick with wires, Vista is packing heat since her power really isn’t good at offense, and Mr. Win is walking tank.
    Great fight, interesting powers, and brilliant use of tactics which is the trademark of Wildbow.
    Though Jack probably knows he has help since all he has to do is stick a videocamera somewhere and have chuckles pick it up when he leaves.

    • Oh boy…good fucking luck on Human-AI marriage getting through the Supreme Court. Then again, if you offer to build the perfect woman or man for the male Justices, it could work out…

      • With Endbringer attacks happening every two months I think the governments of the world would legalize almost anything if it helps them fight them. If the US has fought a war against China in some form, the country might be on a war footing and be finding every available source of new funds. Drugs,a few anyway, are now legal and taxable, fewer prisoners because many prisons get a shorter sentence if they join the Dragon Teeth since I imagine they must have a huge attrition rate against the Endbringers, and there must have been a few Villains who followed Assault and Weaver’s example of joining. I mean things might be so desperate that if Dragon came out but still fought for them I think that if the US didn’t grant her all the rights of a citizen, then other countries would to try and get her to join them.

        • Ahahahahahahahahahahaha!

          Funny thought

          Armsmaster got together with Dragon, then got his body repaired with cybernetics. Talk about some amazing Universal Healthcare.

          • Isn’t that sort of permanent body conversion EXACTLY what Mannequin wanted him to perform, though? What if Defiant defects to the Nine?

            • Actually if you think about it Mannequin and Defiant have become complete opposites. Alan Grammes was trying to help the world but went mad and butchered himself after the love of his life died. Armsmaster cared only for himself and his career but became a better person after falling in love. Apart from doing body modifications (and in Colin’s case the first one weren’t even his idea) they have nothing in common now.

              • Yeah, Manaquin and Defiant are opposites oppositesin terms of personality.
                @agreyworld: I think Defiant is more the type to swear vengance and continue Dragon’s work than go evil like Manaquin.
                Can Dragon even die though? She’s probably part of some sort of network of computers and war machines, I doubt there’s just one big supercomputer labeled “Dragon”

              • Yeah, I think the only one who could have a shot at REALLY killing Dragon, is Saint. And even that is iffy.

      • Psh. As long as the Justices think that Dragon’s an agoraphobic resident of Vancouver or whatever, it should go through fine. (It probably wouldn’t even go to the Supreme Court) I mean, she kept the charade going for quite a while, and I still believe the only one she’s actually told (about her AI nature, that is) was Defiant.

      • On a Dragon-marriage-related note…how old is Dragon?

        If she’s, like, 11 years old (and she might be) then she probably can’t get married.

        • She’s chronologically (I was going to say biologically, but tat wouldn’t have made sense with Dragon) 11 (or whatever). Psychologically (mentally?) she’s obviously an adult woman. Anyway, the point is that if she gets married before revealing her nature no one is going to assume that she hasn’t reached the age of consent.

        • Because there’s absolutely no chance that either one of them would be able to, you know, monkey with the records or anything like that.

  10. Kid Win: scrawny teen in a jumpsuit with a hoverboard and laser pistol
    Win: walking mobile artillery

    i can get behind this.

  11. I can’t help but wonder what must be going through the heads of anyone who walks in on Taylor in her office or wherever and sees her using bugs as writing implements or utensils or however many other mundane tasks she decides to make creepy by using insects as tools.

  12. Been trying to think up end of the world powers. Right now here is what I have

    1. Complete access to the Akashic Records

    2. The ability to multiply anything by “-1″, age of universe, temperature( below absolute zero ), volume, mass, etc. overall just mess stuff up.

    3. Erase anything from existence just by thinking about it.

    4. Scion is triggered at this point in berserk mode, destroys universe, goes back in time to restart cycle. Or scion just gets a second trigger.

    5. Some sort of tertiary trigger.

    6. Ability to manipulate universes. Stretch them, slam them together, shatter them, etc.

    7. Ability to control Endbringers.

    8. ?

    • On number 7; The only constant involved with the end of the world is Skitter. Not Jack.

      Ability to control Endbringers sounds like something she could get as a second trigger event.

        • Then the entire planet becomes her swarm…especially since there are several Supers that have the ability to enhance others, and some whom could build devices that do likewise. Between those two, then it’d be relatively easy for Taylor Queen to pilot their passengers to enhance her powers to extend her reach to find more enhancers to extend her reach to find…you see where I’m going with this…

          Then when aliens eventually come again, they’ll see a perfect hive mind, a swarm that reacts perfectly to what’s nearby, and a woman that hasn’t been seen in veritable ages because there was no need for a costume when there are hundreds of Taylor clones…

          Worm-verse can get scary. Hell, once she absorbs the Yangban, suddenly ALL OF THE WORLD has ALL OF THE WORLD’S powers…

          • And the end of the world scenario is her losing control of this and making most of the world kill itself. She, however, beats the odds by regaining control of herself before that happens, and we’re left with “Hebertopia” as the capital planet of Taylor’s new galactic empire.

    • 9) Permanent, large scale (line-of-sight, or better yet memetic virus) power erasure ability that can affect Scion and make people unable to use or get powers. No Capes at all = Endbringers quickly mop up the world

      10) Large scale ability to induce trauma capable of generating trigger events in anyone. The world erupts in violence, as cape population increases by several orders of magnitude with all the problems of natural triggers attached.

      • 11) Ability to control any one of the 4 fundamental forces of nature: gravity, strong/weak force, and electromagnetism. Any one of those could be used to basically rip people/objects apart. If Marvel really wanted to, Magneto’s powers would be unstoppable. But that’s not really a fun villain to fight, is it?

        • 12) ability to grant powers to others passes the limit from endbringers-suddenly scion has orders to kill everyone

    • I think one thing that gets overlooked about the end of the world was that Dinah specifically mentioned Jack as being the one who would be the catalyst it. She did not have the same reaction to Bonesaw who had appeared on the screen previously or Skitter who was standing right next to her at that point.

      We can also safely include anyone who would regularly appear in the news as being involved. If Eidolon or Legend played a major role in the end of the world she probably would have noticed it.

      One might argue that Theo was an unknown to her when the original prediction was made, but she learned of him later when he did things like appearing on Weaver’s Behemoth home video or O. J. & Koffi. I think she would have mentioned it if his death significantly affected the end of the world scenario.

      She even interacted with Cauldron when they tried to recruit her for the big team-up against the 4th Endbringer.

      Some obscure character that she never interacted with like Theo’s little sister might be a likely candidate for the trigger that end the world. She has the parentage to be powerful and trying to kill her is one of the things Jack would do if he got out Brockton Bay alive…

      As for what sort of power could break the world? It wouldn’t even have to be something big and flashy. Earth is pretty fragile and breaking it so that humanity is doomed would be fairly easy even with tiny modifications.

      The fact that tiny pockets of humanity of variable size manage to cling on in Dinah’s prediction makes me think it wouldn’t be a big thing.

      I can foresee some likely possibilities: Environmental collapse. The endbringers have already done a lot of damage and it probably wouldn’t take much more than a crop failure or some sort of power that re-created a ‘Year without Summer’ to push everyone over the edge of collapse.

      The other involves some sort of self-replication. creating minions that create further minions that sort of thing.

      Of course story wise a power that works on the as of yet unclear mechanics behind the powers would make much sense. Like granting everyone powers and than have the world collapse into chaos.

      One problem with all of that is that Skitter asked Dinah about what would happen if she travelled across America killing everyone and Dinah said it wouldn’t make a difference. Defiant had a similar idea with his question about nukes and I am sure that other with similar ability to be coldly calculating must have asked questions along these lines over the last two years.

      If there was an unpowered, unprotected person waiting to have a trigger event these sort of questions would have found them. There also would be a chance that the end of the world would not happen at all just from simply the chance that this one person might slip in the shower and die or be run over by a drunk driver or get caught up in an endbringer attack or similar.

      I think that whatever it is that Jack is going to trigger is likely a lot better protected than an ordinary unpowered civilian waiting to have a trigger event.

    • Contextually, the end of the world should be things we have been given clues to already. My top list (although there are problems with all of them) is:
      1. Jack enters Nilbog-town and convinces him to imitate Ghengis Khan. Remember that Nilbog can generate creatures with powers and creatures that spawn other creatures. If Nilbog can do them together, self-replicating creatures with powers are an automatic S-Class, and Nilbog could throw in plagues, cropland destruction using self-replicating pests, copycats (he can emulate humans, he just seems to prefer monstrous types), and who knows what else.
      2. Jack encounters the Endbringer’s creator, figures out who he is talking to, and persuades or terrorizes him/her to make the Endbringers active all at once, continuously. This seems highly unlikely due to the fact that Cauldron seems to know how the world ends, but considers the Endbringers “a puzzle unto themselves, independent of every other major variable.”
      3. Some sort of individual or joint trigger event, as you and others suggest. It is a given that Jack will eventually go after Aster, which might trigger her. Aster’s mother is a light absorber and projector of massive ability and her father was a matter creator on an immense scale. Aster could potentially have an absorb-and-project/create ability off the charts. One long shot would be: Aster absorbs parahuman powers and redirects them, and she has a secondary ability that feeds her power by triggering humans who can trigger.
      4. My favorite is still the multiple trigger event and my favorite mechanism is Bonesaw’s brain parasite that was further modified by Panacea. Panacea kept the brain parasites as self-replicating and told Taylor there were two ways to kill them: cold or alcohol. So, basically, until Taylor got drunk, she was contagious with Panacea’s counter-parasite, and she doesn’t seem to drink. She could still have it and still be spreading it, even though she would only spread it by personal contact (Northern winters would kill any of the parasite that was outside of anyone’s body). It is particularly telling that, several days after that incident, the children in Taylor’s territory under Charlotte’s care had behavioral changes and one of them had a vision of the superentities that was normally reserved for parahumans, but without becoming a parahuman. Charlotte’s guess is that he was given the ability to trigger. Therefore, my personal favorite scenario is that Brockton Bay is a massive trigger event waiting to happen, and Jack is almost certain to return there and start the avalanche if he survives long enough. Enough scared and/or angry new parahumans would cause massive amounts of damage. Note that, thanks to Taylor’s fights with Khonsu, she has gone all over the world, potentially spreading this counter-parasite everywhere, and some areas (like Delhi) are not cold enough to kill the counter-parasite outside of the body.

  13. Ha! Winter and Crimson weren’t shit!

    Though Screamer… yeah she just needs to flat out fucking die. Ice cold. No mercy. If there’s anyone who can make someone fuck up it’s her, and teaming up with Cherish she has some serious psycho-Emma shit going on.

    I want to kill myself.

    My own voice, indistinguishable from the one in my head. Fuck me. She had a bead on me, now.

    Huh, it was sort of suggested that Taylor might have been subconsciously suicidal or headed there when she first met Tattletale, that was back when Lisa’s origin came out. I gotta wonder if suicidal thoughts are something Taylor’s been struggling with recently. Or if the Cherished were powered up somehow to pick up on trace feelings.

    • Ha!

      Actually, I liked Screamer. She reminded me of the fanfic I was working on. I had to stop as I couldn’t reconcile the trigger with the powers. Good thing I checked beforehand to make sure they’d fit in the universe.

      The character had the ability to throw their voice physically. He wouldn’t seem to be talking, but his voice would sound from somewhere all the same through mental effort that would later be able to do good enough impressions of people to fool them.

      Looks like there’s no reason to keep writing on He Who Laughs Last.

      Of course, now you have to worry about Wildbow’s thought process to create members of the Slaughterhouse 9 being so similar to mine.

      • I too had a similar idea for a villain (for an original work,however, not a fanfic) except only with laughter. His name would be Hyena and his power would essentially be a Weaponised Evil Laugh.

    • She’s probably just had that natural “wouldn’t it be easier if I just died and didn’t have to deal with this any more” that teenagers get. She’s been through a lot, so she probably does got the occasional suicidal moment. The world she lives in is depressing indeed.

  14. It’s interesting to come back to this style of crisis. Endbringer fights are tough and brutal, but they don’t have the same tension as this kind of scenario. Endbringers don’t set traps, and they don’t really lie in wait to ambush you.

    It’s also interesting to see Taylor thriving in the hellscape. Not that I would describe her as enjoying herself, but it is obvious that she has shaped her life around dealing with these kinds of nightmares. This is where she has her purpose. The rest of her life is just getting prepared for times like these.

  15. “His flesh would be engorged, purple-red, the veins would be standing out. He’d be as hard as iron, strong. His sword was as long as he was tall. ”

    …Did I misread that, or is Crimson a penis?

  16. Man, Screamer is a nightmare. Seriously I found her worse than Winter and Crimson. Did “like” the part were she tries to make them think that the Siberians are coming, however..

    Am I the only one to think it’s strange that Weaver was taken by surprise by Chuckles’ appearance? I’m no genius but the moment she mentioned that Screamer and Cherish were waiting for someone to pick them up and leave and that the S275 didn’t have tele porters I knew it was going to be our favorite speedster clown.

    And, finally: Everyone Is A Badass In The Future?

  17. Foil’s powers already make her bolts tough enough to punch through (or deeply into) Endbringers, so there wouldn’t be much of an added advantage. Also, the only material that Foil has been seen empowering is metal – we have no way of knowing if the nanites are all metal. They also require a power source, and, while I suspect a good Tinker could make an all-metal power source, it might be too large for her to fire.
    Defiant suspects that Dragon herself triggered. The last time we saw the AI used, they were not capable of passing a Turing test (the actual test administered was a Taylor test, and they failed miserably), so they are probably not “alive” enough to trigger … yet. Dragon’s inability to create near duplicates of herself is one of the restrictions that Defiant has on his list to break, but he probably won’t have time before the end of the world. Too bad, a self-replicating human-friendly AI Tinker sounds like a good thing for the whole world.

  18. I think Taylor underestimates Jack in the last sentence, or understates the magnitude of the problem. Jack is dangerously inventive and I strongly suspect that each time a challenge is won, he will both escalate significantly and attack from a different direction. Just making it twice the locations if they beat the next challenge is simply too boring – Jack will find another way to increase the pressure even more.

  19. - this was great!
    – expected Winter to be more gun-focused with powers as a secondary. Oh well.
    – Crimson is Vampire!Hulk. Unexpected.
    – still really wanna know what King’s power is
    – Screamer is seriously hax
    – liked seeing how everyone’s progressed: Vista’s packing heat, Armsmaster has turned himself into Master Chief, Clockblocker has large-scale gear and Kid Win is less kid, more tank
    – the combat tactics were great. Theo was awesome (nice touch having Weaver teach him Kaiser’s technique) and that trick with sprouting one hand on top of another? Inspired!
    – wonder if Cherish II saw through Wanton
    – two towns next, huh? I think Tattletale needs to be unleashed on these guys. Clones with kludged-together memories are just begging to be BSODed by a psy-ops talent like her

  20. Screamer seems like she could be quite dangerous as her powers allow her to do similar things as Taylor does with he bugs communication wise.

    I wonder if there might be some synergy effect between her and Shatterbird. At least none of the five specials sounds like they are a Frankensteinian combination of these two.

    • Oh god…

      Shatterbird’s power is a sonic one, and Screamer can mimic voices (is it related to all sounds?)

      That could mean that Screamer could augment Shatterbird’s powers and make it an utter bitch to find her before all glass has been weaponized.

      Now I wonder…are the lenses in Taylor’s Weaver mask glass, plastic, plexiglass, or some composite we’ve yet to learn of?

      • Taylor’s original mask was made with swim goggles. With lenses inside them. Most modern vision corrective glasses are not made with actual glass, though if I remember right, Taylor had to remove the lenses from her goggles. Improve versions of the suit would almost certainly not have included glass lenses, especially now with 9 shatterbirds on the loose.

    • I know, right? When I initially read her, I thought “super-ventriliquism? Isn’t that kind of lackluster?” and realized that when she spoke to Taylor.

  21. It belatedly occurs to me to wonder WTF Breed’s passenger was even *thinking,* whether passengers are ever drunk when they hand out powers, and whether a young idealistic Breed ever applied to the Wards before Jack got to him.

    • Seeing how much PR problems Taylor had with her “control insects” power, I seriously doubt “make xenpomorphs crawl out from corpses” could ever be spinned in a good way by the Protectorate. Besides, Breed was one of the original members back when King was in charge. Jack , who seemed to be nothing more than a Replacement Goldfish for Grey Boy at first, probably had nothing to do with him joining the S9.

      • Who can take some corpses
        (who can take some corpses?)

        Sprinkle them with “dew”
        (sprinkle them with dew?)

        Turn their biomass into cute friends like Pikachu
        Protectorate Breed,
        Yes,
        Protectorate Breed.
        Breed can because his love bugs think a corpse’s taste is good.

        Who can take an abattoir?
        (ABBA backup vocals: who can take an abbatoir?)

        Greet it with a sigh
        (Greet it with a sigh)

        Pour in all his bugs to breed some cute new little guys
        Protectorate Breed,
        Yes,
        Protectorate Breed.

        He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’re alive or dead and if you’re dead your corpse he’ll take
        (YAY!)

        Who can take tomorrow?
        (Who can take tomorrow?)
        Dip it in a dream
        (Dip it in a dream)
        Separate the sorrow and collect up—well, it’s Breed!
        Protectorate Breed,
        Yes,
        Protectorate Breed.

        **
        That’d be my marketing strategy anyway. Obviously it would work best if you could get him and Gene Wilder to do a commercial.

          • I hummed that to an old My Little Pony commercial theme…

            Who’s a silly pony?
            Who’s a silly pony?
            Who’s a silly pony?
            Who’s a silly pony?
            Who’s a silly pony?
            Apple Jack

            >.>

            • I think it’s actually supposed to be The Candy Man, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and the bridge is Santa Clause is Coming to Town.

              Definitely two of the creepier children’s songs ever written, already.

            • You’re a scary fucker!
              Who is?
              You is, you, Jack Slash!

              Murdering children and
              wiping out cities,
              Who is?
              You is, you, Jack Slash!

              Yes, it’s the “My Little S9: Slaughter is Magic” song compilation! Listen to classic tunes like “The Art of Distress,” “Winter’s Rap Sheet,” “Raze this Barn,” and of course, “The Glasgow Smile Song”. No need to order – Screamer will be piping it directly into your skull, whether you like it or not!

              • To blatantly steal from Robot Chicken:

                My Little Pony: Apocalypse Pony
                Punishment for all our sins.

    • Worse, just how does Breed create these things? I am thinking inside his/her body, and then they exit looking for other food because Breed is their creator and immune to their paralytic venom. Another nasty possibility: ovipositor.

  22. With there being several more Winters around, and with the example of Weaver’s flight device having bug-operable controls, I’m wondering how long it’s going to be before she asks Dragon to whip her up a couple well-insulated artificial mice with cameras and whatnot, which could be used for recon in cold areas. The bugs inside the mechamouse controlling it wouldn’t be able to use their own senses, but the mouse could lay out a microfine communications cable behind it, or operate wirelessly if it has to.

    If that works well, the next step might be a mechakitty with 5 kilos of C4 inside? Find Jack, rub up against his leg, and *boom*. Nice Kitty. Or maybe just five kilos of hornets.

    Weaver’s ability to fine control her insects to do fine control once removed is, quite frankly, sobering. She can guide spiders to create ropes of spider silk, and then weave the ropes together into a net, and move the net through the air to capture grenades and other flying things. This level of control is mind boggling. If she ever starts to work closely with a tinker, we could see all sorts of mechanical devices controlled by bugs – from C4 cats to recon mice, to dive-bomb sparrows with razor wings. I use those animals as examples, because those animals are generally found just about anywhere humans are found, so they would blend in.

    Lastly, remember a short while back, weaver wished she could control the corpse-eating bug-analogs, despite their eating habits, because they would be great firepower. If she ever thinks about more firepower + her flight pack and puts 1+1 together, we might start seeing actual bug-controlled combat devices, not just cold weather recon, stealth, and assassination devices.

    Really enjoy the series!

    • The s**t Taylor could do with a dedicated cadre of tinkers is mindboggling. Imagine, if you will, the possibilities if Taylor was able to rescue the Toybox, and possibly recruit them to the Wards/Undersiders.

    • I strongly suspect that insulation would do nothing against Winter’s powers. Her ability is ‘slow molecular motion in a given area’ not ‘emanate cold’.

      Incidentally, the fact that her ability is to ‘slow’ both atoms and *emotions* confirms that passenger-granted powers give not one fig for the laws of reality as we understand them…

  23. I keep thinking about the End-of-the-World scenario and this idea won’t stay down, maybe it’s triggered by the Endbringers’ Creator when Jack & the S274+/- make front page news and the Endbringers barely get a mention in the Business Section?

    • I’m fairly certain that Endbringer attacks have become passé enough that they’ve gotten bumped off the headline by now. Khonsu and T&B might have generated some interest, when they were new, but the S9*9 are frankly a more novel threat. That plus Weaver’s involvement, plus the fact that Jack’s targeted one person as an opponent? There’s a giant scoop there.

  24. Excellent fight! Good to see a glimpse of some of our old friends from the Bay. I’m hoping for a killer ‘Oh shit’ moment from one of them. Miss Militia, Clock, Vista, Kid? Win. One of them, standing near Weaver when she does something awesome, and saying something like “Holy shit!!! I’m SO glad you didn’t kill me back in the day.”.

  25. From the scene where she is packing up her ‘office’, I got the impression that she was multi tasking on a truly awesome level. The picture I got was of several different reports spread out over the area, all in both heavy print and braille. As she was reading each of these reports with her bugs, she was using a caterpillar to manipulate some kind of flower petal as a brush to take notes on what she was thinking about. (Be it the other reports she was bug reading, general strategy notes or questions for Cauldron.) She was also using her bugs to monitor the situation in town and the fire bath to clean it all up. I’m sure she was at least peripherally aware of everything else in her range. To top it all off, she was also using her eyes to read a book! (Mystery? Romance? Sun Tzu? Inquiring minds….)
    I wonder how much she could do if Dragon could make it so she can actually ‘see’ screens with her bugs and designed bug interfaces to computers for her. Imagine Weaver running a few hundred computers at the same time. Taking in and processing all of that info.

  26. Taylor essentially praying to her passenger was neat. Cause in a sense that’s what passengers are. Tiny little personal gods. The more you let them into your life, the more you “worship” them (i.e. act in accordance with the abilities they give you) the more powerful they seem to become.

    Only it’s probably not them that’s becoming “more powerful”. they’re already cosmic scale. It seems its more a matter that they can manifest more fully the more in tune you are with them. And that brings benefits and liabilities beyond the simple “powers” that they grant.

    • Like in Bonesaw’s interlude, it’s a question of Breadth (“How much of your personality is your passenger?”) and Depth (“How much of your remaining personality is your passenger willing to work with?”). Someone like Rachel probably has a pretty broad passenger, if not at the trigger then definitely getting broader during the period of isolation she went through (judging from the “thinks like a dog” psychology she has going on). A deeper passenger would probably be those that had the good smell to Echidna, back in the day; she mentioned Taylor, Grue, and Eidolon (despite the fact that Eidolon’s a cauldron cape).

    • I was sort of reminded of Conan praying to Crom by her attitude in her plea for assistance:

      Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

      • Heh, Weaver would leave Conan crying like a baby.

        Though, Bitch is kinda looking like the Worm-Conan. She could kick his ass too.

        • If Conan desired to attack her. I could see Weaver as a Cimmerian warlord that forces Conan’s hand one way or another when they meet, and they end up as allies at the end of the episode.

  27. Been trying to think through the scenario leading up to the end of the world, and how the story is progressing. I am beginning to think that the longer Jack survives, the more likely it is that he’s going to be very impressed by Weaver, and try to recruit her. Weaver has plenty of handles to use against her to torture her mind.

    So the End of the world might be Jack inviting Weaver to the Slaughterhouse 9 after she manages to orchestrate killing off all but 8 of the current slaughterhouse crew. He already knows about the precog, and can use that against her too.

    “So, Weaver, If you don’t join the Slaughterhouse 9, Bonesaw here will release this nice new virus she’s been working on. Of course you have to survive our testing, but you have the whole world riding on your shoulders now. Join us, or the world dies. Bonesaw decided it was too much trouble to just kill humans, she’s decided to just kill 99% of everything. We’ll let the world governments know our plans, of course, because it would be no fun if everyone actually dies because nobody prepared properly for it. Oh, and yes, we made sure to make arrangements to infect the alternate Earth gates too.”

    However this might backfire on Jack, because the Slaughterhouse 9 testing might put Weaver into another trigger event, which could also be the end of the world if Weaver is sufficiently deranged. Imagine Weaver with global level insect control while she’s being tortured… Every human on Earth simultaneously being attacked by insects trying to protect Weaver.

    If I’m not mistaken, Jack staying alive is a strong trigger for the end of the world, but it’s never been said how it will actually happen…

    • I would assume Dinah would have let someone know at some point that it was Taylor that would end the world. Or be manipulating Taylor so that she wouldn’t break. Also Jack really doesn’t want to be relying too much on Bonesaw anymore.

      • Hrm, you have noticed that the Hero community has given Weaver a whole LOT of freedom of action and responsibility? She is a very capable cape, but she’s also a killer. They might be letting her do these things and not putting her in the birdcage because Dinah is telling them that they must let her counter the Slaughterhouse 9.

        275 Slaughterhouse 9 members might have a nearly 100% chance of killing almost the entire world population without Weaver to coordinate efforts against them, due to their own efforts, and to their impact on the Endbringer defenses. An insane Weaver caught by Jack and forced into a worldwide power-level trigger event would not be able to kill anyone living in an environment too cold for insects to be active in sufficient numbers to kill humans.

        • An insane Weaver caught by Jack and forced into a worldwide power-level trigger event would not be able to kill anyone living in an environment too cold for insects to be active in sufficient numbers to kill humans.

          I think any environment warm enough for humans to live is warm enough for some insects … and Taylor is capable of engineering a population explosion among any insect population she has access to. Assuming she was allowed to use her head, I don’t see any way to escape a murderous Taylor with planet-spanning range other than killing her.

          • I’m not imagining Weaver actually trying to intentionally end the world that way.

            I’m imagining her gaining worldwide range due to a trigger event, and then losing control of her bugs around the world while still in the midst of that same trigger event atrocity being forced upon her. We’ve seen her bugs acting semi-autonomously on several occasions. They DO react to her subconsciously, apparently.

  28. Now for some more of the members of the Saviourhouse 9.
    Fireworks- Making explosions more festive every day.
    Blood Knight- 90’s Anti Hero, who gets stronger from the blood of the evil.
    Cold Spell- 90’s anti herorine. If she can’t put you on ice with her power she’ll put you on ice with bullets.
    Shoutout- Helping keep everyone in touch and uses her voice for nonlethal takedowns.
    Adore- She knows what your feeling, and hopes she can change that.
    Giggles- A superspeedster who decided that he would strike terror into the hearts of criminals. So he patterned himself after the most terrifiying of all earths creatures. The Clown.
    Bugger- You don’t want him using his power on you. He doesn’t want to use his power on you. Just surrender so everyone is happy.

    • I’m still waiting for Rickroller, who has the ability to manifest a body capable of physically interacting with the world from any internet connected device.

      Trigger event = severe spinal injury, rendering him incapable of any voluntary actions, while not interfering with his mental capacity at all. Trapped in his own skull, though with all the tinkers and healers in the world, someone can probably get him mobile again, even if not perfectly.

  29. Heh another thought on what sort of tinker toys Weaver might get to make her more potent in a fight.

    Actually this is simple enough tech that it’s almost off the shelf for today’s technology. No need for a tinker here.

    Her bugs can carry aloft some fairly substantial mass, so requisition a few armor piercing ammo rounds, and attach battery operated smart fins to them. Use a pressure trigger activate their powder charge on contact.

    Other bugs would carry a tagging laser, and hide it on a building somewhere. This might have to be tinker tech to allow it to be remote controlled by Weaver so she could guide the shell in that her bugs carried into the air. Such things exist today but remote operated devices are pretty crude and not terribly sneaky, and capes look for tinker toys like that when they are fighting. But they might not look for large caliber rifle shells with smart guidance coming in at terminal velocity when fighting Weaver :)

    Actually… She could use her glider to carry her own weight in ordinance, if desired. Her bugs could carry smaller shells though, large rifle rounds, and a bit bigger, since they have demonstrated the ability to catch canister grenades.

  30. If Bonesaw had gotten hold of a sample of Taylor’a blood, enough to clone her and then alter her memories enough to make the clone a Slaughterhouse Nine member.. things would get worse. This is the wormverse, things can always get worse.

    • Would a clone be as clever as the real Taylor, though? That’s her strength, the power to command bugs just isn’t a top of the line power on its own.

      A Panacea clone, say, would be considerably scarier.

  31. I’m curious as to whether or not Brockton Bay is actually a transposition of Boston and Brockton?

    The shape of Brockton Bay roughly matches that of the Boston Bay, and there is a Brockton not far South of Boston in the real world.

    Just as a side note – Weaver is *real* good with bugs if she can get fire ants of either type that far North :)

    • I would guess further south, it’s supposed to have a temperate climate and I doubt Boston’s geographical environs would do.

      • The bulk of the story (in Brockton Bay at least) takes place between April and July; the weather in Boston is usually pretty temperate by then, and it only snows very rarely in April. Summers are typically extremely humid, and feel a lot hotter than someone from further South might expect. In addition, Connecticut, Rhode Island, the South Shore of Massachusetts, and the Cape usually experience milder winters in general with less frequent severe storms (often with cold rain instead of snow) than Boston and other points West and North.

        I’m not sure how canon the map of BB in the gallery is, or what direction North is, but if you look at the streets in general they look pretty much like a tangled, compact mess. It’s reminiscent of a New England city, as opposed to the more orderly grid layouts you see in some other places in America. It also doesn’t seem all that big geographically (I remember people getting around the city pretty fast even without wheels a lot of the time, or on Rachel’s dogs), which is another indicator of a Northeastern city.

        I’d guess it’s on the east coast of Rhode Island somewhere, based on the map and general information we have. That coastline is pretty messy already anyways, you could sneak a nice big bay in there without it looking too weird.

        • I can’t imagine Brockton Bay being all that big either, considering how the Undersiders were able to manage their territories while still being able to regularily meet up. It might be interesting if we could get some dry census data obnoxiously dumped into the middle of a chapter.

          You think Taylor has some weird North Eastern dialect going on? I fear if I try to read the story in a Boston accent my mind would snap in half.

    • Boston has been confirmed as a separate town in the Wormverse. Several clues put Brockton Bay as a substitute for Plymouth Bay, even though the actual bay and city shapes don’t match.

  32. Doormaker can destroy the world easily so you better hope he/she/it does not go insane and opens a doorway deep into the sun.

    Say hello to ten thousand tons of hydrogen under fusion process through the yard-wide door per second. Time for total planetary destruction: 20 seconds. Time for extinction-level-event of 95% of the population: 1 second.

    I wonder why Cauldron does not use Doormaker like this – with much tinier gateways to limit the destruction on specific targets.

    • Because Doormaker responds to audible cues: “Door me” et al. There’d need to be a good setup in place for it to work like that. Also, Doormaker has never shown any indication of linking between any two non-Cauldron HQ universes. It’s always been Earth Bet to Cauldron HQ, Case 53-grab zone du jour to Cauldron HQ, Number Man’s window to Cauldron HQ. We’ve never seen, for instance, Earth Bet to Earth Aleph via Doormaker portal.

    • From the descriptions I figured there was some sort of buffer in portals between the stuff on one side and the stuff on the other. I’d guess you’d only be roasted by the sun when you stepped through to the other side.

    • I would imagine that the anchor point for the portal can’t be far from Doormaker, otherwise I imagine that Cauldron would have dumped at least 1 of the Endbringers (Leviathan) into the sun at this point. I imagine trying to do the same with Behemoth would be a very, very bad idea. There’s also the matter of the portals being targeted by someone else who can actually perceive these things. I would think that having them look directly into the surface of the sun would not be healthy for them.

  33. “No dying,” I said, as everyone started moving.

    “No dying,” others echoed me. The voices of the Undersiders and the Chicago Wards were loudest among them.

    Oh why doth thou tempteth fate?

  34. I wonder why I got the impression during the interlude that Crimson was a woman. Maybe it’s just my homonormative bias showing.

    • Thanks for the comments you left as you made your way through, God.

      Whilst you’re feeling the warm afterglow (or icy cold panic, depending on your inclination/response to the work), maybe you’d consider reviewing the story on Webfictionguide? ;)

      Nah, seriously, no pressure. But if you did enjoy thus far, a recommendation to friends would be fantastic.

    • Holy shit and youdammit. Nice to see you survived Nietsche. I hear it was Lucy who it him up to it.

      Now that you’re done with the story, God, and sitting here in the comments, it’s time. That’s right, it’s time to play, God.

      First off, I have a request. I would like you to roll a joint so large that even you couldn’t smoke it all. Ok, moving on from that part of all this, it’s time to welcome you to the Pit of Comments! Insert sadistic laughter here. Hey, you think you can pull out Marquis De Sade for that one? I’d like to stick with the original.

      So here in the comments, we have a good thing going. Jokes, puns, all that stuff, even the occasional fanfic or debate. I know you’re a big fan of debates. We’re a regular Council of Nicea here, let me tell you. We also like to expand on the story in our own special way: by making things up and wondering if they’re true, like the possibility that the Endbringers are Cthulhu’s Mr. Potato Heads in a twisted game of H.P. Lovecraft’s Toy Story. It would explain the lack of nipples on Simurgh and the lack of dongs on the male-ish Endbringers. With Miss Militia as Woody and Armsmaster/Defiant as Buzz Lightyear, the readers are so awed that they want this story going on to infinity and beyond.

      So that’s some stuff you can do while you wait. Join us here, in the comments, after every update for an exciting and fun time. We’re like the story’s afterparty, but with less Hennesy. I’m more of a White Russian guy myself anyway.

      The dude abides, God, and welcome to the comments section.

  35. Most of my speculation on Worm has been way off target, but the part of the fun is guessing (although I would like to be right eventually). Therefore, my latest attempt is a guess as to who the Endbringer’s creator is:

    Danny Hebert is the Endbringer’s Master (insert WTF sound here, but read on)
    • When Grue has his second trigger in 13-9, Taylor sees one of the superentities looking at a teenage man. Danny was not identified directly but every bit of description matches Danny as a teenager. This does not guarantee that the superentity interacted with Danny, but it is strong evidence.
    • Every person in Worm who is known to have interacted with a superentity or part of one is a parahuman. If the superentity did interact with Danny, why isn’t he a parahuman, or, more precisely, why isn’t he displaying parahuman powers?
    • In 13-9, Bonesaw confirmed that parahumans could be separated from conscious use of their powers. Several other hints from that chapter and Bonesaw’s Interlude indicate that people without the brain structures of parahumans (Corona Pollentia) can still actually be parahumans, but they would have no knowledge or control over their powers: “And the other reason you can’t just carve out the Corona? If you do, the powers still work on their own. The person just can’t control them. It becomes instinctive, instead.” So, it is possible that Danny could be a parahuman without conscious access to his powers, and it is a lesser possibility that he has no identifying physical characteristics (brain structures).
    • Lack of knowledge or conscious control of his powers would explain a large amount of puzzling evidence about the Endbringers:
    o Why haven’t some of the top Thinkers and other powers discovered the Endbringer’s creator? Because someone who did not know they were the creator would evade precognition, clairvoyance, kinesics, and mind/emotion reading.
    o Why are the Endbringers so powerful compared to other parahuman abilities? Because the Passenger is unrestrained by human control or human limitations and is therefore able to use its full abilities.
    o Why are the Endbringer’s tissues all crystalline? Because the Passenger was unconstrained and therefore used the construction most familiar to it. All visions of the superentities, and by implication, the Passengers, show them as crystalline beings. The layered construction of Endbringers is also reminiscent of some of the descriptions of the superenties (growing by shedding outer layers).
    o Why do the Endbringers act the way they do? The Endbringer attack patterns match individuals who are heavily influenced by their Passenger. That is, they are combative, retributive, ignore all rules except their own (but follow their own almost compulsively), and they escalate when blocked or opposed. Normally, this would happen in a parahuman who was well-integrated with their Passenger, but it would also happen if the Passenger was completely unrestrained.
    • The timeline fits generally, but not specifically. The Endbringer’s creator would be a person who was alive for every time they first appeared, and first generation parahumans generally triggered in their teens. Danny was alive for all Endbringer reveals and if Danny triggered in his teens, it would fit with Behemoth’s first appearance. However, further creation of Endbringers does not match other events in Danny’s life. Specifically, you would think his wife’s death would trigger an Endbringer, but his wife died in 2007 and that does not correspond to Endbringer appearances (1992, 1996, 2002, and two in 2012). Perhaps they match the times that Danny succumbed to his rage?
    • Powers run in families. Danny as a strong Master would fit with Taylor as a strong Master. Danny being able to use his power unconsciously would fit with Taylor being able to use her power even when Bonesaw attempted to block Taylor’s conscious control over her power in 13-9.
    • This fits in well with Cauldron’s contention that “The Endbringers are a puzzle unto themselves, independent of every other major variable.”
    • From a story-level analysis, the Endbringer’s creator should be a character who is already known, and for maximum pathos, should be at least a somewhat sympathetic character. Having the main protagonist’s father be the creator of some of the great horrors of the world would also fit with the Crapsack World theme (no offense intended Wildbow – I really like your writing).

    There are, of course, problems and some counter-evidence to all of the above, but it is an interesting hypothesis.

    If correct, this opens up a whole raft of other speculations about the superenties’ overall purpose. And, could Kevin Norton be Scion’s unconscious creator/Master like Danny is to the Endbringers? Is the end of the world due to the creation of multiple avatars of paramount ability like Scion and the Endbringers?

  36. Huh. I had never quite caught on to the similarity between Kaiser’s power and Golem’s.

    In other notes: As some have asked previously, wasn’t Clockblocker 17 or so back when Worm started, or close enough to it that he took over after…was it right after the Leviathan attack? Regardless, how old was he if he’s still with the Wards? Or do members of the Protectorate always run the Wards and that never sunk in?

  37. If nuking lowers the odds of world end in two years by more than 40% (from 93% to 93%-60%*(100%-28%)) then they really should be nuking…

    Why didn’t Weaver kill Cherish and Screamer immediately when she attacked them? Surely there’s a kill order on the 9 clones?

  38. Is a large village with a population of 1,300 really referred to as a ‘city’ in US vernacular? From the UK (with places with populations in the hundreds of thousands that still do not have city status), it sounds downright bizarre.

    Though, of course, cities are not technically population-based here: we do have the City of London with its official population of around 7,000 people, and St Asaph and St Davids, two Welsh cities with a combined population slightly over 5,000, but those are both bizarre edge cases — in the latter case because Wales wanted more cities recently in keeping with its newly partly-devolved status, and rather than give an actual urban area the designation they hunted for some major cathedrals in tiny villages of ancient significance to make it clear that this was something central government was *choosing* to do so they could bestow city status on the most ridiculous hamlets they could find. Or something like that. :)

    In general, over here, places that are large or important and places that have major cathedrals and thus were important long ago get called cities, nothing else does. I get the impression that in the US absolutely every grouping of more than a dozen houses is a city by default…

    • Yes, for instance my home town of Leyland ( tow by three mile area or thereabouts) has a population of 40,000 and its close neighbour Chorley has 100,000. Both are definitely towns. The nearest city to them (Preston) has 122,000 but is regionally important

  39. “The chess ones we knew off by heart, because they were the first ones we’d practiced.”

    I’m fairly certain “know *off* by heart” is a Britishism, and American use would just say “know by heart”.

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