Sting 26.3

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

“Hey, Weaver?”

I had to twist around to look at Crucible.  We were in the hallway just outside a set of elevators, windows on one side, doors at either end of the hallway leading into offices.  This was something of a waiting game, as Tecton and Revel got their teams into position to support Golem.

Through countless stakeouts, I’d found a routine.  Cheating on the ‘can’t do anything but sit there’ rule and reading while my bugs saw to everything else was a part of that routine.  I was nestled in between two pillars that sat between clusters of windows, my back against one, one knee propped up, a file in my lap.  My cliff notes on the various members of the Nine.

“I wanted to say thanks,” Crucible said, “Appreciate the invite.  Hundreds of superpowered lunatics, some of the scariest guys around, and that’s not even the scariest part of all of this!  But Chevalier’s all, ‘Weaver specifically asked if you’d help.’  How the hell am I supposed to say no to him?”

“You just say no,” Clockblocker said, before I could respond.  “You’re team leader, I’d even argue it’s your job to say no when the situation calls for it.  More than leading the team, more than strategy or handling double the paperwork or attending the meetings.  You decide what jobs are out of your team’s depth and you tell the bosses to go fuck themselves, in the politest terms possible.”

“It’s Chevalier.  Important guy.”

“And when we asked you if you were okay with me taking command, that was your opportunity to say no.  His rank doesn’t matter.  He’d probably respect you more if you told him your team wasn’t prepared and then stuck to your guns.”

You didn’t tell anyone to go fuck themselves,” Crucible said.

“No.  And I agreed to help out with this because this is important.  My old teammates have been preparing for this in their own time, and-”

“-And you’ve got a thing for Weaver,” the Ward I hadn’t yet met said.  It was a girl, flanked by five shadowy silhouettes of herself, who were sitting around her on the other side of the hallway.  I’d read up on her, and I knew her as Toggle.  The ‘baby’ of the team, it seemed, at fourteen.  She held what looked like a mace, but it, along with the layered body armor she wore, had circles of light glowing in shifting colors.

There was a long, awkward silence.  I glanced at Clockblocker, but he appeared unfazed.  Not that I could really tell.  His armor still had animated clock faces digitally displayed on the open spaces, and there was one in the middle of his face.  Was the varying speed and position of the hands supposed to indicate something, or was I reading too much into it?

“That was a joke,” Toggle said.

“I’m not dignifying it with a response,” Clockblocker said.

“Clocksie’s sweet on Weaver,” Imp said.  “Aww.”

Clocksie,” Clockblocker said, deadpan, “Has been the target of a lot of criticism, because he was in charge of the Wards at the time a lot of stuff went down.  Some dingbats online speculated that I had a thing for Weaver, and it took off.  The people online like to find stuff that fills in blanks, and there were a hell of a lot of blanks around the whole thing with Weaver defecting, and our pseudo-truce with the Undersiders.”

“They latched onto the idea,” I said.

“Yep.”

“Sorry,” I told him.

“Not your fault, not exactly.  The city’s pretty peaceful, pretty safe, and nobody even hints about why, but people know.  My bosses know why, and that means my career might never recover.  The only thing keeping things remotely interesting is the challenge of trying to get to any new bad guys before the Undersiders do, to enforce real justice instead of vigilante scare tactics-”

“We’re awesomely good at the scare tactics though,” Imp cut in.

Clockblocker ignored her.  “-Except we barely even get to do that, because Tattletale’s always a few steps ahead.  Then, to top it all off, I hear about the Weaver-Clockblocker thing every single day, to the point that it’s sad.  Salt in a wound.”

Silence lingered.

“Jesus, Clock,” Vista said, after that.  “Pent up much?”

“Fuck, you’re right.  I’m stressed, ignore me,” Clockblocker said.  “Like Crucible said, it’s a lot to manage.  Sorry.”

“I just wanted to make a funny,” Toggle said.

“Don’t worry.  Clockblocker used to be the funny one,” Vista said.  “Now he’s the asshole grown up that tears the funny kid to shreds.”

Clockblocker didn’t respond to that.  Instead, he shifted the device he’d been wearing on his back against the wall and sat down between the elevators.

Waiting on my lonesome was easier.

My bugs crawled all around the exterior of our target.  The buildings in this town were smallish, the tallest being five stories, and this contingent of the Nine had chosen it as their destination.

Not a single gap.  They’d barely had any time, but they had hermetically sealed the structure, containing themselves and every single resident within.  The windows and doors had been sprayed with something red that trickled out of cracks only to harden.  My bugs explored cracks in the foundation, and found that same vaguely tacky, amber-like barrier blocking the openings where they should have been able to enter the building.

Doors, windows, cracks, vents, all protected.

I could estimate seven apartments per floor.  One on the ground floor, for the building manager.  Assuming they weren’t bachelor apartments, that suggested fifty-five to sixty people in total, trapped within, along with hostages and an unknown number and composition of the Nine.

“I have to ask,” I said, not looking in Clockblocker’s direction, “This end of the world thing.  The way you talk about the future, life beyond this supposed apocalypse event.  Can you do that because you’re optimistic,  or because you don’t think it’ll happen?”

“I do it because I have to.  You can’t stay sane, thinking it’s all going to end soon.  There has to be something beyond it.  If you get to that point and then we figure out a way to resolve it, then what happens after that?  You need a real life.”

“If you get to that point and you’ve plotted out the rest of your life, and we lose, then aren’t you going to be devastated?” I asked.

“I’m good at handling devastation,” Clockblocker said.  “Don’t worry about me.”

I shrugged.

I can’t really believe it,” Crucible said.  “World ending situation?”

“Oh, I believe it,” Clockblocker said.  “The crazy powers we get?  One of them’s bound to break something somehow.”

“The wrong power in the wrong hands,” Kid Win said.  He’d reconfigured the outside of his suit so the armored upper body folded down into a pair of gauntlets, allowing him to walk forward like a gorilla, the two halves acting as massive fingerless gauntlets.  It wasn’t pretty, and it left his head and upper body more exposed, but it let him maneuver inside.  He seemed to muse a second, then agreed, “Yeah.”

Interesting to see the divide, I thought.  The veteran members vs. the newer ones.

“See, I don’t think it’s the wrong power in the wrong hands,” Clockblocker said.  “I think it’s a joke.  Humanity destroys itself, and all these powers, they just open the door to let it happen.  It’s not going to be some villain overlord or even a monster like Jack who does it.   I’m more liable to believe the world ends because of some deluded, fat, pimply faced punk kid that lives off pizza and mountain dew.  There’s no damn point to it, but sometimes I look at the idiots, the selfish assholes and the maniacs that fill this world and I think that’s all we deserve.”

“I like your line of thinking,” Imp said.  “The world gets destroyed by some loser who jacks off twelve times a day to the freakiest, nastiest parahumans.”

“Thank you,” Clockblocker said.  “For so eloquently demonstrating what I was saying about us deserving it.”

“No problemo,” Imp said.

“That doesn’t exist, does it?”  Toggle asked.  “Case fifty-three porn?”

“Everything exists,” Kid Win said.

“Um, it just hit me.  When you were saying we deserve it, were you talking about pimple-face the world destroying freak-fetishist or were you talking about me?”

I shut my eyes and tuned out the conversation.  It was good that they were talking, staying calm, more or less getting along.

Grue and Rachel arrived from the stairwell.

“Anything?” Imp asked.

“No,” Grue said.

“The Red Hands leave already?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Grue said.  “Listen, about all that, it’s-”

I raised my hand to stop him.  “Not important.  Not a big deal.  I was only going to ask if maybe Crucible or Toggle could be taken along.  It’s a way out, now that things are getting heavier.”

“No.  It’s fine, I’ll stay,” Crucible said.

“Ditto.”

I nodded, then looked at Grue, shrugging.  “That’s all.”

“We’re okay?”

“Copacetic,” I said, turning my attention back to the file.  Skinslip.

I reread the page four times before I was sufficiently distracted and able to register what I was reading.

Rachel directed her dogs to watch the stairwell, then crossed to the middle of the hallway to me.  She sat with her back to the same pillar I had my back to, her shoulder pressing against mine, squishing me a little bit further into the crevice I’d settled in.  Not uncomfortable.  Or it was, but the body contact was comforting enough that it didn’t bother me.  It was reassuring without being in my face or distracting me from my study of the folder.

All stuff I’d read backwards and forwards, but I couldn’t focus on a book, and refreshers could only help.

I turned the page.  Night Hag.

“How’s life on the dark side?” Kid Win asked.

I turned my head.  He was talking to Foil, who sat at the furthest point from the stairwell.

“More wholesome than you’d think,” Foil said.  “Playing into every stereotype ever, moving in before we’d even been on a date, but it’s nice.”

“Nice?” Clockblocker said.  “Not what I expected.  Not that I’m not happy for you, but-”

She shifted position, resting her head on Parian’s shoulder.  “It’s… free.  Pleasant.  The times between the fights with the brain-shatteringly terrifying god-monsters, anyways.  Cooking breakfast, having breakfast cooked for you, going on walks with the dogs, maybe a bit of bodyguard duty while Parian handles a meeting, whatev, picnic for lunch, patrol the territory, do stuff for my University course, whoever didn’t cook breakfast makes dinner…”

“They’re like a newlywed couple!  It’s so sweet,” Imp said.  “Of course, they’re skipping the-”

“No,” Foil said.  “We don’t need to go into any detail about my personal life with Parian.”

“But I was just going to say-”

“No,” Foil said again.

“-they’ve got crazy good interior design, what with Parian and all,” Imp finished.  She made a smug little sound, like she was very pleased with herself.

Foil flicked a dart at Imp.  It sank into the wall just to the left of Imp’s head.

Vista leaned back, smiling, “This is the second time in four minutes where she’s alluded to rude stuff.  Feeling lonely, Imp?”

“I’m offended!  Unfair accusations!”

“Now I’m going to start wondering what someone with pseudo-invisibility powers gets up to in her alone time,” Kid Win said.

“She’s gone there,” Grue said.  I looked at him, and saw he was glancing my way.

“Lies and slander!”

“Wait,” Clockblocker said.  “I thought I heard something at some point about you being her…”

He trailed off.

“Hm?” Grue asked.

“Train of thought derailed.  What were we talking about?”

It was a puzzling change in the ambient tone, and I almost gave the word for people to switch to high alert.

I was distracted by the vibration of my phone.

A quick check and I verified that it was what we’d been waiting for.

Golem engaging. 3x Burnscar, 3x Shatterbird, 2x Winter, 1x Skinslip, 1x Psychosoma identified.

You’re clear to go.

“We’re moving,” I said, hopping to my feet.

Just like that, the mood shifted.  Everyone was standing, picking up the equipment they’d put down.  The joking atmosphere was gone, the… not peace, but the stillness, it was broken.  Nerves were suddenly on edge, the opportunity to joke and comment gone.

“Scouting with the bugs didn’t turn up anything,” I said.  “Place is sealed.  Vista, we’ll be counting on you to give us an in.”

She nodded.

“We’re going in blind.  We suspect there’s at least two Mannequins, but that’s it.  Mannequin specializes in indirect attacks.  Catching people off guard, while being durable and flexible enough that he can escape from any situation that doesn’t go his way.  I hope the rest of you have read up on the other members of the Nine, past and present.”

There were nods all around.

“Parian, Foil, Kid Win, you’re staying here.  Set up, keep an eye out and an ear out.”

“Will do,” Parian said.  She was already inflating a stuffed scorpion.  Cloth bound around one of Foil’s bolts to help form a tail.

“Grue,” I said.  “Hit the building, inside and out, but leave the inside clear.  With luck, we can shut off their communications.  With more luck, you can get a bead on what powers we’re dealing with.”

He nodded.

With that, we were down the stairs and out the front door.

A joint attack maximized the chaos and minimized the chance of reinforcements.  Golem was attacking the other location.  Ten members of the Nine there.  Ten here?

If so, that was a big step up from the last fight.  From four or five to twenty.

Grue used his power, surrounding the area.  Slowly but surely, the area was consumed in darkness.  Not just Grue’s power, but the fact that the massive cloud of darkness was blocking out the ambient light.  Though he kept the smoke out of the center of the area, it grew darker with every passing second.

I joined the Brockton Bay Wards as they switched on flashlights, both handheld and gun-mounted ones.  Each of us flicked on the smaller lights that were part of our masks or helmets.  The latter were feeble at best, but it was still light.  Mine came from smaller lenses that sat around the larger ones that covered my eyes.  They filtered out as a faint blue.  The pattern and color would hopefully make me more identifiable.

“It’s kind of dumb that we don’t have those things,” Imp commented.

“Perk of being a hero,” Clockblocker said.  He handed her a spare flashlight.

I gave one to Rachel, but she didn’t turn it on.  Instead, she slid the loop over her wrist, hopping onto her dog’s back.

The walls of darkness that surrounded the structure connected at the very top, and we were plunged into the deep sort of darkness one might expect from being a thousand feet underground.  The headlamps and flashlights were the only real light, making it look almost as if the exposed pavement, sidewalk and the foot of the building were the only things that remained in the world.

Vista used her power as we got closer.  I could see a depression appearing in the wall, as if a giant, invisible finger were pressing into it.

A hole appeared, and a small explosion tore out through the space, opening the hole wider.  We staggered, and some of our smaller members were even thrown to the ground.

Pale mist cleared slowly as we got to our feet.  My bugs scanned the area, searching for threats who might have been alerted to our presence.

Nothing.  Apparently they didn’t want to engage.  They were happy hunkering down, staying eerily quiet.

And the explosion… there was a byproduct.  Or maybe it was the source.  A small glacier had formed around the hole, jagged, as if water had spewed forth and immediately frozen.

“The hell?”  Clockblocker muttered.

Good thing it wasn’t Tecton knocking down the wall, I thought.

Vista tried again, higher up, on the fourth story, off to the far side.

We were braced for the detonation this time.  I kept bugs close to get a sense of what was going on.  The moment there was a gap, the air rushed out, cold and wet, and was followed soon after by a crushing manifestation of a small iceberg.

It creaked, a long, drawn out sound, then cracked abruptly.  The iceberg came free, and the resulting gap was almost instantaneously filled by a third detonation.  A chunk of ice the size of a large car dropped to the street and shattered into a million individual fragments.

Or maybe Tecton would be an asset here.  How the fuck do we break into this?

“Has to be Mannequin,” I said.  “Or Sphere.  Used to specialize in closed systems.  It makes sense, on a level, but this isn’t in Mannequin’s usual repertoire.  Maybe they stole it from… what was the name?  Toybox tinker, Gelid?  Glace, that’s it.”

“A cloned tinker is the smallest threat,” Clockblocker said.  “Takes them time to build, and if you figure Jack didn’t exactly save anything of his, and… well, I don’t even know how they replaced memories, but there’s no way he’s just going to pick up where he left off.”

“Mannequin in a different vein,” I said.  “Same psychosis, different direction taken?”

“Looks like, doesn’t it?”

I frowned.

“We could wait for the ice to melt,” Imp suggested.  “Warm out.”

“Would take forever,” Vista said.

“And it would only get replaced, probably,” Clockblocker said.

“Go big?” I suggested.  “Whatever’s producing the ice, there’s got to be a limit in terms of materials.”

Vista nodded.

This time, rather than a depression, it was a line, running from one corner at the bottom of the building to the opposite corner on the top.

It took ten or fifteen seconds, and then the ice blasted out, barely visible with only our flashlights to illuminate it.

Nothing.  Ground to roof, the ice remained.

“I could do it again,” Vista suggested.

“Faster to get Kid Win to just tear the outside of the building apart,” Clockblocker said.  “Not like they don’t know we’re here, now.”

“I’m thinking,” I said.  “You know that draft of cool air you feel when the automatic doors of a big-name store swing open?”

“Sure,” Clockblocker said.

“It’s designed like that, to use air pressure and air flow and whatever else to keep bugs and debris out.”

“Of course you know that,” Imp said.  “Because of the bugs.”

“I looked into it when I started paying attention to places where there aren’t a lot of bugs, to see why.  There’s sonic countermeasures, and there’s that.”

“Whatever,” Imp said.  “Still pretty random.”

“This is the same thing, except it’s weaponized.  Or made into a defense system, depending on how you want to look at it.  I’d bet most of the building is rigged with some crazy high pressure, as well as whatever devices he’s got that are detonating on exposure to the outside.”

“Okay, with you so far,” Clockblocker said.

“But where are they keeping the hostages?  Option one is that they’ve got them in some sealed area, like they stuck Cherish into, and all of the Nine members in the building are immune to that pressure and cold.  Multiple Mannequins, maybe a Siberian in a sealed case?”

“What’s option two?” Grue asked.

“The inside is safe.  Apartments or offices bordering on exterior walls would be pressurized, but the interior walls, all of the rooms of the building that aren’t rigged, they’d be safe, with hostages and the Nine inside.”

Clockblocker nodded.  “Makes sense, but that’s a lot of speculation.”

“Theory two is a lot easier to prove,” I said.  “We either need to go in through the top, and hope the roof isn’t as protected-”

“-or access the interior without passing into exterior rooms,” Vista said.

Shuffle could have done that, I thought.  Had we sent the wrong teams to the wrong locations?  It had sounded like there was a hell of a lot of offensive power at the other location.

“I’ll try,” Vista said.  “Hold on.”

This was a more refined use of her power.  She drew on the exterior of the building, and created a depression, but the goal this time wasn’t to create a hole.  She extended the depression inward, but she fed enough of the surrounding material into it to keep the resulting walls intact.

It stopped, and she merged it into another wall.  I couldn’t see the wall, but I could sense it with my bugs.  To my eyes, it was a black void, a hole too deep for my bugs to reach.

She paused, then began opening an experimental hole in the far wall.  I pulled my bugs back to make it easier for her.

I could feel the warm air blow past my bugs.  I could smell it using their senses.  An alien sensation, but I noted the scent of blood, the acrid chemical odor of the sealing materials.

“Way’s open,” Vista said.

“It’s messy in there,” I said.  “Be prepared.  Sending bugs in now.  Grue?  Darkness.”

We waited as he pumped the building full of darkness.  My bugs made their way through, scanning the surroundings.

“Murder Rat,” Grue said.  “Three of her.  I can… kind of sense what others are sensing around me, and there’s a glimmer of something that might be a teleportation power.  I don’t trust myself to use it without any ability to sense where I’m going.  Breeds… And… I can’t even get a bead on this guy’s powers.”

Was it?  I could sense figures moving throughout the darkness, but they were swift, and moved in unpredictable directions.  The elevator shaft’s doors had been opened, and they climbed up and through with no difficulty.  There were countless people, hanging from the ceiling by chains, countless pieces of armor, as though Mannequin was trying to reinvent his own gear, and then on the penthouse level…

A man, easily eight feet tall, muscular and broad-shouldered, sitting at a computer chair with one foot propped up on a desk.  His chest was bare, his pants no doubt a normal size, but rendered skintight by his sheer mass, left unzipped.  He was watching something violent on a laptop as he sat there.  The hostages who weren’t strung up with chains were in the room, cowering behind him as a full cluster.  In the midst of them, there was something that looked like a coffin.

“Try using his power?”

“Not sure I want to,” Grue said, “But okay.  Um.”

I felt my powers dim, my range swiftly dropping.  Others stepped away from him in surprise.

“Stop,” I said.

He did.  My powers started to return.

“That’s one.  Jesus, that’s a rush.  The other… I think it’s the sort of power you need the built-in second sense to grasp.”

“That has to be Hatchet Face.  I guess you can use his power nullification,” I said, “That’s something, if we hit a pinch.  I just don’t understand this other power.  Bonesaw’s work?  A hybrid?”

Grue nodded.  “Possible.”

I frowned.  “Not sure how to do this.  If we entered through the top floor, we could access the hostages right away, defeat Hatchet Face.”

“Sounds good,” Clockblocker said.

“Except… what do the rest do?” I asked.  “Some signal goes off, or they realize something’s up… they’re not fighting types, not exactly.  They’re assassins, indirect attackers.  They wouldn’t just converge on us.  I don’t know how they’d react, and it’s not the kind of situation where I can say that in a good way.”

“We need to make a call soon,” Grue said.  “You said the other team is already attacking?”

“I thought this would be simpler,” I said.  “Let’s go in the ground floor.  Clear each floor, block off escape routes, so they can’t just exit the building and go wreak mayhem elsewhere, or notify Jack.  They can fall back to the main room where Hatchet Face is waiting, and-”

“And then we’ve got a hell of a fight on our hands,” Grue said.  “Against enemies with hostages.”

“Cornered rats with hostages,” Vista said.  The little of her face I could see in the flashlight-illuminated gloom was somber.

“Ground floor,” I said.  “If nothing else, it buys us time to think of something before we reach a crisis point.  The alternative… I don’t like the idea that so many of these guys could escape.  They’ve bottled themselves up nicely.  Stay on your guard.”

“Are you staying outside?” Clockblocker asked me.

I shook my head.  “Need to maintain communications against this team, and I don’t like how long it would take to communicate using my bugs, or the chance you could get cut off.  I’ll come with, help watch your backs.”

There were nods all around.

“Go,” I said, before touching my earbud.  “Tattletale.”

There was a pause.

Weaver.  Kind of busy watching over the other team.  Sup?”

“Entering the fray.  Looks like Mannequins, Murder Rats, Breeds and one Hatchet Face hybrid.”

Got itG’luck.”

Rachel had kept the dogs at a smaller size so they could patrol the building we’d been hiding out in.  It meant they were big, but not so big that they filled the entire hallway.  They passed through the corridor Vista had made without trouble.

We filed in, shoulder to shoulder, and I did what I could to track the various villains in the building.  Grue dissipated the darkness as we got close enough to the respective areas to shine our flashlights on the objects in question.

Ominous, being in the midst of this building, almost like being in a submarine.  There was an incredible, devastating pressure all around us.  A leak meant a possible terminal end to all of us.  The darkness was oppressive, and every surface was covered in the red sealant, scabrous, hard, removing the human touch from everything around us.

I was so caught up in it that I nearly missed it.  A figure in the ducts.

“There,” I said, keeping my voice low.  I pointed.

Our side turned to look.

Mannequin, I thought.  I immediately switched mental gears.  Who to protect, what to do tactically.

I hit the briefest stumbling block when the recollection of what Clockblocker had been talking about crossed my mind.  Why does he remember his suit?

The same outfit, with alterations.  The all-concealing, all-protecting shell surrounding his body, even the joints.

Bastard lunged for him, jaws snapping shut, but the Mannequin cartwheeled back and away.

Vista fired her gun, sending a single green spark zipping ahead.  Mannequin swayed to one side, bending his body at impossible angles to avoid the shot.  The bullet hit the wall, then briefly flared, disintegrating a scab-covered vending machine.

Lines exploded forward from Clockblocker’s hands, one from each finger, and the Mannequin staggered back.  The narrow cables flew past him, glanced off his armor to ricochet into the surrounding area, and one or two even managed to wind around his arm or leg.

Clockblocker used his power, freezing the Mannequin in place.

“Vista,” he said, “Another shot!”

She still had her gun leveled at Mannequin.  She aimed-

And the Mannequin let a blade spring from his palm.  It punched through the wall at the very edge of our tunnel.

Ice exploded into the interior of the hallway, consuming the Mannequin entirely.

Vista dropped her gun.

“No escape route,” Crucible said.

“Can’t shoot without putting us at risk,” Vista said.  “I can make another exit, but it’s going to take a minute.”

“Not a focus,” I said.  “Upstairs first.  Hostages first.  We’ll cross that bridge after.”

We had to walk around in a semicircle before we found ourselves by the elevators and stairwells of the lobby.  The stairwell was framed by two bodies, hung by their feet.  No wounds were visible.

I felt with my bugs, and I could sense warmth from them.  Still alive.

Breed.

What were we even supposed to do with his victims?

For the second time in as many minutes, I found myself saying, “We deal with them after.”

We entered the stairwell.  I was aware of a Murder Rat popping in on the ground floor, crawling on hands and feet that each had excessively long blades on the ends.  She moved faster than she should have been able to, considering her means of locomotion, but she had an exceedingly strong, flexible body.  Enhanced senses, too, with her conical nose close to the ground, long greasy hair brushing against the surface.  I almost turned back to deal with her, but she was already gone, moving faster than my bugs could.

Claustrophobic.  I was acutely aware of the dimensions of the space, the fact that only a fraction of the building could actually hold people.  Of that portion of the building interior, the elevator shafts took up an awful lot of space.

Their territory, really.

The stairs hadn’t received as much of the ‘scab’ treatment, but they were still treacherous ground.  The stairs blocked our view of what was above or below us.  I was careful to check for threats every step of the way, watching doors, sweeping over surfaces, all too aware that Mannequin had evaded my bugs before.

Had this one somehow retained the lessons the original had learned?  I could use thread to cover more ground, spread out my bugs.

An air vent at the very top floor was punched free of the wall.  My bugs could sense the long claws, the conical nose.  They started chewing on her, devouring and biting, but her skin was tough, as though most of it was scar tissue.  I could feel the hot air as she rapidly inhaled and exhaled.

“Murder Rat, she’s on the top-”

She pushed herself free of the vent, lunging, drawing her claws together as if she were diving into water from a height.  Her narrow, emaciated body slipped right between the railings of the ascending and descending stairs.

“Incoming!” I shouted.  I pushed the others back as I could reach them.  The only ones in reach were Rachel and Crucible.

She reached the stairwell just above us and kicked off it, changing her orientation and the trajectory of her dive.  She slammed into the largest, most obvious target -Grue- all of her claw-tips drawn together into one long spike.

He was thrown against the walls and the stairs, and his tumble down the stairs just below him drove him into Toggle and Vista, who nearly fell down the stairs along with him.

Murder Rat was still on top of him, shifting the movements of her limbs to remain more or less upright as she perched on his body.  Her head cocked quizzically.  The blades hadn’t penetrated.

She lashed out, striking, only her target was exposed skin, this time.  Vista’s face, Crucible’s jaw.  Bastard’s shoulder.

And then she kicked the wall, drawing her shoulders together as she slid between Clockblocker’s legs, her nose pointed at the gap in the railing.

Clockblocker shifted his foot to make contact with the long blades at her toes, touching her, and froze her in place.

“My face,” Vista whispered.

“Put pressure on it,” Crucible said.  His own face was bleeding badly, but he didn’t even seem to notice.

And, more troubling, the wound was smoking.  Murder Rat’s power.

I turned my attention to Grue.  “Are you hurt?”

“No.  I… shit, how did that not break a rib?”

I shook my head.  Still using the costume I made, and it saved your life.

He accepted my help in standing.  I turned my attention to the Brockton Bay Wards, but there were too many people crowded there for me to jump in and help.  I focused on the other threats.

I could sense the others swarming around us, on stairs above and below.  I drew out lines of silk to stop them from using the same approach this Murder Rat had managed.

For extra measure, I tied thread around the frozen Murder Rat’s throat, tying it to the railing.

She was a composite of two ‘kitchen sink’ capes.  Mouse Protector and Ravager.  Two primary powers that had blended into the one, a dozen other minor powers.  Flexibility, a bizarre kind of enhanced strength, reflexes and agility that had peaks and valleys, and skin as tough as leather.

“Pinch it shut, tape it,” Clockblocker was saying.  “We spray it to keep it closed.  Smells awful.”

“I kind of like the smell,” Vista said, her words muffled by the hand Crucible was pressing to her face.  “Hey, this’ll be a badass scar, huh?”

“Quiet,” Clockblocker said.

I could hear another Murder Rat on the stairs below us.  She let her claw drag on the wall, and the metal on concrete made a sound like five nails on a chalkboard.   Loud, slowly increasing in volume as she approached us.

I set my bugs on her.  She persisted, simply enduring what they were doing to her.  I tried to go for the tiny eyes that were nearly buried behind her altered face and brow, but she shut them, relying on touch and smell to move.  I started to pack bugs around her nose and mouth, and found that slowed her just a fraction.

But the noise continued.  I could see the effect it was having on the others.

A rattling noise from above, joined by another nails-on-blackboard screech.  A Mannequin, using the blades he’d extended from his forearms to scrape the wall and hit the individual bars that held the railing up at chest level, the same bars that the Murder Rat had tried to slip between to make her escape.

“It burns,” Vista said.  Her fingers raised to the mark that ran from the side of her chin to her cheekbone.

“The meds?” Clockblocker asked.

“The smoke.  Stinging my eyes, and feels like it’s fizzing.  I read the file, this is her power, right?  It’s what she does?”

“It’s going to take a long time to heal,” Clockblocker said.  “Pretty much guarantees a scar.  But we stopped the bleeding, which is better than most get.”

The dog growled as another Murder Rat joined the fray, her clawed feet clicking against the steps as she made her descent, the screeches of her claws against the concrete joining what was quickly becoming a cacophony.  The blades at the fingertips of her other hand struck the bars of the railing, which set them to ringing.

Then, from the first and fourth floors, I could sense Breed’s minions make their approach.  In the midst of the banging and screeching, their hissing was almost impossible to make out.

One more Mannequin hung back, letting the little bastards climb on him.  They were smallish.  Smaller than the ones in Killington had been.

I shifted my weight, ready for one of them to make an attack at any moment.  Indirect attacks, surprise attacks, all from directions that were hard to anticipate.

“Three Mannequins and a Rat above us,” I said.  “Two rats below us.  Lots of Breed’s bastard parasites on both sides.”

“I could use my darkness, but it wouldn’t help much,” Grue said.

“They don’t sense things like we do.  My bugs aren’t going to do much either,” I said.  “Laying tripwires and trying to bind them here and there, but these aren’t guys my bugs can sting.”

“So?” Rachel asked.

“We die,” Imp said, with an odd cheerfulness.  “Horribly, gruesomely.  They’ll break or sever our arms and legs and cap them with Mannequin’s stuff so we don’t bleed out, and then they’ll let Breed’s bugs devour us from the inside out.”

“Not helping, Imp,” Grue said.

“I’m only saying what we already know.  Kind of counterproductive, morale-wise, to have us read all the dossiers on these bastards.”

“Yeah.  Just a little,” Crucible agreed.

“Why are we waiting here?” Rachel asked, her voice a little too loud.  “Why don’t we just fucking attack them?”

I didn’t have a good rebuttal to that.

No, that wasn’t right.  I had a dozen rebuttals.  That these guys would take any offensive action on our part as an excuse to slip past us and murder our more vulnerable members.

But I didn’t have a better strategy.  Not one I was eager to use so prematurely.

“Attack,” I said.  “Now.”

Rachel whistled, a long sharp sound that cut through the various noises the Nine’s members had created.  There was only silence as the whistle echoed through the stairwell.

She snapped her fingers and pointed up the stairs, snapped again and pointed down.

The two dogs charged in the alternate direction.

“Wards, go up.  Grue, Imp, Rachel, help cover the rear,” I gave the orders.  “Watch your backs!”

We split into two groups, the Wards leading the charge, while the Undersiders covered the flanks.  I remained in the center, my knife drawn.

A Murder Rat tried to jump down through the gap, as the first had, but got tangled in the threads I’d woven.  She began severing them, one by one, but too slow to slip through.  Vista shot her.

With her death scream, the others shifted tactics, abandoning the offense.  Mannequins advanced to take over the assault.

Another got caught in the threads, but blades sprung out all over his body, the individual components rotating, and the threads were cut.  He dropped down.

Crucible caught him.  A forcefield bubble surrounded the figure, pale blue, then flared a brilliant orange-white.

Mannequin would be fireproof, though.  Even an extreme heat like Crucible could create wouldn’t have an effect.  Still, it meant one was contained.

Yet as soon as we captured one, another slipped the net.  The Murder Rat Clockblocker had frozen animated again, slipping through the railing, only to find herself hanging by her throat, a silk cord binding her.  My bugs could sense blood trickling, but the movement suggested her neck hadn’t snapped.

Two ways she’d escape.  The first was obvious, cutting the cord.

The second?

“Vista, Crucible!” I hollered their names.

They whipped around to face me, saw me holding my knife, ready to drive it forward.

The smoke on Vista’s face flared, blossoming like a smoke grenade that had just gone off, and Murder Rat materialized, one claw already poised with the points facing upward, ready to drive upward into Vista’s unprotected jawline.

I’d seen her gesture as she hung on the rope, in preparation for her materialization.  I had to lunge forward, striking the stairs with the boniest parts of my shins to catch the villain’s wrist with my free hand, pulling her off-balance.

She rolled with it, almost doing a backflip as she threw one leg back to drive a point towards Imp’s scalp.  Grue caught Murder Rat’s leg, and between us, we held her.  I punched the blade into her throat.

Grue heaved her over the railing.  He covered our retreat with darkness, then lunged ahead of the group.  Murder Rat’s powers, it seemed.

Reckless, not like him, but he joined the front lines, where Bastard was giving two Mannequins a hard time.

Clockblocker threw out lines of silk, then froze them.  The dog lunged, and the Mannequins were sandwiched between the dog and the silk.

Blood spurted at the dog’s shoulder where the lines had made contact.  One Mannequin lost an arm, but they both managed to contort and angle themselves so they could slip over, under or between the threads.

Of course it wouldn’t be easy.  Fuck.

“Back!” Rachel called out, before the dog decided to charge through the cables Clockblocker had used.  The dog retreated a pace.  Grue only hopped up, grabbing the railing, managed a grip, and then descended on them.  He grabbed one and flung it towards the wires.

It only contorted, arching its back like a high jumper to slip through a gap.  It got halfway before Bastard closed his jaws on his upper body.

Shit.  My bugs were so useless here.  I couldn’t go after the Breeds until I knew which of the people in the building were them.  The original Breed had died when someone had hit a building with an incendiary missile, and the bugs had stopped appearing.  He wasn’t altered in appearance.  For all respects, he was just an ordinary man.

Besides the whole ‘I create horrifying space bugs’ thing.

The Mannequin that crawled with Breed’s creations leaped down, only to get caught in more strands.  He started to cut his way free, but Vista opened fire.  Her shots glanced off his outer shell.

The creatures, though, fell through the gaps.  More than a handful landed in our midst.

“I thought you said they don’t go after people!”

“They don’t!” I said.  “So long as there’s other food sources available.”  I kicked at one as it advanced on my right foot.

“There are dozens of bodies here!”

Already infected, I realized.  These parasites were seeking fresh hosts, ones not already occupied by anything.

I caught the ones I could with my own bugs, used thread to haul them free, but there were twenty, and their dozens of legs were sharp, capable of punching through flesh and clothing to maintain a grip.  Difficult to dislodge.

One had landed on my shoulder.  I tried to pull it free and failed, stabbed at the legs with my knife, only for it to fold them into its carapace.  It lashed at the lens of my mask with its spike-tipped tail.  It didn’t penetrate, and rolled off my shoulder before I could get a hold on it.

Its legs extended, and it found a grip on my flight pack.  In an instant, it was racing up towards my head again.  It stopped twice, pausing for one second as it transitioned from my flight pack to my costume, then stopping again as it reached the area where the mask and body of my costume overlapped at my neck.  The needle points of its legs were pricking through the fabric of my costume, no doubt as it tried to find a way under.  I got a grip on its tail, but failed to dislodge it.  Too slick.

The others weren’t faring a lot better.  Crucible shouted something incoherent as he used both hands to stop a softball sized creature from advancing on his mouth.  Its millipede-like limbs left bloody tracks in his skin as it made excruciating progress towards the orifice.

It was a critical distraction as we were dealing with highly mobile foes.  A Murder Rat leaped up to find a grip on the underside of the stairs we were standing on, then vaulted herself to one side and up, slipping between the bars and into our midst.

Rachel whistled, hard, and the dog from downstairs came barreling through our group.  We were knocked aside, pushed to the ground by the dog’s mass as it charged Murder Rat.  She leaped up, stepping on the dog’s back, then jumped back down to the lower end of the flight of stairs.

The dog growled and turned around, preparing to charge through us again.

“Hold,” Rachel said.  She had to pull off her jacket to access the trilobite-parasite bastard thing that was crawling on the small of her back, heading south.  Toggle struck it with her baton, and lights flared.

Imp stepped up just in front of Crucible, impaling the bug on his face with her own knife.

Progress, but we were still in the midst of a lot of dangerous enemies.  Elusive ones.  Of the six here, we’d only achieved two kills.

Tattletale here.”

“In an ugly spot,” I said.

“Help’s on the way.

“Help?”

Eidolon.  We tried to keep things quiet, keep everything off the radar, but he caught on.  Legend’s at the other site with Pretender.

“Turn them away!” I hissed the words.

“Um, not about to turn away help,” Imp said.  She was benefiting as Crucible created his superheated forcefield dome to burn away the Breed-parasites too dumb to walk around.

“Turn them away,” I repeated myself.  “All three.”

More of Breed’s bugs were starting to make their way to us, from above and below.  One Murder Rat, one Mannequin, and the guy upstairs we still hadn’t even interacted with.

With his fucked up coffin.

I can’t get in touch with them.  Not like their number is in the phone book.”

“Contact Cauldron?”  I used my swarm to attack the Breed-bugs, but it was slow going.  Twenty bugs with strong mandibles could kill one, but it took a minute, maybe two, before they reached something resembling soft tissue.

No go.”

I could sense him, now, approaching the building cautiously.  He used a laser to pierce the roof.  Ice blossomed out to fill the gap, a glacier in summer.

I began drawing from the bugs outside, forming a swarm-clone.  Eidolon ignored it, firing again.  Multiple blasts, multiple creations of ice.  He swore under his breath.

Rachel’s dog leaped over us to attack the Murder Rat.  She slipped to one side, and a wound at Toggle’s shoulder began blossoming with smoke.

The Murder Rat appeared in our midst.  Clockblocker was quick enough to tag her this time.

It wasn’t the most ideal maneuver.  Grue’s stolen power disappeared in that same instant.  Bad timing – he was in the midst of fighting the Mannequins.  One had been taken out by Bastard, but another had joined the fray as it brought the bugs down.

Grue reached out for another power.  Mannequin’s power wasn’t useful, but the other-.

I felt my power fading, just as the swarm-decoy was gaining enough bulk.

I wasn’t the only one.  Crucible’s forcefield shorted out.  Clockblocker had been in the midst of reaching for Breed-bugs to lock down, and found himself only giving them easier access in climbing up his arms.

The Mannequin staggered back, tripping on the stairs.  Just a little less coordinated.

Still, it wasn’t useful.  One dog was entirely disabled, crawling with countless Breed-parasites.  Only the fact that it clenched its jaw kept them from getting in its mouth, but its nose-

“Cancel it, Grue!” I shouted.

He didn’t.  Instead, he reached down to grab Mannequin by the throat.  He ascended the stairs three at a time, dragging two struggling Mannequins with him.

A bad situation was turning into a nightmare.  My radius shrank to a mere hundred feet, then fifty.

Twenty.

The bugs were crawling on us, Crucible wasn’t the only one struggling to keep them from worming beneath his hands and into his mouth.

Then he was gone, the radius of his power nullification too small.  If the Hatchet Face upstairs was a hybrid, Grue’s copy of his power was a fraction of a half of a power.

Still, he seemed to have Hatchet Face’s strength and durability.

Our powers began to return, and with the threats of the other capes dealt with, we were free to focus on stopping them.

Clockblocker paused the most dangerous ones, closest to mouths, anuses and private parts, to ears and nostrils.  We backed away as he freed us of the worst of them, and Crucible barred the path with his superheated forcefield.

“I’m not… I’m not useful,” Toggle said.

“Different threats, you would be,” Crucible said.  “Fuck, this stings.”

“Medical treatment after,” Clockblocker said.  “One more to take down.”

We hurried up the stairs.  Two flights to the penthouse floor.

Eidolon,” my swarm-clone spoke.

“Weaver.”  He had created a kind of portal and was widening it.  It seemed slow, inefficient.

Go home, Eidolon.  You aren’t a help here.

“I’m to take orders from the one who murdered Alexandria?”

Yes.  Leave.  You’re more danger than help.

“I can end this.”

So can I.  I will end this.  Your choice as to how.  Do I handle this situation myself, or do I have to kill you, then handle this myself?

There was only silence from him.  He stared at my swarm-clone.

“You dare make that threat, after killing my comrade-in-arms?”

I do.  If there’s a trace of doubt in your mind that I could do it-

“Your bugs couldn’t touch me.”

Inside the building, we were approaching the penthouse floor.

Your power is dying.  It’s obvious enough that people are speculating on it online, in the media.  How Eidolon isn’t as strong as he was in the early days.  Why aren’t you inside already?  Are you so sure that your power would stop me?

“I’m here to help.  That’s all.  Attacking me now would be like the violation of the Endbringer Truce.”

You’re one of the biggest dangers, Eidolon.  Jack’s supposed to be the catalyst for an event, a great catastrophe.  Are you honestly telling me that there’s no danger here?  That you’re absolutely certain that you don’t have a weakness he could capitalize on?

Eidolon didn’t speak.

Don’t tell me you don’t.  That you aren’t potentially powerful enough to end the world if it came down to it.  If he somehow opened that floodgate-

“It won’t come to that.  I control my powers.”

Or played a head-game with you?  Are you telling me your mind is a fortressThat you don’t have that capacity for great evil inside you?

“I’m not evil.”

You participated in business that people felt was so horrifying that they seceded from the Protectorate.  How many thousands died or suffered gruesome transformations because of the atrocities Cauldron committed?

Inside the building, we opened the door.  Grue was staring down the last member of this particular group of Nine.  Tall, muscular in the way that suggested he was in his physical prime, with a wild mop of dark hair.  He was masculine in a way that exaggerated the qualities to a fault, with an overly square jaw, massive hands, an almost Neanderthal brow.  It made him look like a bad guy from an old animated film about princesses.  As if echoing that sentiment, a word was tattooed across his chest.

Tyrant.

I recognized the other half of the pair.  Hatchet Face and King together.

Untouchable.  King’s power took any physical harm he suffered and transferred it among his pawns.  People he’d touched within the last twenty-four hours.  Hatchet Face’s power meant we couldn’t even use abilities to circumvent it.  Tyrant here had the enhanced strength each of the two had possessed, the enhanced durability.

“Are you saying you’re blameless, little murderer?” Eidolon asked, just above us.  “That you don’t have a potential for evil?”

No,” I answered.  The hybrid crossed the room, and I could feel my powers fading.  Grue’s darkness dissipated around the building, and light streamed in through the red windows, casting a tint over everything.

I shifted my bugs outside the building.

No, I know I have some ugliness inside me,” I spoke through my swarm.  My swarm was dissipating, my focus and control over my bugs failing.  I had to maintain the formation.

“Then what qualifies you to be here when I can’t?”

Maybe arrogant of me to say so,” I said.  The swarm was quieter as my fine control swiftly dissolved.  “But I’ve recognized that ugliness, and I’ve got it harnessed.

I gave the signal, gesturing for emphasis.  Tyrant paused.  The swarms outside the building shifted in the same moment, uttering the word faintly.

Now.

Outside the building, Foil fired, and she used the line I’d drawn out with my bugs for guidance.  Not perfect, not ungodly straight, but the thread I’d drawn out helped.

There was a concentrated explosion of ice at the edge of the penthouse as the shot punctured the wall, passed within a foot of Tyrant.

He advanced, and I stepped forward to meet him, my eyes on his.  My power was almost entirely gone.  Dampened to the point that it was just me and the bugs that crawled on me.  Every step he took reduced it another fraction.  Half a foot, then an inch away from my skin…

Another bolt, between us, closer to Tyrant than to me.

And then an explosion that seemed to shake the entire building.  Everyone present was thrown to the ground.

Kid Win had blasted a hole in the side of the penthouse, firing what had to be every single weapon at the same time.  Ice was swelling from the open area in fits and starts.

But it was enough of an opening for Foil to get a clear shot.

She shot Tyrant, and the bolt pierced his brain.

He collapsed onto his hands and knees, then staggered, starting to rise.

Another bolt through the spine.

A third through the heart.

He collapsed onto his face.

Foil’s bolts broke the rules.  Apparently his power didn’t work on them.

I slowly climbed to my feet, then stared up through the closing hole in the building at Eidolon.

“Go home,” I called out.

He was still, hovering there.  I didn’t break eye contact as he floated closer to me, until he stood only a few feet away.

“Sit this one out, for all of our sakes.”

He broke eye contact first.  His eyes fell on Foil and Kid Win.

“Please,” I said.

He didn’t move, looking across the street at the others.

Then, as if the courtesy of the please had given him the ability, he spoke.  His voice was quiet enough that I was probably the only one who could hear.

“I live for this,” he said.  “It’s what I do.”

It was an admission of weakness, not a boast.

“I know,” I answered him.  “But it’s not worth it.  Even here, that coffin up there that Mannequin made… if it’s hiding Jack, keeping people from sensing him until the end of this lunatic game he set up, then he could say something.  Do something, and you could become everything you’re trying to stop.”

No.  I’d said something that was off the mark.  I saw Eidolon hesitate, as if he was considering going ahead anyways.

“And you’re all so safe?” Eidolon asked me.  “You’re not such a danger, with the right trigger event, the right saying?  You couldn’t murder a town full of innocents as readily as you murdered Alexandria?”

“The difference between you and me,” I said, “Is if I go off the rails, if I somehow become an agent of the apocalypse, I can be stopped.  I can be killed.”

He stared at me, the shadows of his eyes only barely visible behind the blue-green expanse of the concave mask he wore.  The shadow cast by his hood didn’t help.

“There’s a quarantine, Eidolon.  Everything we’re bringing to the table here, everyone who’s on the front lines, they’ve talked about this, they’ve agreed.  We’re all willing to die if it comes down to it, for the sake of maintaining that quarantine, keeping the end of the world from coming to pass.”

He looked past me at the Undersiders and Brockton Bay Wards.

“I’m willing to die if I have to,” he said, in his eerie chorus of a voice.  “I’ve proven that enough times… but it doesn’t matter, does it?”

“There’s no guarantee we could stop you before it was too late.”

“I see.”

He cast a glance over our assembled ranks, then took off.

I waited long moments before turning my attention to the crowd at the far end of the room.  They were already moving, running like they could make their way downstairs and escape out the front doors.

I drew my knife, stepping into their path.

“Weaver?”

My bugs flowed past them.  I could see, hear, smell, taste.

The swarm went on the attack.  People in the crowd screamed and ran.

Of the three I’d targeted in their midst, I saw one open his mouth wide.  Four small trilobite parasites crawled out, dropping to the ground.

His nostril bulged, and one crawled from his nasal cavity.    One crawled from each of his ears.

His pants bulged, a great deal in the back, then a little in front.  They fell out of the bottom of his pant legs.

The others were producing some now too.

Crucible caught the first in his forcefield.  He paused a second, then turned it on full burn.  The forcefield dissipated, and man, parasites and a circular section of floor were scorched black.

The other two were still fighting off the bugs when Crucible burned them as well.

Silence reigned.  The crowd, I think, was a little too horrified to cheer for us.

“First kill?” Imp asked, quiet.

“Yeah”

“How the fuck did you get to be a hero with a power like that?”

“Kept it a secret from you guys, kept it a secret from the public.  You can do a lot with a solid forcefield bubble.”

Grue and Clockblocker joined me as we approached the coffin.

It opened easily, and we stepped back, as Crucible surrounded it in a bubble.

Jack?

He lay inside, opened his eyes, and frowned.

“This didn’t go according to plan,” he said.

I could see the forcefield start to change hues, ready to bake before Jack could say anything devastating.

“Stop,” I said.

“But the idea was-”

“Just stop.  It’s not him.  Doesn’t fit.”

Jack only smiled.  “That so?  Well, it’s the bug girl.  I can’t even remember your name.”

I could see the tension in the other’s bodies.

He stepped forward, staggered a little, then poked at the forcefield bubble with his knife.

“Shall we put an end to all of this?  You got me.  Victory is yours.  Murder me, and they all go off leash.”

“It’s not Jack,” I repeated myself.  “It’s Nyx’s power.”

Jack’s expression became a frown.  Then he dissipated.

It was only a teenager, trapped inside.  He was in the middle of asking a question.  “-you let me out?”

“Holy fuck.  I almost burned him,” Crucible said.

The boy pounded one hand on the forcefield.  “Please!”

“I’ll let him out,” Crucible said.

I hesitated, holding up a hand.

No.  Not enough grounding to say for sure.  I let my hand drop.

“Weaver?”

I was about to give the go-ahead, but Tattletale’s voice came over the comm.  “That’s Nyx you’re looking at.  Her range is too short, she’d have to be in the building, and she’s too distinctive looking to pass in a crowd.

I stared at the teenage boy.  I’d almost said he could leave.

“Last chance, Nyx,” I told the ‘boy’.  “Last words?  Share a juicy tidbit?”

The ‘boy’ faded away.  An illusion in an illusion.  It was only a woman with pale red skin, overlarge black eyes and vents along her hairline, the back of her neck and down the backs of her arms.  A fog seeped out from the holes.  A small Cauldron emblem was tattooed on her face like a beauty mark.

“No way I can convince you to let me go?”

“You could,” I said.

“Hey,” Grue said.  “She’s too dangerous.”

“For good enough information?  I’m willing to risk it.”

“I agree,” Clockblocker said.

“Good information?”

“Tell us where Jack is,” I told her.

She smiled.  “And I get to go free?”

“My word as a hero,” Clockblocker answered her.

“He’s on his way to visit Nilbog.”

It’s true,” Tattletale said.

“Now let me go,” Nyx said.  She rolled her shoulders, “Take me into custody, if you have to.  All I want is to live.”

“No,” Grue said.  “We can’t let her go.”

“No,” Clockblocker agreed.  “Crucible?”

Nyx snarled, and the fog blasted out of the vents along her body, forming into a shape.

She didn’t get any further before the orb flared.  Her scream was high, loud, and exceedingly brief.

“Nilbog,” I said.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

339 thoughts on “Sting 26.3

    • Going to stop you right there. You seem to forget that these same clones participated in the Killington Massacre and are currently holding and murdering hostages. Weaver killed them because they are knowingly participating in this carnage and leaving them alive constitutes an existential threat to the world. Hell, Breed’s power explicitly requires him to kill other human beings in order to use it to its utmost. I would also remind you that Bonesaw was shown to be culling clones that were mentally out of bounds of the S9’s objectives (Damsel of Distress for example). You’ve gone out of your way in the past to critique Wildbow on a lot of irrational crap and it only seems to get worse as time goes by. How about you actually re-read things and think them out rationally before you spew attacks on Wildbow? Then again, you’re an Allip, the gibbering shade of a deranged lunatic. I should expect insane trolling from one.

    • Really wildbow? You’re going to go down the whole evil clones are irredeemable route? Even though you showed that Bonesaw was making patchwork minds that were only similar to the original members? And the fact that in the real world twins develop character traits that differentiate them one from another?

      Wildbow didn’t say anything in this chapter about whether they were redeemable or not. Clockblocker and Grue (and probably Weaver) decided they weren’t.

    • That wasn’t a mistake. Taylor didn’t read the Bonesaw interlude, and has no reason to suspect that any of the clones *might* not be evil.

      Moreover, Tattletale was observing, and didn’t have a premonition saying “Oi, this one’s sincere!” so you can rest assured this Nyx would have gone off and done her best to murder everyone at her safest opportunity.

      Moreover, this is the Slaughterhouse 9, a group who *normally* causes the capes and crooks to break their rules, in a situation where there are just shy of 300 of them, and a confirmed apocalyptic deadline. It is being treated similar to an Endbringer event, which means that even the good guys are willing to take morally dubious actions in order to ‘take no chances’. If that means promising a surrendering enemy freedom in exchange for information and then blasting her anyways then under the circumstances that’s what they’ll do because taking a gamble like letting a potential enemy go in this kind of situation is simply too risky. Weaver is an ex-villain, and it colors her hero career. She’s making the hard choices, and in this case her pragmatism may seem particularly cold-blooded but it certainly isn’t because she ‘wasn’t thinking straight.’ It wasn’t a mistake. It was quite intentional.

      *Moreover,* why the hell should Dinah intervene? Even if the Nyx clone was secretly good, Dinah isn’t watching everything everybody does and calling them up to fix things whenever something could go differently. She doesn’t have omniscience: She only knows details when she checks specific realities to find their diversion points. If Nyx defecting has no effect on the statistical probability of Jack causing the end of humanity – the only thing we know she’s been checking against – then Dinah has no idea that this even happened. Not to mention that, Dinah probably just doesn’t care. Much like Panacea was numbed by the sheer number of people needing healing at any one time, Dinah has to deal with untold numbers of possible futures in which people, including ‘important’ ones, are *constantly* dying. Dinah’s almost certainly past the point where she tries to save everybody, and now just focuses on personal survival and ‘big picture’ stuff like mass population die-offs.

      If you think Dinah *would* have wanted to intervene because of your pet theory that defecting clones will mitigate the disaster… somehow… and thus change the numbers, then the logical conclusion at this point is not that Wildbow screwed up in his writing, but that your theory is *incorrect*. If in later chapters it turns out to be true *then* you can call him out on logical inconsistencies… *maybe.* (Because even if other clones turn good, Nyx might still have been insincere. So he still has a perfectly good explanation if he goes that route.)

    • If I was in Weavers shoes right then, I would have done the same thing.
      The die is set. There will be no mercy for any of the Slaughterhouse crowd.

    • If Jack and Boy saw through Bonesaw’s changes in personality/thinking despite her modifications, I’d guess that they’d equally notice anything any clones were thinking. Don’t forget that Jack knew what Cherish was up to.

  1. Oh fuck, Nilbog. Nilbog is someone who could end the world.

    Also, I’m not really sure How I feel about the Clockblocke stuff at the beginning. I don’t think I like it, It feels a little rushed.

      • Well there is Gecko’s old Nilbog virus theory, but in truth I don’t think he can. He will be very dangerous but Piggot’s chapter showed that firepower can kill his creations so having the army move in could end him though the death toll, especially if he gets his army in a city a la Loki, would be very bad.

      • Jack is “good at wrangling evil” (his own words). He will try to talk to Nilbog first. If that doesn’t work, he will kick over Nilbog’s little ants nest and escape, taunting him as much as possible on the way out, hoping to draw Nilbog out. I imagine the first of Jack’s talking attempts will be to convince Nilbog that the outer world is coming for him and he should strike first.
        For that matter, why the hell hasn’t an Endbringer visited Nilbog? Simurgh would be perfect – corrupt him enough to start his march on the rest of humanity.
        As far as what Nilbog could do, he creates spawners and creates creatures that mimic parahuman abilities. Combine the two – self-replicating parahuman-equivalent monstrosities. If he can work with microbial life, he is plague incarnate, worse than Bonesaw. If not, replicating poisoners, replicating crop eaters, mimickers, replicating brutes tough enough to take down a normal human, ecological damage at the high end of the scale, etc. If he and his creations get in the ocean he becomes much harder to find.

        • An Endbringer hasn’t visited Nilbog because there’s no conflict in Nilbog’s town. And Endbringers are attracted to conflict if I remember correctly.

          On to what Jack could do… I have a hypothesis. It is not what Jack does, it is who follows him into Nilbog’s lair. Like Grue getting in range of Nilbog with his power on and no control over acquired spawning ability. Or Hatchet Face negating Nilbog’s ability to control his creatures.

          Or it could all be a ruse.

          • I bet on the ruse. Jack lied to Nyx because he knows about TT and her powers, he is just trying to get the groups after him to go after Nilbog to tie the down and/or kill them. Remember Jack is very good at convincing people he is telling the truth when he is lying his ass off.

        • Oh holy crap. Bonesaw + Nilbog? This is… Yeah, this could be an XK class disaster alright. Man. I did not see this coming…

      • Who says that Jack is going there for the apocalypse, or any reason at all for that matter? This is Jack Slash, leader of the Slaughterhouse Nine, he’s got an army backing him, and he wants to screw with Golem as much as possible, he WANTS the opportunity to disband the Nine, to watch the world burn. He’s not going to Nilbog with some higher plan in mind, I bet he’s going there because he wants to have his sick, twisted, depraved, VILE version of fun.

      • Nilbog + Breed or Spawner (who may just be Crawler + Breed) + Bonesaw = neverending crazy parasite infested bodies.

        Just realized, if Breed and Nilbog can do directed Evolution with their beings, you have a timeline as short as a few hours.

        Nilbog being that can survive said parasite infestation = moving infestation platforms.

    • TT isn’t perfect, and it’s obvious enough of a move that Jack might have prepped everyone else with that story before-hand so they’d believe it and fool lie detectors. Nyx was positioned in such a way as to be a somewhat nonviable threat to most groups. Certainly less than if she’d been actively interfering from the getgo given that she can apparently apply that power to others. Using her as a double-feint to convince everyone to aim for Nilbolg would be somewhat in keeping with Jack’s capability. Granted, trying to recruit Nilbolg would also be entirely within Jack’s mental frame.

      • Well Wildbow said he was done with Nilbog and we wouldn’t see him again until maybe the sequel. Though he is a perfect example of trolling creator at times so it is impossible to predict him.

      • I don’t think Nilbog would give a single fuck about Jack or expanding his kingdom. Else he would have done already.

        Jack might be trying to force the world to give Nilbog a reason though, or maybe coerce the government into bombing him so his monster spores are spread around.

    • Nilbog is capable of easily destroying the world, but… He just seems to be too convenient for the Wormverse. Almost every other world ending threat has had incredible amounts of build up, and Nilbog has had, what? A single interlude from the perspective of a foot soldier does not a Big Bad make.
      But he will probably be involved in any case, a character like that waiting in the wings will be a very good obstacle for our heroes.

    • Clockblocker/Weaver a little rushed…maybe. But I think it was hinted on (on Clockblocker’s side, anyways) way back at the Echidna thing. By the way he tried joking with Weaver and TT derailed the convo by bringing up Grue. Anywho, not how I expected it to come up. But whether it works out or not, I want a Clockblocker interlude. That dude be funny.

    • “Now I’m ll start wondering what someone with pseudo-invisibility powers gets up to in her alone time,” Kid Win said.
      Possibly “will start wondering”?

    • “Interesting to see the divide, I thought. The veteran members vs. the older ones.”

      Seems like it should be: “The veteran members vs. the newer ones.” or “younger ones.”

    • “Crucible. We were” Extra space.
      “Ward I didn’t know” and “I knew her as” is a bit weird. Maybe change the first to ‘hadn’t met’ or the like?
      “armored upper body divided in two folded down into gauntlets” Needs a comma?
      “so the armored upper body divided in two folded down into gauntlets, allowing him to walk forward like a gorilla, the two halves acting as massive fingerless gauntlets.” This seems really clunky to me(the sentence, not the armor)
      “The veteran members vs. the older ones.” Newer ones?
      “center of the area, grew darker” Missing word.
      “then down the flight of stairs” Missing period.

    • Either a typo or a continuity issue: two Crawlers are mentioned at the beginning and the capes don’t encounter either of them.

    • “Three Mannequins and a Rat above us,” I said. “Two rats below us. Lots of Breed’s bastard parasites on both sides.”

      Second mention of Rat needs capitalization.

    • Typos:

      Grue only hopped up, grabbing the railing, managed a grip, and then descended on them. He grabbed one and flung it towards the wires. It only contorted, arching its back
      – This is missing context. “One” what?

      “The difference between you and me,” I said, “Is if I go off the rails,
      – Either change second comma to a period, or decapitalise “Is”

      “Yeah”
      – Missing punctuation

      she’s too distinctive looking to pass in a crowd.“
      – “distinctive-looking” should be hyphenated. Also, that’s an open quote at the end not a close quote.

      I’m a little confused how Weaver can tell the TV show is violent, but I guess it could be the soundtrack. I’m also a bit surprised she couldn’t sense *any* bugs inside the building before they breached the perimeter – I don’t think we’ve discovered any substance that can block her power’s reach except time dilation fields, but I don’t believe the S9 killed every single bug on every single one of the people and walls in that building.

      All that said… yowsers this was a tense and scary fight. And it’s a bit chilling to see not just Weaver but also Clockblocker happy to go back on their word so freely. It’s almost certainly the only sensible thing to do, but still.

  2. Eidolon is fascinating. The ‘eerie chorus’ of his voice is an interesting hint.

    And the whole situation now is incredibly interesting. King’s power was pretty cool too, hadn’t expected something like that.

    I guess Nyx was a shapeshifter? That part was a little strange, I think it was supposed to be.

    All the Wards are really badass now, its nice to see.

    Kinda sad we didn’t see any Clockblocker/Weaver though, that would have been nice :)

    • Definitely explains why he was so hard to take down that it required Harbinger/Number Man AND Jack Slash to do it.

      I think Nyx’s power was more illusions than shapeshifting. Playing with the senses, that sort of thing.

      • Given that she was described as having vents all over her body, it might be that she uses some kind of gas or something that she can manipulate to create her illusions. Not manipulation of the senses or of light but a literal smoke and mirrors approach.

          • She was trying to shapeshift inside the bubble, I’d go with the smoke+mirrors approach. There must be something more to it, though, if she’s too dangerous to let live – maybe poisonous smoke? Also, odd that she can’t blend into a crowd if she can put up illusions like that – I’d bet the illusions are a tenuous secondary ability, like Taylor’s swarm clones. Likely to dissolve if she tried anything too complicated.

            • Maybe it has to do with why she was in a box. Difficulty maintaining a 360 degree illusion, which is why she can’t go through crowds as easily. Stick her in a hallway or a dark room, against a couple people, and the illusion holds up.

              That, or there was a crank to the box and people forgot to hum “Pop goes the Weasel”.

      • Bonesaw made cosmetic changes here and there, to make the clones fit who they were before. It’s why Murder Rat’s skinny and King is muscular, for example.

  3. Good chapter. Lots of good.

    Hadn’t thought about how much it sucks to be in the Protectorate or Wards in the Undersider’s Brockton Bay, though. Tough on Clockie.

  4. Oh when it rains it pours indeed… Pretty interesting chapter overall, my favourite part was the Eidolon and Taylor talk.

    In a less than serious note I wonder what place my comment will be in since I loaded the page when there was none, read rather slow and stopped at the middle and took the time to type this.

  5. So good chapter and we got some revelations on the 9 clones and other member’s powers. King’s power is very annoying if he can touch alot of people beforehand. It’s sort of like fighting a person with superstrength/durability with extra lives. Numberman probably predicted when he would have the fewest connections to others and then he and Jack ambushed him, and kept slicing till he finally died. Nilbog is annoying but I repeat the comments I made during the chapter where he first saw him. If you can’t nuke him, then simply call out the army and bring on the steel rain. Basic infantry with a shitload of firepower surround and invade. I can kind of see why they didn’t want to risk it but now they might not have a choice. Jack can have a nice guy sneak him in to see Nilbog with a Siberian and then capture him with Bonesaw. Looks like the wormverse might get their own Loki inspired avengers invasion when Nilbog’s horde attacks the nearest city. Where is Nilbog’s town anyway?

    • King’s power is pretty perfect if you want to be a horrible abusive asshole. You wanna mouth off to me Jack? Why don’t I take this power drill to my hand aaaand…

      It also pretty much sums up the relationship between a lord and his serfs.

      Speaking of, because I’m completely blind to reason or basic pattern recognition, I’m going to guess that Nilbog coming into play isn’t going to be half as bad as we think.

      For all we know his domain could have evolved from a horde of slavering monsters into an actual fairy kingdom culture that Boggie is just content to watch over for the rest of his life. Jack’s mind will snap in half looking down at some cutesy harvest festival and Weaver will football tackle his ass and shove her knife up his bunghole.

      • Nah, I’m thinking the renaissance fair from hell. Wildbow once mentioned that his creations can have intelligence around a child so I picture it as a place where everything looks nice and normal, but with freaky as hell townspeople.
        I agree that Nilbog is very dangerous but not World Ending dangerous.
        The only thing we didn’t find out about King is the limits of his power. How many people can he connect to, how long, and what range? I wonder if he even feels pain? I can picture him getting a kick out of cutting himself and seeing other people bleed.

        • 24 hours, assuming he doesn’t realize the link will be gone in half an hour and slits his throat for kicks. No idea if he has a limit on number or range.

    • In the paradigm of Heroic!Nine idea (and even in general) King+Crawler make a very powerful and terrifying combination. Or King and Alexandria. Basically King and someone who can soak up the damage, perhaps even grow stronger from it (Crawler).

      Yes, actually, Crawler(s)+King are an almost ideal power combination.

  6. Man, one day your having a nice predictable time dealing with a few of the slaughterhouse 9, then, Nilbog shows up.

    I found another great way to sum up even the good days in the worm verse

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_P8oA02bTcZ4/SG24W2gWpWI/AAAAAAAAAEA/PPsOL0yKefs/s400/SandNinjas.jpg

    I haven’t mentioned this in the last few comics, but I am happy the more personal scale conflicts are returning. The days where we could get arc long fights, and complex interplays between capes is where some of the creative abilities really shine. It feels a bit faster paced and less /gritty/ stylistically than it used to, but the change is nesiccery as the story needs to move along to it’s next destination. Gotta roll with it, and take the tactics and actions as they come.

    It really would be way too convenient if Cauldron knew where a nice off switch for the 9000 was, and felt like using it to save people’s live, wouldn’t it. Such a humanitarian filled organization.

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ImAHumanitarian

  7. King has a fitting power. Taking him down must have required all kinds of preplanning, maybe taking out the pawns in advance… plus not letting him touch either of them in the melee.

    The clockweaver discussion gets a little meta, but that’s fine – and funny to the commenters.

    Nyx hardly got to do anything this time, but paired with Screamer… hard to trust your senses.

    ‘down the flight of stairs’ is missing a period.

    Quarantine is actually a very good explanation for not pulling in the Endbringer A-Team from around the world to face this particular threat. Betting it won’t hold, though, and neither will the effort to keep Jack from finding out about the general offensive. One cameraphone, one tweet… with Dragon watching the web, they might be able to cut off warning that way, but it can’t last forever. The rate of success at clearing locations alone could give it away – Golem’s got a very strong power, but soloing multiple encounters like this in quick succession remains implausible.

    That other fight looked like massive damage everywhere – multiple Winters, Burnscars, and Shatterbirds? That could level a city right quick.

    It’s interesting that Clockblocker referenced his career being stalled – that was Tagg’s warning to him back at the beginning.

    Crucible went from his first kill to executing that Nyx very quickly.

    Nilbog is a credible world-ending threat that Jack could trigger.

    • I suspect Jack is already pretty certain that they’re not playing by the rules. I mean, he’s an expert at juggling multiple personalities and predicting/understanding people. Kind of an anti-therapist. In that respect I would guess that the rules of the game are more about not letting Jack get proof that you’re cheating versus not cheating in the first place.

        • Pfffff. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did or will do at one point. After all, he wants to be remembered by the future generations( or rather he wanted before deciding to end the world) as some sort of legendary monster. Most monsters feed on human meat.

          • Doesn’t cannibalism give you loads of diseases? That would be a good reason not to do it. But I can see him trying it out of curiosity, or maybe just to not hurt Siberian’s feelings when she brought the Slaughterhouse some lunch. (She does eat people, right? Dispite probably lacking a digestive system, being a construct/projection thing.)

            • Oh, yes. Horrible diseases. Brains included. I believe it helped keep some mad cow going amongst a tribe that practiced ritual cannibalism while mourning their dead.

              “I see Siberian brought us Burger King. Maybe tomorrow we can have Wendy’s, Jersey Mike, or Carl Jr.?”

            • Thanks to Bonesaw, that’s probably not a problem anymore. Remember, when Jack faced Panacea, she filled the room with, like, dozens of instantly deadly plagues and Jack no-selled them all with ease.

              • That was because Bonesaw was using her anti-insect spray — which by sheer coincidence was also her anti-plague spray. Remember, Skitter didn’t get affected either.

    • Well Number man predicts when King will have touched the fewest people and time it when his power might have worn off a few of them. Then Jack hangs back playing sniper while Number man dodges King’s attempts to touch/kill him. There is probably a limit to how many people he can be connected to at one time. The higher the number, the bigger the nightmare he is. I really like Wildbow’s creativity with Villains and powers. King and Teacher were the two I was wondering the most about. Now I just have to find out how much control Teacher has over his “students” and what Thinker/Tinker powers they get to determine how bad he is gonna be.

      • I could see Jack, if he and Number Man thought they could contain him sufficiently, waiting until he had the maximum serfs lined up, just so he could laugh at all the people dying one by one as King began to feel more and more helpless.

    • Mouthing off to Weaver now are we?

      Yeah, that’s cute Eidolon. Now get out of here before she gives you five across the eyes.

      • You know I really wished, for just a moment, that Eidolon had called her bluff and smacked her around, not to hurt her just to remind her he’s fucking Eidolon. Because seriously when you say to a guy your powers are weak enough for me to fight you and then, just a bit later, that if he went mad they wouldn’t be able to stop him, it’s pretty clear that it’s just empty threats.

        But then I sort off like Eidolon. Yes, I know that I’m the only one, in and out of universe.

        • Under slightly different circumstances I would agree with you. Unfortunately Eidolon actually does kind of have his shit together, he was able to recognize that now was not the time.

          This chapter just kind of made me feel bad for him to be honest. Heroing is what he has devoted his life to, and none of the heroes will ever really trust or like him. To the point that a bunch of kids are able to smack talk him and show absolutely no respect for all the things he has done. It is just kind of sad.

          • Yeah, I too am a member of the Eidolon fan club. Sure, he’s an asshole. But when you’ve saved as many people as him, I think that can be forgiven. He does deserve more respect.
            Of course, Weaver could take him if she had to. I don’t know how, but she’d think of something.

        • Yeah, because waving his dick around like that wouldn’t prove Weaver’s point at all

          Fortunately for him he’s not one of the strategic minds and he has a very simple binary choice. Either shut the fuck up and do what he’s told, or keep screwing around for the sake of his self-esteem and screw things up for everyone.

          • As I said it was just a momentary thought and I know, as mc2rpg pointed out, that it wasn’t the right time to start a dick-measuring contest.

            Still that goes both ways. There was no reason for Weaver to threaten to kill him or rub in his face that he’s losing his powers. The latter was particularly immature, especially since her main reason to keep away is that if Jack messes with his mind he would be basically unstoppable. As Yamada pointed out, Eidolon can kill you with a thought. Instead he goes around risking his life by being on the first line of any Endbringer attack, having to bear the burden of being the one who has to take Scion’s place whenever he doesn’t show up and contributing to the fights far more than Taylor could in her entire way.

            Taylor saying things like “I’ve done some bad things but I can control myself. You can’t, even though I don’t really know you so it’s not as if I can really judge you” doesn’t really help.

              • “Taylor saying things like “I’ve done some bad things but I can control myself. You can’t, even though I don’t really know you so it’s not as if I can really judge you” doesn’t really help.”

                She said “If we both fu*k up I am at least stoppable.” And that is it.

              • >She said “If we both fu*k up I am at least stoppable.” And that is it.

                That’s ONE of her arguments and as I’ve said it’s actually sensible even though she was particularly abrasive in pointing it out..

                At one point however she says, and I quote: “Maybe arrogant of me to say so. But I’ve recognized that ugliness, and I’ve got it harnessed.“ THAT’s claiming the moral ground and saying Eidolon is incapable of harnessing his ugliness, whatever it is, despite her knowing nothing about the man.

          • Hate to double post, but I wanted to add one thing to what I wrote above.

            What Taylor did is also sort of dangerous.

            Let’s put ourselves in Eidolon’s shoes for a moment. The last two years haven’t really been fun what with the new Endbringers and all of that. He has been jumping from continent to continent to deal with their new guerrilla tactics, always on the front line, always with that constant nagging at the back of his head:”you are losing your powers, you are losing your powers.” He’s one of the main reasons humanity is still alive and not only civilians but even his teammates can’t stand him. Those ungrateful bastards. So, he hears there’s a big crisis, one of those things he lives for, in his own words, swoops down to save the day…and a teenage girl who only two years ago did things like blackmailing a man in exchange for his son’s life mouths him of. A teenage girl who not only killed ONE OF HIS OLDEST FRIENDS BUT WAS ALSO CONGRATULATED FOR IT . [I'm not shouting, i'm using all-caps for emphasis because I don't know the codes for italics,sorry.] And is now making fun of his greates fear.

            It wouldn’t be surprising if Eidolon snapped, right there and then, and blew up Weaver into a thousand pieces.

            • I kind of think Taylor had a point though when she took the moral high ground, and I think that Eidolon acknowledged it. He’s still calling himself a good person even though he works for Cauldron, even after finding out about their methods. Ok, maybe he feels like he has to because they’re the ones who can save the world again, but it doesn’t make him or them good people. Taylor doesn’t pretend that she’s a good person anymore, because like Eidolon she has done bad things. Possibly with good motivations, but that doesn’t excuse her or make her good, or in Eidolon’s words, “not evil.”

              That being said, I felt a little bad for him too, he’s undergone serious disillusionment over the course of his career and is slowly losing the ability to participate in the heroics that gave his life meaning.

        • Eidolon seems to me to be a very driven individual. Imagine him as a professional athelete. He knows damn well that he’s one of the most powerful heroes in the world, and so does everyone else. But then people find out he used drugs to enhance his performance (Cauldron) and he’s apparently getting past his prime (losing powers)

          He’s still one of the most powerful heroes in the world, but everyone is looking at him sideways, thinking twice whenever they interact with him, and his integrity has been shown to be tarnished.

          Think Lance Armstrong or Barry Bonds – THEN think about the Endbringers, and how many times Eidolon’s powers have saved hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of people.

          I think that there needs to be some clearing of the air in the hero community. The experimentation that Cauldron performed has created a lot of misery, but the results have allowed the world to resist the Endbringers.

          Part of the reason why Eidolon might be so incredibly driven to be a hero and do good things is because he’s aware of all or most of the atrocities that have been generated by the Cauldron. He wants to be a good guy, but he had to weigh that against what the Cauldron did to make him what he is. And there are only Endbringers around every now and then.

          Eidolon is either prime material for a mental breakdown, or he’s one hard son of a bitch with a high moral code and some nasty skeletons in the closet.

          My bet’s on the latter, and I’d love to be a fly on the wall in a future conversation about the whole cauldron cape, human experimentation, and Endbringer thing. If Wildbow doesn’t throw in more new (bad) stuff about Cauldron to confuse things, I think Eidolon has the potential to teach Weaver a thing or two about sacrifice and responsibility, and the price one might be willing to pay to save the world.

          Weaver seems more adult than most of the heroes she associates with, but she’s still very childish in some ways.

          • Hrm, I just realized. I don’t know how old Wildbow is, or what kind of life experiences that have had, so it’s actually possible that my perspective on Weaver’s childish behavior might not be comprehensible to Wildbow.

            No insult intended Wildbow, but I’m curious on whether or not you believe that Weaver is acting childish in the interaction between herself and Eidolon?

            • I could be completely wrong, but I get the impression of mid to late 20s for wildbow. He seems to be fairly recently out of college or graduate school, unmarried, with financial ties to his family if I’m reading his different statements correctly. He really could be almost any age, but I would be very surprised if he was out of his 30s.

    • “Lung underestimated her, too,” she told him, looking at me.
      ‘Armsmaster turned to look, as well.” He forgot to mention that Alexandria also underestimated her.

  8. I think Jack’s logic is something along these lines:
    “oh man, the end bringers are doubling down, the 9 just aren’t living up to the s level threat classification any more. Hey! I know! lets go see Nilbog! us S-classers have to stick together! maybe we can figure something out to outdo this konhosu guy-is that how you say it. We could invite Sleeper too! Eh. Roaming charges to Russia are a bitch. He can come next time”

    [completely unrelated note, what are the odds sleeper is dreaming the end bringers up unintentionally or something given we have no idea what his/her powers are]

  9. Ok, a little bit of confusion this time around as far as Breed goes, but here goes. Feel free to correct me if I’m off a little.

    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 cheesed off: 2
    Kings that have left the building: 0
    Screamers gagged by Mistress Taylor: 1
    Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
    Breeds sliced like white bred: 1?
    Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
    Nyxes zilched: 1
    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 hiding in spiderholes: 1
    Spawners violated: 0

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

      • We see Grue carry them somewhere. That is all. It’s possible they died, but then we just suddenly see Grue with the group again. It’s a fairly confusing chapter like that. And it’s mentioned that the other two with Breed were fighting off bugs when they were burned, so I wasn’t quite sure there.

        • “Crucible caught the first in his forcefield. He paused a second, then turned it on full burn. The forcefield dissipated, and man, parasites and a circular section of floor were scorched black.

          The other two were still fighting off the bugs when Crucible burned them as well.

          Silence reigned. The crowd, I think, was a little too horrified to cheer for us.”

          Three Breeds

    • Man, we have a leader board now, someone needs to start taking a betting pool. Nothing too sinister for the stakes, all proceeds go to regent’s memorial fund, the group, the revolutionary puppy therapy kick starter being hosted by undersides for end bringer victims, and wildbow donations.

      • I think Wildbow wrote this chapter just to screw with attempts to keep a leaderboard. Plus, we know there’s other teams fighting people offscreen without their deaths being mentioned.

        I’m only counting confirmed kills, where we see the body. Any ambiguity and I favor the lower number because in Worm, the “It Gets Better” campaign should be renamed “It Gets Worse”.

    • After consultation with the Word of God, the revised list is as followed. Keep in mind, we still didn’t see the Mannequin bodies. Just like we never saw Clockblocker’s body or Narwhal’s body. You guys really want to chance that in THIS story?

      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 cheesed off: 2
      Kings that have left the building: 0
      Screamers gagged by Mistress Taylor: 1
      Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
      Breeds inbred: 3
      Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
      Nyxes zilched: 1
      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 hiding in spiderholes: 1
      Spawners violated: 0

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

      Nilbogs slain by a +1 Sword of Asskickery: 0

      • We’re also missing a fight in between the two we see, I think. Taylor mentions Jack escalating from four to five to twenty. The first post killington fight had the four, and Taylor is extrapolating to twenty to this round based on Golem’s initial report of who he is fighting. So I think we missed a round of encounters where 5 of the s9000 were killed.

        • “four to five” in this instance probably means “four or five” as “four to six” would mean “four, five, or six” but I can see the confusion. Still, pretty certain this is the first set of encounters after Killington.

  10. “You participated in horrors that people felt were so horrifying that they seceded from the Protectorate. How many thousands died or suffered horrifying transformations because of the atrocities Cauldron committed?“

    I think this could stand to be worded a bit better, the use of the word ‘horrifying’ is kinda repetitious here.

    That aside, another lovely chapter. Really enjoyed the tone that it set – suspense and the inevitable lurking behind every corner and vent. Almost echoes Aliens, in a sense, haha.

    But good god, Nilbog. I knew he’d come back into the fore somehow.

    • Funny that right after all these revelations about who the protectorate was really being run by, and all the atrocities, their greatest heroes left, and a high profile villain signed up. There is a good comeback for Edilon in there somewhere, but I am not at the moment witty enough to make it.

      • “Psh, you Triumvirate were so screwed up, they’d rather have Bug Girl the Queen Bitch of Brockton Bay join up and lead it instead. She’s the lesser evil compared to you. Also, she doesn’t have to wear a girdle to fit into her costume.”

  11. Hmm.

    I wonder why nobody has made the two most obvious connections and sent people after them, because given both Jack’s terms for this bout and his sense of… showmanship, for lack of a better term, there’s two places I’d expect him to be holed up right now.

    First, wherever Aster is. Purity and whichever of her little band of racists are still alive would be a threat if it was just him, but with the S9000 to back him up he can have somebody keeping an eye on Aster 24/7 and thus can keep Purity from trying anything.

    Second, the apartment where he first issued the challenge to Theo, back in Brockton Bay. It’s a lovely sort of symmetry, after all.

    Now, as far as finding Jack, there’s actually a fairly simple way (assuming Panacea will play ball).

    We know that there’s at least some potential dispensation for certain Birdcage inmates, and Panacea’s probably at or near the top of that list. So have her create a new set of relay bugs for Weaver, enough to extend her range across the entire US. Then Weaver has the bugs look for somebody who smells like Jack; chemical indicators like that are going to be pretty unique, and the bugs are already well-suited for that sort of search.

    Figure that it takes a few days to disperse the relay bugs, then another day or two for Weaver to get the swarm assembled and find Jack with it. They should have his location within a week at most.

    • I think extending a cape’s powers like that, is the last thing anyone wants to do at this point. They can’t risk the danger that any sort of augmentation might be thing that breaks everything.

      Going by how paranoid they are and the stuff Taylor talked about with with Eidolon, my guess would be that if someone offered Taylor some increase in power at this point (Super-serum, an artifically induced second trigger or even a green lantern ring) she would decline and expect her team to off her if she failed to decline that power.

      Besides , between Bonesaws skills at augmentation, illusion powers like Nyx, various powers like Winter etc and Mannequin’s ability to seal someone in hermetically, I would not expect bugs to find him if he has planned for it and doesn’t want to be found.

    • It would be just like Jack to end it back at the apartment. A weird sort of order to all the chaos.

      Although they haven’t mentioned it, Purity has probably already been notified. Can’t see it helping much, though. When the S9000 want you dead, chances of escape are…not that great.

      And on the topic of possibly augmenting Taylor’s power–more reason to think she’s linked to the end of the world. In terms of big-impact, she takes the cake. She’s had enough mini-rants about how integral insects are to the environment and life in general. Being able to control billions of lifeforms…brings Nilbog’s power a notch down in creepiness (even if the way he chooses to use it keeps him ahead in the creepiness scale). Create a clone with the right/wrong ambitions, refine her power, maximize range and you’ve got the potential to spread any virus worldwide with a lack of defenses against every single bug out there.

      • With Bonesaw’s knack for biological augments, through parasites, virii, and otherwise, and Taylor’s control of arthropods, the two could obliterate life swiftly.

        Make a lethal concoction, through some method of lethality that, regardless of how the patient responds in the mean time, they still die, and fill a million mosquitos. Have those mosquitos inject victims, drink from others to mass produce themselves, drink from the infected and spread again.

        Rinse, repeat, obliterate. Though that’s assuming that Bonesaw’s allowed to corrupt or clone our heroine.

  12. Nilbog, Really why not just have all the Endbringers gang up on them at once. Hell let them join the Nine as well.

  13. Crapcrapcrapcrapcrap…
    On the plus side, I FREAKING KNEW IT! NIIIIILBOOOOG!
    Breed, your powers aren’t getting any less creepy.

  14. “My word as a hero”

    Well shit.

    At least he didn’t try to justify it with some silly pedantic word play. No pretensions of being a man of his word after breaking the spirit of it by keeping to its letter.

    I fear between that and the talk Weaver had with Eidolon, the team might see it as a lot more of a suicide mission than thought. Willing to sacrifice everything including their teammates.

    I think the Nilbog thing is likely a red Hering deliberately planted by Jack.

    Then again Jack might be honestly attempting to reach out to Nilbog. He hasn’t any more clue on how he is supposed to end the world than anyone else after all.

    In fact it might be karma if Jack was so focused on the wrong thing to trigger the end of the world that he completely fails to see how he accidentally sets it in motion and naturally becomes the first victim.

    • It could well be a red herring, but it works because it fits the clues to a good extent- Including how Jack primarily causes things to happen sooner, rather than causing it to happen at all. Nilbog could plausibly cause such an event with or without Jack, so it fits with something that could still happen if Jack had died back in Brockton Bay…

      Also, note that Tattletale didn’t say Nyx was telling the truth. She said it was true.

    • If he even had half a chance of unleashing Nilbog on the world, he’d take it. Of course, he’s probably got another plan, and so this could be a red herring with the potential for a very vicious bite.
      Although I like the idea of him having no idea on how to end the world, and it catching him by surprise as much as everyone else.

  15. a) Crucible’s power is completely terrifying – maybe not Taylor-level terrifying, but still. Geez.
    b) I love how you create a character who has what looks like a completely unbalanced pair of powers, really difficult to deal with…and then kill him in just a few hits, before he even speaks. Tell me, Wildbow, have you ever GMed for munchkinly types? :P

  16. Either the Undersiders and Wards scaled up or the S9 scaled down. I still remember the times where every member of the S9 broke into the highest security places in Brockon Bay. Alone.

    That was frustrating.

    • I believe TvTropes has a trope about this. A variant of the Conservation of Nunjutsu. Basically, no matter how dangerous a single foe is, his clones will always be a magnitude LESS threatening. Like when in the Batman/Superman animated film Doomsday’s clones went form monsters capable of killing Superman to Elite Mooks that batman could off by himself.

      • Though it’s somewhat justified in this instance as they don’t retain their full memories – only cobbled-together personalities and histories.

          • While Weaver and her team have over two years of planning and experience. That’s the problem with clone armies, you can never truely replicate the badassery of the original, only achieve a pale imitation.
            Still, I expect the good guys to start dropping like flies very soon. If a main character that we all like isn’t dead by the end of this arc, I’ll be disappointed.

        • Yeah. These are definitely pale imitations of the real thing. In RPG terms, they’re level 5 or so, while Taylor and Crew have been socking away levels for years now…

          • Well, also look at the planning and preparations aspect. It’s a bit like Goofus and Gallant when you think about it. “Weaver (Gallant) reads up on the dossiers and action reports from encounters with the opponents she will be facing. Tyrant (Goofus) watches a snuff film instead”. Most of the action we’ve seen involving the S9 were with 1 or 2 members at a time. I got the impression they really weren’t focused on group tactics or synergy, as shown by the zerg rush tactics they seemed to employ in this fight. Conservation of Ninjutsu is one thing, not bringing your A-Game against Weaver’s crew is another.

        • My justification is that Jack REALLY doesn’t care about the clones. He does not consider them a valuable resource. They’re not even tools or raw materials, mostly toys and distractions.

          The Nine, they were powerful veterans with years of experience, but they also picked their battles with a heavy bias towards not dying. Right now Jack is playing this very differently. If he cared about his troops continuing to be useful he wouldn’t be using them as pawns in this game.

          Certainly there may be some clones he values more than others. He considers Bonesaw, Siberian, himself, and perhaps Mannequin to be the real members of the group. Of those, it is interesting to see that the Mannequin clones seem to actually have avoided death pretty well.

          • Manaquin in particular is very useful. Sure, they’ve lost all their reasearch. That just means 9 unpredictable and creative psychopaths starting from scratch. Each clone is likely to be a very different challenge, making them very dangerous.
            I mean, ice attacks? That’s so different from the Manaquin we know and loath, the rest could be anything.
            Siberian was also always the really overpowered member, having nine of her will be useful for any evil scheme.
            And Bonesaw is just Bonesaw. Fear her might, she can do anything from raise the dead to make bizare plagues to manufacture a clone army.

    • Nyx was wasted and Tyrant put down efficiently, but Breed’s brood were still small, the Mannequins were still rebuilding and Murder Rat was one of Bonesaw’s creations to start with – dangerous, but not exactly sane or smart.

      We’re also looking at a bunch of powerful capes that have leveled up. Apart from Foil and Cruicible joining the gang and Grue’s second trigger event, Clockblocker and Kid Win have also come a long way from tossing sheets of paper and waving a pistol from the back of a hoverboard.
      Hell, if Grue hadn’t snagged Hatchet Face’s area of denial + toughness, they’d have really struggled.

    • The big difference I’m noticing? In every other instance of the nine they were led by Jack.

      The 9000 IS led by him, but he’s not there, he’s a ways away, and they’re not TRYING to make as much mischief as possible – that’s what happens if they cheat. They’re not running and doubling back like they would previously – they’re staying still and announcing where they are. The different tactics net different results.

    • Back then, they were shocking and a difficult element to know. They’ve spent two years in stasis while the world moved on and took a few levels in badass. Jack didn’t even bother finding out that Weaver was planning to pwn his shit or where Golem actually was now.

      • On a follow-up to that, you’d be surprised how much actual planning and preparation goes into properly tearing places apart. I don’t think they’re getting a lot of that now. It’s like they’re being sent in Leeroy Jenkins style.

        “Tyraaaaaaant Jenkins!”

  17. Nilbog? Fuck.

    Eidolon continues to be, at least in my eyes, a rather tragic character. It was already heavily implied in Yamada’s interlude but is here confirmed by Eidolon himself, that he only lives for his superpowers. Also, during the timeskip his powers have weakened enough for civilians to notice but Weaver is still afraid that if he goes mad nobody could stop him. Man, I’d really like to see what he could do back in the good old days. Perhaps an Eidolon interlude?

    We finally know King’s power. Impressive: the S9 is full of people with broken powers. It must have been hard for Jack and Harbinger to kill him off the first time. Still, I think Harbinger could have helped a lot with the right calculations.

    Oh, poor Clockblocker. He paid our shipping jokes with his career. :) .

    • We finally know King’s power. Impressive:
      the S9 is full of people with broken powers. It must have been hard for Jack and Harbinger to kill him off the first time. Still, I think Harbinger could have helped a lot with the right calculations.

      Nah, think about it: Jack and Harbinger were villains. More than that, they were S9ers. The only way they’d have given a shit about King’s – haha – *pawns* would have been if he’d touched the two of them. That said, Harbinger would definitely have helped with the timing on *that*.

      • Yeah, and don’t you think King knew that when he assembled the S9? I bet the first thing he did every morning was to ask everyone in the team to shake his hand. And besides it’s not so much that other people got hurt, but that King himself DIDN’T get hurt. When your power is being very good at cutting people that’s a pretty serious setback.

    • King shouldn’t be difficult to take out, provided the attack comes in such a way that he can’t or doesn’t have time to react. Awareness, line of sight being important. Probably why Harbinger started things off behind him.

      • I don’t know. I remember Number Man mentioning it was a backstabbing surprise attack, but I get the impression that King’s i s an automatic power. Otherwise being able to affect every person he’s touched in a 24 hour time window is pretty useless. You don’t stay with the same people for 24 hours, usually.

        • … The battle with Harbinger and Jack must have been epic. Biding their time until *their* 24 hours ran out then BAM! Attack-attack-attack! Keep up the pressure! Don’t let him out of your sight! Don’t let him touch that guy! Kill those guys so he can’t touch them!

          All that for hours at a stretch while not letting him touch them or anyone else, killing anyone who got within arms’ reach of King and cutting him until he ran out of pawns. Then the final backstab. Hell, yeah. I’d like to read that fight someday.

          • More likely Jack and Harbinger just tracked who he had touched, murdered them all, and then went after him in Blitzkrieg style. I don’t see Jack and Harbinger to really caring to wait 24 hours just for his power to expire.

            • They’d still have to be sure they don’t cut their own throats when they attack King. Knowing when and where King would be the most vulnerable is pretty much what Harbinger’s power is for.

              • So does King still take damage himself even if he spreads it to other people? I mean, I suppose if he touched enough other people, it could spread out to being very minor damage. That’s all supposing it works that way though.

    • ”Oh, poor Clockblocker. He paid our shipping jokes with his career.”
      Yeah, I had to stop reading for a bit so I could laugh. Poor, poor Clocksie.
      …Still not gonna stop shipping it, though.

    • We don’t really know that. As was mentioned earlier, it’s possible that Nilbog decided to create himself a new Disneyworld or something. He obviously doesn’t have the same motivations as most other capes. He seems satisfied where he is. If the town is still active, that means that at the very least they are growing food for themselves.

      Then again, he might just want to be alone, and Jack simply showing up and disturbing him might remind him that as long as there are other people in the world, they will probably, eventually come and bother him again.

        • I’m going to agree with you. Jack is the leader of the Slaughterhouse, he knows how to break people.
          Nilbog’s probably perfectly happy ruling his happily horrifying monster town. Jack will have to change that.

          • *Jack knocks on wall around Nilbog’s Little Town of Horrors* “Now, Boggy, we’ve been over this. It isn’t healthy to stay inside all day. Come out and massacre people like the rest of the class. It’ll be fuuuun!”

            • Know your joking, but “it’s not healthy to stay inside all day” is probably the worse thing you could say to Nilbog. Just re-read his interlude and he was described as a loner who never went out except at the Christmas office party and even then left early.

              Would be hilarious if Jack made that mistake, though.( Still convinced it’s all a ruse ).

    • Indeed. And his first order is to burn alive a war prisoner after promising spare her. I wonder if he ever imagined that.

      • No. Clockblocker is becoming far worse than he ever thought he would. He’s becoming Weaver. He’s making utilitarian decisions that are subjectively questionable at times. He’s seeing what it’s like to be put into situations where there were no happy outcomes, just less horrible ones.

      • To be fair, Clockblocker was true to his word. He promised her that HE wouldn’t kill her. He didn’t say anything about his allies.

  18. One thing occurred to me about the memory retention of the clones.

    Bonesaw gave them approximations of their original memories to ensure that they would be similar enough for the passengers to latch onto them.

    How did Mannequin regain all the skill to build his shell that it presumably took him many years of improvements to get to the first time around? some allowances can be made for Bonesaw whose talents closely overlap with his giving him some stuff she knew and for the fact that 9 Mannequins working together might be faster than one working alone, but still.

    There is also the fact that all of the slaughterhouse nine appear to be fully in control and well trained in their powers. Taylor needed some time before she could use her powers effectively and the same likely holds true for most others.

    Perhaps some learned skills and instincts carried over with the passengers.

    What if more than just information about using their powers was retained?

    What if for example the Harbinger clones all now have inside information on the Cauldron inherited from the original Numbers Man? What if the Harbingers used this info to strike against Cauldron financially, raiding their accounts, crippling them economically and perhaps even pushing the world economy into chaos just because. What if the Slaughterhouse 9 have secrets and access codes of the most powerful organization in the world?

    Sure Contessa saw a path to victory when she manipulated Bonesaw, but did she the territory through which that path would lead?

    • “How did Mannequin regain all the skill to build his shell that it presumably took him many years of improvements to get to the first time around?”
      The whole clone thing is a bit deus ex machina.

      As a tinker they may have seen pictures of the old design and tinkerbuild it again. The “i imagine what i want and my power let me know how to build it”

      • Isn’t that explicitly how Tinker powers work? That unlike normal scientists they have an idea and then know how to realise it, instead of the other way around? So it’s feasible for Mannequin to have seen some old model of his suit and know how to build as soon as he gets out of the cloning machine.

    • Didn’t Bonesaw mention that the memory profile for Harbinger was nearly blank, and that she mostly based her synthesized memory modules on what Jack related to her?

      So most likely she didn’t input any connection to Cauldron, because she doesn’t know jack on Numbers Man.

    • I’m guessing Bonesaw gave them some sort of tactical memory package that contained information about their powers and learned applications from past fights. I don’t think they’d have alot of learning capacity on their own, though I wouldn’t give it to them if it were me.

      This probably leaves the clones pretty inflexible and wedded to tactics people already know how to deal with.

    • How much of a cape’s consciousness and memory is the cape’s brain, and how much is the passenger? If Bonesaw could get passengers to successfully reconnect with capes, it’s very possible that most of their power-related skills would instantly be available.

      What I’d like to know though, is whether or not there is any detrimental affect on the passengers that are now connected to multiple different individuals. Not just power-clones, like some heroes can do, but real, true independent identical capes.

      Has bonesaw done something that can actually damage the passengers themselves?

  19. The morality of what they did at the end there was pretty fucking iffy. Nyx was a bitch if she was with the nine, but this isn’t Nyx, its a clone that’s only done what it needed to survive. That’s what she said at the end there, wasn’t it? I don’t think she deserved to die.

    • She is no blank clone … she is mentaly preprogrammed to be S9 style nasty.
      If she was a blank clone/restart it would be undeserved. Here and now she was a loaded gun.

      • I’ve stated before that each and every one of these S9 clones participated in the massacre of hundreds of unarmed, innocent people in Killington. Children were among their targets. 999 people were also abducted from that same town, and presumably some of the people on the hooks were some of those hostages. Nyx just requested a Get Out of Jail Free card here after all that. There is nothing really morally wrong about putting down a rabid dog that has already killed.

        • Also they might not be capable of good. They were created to be homicidal nutjobs. Bonesaw didn’t make their psychological makeup to be the sort where they would be capable of realizing killing people for shits and giggles was wrong, quite possibly even if they originally were like that.

          • Are we forgetting that Bonesaw also made them less chaotic and more loyal to Jack as well?

            That is likely the main reason they won’t defect, unless the programming was defective.

          • The victims of the slaughter were all marked by numbers in group of nines (ie the number of clones per member) and each group of victims was murdered in a way that was tailored to each member’s particular schtick and/or power.

    • Look, yes she’s probably a horrible person if she has the cloned personality of a Nine member, but that doesn’t warrant death. And the thing is we DON’T fully understand the technology behind the cloning, we DO NOT know that she is beyond redemption, we’re simply assuming based on what is in my opinion, completely inadequate info. And there’s the fact that Bonesaw was having a “crisis” of sorts, the normal “quality” of her work may not apply here.

      What you’re doing and what the characters are doing is you’re taking “blame” you would associate with Nyx the member of the nine, and placing it on her clone, and I don’t think it works like that.

      No matter how much of a terrible person she is, unless she personally has done horrible things to an EXTREME she doesn’t forfeit the right to LIVE. She was SURRENDERING, willing to be taken into custody, and they EXECUTED her. All she wanted was to live.

      The reason the Nine have kill orders on them is because they’re extremely dangerous and beyond redemption, we don’t have adequate reason to say that about Nyx’s clone.

  20. Its going to be unrealistic if they get through every fight like this (no casualties or serious injuries on their side)

    • Someone will die soon. I can feel it. Just whe you think they’re safe… maybe Crucible – likable, powerful, but new. Or we could lose another Undersider, or one of the other Wards.
      But as you said, someone will have to die soon.

  21. Wouldn’t it have been easier if Weaver just told Eidolon that he’s too visible and that they needed to avoid attracting Jack’s attention?

  22. Man, Eidolon could be so much more useful if he stopped grand standing so much. He cares about his image-granted, he has to, hope of the world and all that- but he seems to sacrifice combat advantage for it. He is ALWAYS flying. He could get an entire nother power if he would just drop that sometimes. Granted, we usually see him fighting end bringers and the like, where go big or go home is the rule, but I wonder how much his powers are really decided by want/need. He has shown the moral ambiguity to create convince me he could use brainwashing powers heart-breaker style, and if he can get tinker abilities, why not jack bone saw and bring good guys back to life? Why not out Nilbog Nilbog while also throwing some enhancement powers into the mix? He’s showed he could touch Behemoth when he was around, why not try to clock blocker that sob? All that potential, and he wastes it shooting ice, and making grand displays. I am looking foward to seeing what he does on his off days.

    • His passenger decides his power not him. We have seen in the Behemoth fight that with some time he can get some pretty specific powers but time is a luxury in the middle of combat and the main weakening of his power seems to be the need of more time to switch/gain a new power. And tinker powers are pretty useless unless he has time (again!) to create something, which means he has to it in his off-time but then the passenger may decide that he doesn’t really need a tinker power because it’s of no use there and then.

      And he’s usually pretty creative with his flight power. With Echidna he used an extension of the gravity attack to fly and I believe his clone was using broader,more general aereokinesis.

  23. - last chapter was Metal Gear Solid. This one is more like Aliens. “Game over, man, game over!”
    - King’s power, we haz it. King and pawns. Goddammit, Wildbow.
    - it’s the kind or power that’d be well-suited for the Butchers. Bonus points for comparing the King-era S9 to the Teeth. Connections!
    - Crucible: Misleadingly Exactly What It Says On The Tin
    - yep, Clockblocker is living the nightmare. The Class Clown is now The Man.
    - clearly, Bonesaw kept records. How else could the Mannequins get back up to speed so quickly?
    - last but not least, Tyrant got deposed.

    /Yeeeeeeeeaah/
    :D

    • What if she didn’t keep records?

      There’s only so much you can take with you when you travel from town to town, and they’re more ‘murder people and steal their shit’ people than luggage people.

      • Alternatively, Mannequin is an exception and looks so much like the original because he was on of the core members of the team, one of the few that lasted for so long, and Bonesaw knew him personally. People like King and Harbinger, instead, whom Bonesaw admits to know little about, will differ more noticeably from their template.

      • I say Mannagain looks like Mannequin because it’s something the agent/passenger kept track of for the host. In an alternate universe where Bonesaw made a Skitter litter, those cloned Taylors would find their collective passenger setting up silk cords for them much more quickly than that general line of thinking occurred for the original.

        • Maybe Mannequin just looks so similar because his power involved finding the best and most efficient materials and designs for that sort of stuff, and that’s it?

          No matter what, the passengers can’t make 1 plus 1 not equal 2, so even if he’s starting from scratch, he’s coming to the same conclusions. Or almost the same.

      • My theory is that the Simurgh either alters capes’ passengers, or alters the bond between human and passenger, or something along those lines. Hence, Mannequin’s psychosis and knowledge was transferred along with his passenger. This also explains why Chevalier saw a difference in the (probably Simurgh-affected) secret parahuman (Keenan, or something?) who dealt with the Yangban.

      • I always took it as a given that the part about what a tinker can actually do (since it’s not -really- technology, otherwise you would not need a tinker to maintain it) was not stored in the tinker’s brain, but in passenger-space.

        The refinings and maybe the actual designs (as opposed to generic blueprints to refine things from) might be personal, and maybe differ a little from clone to clone, but the bulk of the stuff is in P-space.

        Mind you, I’m more and more convinced that all the minds of every cape are totally in P-space anyway, regardless of the age at which they triggered.

    • Not sure if Jack’s ability to figure out how to push people’s buttons is an actual empathic power, but it’s damned close.

      Whether it is or not, they know that Jack somehow triggers the apocalypse, but he isn’t the one who actually does it. So they are treating him like the Simurgh, anyone who comes into contact with him is considered ‘contaminated’. The team that finally finds him and puts him down will probably have to go into lockdown for years, or until the end of the world triggers anyway.

      Then again, putting those people out of circulation might be the thing that let’s it happen. Fighting prophecies is hard.

  24. Eidolon: “Meh, I could ta- wait, I should really reconsider this line of thought and think rationally based on a recurring trend”

  25. One thing I have wondered about. Suppose I woke up and reslized I was a clone and the origional me had been killed by my current boss? Who had been my second in command.

    How would that affect me?

  26. With the way the heroes are going through S275 clones, devaluation of horror and Bonesaw’s potential betrayal… You know, I can see Jack himself getting a second trigger that would result in the end of the world.

    Something related to the concept of cutting. Like cutting passengers free or cutting bonds between humans or something along those lines.

  27. King is similar to Clockblocker in that if you let him get his hands on you once, the fight’s pretty much over. Scary. They are damned lucky they had Foil with them. Her power can punch through invulnerability, and she leaves her darts inside the wound to keep him from regenerating/transferring the damage. Without Foil, they would have had to kill all the hostages to bring him down. Or find a way to immobilize him and wait out his power. Actually, Weaver might have been able to take him out, depending on how his power reacts to poisons.

    Nice to see that Foil and Parian are still a happy couple. Considering that they both go to as many Endbringer fights as they can reach, I was worried about them.

    • I wonder why Taylor reffered to King as the “husband” for the girls he killed. I figured it either had to do with his power, or it he was some sort of sexual predator. Starting to look like the latter.

      • Ew. That does make sense.

        Wound not be surprising if he treated his pawns like property. He founded the Slaughterhouse Nine, and presumably picked the name. Probably a real monster, if not as ‘artistic’ as Jack.

      • On a semirelated tangent, I may be reading too much in one line of dialogue in a flashback, but Jack’s description of King’s relationship with him had, at least for me, some creepy undertones. What with King always purring Jack’s name (Jacob) and apparently grooming him to be the next Grey Boy.

      • Definite possibilities as far as abuse goes. Probably the only guy who could dominate a woman by having her step on his nuts while wearing stiletto heels.

        Kind of an odd Marquis De Sade, you know? He gave us the word “sadistic” for his enjoyment of other people’s suffering. King’s power is to turn masochism into sadism.

  28. I guess we now have Mouse Protector and Ravagers powers. I would guess that Ravager had the leave festering scarring wounds. Mouse Protector would have had the enhanced physical abilities. That would explain how she got away with using a toy sword, and poorly designed helm for so long. She moved damn fast and was agile enough to make it work. Alas poor Mouse Protector, we never knew you.

    And Vista likes scars. I hope that if she ever gets a boyfriend he isn’t just in it because he has a scar fetish.

  29. Crucible said something at the beginning that has me wondering

    “I wanted to say thanks,” Crucible said, “Appreciate the invite. Hundreds of superpowered lunatics, some of the scariest guys around, and that’s not even the scariest part of all of this! …..”

    Just what IS the scariest part of all of this? Is it the end of the world thing? The whole quarantine thing? Turning into killers? Do bugs, bug him?

      • Makes sense.
        Crucible: – “WE WON!!!!! Now I’m going to go home and kick back for a week and do nothing but eat and sleep!”
        Weaver: – “Ummm, They will be air dropping a complete camp setup for us in about an hour. Once we get things set up, we can decompress tonight, but the psych evals will start tomorrow morning at 0900. I’m told we can expect a full week of these psych evals and another week or two while they try to read them. Until them, we don’t know if we will be allowed to go home, be kept in quarantine for a few years or if they’re just going to drop a nuke on us.”

      • …is it just me, or is there already more canon support for Crucible/Weaver than there ever was for Clockblocker/Skitter?

        It’s just me? Ah, good. I was worried I wasn’t alone. So, so alone.

      • Really, I don’t think anyone thus far fits with Taylor. (Keeping in mind I’ve only read the second half of the story.) Grue feels like a pairing out of a kind of necessity and proximity, but something that wouldn’t have been more than “keeping on keeping on” in the long run, if it lasted.

        Taylor needs someone who can keep up with her mentally, and that’s a hard slot to fill. I’m not sure she’d end up with a thinker, though. Anything power that breaks through her walls when she’s putting them up intentionally would be a challenge in a relationship.

        If anything, I’m more inclined to think she’s demisexual or something of the sort.

        • You would have missed this, it being in the first half, but Taylor found Grue hot as hell, and was quite frequently tongue-tied around him (cf Tangle 6.2-6.3). And when she finally admitted her feelings in Buzz 7.6, what she said was:

          I shrugged, doing everything I could to sound more casual than I felt. I wasn’t sure how successful I was. “I, um, I like you. You don’t need to make a bigger deal of it than it is, I just-” I floundered as I tried to find the words, already regretting opening my mouth.

          He didn’t speak, giving me a chance to continue, “I think you’re good looking, I like you as a person. I respect you, more than any of the others, because you’re smart about what you do, career-wise. You know. And because you’re so comfortable in your own skin, so confident. I admire that.”

          I think what you said about the pairing with Grue being out of necessity and proximity reflects, to an extent, that Brian’s priorities didn’t match up with Taylor’s. I made a long comment on Cell 22.3 about Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation theory and how it can be used to analyze Taylor’s behavior, and in the course of that essay I ended up pointing out several directions in which Grue’s morality was not parallel that I then elaborated on in a long comment on Drone 23.3.

          That said … I’m only really disagreeing with the “demisexual” point with this comment. I’m struggling to come up with a suitable ‘ship for her myself.

  30. Eidolon really shouldn’t have let that slide. Skitter was more than a bit of a dick there. She could have framed it as “Dude, we can’t risk you here. We need you — the world needs you — to fight Khonsu and the rest of the Endbringers. We’ve got these penny-ante pissant midboss motherfuckers. Go do what you do.”

    But no, she had to take the opportunity to score points off the most-powerful non-Scion hominid on Earth Bet. That was unnecessarily cruel and mean of her. Not cool.

    • She didn’t plan to have to talk to Eidolon today. I rather suspect the things that she said that were mean and cruel she said because she hadn’t planned out what she needed to say — notice how she contradicts herself all over the place, there.

      Honestly, Eidolon gets major props for actually listening long enough to get to the part where Taylor came up with valid points.

    • Maybe he should’ve… I dunno contacted somebody before charging in dick first. Even without the quarantine it’s still a sensitive situation with tons of hostages and capes that specialize in trickery. Without knowing the plan he could have easily gotten a bunch of people.

      So, yeah. I don’t really care about Weaver flat out telling him to fuck off. This is a military operation against supervillain serial killers, not Sunday school.

      Though I’d agree threatening to kill him was a bit much. Not cool. Even if the idea holds a small amount of appeal.

      • I dunno; I thought Skitter was all about finding clever ways to accomplish grim necessities. Keeping Eidolon on-side despite his Cauldron membership is a grim necessity.

      • It was cute, the way he acted like he had the moral high ground after trying to join in against an operation dealing with world-shattering possibilities for, and I’m paraphrasing, “Shits and giggles.”

        That’s airtight reasoning right there.

        • He wasn’t claiming the moral high ground. He was simply telling Weaver that she didn’t have the right to claim it either. If Weaver’s good actions can (and do) mitigate her bad ones, then the same goes for Eidolon. His crimes as a high-ranking member of Cauldron (albeit we don’t know how high) are obviously worse than hers, but at the same time, Eidolon has done more good than Taylor could ever hope to achieve. In New Delhi alone he stopped Phir Se from blasting away India and Behemoth from killing a few more capes before actually dying.

          Oh and if he was doing it for “shit and giggles” then he would have carved himself an empire (a la Moord Nag but bigger) and played god like Nilbog instead of risking his life every day.

          • This is the thing that people like to ignore in the Worm comment section. All too often people say that the ends only justify the means when Taylor is the one using the means. Noone doubts that Eidolon has been involved in some truly nasty shit, but until we have some sort of proof that he didn’t actually consistently save millions of lives over the years then it just seems like protagonist centered morality to scream about him.

            • Ah yes, mc2rpg’s usual claim that the ends justify the means as long as you claim you’re saving the world.

              Let’s see, we follow Taylor’s viewpoint, who has gotten her information from a powerful precog that knows her shit.

              But you want to say that Eidolon’s high crimes have been worth it just as much. He saves millions, so a little bit of kidnapping, murder, extortion, and so on are all to be excused. While we’re at it, why don’t we set up a giant charity for orphans that murderers can donate to, that way they can just pay and never have to be punished for it because the ends justifies the means there.

              See, what I’m wondering is where you get your evidence. As far as I see, you are taking at their word a shadowy conspiracy that has been involved in kidnapping, illegal human experimentation, murder, aiding and abetting, extortion, and whose membership has way too many connections to the Slaughterhouse 9. I don’t even know what to call some of their other crimes, though I’m pretty sure there’s some light treason in there too.

              I mean, maybe if we had any reason to believe they were reliable then it would be worth excusing some of what they do. All we have are secondhand claims about what some precog we have never seen before is saying, and those claims are being made by the likes of Dr. Mother, who has no problem lying to people within her own organization if you remember Legend’s interlude and Eidolon being strung along about his powers.

              So if you want to make the claim that Eidolon gets a pass because Cauldron is some fantastic organization that’s actually helping the world, then you have to present some evidence to back up this claim. You can compare Eidolon and Cauldron to Taylor all you want, but we have evidence of how Taylor’s actions have helped and we have her track record. I wouldn’t present myself as a good person if I had Cauldron’s record, I know that much.

              • You can ignore pretty much everything that Cauldron says and STILL have Eidolon come out ahead on lives saved. Aside from Scion he is the premiere parahuman for fighting the Endbringers. He really is powerful enough to make a big difference in those fights, and as we have seen in New Delhi any time a fight is won through the influence of Cauldron’s top soldiers that is millions of lives saved. Just off of Alexandria, Legend, and Eidolon we have plenty of evidence that millions of people that would be dead are still alive. You can try to spin that away, but it makes me wonder if you are just ignoring the consequences of Endbringer victories.

              • Also, my claim is never that the ends justify the means as long as you are saving the world. My claim is that Taylor shouldn’t be the only character given a pass for using the ends to justify the means. If the good Taylor does makes up for the bad she has done, then why aren’t you using that same metric on everyone else? Only applying that rationale to Taylor and punishing everyone else for it is protagonist centered morality and is just annoying.

              • Why should we put the Triumvirate on a pedestal just for their Endbringer contributions? Sure they show up to Endbringer fights. But so does everybody else; rogues, corporate capes, fucking teenagers go to Endbringer fights, even Neo Nazis show up. and then they fucking die, or watch their teammates and family die. These people as just as much responsible for saved lives as the Triumvirate, perhaps even moreso considering how many capes would be focusing on damage control and survivor rescue instead of just hitting Leviathan real hard. As far as I see it the only difference between Eidolon and all the other capes is that the former can survive and keep coming back. I’m sure Miss Militia and god knows who else would shove their fists right up Behemoths ass if they could.

                Sure Eidolon gets props for showing up to all the fights, but Chevalier dragged his ass out of a hospital bed with a hole in his chest to fight Behemoth, he’s just as much as a hero as the entire Triumvirate, at the very least.

                Excusing their actions because of their anti-Endbringer efforts seems like a slap in the face to all the capes that contribute just as much to the fight as they do. Dragon for one could well be worth ten Legends if she had the resources.

                It also ignores the fact that just hitting the Endbringers really hard doesn’t cut it. The Protectorate doesn’t need raw firepower, they need new tactics, better coordination, and to stop alienating people who want to help.

                Eidolon isn’t special, he just has a really good power. But we’ve already seen from Weaver that teamwork is just as important. Find the right parahuman kids and train them to be the best and they can more than make up for him.

              • You don’t have to put them on a pedastal, you just have to acknowledge that they have saved millions of lives. If you are going to allow Taylor’s good deeds to more than make up for her bad ones, you can’t just ignore the millions of people that would be dead if not for the Triumverate.

                And sure other capes have contributed to those battles, and they are heroes (quite probably more heroic than the Triumverate itself), but very few of them have the same level of contribution over the decades. The only character we have seen that can claim that kind of influence is Dragon, and that is more for her coordination and support roles then for actual combat.

                The fact is that you DO need to hit the Endbringers really hard, and the Triumverate filled that role for decades and saved a hell of a lot of people, more people than most humans will ever see.

                Trying to wave away their contributions as nothing special diminishes pretty much everyone in setting, because that kind of accusation can be applied to everyone if you can apply it to the Triumverate and Dragon.

          • Yes, for shits and giggles, because he lives for this, he said. He couldn’t control himself, in other words. That’s not a good sign, especially not combined with how he reacted to Noelle.

            This is a guy who is psychologically inclined to conflict who also has a strong survival instinct. If it comes down to Jack versus Eidolon where either Jack goes or they both die, I’d expect Eidolon to let him go, especially because then Eidolon can swoop in and fight him another time. Well, if he ever bothers to. Not like he tried to do much when they hit Brockton Bay.

            Ah, but maybe that’s just his passenger, you might suggest? Then it’s a bad thing still. Eidolon is letting his passenger take over too much. That’s what we’re seeing. Passengers heading into conflict, Endbringers thriving on conflict. Jack Slash’s connection to his passenger used as a reason for his attacks, Taylor’s passenger active and attacking while she’s knocked out, and now the possibility that Eidolon’s passenger is driving him into these kinds of fights?

            Nah. Leave Shitting Giggleman on the bench for this one.

    • Yes, Foil’s bolts went entirely through Leviathan’s head, and a chain that she empowered cut off Behemoth’s leg.

      I’m very suprised that she hasn’t started providing a very long chain to two flying bricks every endbringer fight.

      • I’m pretty sure the Thinkers spend a great deal of time and effort coming up with fresh new anti-Endbringer applications for Foil’s power. Doing the chain-thing again would only get Foil and/or the two flying bricks killed. Endbringers do not reward that kind of repetition, I suspect.

        • “Ok, what if we have Foil use her power on giant hook. We’ll stick it in Leviathan and it’ll have a rope leading to a rocket. We just blast him into space.”

          “Not going to throw them off enough. Hey, maybe we can have her paint a tunnel on the wall, get an Endbringer’s attention, run at the wall, somehow use her power to create a portion she can fade through, then solidify it just in time to smash the Endbringer in the face?”

          “Somebody fire that man out of a cannon at a roadrunner.”

          • Actually setting a hook in the smaller Endbringers and having one of the superpowered bricks with flight and the ability to withstand vacuum for a while haul them off into space might not be a bad idea. It would need to be a pretty long chain though, and it would have to be Clockbustered after it was set, or the Endbringer would probably break it fairly easily.

  31. People are speculating whether Jack’s pass at Nilbog is a bluff or a real attempt. I am guessing the answer is: both. Jack survives by making and advancing multiple plans and fall-backs simultaneously and adapting quickly to changing circumstances. His pass at Nilbog will not be the only thing going on – he will have at least one thing (possibly more) almost equally nasty planned so that the heroes lose if they split their forces (undermanned for Nilbog, whatever else goes on, or both), lose if they chase him to Nilbog (something else will be going on), and lose if they wait to see what else happens besides Nilbog (that gives him time to work all of his stunts). With Nilbog he can 1) not go at all and hope the capes piss off Nilbog by intruding into his town, 2) talk to Nilbog if he has time, 3) fight his way out of Nilbog Town if Nilbog turns nasty (plenty of firepower, tanks, and mobility still available in the S9000), or something else entirely.

    My favorite Jack/Nilbog scenario is Jack has the Mannequins whip up something approximating PRT/Protectorate gear and goes in with a combination subterfuge and strike team. He acts as if he is PRT/Protectorate, pisses of Nilbog, puts up a good fight (Crawler would love to be chewed on by Nilbog’s pets), and strategically retreats with the subterfuge half of the team … just in time for the real PRT/Protectorate to show up. Then Taylor’s forces are dealing with a S9000 strike team and a pissed-off Nilbog at the same time. That is pretty much guaranteed to have Nilbog gunning for the PRT/Protectorate and stomping all over Jack’s opposition at the same time. Even if the timing is off and Jack has to leave before the PRT/Protectorate get there, Taylor’s team walks into a situation with a supremely dangerous alerted enemy. In the mean time, Jack sends a more subterfuge-oriented team to Brockton Bay to start worming their way in, so he has information when he does decide to move on Brockton Bay. As a capper, he sends another team that is smarter and also more subterfuge-oriented team to see if they can slip someone into (our out of) the Birdcage. Harbinger, Mannequin (the closed environment guy ought to understand the Birdcage very well), Nice Guy, Psychosoma (almost guaranteed to have some sort of mental disruption ability, given the name), and Skinslip (I am betting he/she is a body snatcher sort) together ought to be able to figure something out about the Birdcage. Jack might not find many allies in the Birdcage (as we discovered with Blasto, even villains have standards), but cracking it would cause glorious, damaging chaos.

    I am guessing Gray Boy’s power now: he is an editor. Anything in his field (the colorless area) counts as his film reel … and he has a mind that can stand outside the primary reality and edit the film reel as he desires. Clockblocker time-stops him? No problem, the editor does a fix, or even a retcon. He dies, gets injured, or even says something awkward? Same answer. Lacking clothes when he gets decanted? The editor calls for wardrobe and makeup and fixes it. Doesn’t recognize people? The editor checks the script. The only way to kill him would be to affect the editor and the primary body at the same time – good luck.

    • I think you’re right. Jacks all about having lots of plans at once. He’ll go for Nilbog, but preventing him will be part of the plan and there’ll be other ways to cause chaos even if that plan fails, and so on. He obviously wants the heroes to go to Nilbog, or they wouldn’t know about it. It’s a trap or part of a scheme, but they can’t afford to ignore it. The perfect plan is one in which you cannot lose.

  32. You know, I’m not entirely sure if I buy Taylor’s reasons for sending off Eidolon.

    Well, technically I do, but I’m not sure why, in the many years they’ve had to ask Dinah about it, asked questions about the major players being involved with the end of the world. Like, “what are the numbers for the end of the world if we nuke Nilbog” and details on bringing in major players for the end of the world. I can’t really see why Dinah’s powers wouldn’t help with that, and they’ve had a long time to work on this.

    • Dinah can only answer so many questions before she starts to hurt herself, and after her history with Coil she won’t let anyone control her, so they can’t monopolize her answers. Still, you would think that by now someone would have gotten a lot more detail on the variables beyond ‘Jack will trigger the end of the world’. Why not check if specific people (like Eidolon and Legend) will NOT increase the odds of the apocalypse if they get involved in the hunt for Jack? With that sort of reassurance, they could afford to send in the big guns.

      Of course, that would not change the fact that Eidolon is a jerk and not a team player. He just does his thing and you have to adapt to it as best you can. Not so good for Taylor, who is trying to run this operation with maximum coordination. I suspect she wouldn’t want him around even if she knew it was safe.

      • That is basically what I meant. After all she HAS been giving updates on the general state of things, and it seems specifics would be rather valuable with the several years to ask.

        • If there’s an 80-90% chance of the world ending, and that isn’t altered much by a nuke, it’s my guess that there are multiple ways Jack could start it off – so many to the point that asking might lead to so many “That could be it” kind of answers that it would be pointless to ask.

          On the other side, other powers might be interfering with Dinah’s ability to pin things down to specifics, but Jack’s involvement is so key that she can see that much.

    • The guy’s kind of a dick. He’s helped get the world into the state it’s in, where it’s heavily dick-dominated.

      Besides, it was already acknowledged that they’re acting under Simurgh protocols. Eidolon’s just the dick jumping in the middle of everything without going through proper channels because he feels like it.

      It’s possible I have a negative bias against the dick though. I don’t know why, but it’s on the tip of my tongue. I’ll get back to you when I’ve slept on it.

      • If he really was so-much of a dick, the moment Taylor decided that murder threats were the perfect way to argue her point, he could have told the Protectorate he was acting out of self-defense, blast Weaver out of the way and swoop down to save the day.

        • Eidolon seems to be at least an intelligent dick. Alexandria was killed because she tried to play mind games with Taylor and badly underestimated her. I think Eidolon knows that presuming an easy victory would be a stupid mistake. And then let’s look at the rest of the situation. I don’t think much of anyone else was privy to that conversation, seeing as it took place in the air above the apartment building, so if he did just blast her, you’d have the Wards and Undersiders seeing Eidolon randomly swooping in and breaking the truce. Even if he tried to defend himself, it would be his word against dozens of witnesses. Considering Cauldron’s “persona non grata” status with the Protectorate, I’m pretty sure they’d listen to someone like Clockblocker over him in this situation.

  33. Now that I’ve read from where I started to the end, I have a few comments. Criticisms come first because they’re easier for me to bring to mind.

    1) It bothers me that you have teenagers acting and thinking so maturely, and knowing so much. Taylor isn’t the only one, but she alone would have to have been raised on a steady diet of sage wisdom and book smarts – and that doesn’t fit with someone who was bullied like she was, or her dad’s apparent personality. Every time I recall Taylor’s age, all of my suspension of disbelief falls apart.

    2) I said in one of my other comments that I skipped to near the middle of the story to date (around S9) because I found the beginning boring. Simply put, my recollection of it was that it focused more on Taylor’s school/unpowered life, and that’s just not interesting until there’s investment in a character and the world they live in. How you presented her where I jumped in was interesting and gripping with regard to both the character and setting. You might want to consider dropping her unpowered history into the story in little bits here and there. Though I haven’t gone back to read the chapters I skipped yet, I already feel like I’ve got a good handle on what happened.

    Honestly, starting a story off with a “normal life” or “bullied life” does two things, to me. First, it increases the chance of the story being disregarded as author wish fulfillment or sympathy-seeking. Second, it begins like an uninspired storybook or movie. What I’ve read has little to nothing to do with those early events. They’re background motivation and reference points, so they shouldn’t start the story. The bulk of your work is about your main character being in conflict with a world that is vast, scary, unpredictable, and something we could never experience – not about a teenager dealing with her normalish-bad circumstances or her transition to powered life. I think it’s best to jump right into the depth of the action from the start so we have the right expectations about what is to come.

    3) You misuse some words, and others are recurring to the point that it’s a bit irksome. Acrid is one of the repetitions. Misuses include predilection, adroit, and bequest. You probably don’t want readers picking up dictionaries to figure out your meaning, to begin with. I’d recommend focusing on showing rather than telling and simple wording in order to make your work more translatable.

    4) The time skip with the 4th/5th Endbringers is a major problem. Not only in how it was executed, but in that it seems to be a part of a new pattern for you: leaving out details in the rush to get somewhere. It completely jarred me to go from a fight to an unrelated conversation and break in time. I’d come to expect that Taylor’s development (personal and powered) would be shown through her encounters with major threats, or in preparation-downtime (like being in her lair). I liked how you gave hints of development throughout chapters that gave a lot of information without a lot of text (like the terrariums in her territory). In contrast, post-timeskip you have a bunch of things just showing up. As a consequence, Worm went from being a progressive story about adapting to a disjointed series of event-fulfillment. I’m not invested in these new Endbringers, I’m not invested in the new S9, and I feel like every character is an imposter.

    I’m not against the idea of skipping ahead in time or characters changing, but it needs to be paced and sectioned. More montage-like, probably over the course of 1-3 chapters. Showing the characters’ emotional changes, power/technique improvements, relationship changes, and physical changes. The timeskip you threw out and all of the changes since feel like it’s an entirely different story. Moreover, it seems like everything is just escalation to extreme degrees. Five Endbringers aren’t enough? Ok, they come every two months. S9 being back around can’t impress compared to that, so let’s make them an army. The story itself has become headline-chasing or photo-op creating, just like Jack. The characters’ powers, strategies, and personalities are just as fragmented and warped compared to before as the world is. In effect, rather than feeling like the end of the world is coming, I feel like the world already ended and this is some sort of bizzaro echo in an alternate universe.

    Trying to put this in different terms, it’s like I stopped reading Worm and started reading bad, flash-in-the-pan fanfiction.

    Your writing is still quality. The elements in it and how they’re put together aren’t satisfying. It’s riddled with holes.

    It isn’t just the differences in characters, either. It’s the way that big gaps in events are left unaddressed and screw with our expectations, or events occur that contradict what we’ve come to expect – like how Clockblocker is just suddenly alive and present, when I completely believed that he was gone because we’ve been taught to trust Taylor’s deductive skills. The dialogue between Imp and Taylor when they met up at Regent’s memorial was similar: Nothing explained, everything totally out of element and expectation. Except the audience was Taylor, and Worm was Imp. Yet we can assume that Taylor wanted answers and wanted to catch up with her teammates, and did so offscreen. She wanted to fill in at least some of the blanks in order to make sense of things. We never get the chance as readers.

    Compare Bonesaw’s interlude to the story post-timeskip. As it is written now, Bonesaw’s interlude is much like Worm pre-timeskip. It omits periods of time, but there’s consistent character development, background, details on peripheral characters, and an broken flow of movement. If, instead, we suddenly were introduced to Bonesaw at the point that she had created her system to fake her old personality, we’d wonder what the point was, but might be accepting if many of the fundamentals and impactful moments were related in mini-flashbacks while she traveled with the new group to Killington. The post-timeskip story is like skipping the interlude entirely, but dropping hints that Bonesaw wasn’t who she used to be and might turn on the S9 if they start to lose.

    Only, Bonesaw has never been the main character of Worm – or really even a secondary character. We might be able to excuse the latter case above for her, but it’s hard to do with Taylor, the Undersiders, and the cast of Wards she’s come to interact with regularly.

    • Now praise.

      1) The pace of action in Worm is the best I’ve read. You’re great at writing conflict, and generally do so without me sitting back and saying “Why did you do that?” (like for a horror movie). It would be easy to get bogged down in character psychology and reasoning. You generally manage to add in some self-doubt about tactics or moral decisions while using the psychology to communicate the tension.

      [Side note as I recall it: There doesn't seem to be any real panic by any of the characters, which nudges my suspension of disbelief. Also, Taylor not falling over from exhaustion after battle after battle and lack of rest, and so many characters being healed without indication of who is doing the healing or the presence of dedicated cape healers chips away at my immersion moreso. Something as simple as a scene in which the team is being treated by one of many Protectorate healers on rotation could do a lot - especially if they can relieve mental fatigue instead of just pain and damage. Or Tattletale getting her neck fixed by a hired healing merc and telling a new ally why she's paying so much (headache relief). Or maybe Jack starts targeting traveling healers. Whatever the case, healers should be incorporated into earlier parts of the story during post-battle scenes - even if just mentioned in passing as to how a weaker healer has left recovery yet to be done, or a more powerful but type-specific one has left a character favoring wounds that are gone or injuring wounds they forgot weren't healed.]

      2) I like the few notes you dropped about Taylor’s counseling outside of the scenes with Jessica. It makes Taylor seem like more of a person than just an avatar for conflict resolution. Going too deep into her self-directed thinking would derail the thrust and flow of the story, but I’d like to see more revealing moments like that. They have a power that off-hand mentions of worries about her dad or teammates don’t have, and can feed into setting up and explaining interactions with others.

      3) Showing that the core characters are out of their depth, despite all of their improvements and abilities, is a great way to keep the story relatable and ward off the feeling that the work is author wish-fulfillment. Tattletale being upset about being so far behind in figuring things out and her reactions at the meeting were great. The new Endbringers were great – especially in light of the number of capes falling so quickly, and even the more powerful capes being able to do little.

      That’s part of why I wanted to see more of them. The story was ripe for Taylor and the others falling into despair – or nearly so – and fighting it tooth and nail as they struggled to keep things together in both a psychological sense and a tactical sense – both personally and globally. I think that would have driven a lot of character development and other changes that a timeskip montage would accelerate to essentially logical conclusions, and would result in things feeling less jarring. Desperation on the part of all groups forcing cooperation would also be a solid theme to explore in the midst of the coming end. That desperation, the crippling despair and panic of some capes, the surreality experienced by noncapes, the contrasts between everything falling apart and new things flourishing (e.g. Brockton Bay vs the latest Endbringer target) pulling people toward two very different states of mind, and maybe the new madness of common people and capes alike would really drive the change in setting home – especially once people start questioning whether the ‘Jack ends the world prophecy’ was ever true, or even matters in light of the new Endbringers, their tactics, and their schedule.

      If an Endbringer destroyed people’s sense of security by attacking the same place twice, it could throw a lot of things into craziness. For a simple starter: How would capes and noncapes deal with increasing rates of suicide, homicide, and non-induced forms of insanity? [e.g. people suddenly quitting their jobs, harming others, shutting themselves in, etc. as their sense of reality - their most basic expectations - come crashing down in a way worse than what happened with the first Endbringer attack - and there doesn't seem to be any improvement, only greater chaos, in the future?]

      4) One of the biggest problems with superhero stories is explaining the powers of characters – their origins, operations, etc. Very early, I got the sense that this universe wasn’t like our own, so the same rules didn’t apply. By the time that the alternate worlds thing came up, I’d already created a non-realistic mindspace for Worm, such that the mention of 9/11 and connecting to Earth Aleph didn’t break my suspension of disbelief. You also have enough powers active that it’s easier to get swept up in reading and envisioning what’s happening than thinking about the powers. Giving more-or-less logical breakdowns of power limitations injects enough pseudorealism that I can just enjoy the ride. With those elements, you’ve essentially conquered the biggest hurdle for stories like this, while still keeping things unpredictable and strange enough to constantly trigger feelings of novelty.

      5) Every large-breadth story has to combat the issue of being divorced from reality. No story with a cast larger than just a few people could ever be written with a truly human perspective because of the depth of emotions, motivations, conflicts, and real-world hurdles that they’re bound to face. Doing a superhero story on a global scale is even worse, because you have the additional hurdle of getting people to not think about the characters directly presented to the audience, and how they could be affecting the story.

      You keep things fast-moving enough and give enough hints about offscreen power dynamics and side plots that it makes it easy to focus on just the presented characters, and almost believable that they’re among the few mobilizing toward such major events as those that secretly drive everything in the Wormverse. Killing off characters like Accord as more answers are revealed and things get more tightly knit together also eliminates players who could otherwise complicate the story and distract the reader through thinking about what those other characters are up to. Being nearly mum on the subject of the most influential group/groups (e.g. Cauldron, whoever made the Endbringers) for so long as also given the reader a nice psychological dumping ground for curiosities and explanations, allowing them to be able to focus on Taylor’s journey.

      What you’ve written is far better than most fiction I’ve read – primarily because of your approach to focus on conflict, revealing details and personal things in short scenes and mini-sidenotes in the midst of other scenes, and your displacing of other major conflicts to the distant offscreen where the featured characters don’t venture though they are affected by the outcomes here and there. You give the audience excuses to not consider things without forcing those things out of mind (such as Dinah not interacting with Taylor in order to prevent changes in the numbers).

      Most importantly, you’ve made the audience trust your main character and those she trusts, while still leaving them on shaky footing (doubt, ineptness, and so on) that keeps us interested in them, rather than just the events happening around them. And that’s the only way to tell a good story.

      • I mostly agree with what you are saying, but do you really think Taylor is mature? Her encounter with Eidolon struck me as being very immature. Taylor multitasks extremely well, there’s no reason for her conversation with Eidolon to be so rude and threatening. With her demonstrated intelligence and planning ability, do you really think that she hadn’t considered how to deal with the powerful capes that might show up who she didn’t want being around? She chose just about the best way possible to really piss off and stress out one of the most powerful capes on the planet. That’s NOT the planner side of Taylor, that’s the teenager who wants the old guy to go away because he might get in the way or break something he doesn’t understand. Even though the reason for the argument was sound, the choice of what was said was completely the wrong thing.

        Hrm, Wildbow, a thought just crossed my mind. Eidolon could easily have generated powers to allow himself to hear what Nyx said. Too many different possibilities to compute if that happened.

        • There’s a difference between how one is generally and how one is in a specific situation. In general, Taylor responds to life in ways that fit better with someone in their twenties or thirties than their teens. Her relationship with Grue is a perfect example of that. Compare what she is concerned about and how she deals with problems to how the Wards respond or Cozen responds – much less what we might expect from the kids at the high school. Similarly, compare her reactions to betrayal to those of others – even adults in the PRT/Protectorate. She consistently focuses on the bigger picture, keeps her emotions in check, and orients herself toward goals.

          • Agreed, there is something of a gap between various levels of maturity we see in different situations. I was just amazed that Taylor was cool, calm and collected after being suprised by Dragon and Defiant in a school, and pretty much out of control when conversing with Eidolon, in a situation she had to have planned for.

            On the other side of the coin, she WAS in a fight for her life at the time, unlike the school incident, which never really got to the point of a real fight. But at the school, her secret identity was being outed, which had to add a whole lot of extra stress.

            It just seemed jarring to me when I read it. Seemed out of character, like I was watching an otherwise very mature teen act out under stress, but we have seen her in highly stressful situations before

            The things that she’s been through are pretty extreme, and have certainly made her more mature than we would expect from any “normal” teenager.

            I’m more than willing to believe in a very mature Taylor who spouts off every now and then, but the Eidolon conversation seemed a bit off.

    • Thanks for the critique.

      A little late, so I won’t offer too extensive a response. Others are free to comment to fill in the gaps, agree or disagree.

      Re: early being weak – yes, I know. I’ve stated so (I think I even say so in the about page, or I did for a long time). I was a novice when I started, I’m still kind of a novice writer now. Rewrite planned for the future.

      Re: timeskip – Again, rewrite planned. I know it’s subpar, and people keep saying the same thing over and over like they’re saying something new. I appreciate feedback, but I don’t really know what to say beyond what I’ve said (that I was distracted IRL when I wrote it and that played a big part in it being a very weak arc, I know it has flaws, that I plan to fix them).

      Teenagers being worldly/mature – I don’t think this is out of line as written. I’ve said so elsewhere, but there’s a lot of cases where people are forced to grow up quickly. In the dark ages (and Worm has parallels to the bronze/dark ages, as stated in some places) people were adults at 15 or 16 and fending for themselves. Is their judgement fully evolved? No, but that’s seen in a number of places – see debates for even this chapter, on Taylor. Look at the context (you may have missed a fair bit by skipping ahead) and you’ll see that it’s kind of erroneous to compare the protagonists to yourself when you were in highschool, or to teenagers you might know today.

      I’m not sure I agree with point three either, but that’s subjective. I’ll leave that to my editor(s) when the time comes. (As an aside, I’m not sure where ‘show, don’t tell’ fits in – the advice as typically given doesn’t fit in with the rest of what you were saying)

      • It matters that I haven’t read any of the comments to this point, I’m sure. I stuck to just the story as it was.

        By “show vs tell”, I meant something like describing Taylor’s physical reaction to the taste/smell her bugs were picking up, instead of using another repetition of acrid – as an example.

        Re: Maturity: If you describe the world in different kinds of terms earlier on that make that kind of worldly life apparent, then it probably isn’t as much of an issue. What I will say is that the behavior of the teenagers in the high school for the D&D v Taylor video and the differences between Taylor’s maturity and that of other capes reinforced the cracks in my suspension of disbelief. It’s weird for Taylor to be that mature at 16, but even weirder for others in her age group to be more typical teenagers from my experience.

        And I’ve never been able to help but think that Taylor wouldn’t have been bullied if the kids were more mature as a whole in Worm’s universe. Or, at least the bullying would only be done by true psychopaths – and then she wouldn’t have been so isolated.

        • By “show vs tell”, I meant something like describing Taylor’s physical reaction to the taste/smell her bugs were picking up, instead of using another repetition of acrid – as an example.

          I’m not saying that wildbow didn’t overuse the word “acrid” (I didn’t notice if he did — it’s not a word that is jarringly unfamiliar to me), but it’s been consistently established that Taylor doesn’t react physically to most things she senses with her bugs … or, at this point, to most things, period. Unless it’s Taylor herself being assaulted with acrid scents, it’s probably going to have to be “tell”.

          • Having read some of teh earlier chapters, I have to disagree now. The “buzzing” in her ears seems to be tied not just to a sensation generalized, but like the sound of her bugs is actually seeping in when she’s losing control. She also makes it clear that she can sense taste and sight from the bugs, and her body language and thoughts change. It might not be her own senses responding, but she -does- physically react tot he bugs’ senses.

        • Reacting to this and some other comments:

          I don’t think it’s that implausible that Taylor is as mature as she is. I’m pretty sure there was at least one kid in my Scout troop who was in the same ballpark — I remember when he joined at age eleven wondering why he was looking up to me (three or four years older), given that I didn’t think I was as together as he already was.

          Actually, I think it would have been more jarring for me if every teenager in Wormverse had that kind of emotional stability. With the Undersiders, it’s understandable — Regent, Bitch, and Grue were each in their respective ways trained in the combat mindset, and Tattletale in the con man mindset — but it would be inexplicable for, say, all the Wards to be randomly imbued with that degree of sang-froid.

          • It’s not implausible if we don’t know about her background, because her background could be anything. But I got the impression that she was a relatively normal kid (normal for our universe) until Emma turned on her. It doesn’t seem as though she grew up with any reason to be especially mature. One of Wildbow’s comments was that every kid should be more mature because of the setting, and I was responding that it didn’t really seem to me that they actually were much more mature. The teens who have been capes for awhile and been trained by older capes would likely be more mature than basic high schoolers, but the high schoolers don’t seem different from those in our universe.

            • The kid from my Scout troop was a relatively normal kid. And everything we hear about Taylor’s mom implies she was an incredible person.

              I guess I just don’t see Taylor’s mental toughness as being as absurd as you portray it, and that lets me give it a bye under the old anthropic principle of fiction: one of the main reasons that Taylor Hebert is the protagonist rather than Missy Biron or Victoria Dallon or Brian Laborn or Trevor Medina or any number of other people closely hooked into the Brockton Bay cape ecosystem is that she’s exceptional — and therefore better able to carry the story that we come here to read.

      • Also, I feel like I should say that for the vast majority of what I read, I didn’t see a need for any changes in flow or style. And considering how much text that covers, you did very well. This is quality work – especially for a new author.

    • I have to disagree with you on a couple of points.

      1. The major difference between Teenagers and adults is not physical, it is the fact that teenagers have less experience than the average adult. Your criticism would apply to normal teenagers, but teenagers like The Undersiders are forced into getting a lot of life experience. They should act less like the average teen and more like adults. The fact that they act this way is fairly realistic.

      2. The transition from poor bullied taylor to badass skitter honestly occurs fairly realistically in the parts you skipped. Taylor faced a lot before the Slaughterhouse Nine, and she changed realistically. Honestly, the way Wildbow handled her Character Arc from weak schoolgirl to strong supervillain absolutely made the series for me. Simple Flashbacks like you suggest wouldn’t give her the same depth she has as a character. She would merely be a creepy supervilain teenager ho was bullied as a kid.

      Instead, she was an aspiring superhero, who accidently fell into villainy, and struggled to stay alive and keep her morals while trying to not dig herself into a deeper hole, before she can climb out. However, as she looked around, she realized the world was not divided into a world of white and black, and saw that the the PRT wasn’t the bastion of purity she thought it was. Simultaneausly, she started to develop real feelings for the villains who took her in, as they were truly her only friends since she started getting bullied. Eventually, she embraced her role as a villainess, but still continues to try and keep her moral compass. And it is hard to keep that moral compass as she fights true monsters like Bakuda, Kaiser and other villains.

      You can show a shadow of that story with some flashbacks, but it is nothing compared to the powerful journey Wildbow wrote. Sure, it is a bit clumsy as Wildbow was still starting out, but it is still very good.

      3. If you see some word choices you don’t like, please post them in the typo threads. Wildbow is always happy for someone to point out mistakes she(he?) wrote. We would be glad to see more people post there.

      4. Dear god that timeskip is awful and was clumsily handled. Can’t really disagree with what you said there.

    • On teenagers not having the right to be mature: I think your own experience/worldview colours your idea of what a teenager -can- be.

      She’s 15 when the story starts. Most of the other cast is between 16 and 20. That’s more than enough years to be mature from if your environment is right (or wrong, depending on perspective).

      If someone has been soldiering for a year or two, or being hunted down, living in… well, in brockton bay post leviathan that someone needs a specific skillset and knowledge to simply -survive-.
      That’s why they act the way they do. They’re child soldiers and war refugees.

      Btw, just to cheer up everyone, and to put things into perspective about unlucky childhoods:

      About 300’000 teenagers in about that same age bracket are part of armed forces engaged in warfare. This happens right now on our Earth.
      A small minority of those are kid as young as 8.

      There are about 8 -million- teens living as refugees right now in the world.

      Most of the soldiers are males, most of the refugees are females btw. That’s because on our Earth they do not get superpowers, so they’re marginally weaker than boys. And… well, because the sergeant is usually an adult, and is going to demands favours.
      (Source: unicef and unhcr. which I would really like to see in Earth Beth btw, maybe their superpowered teams.)

      • And might as well point out that there is are teenagers in Guantanamo as well. I think one was said to have been 12 when he was brought in.

        Also, Johnny and Luther Htoo exist. They led their own group of guerillas starting out at age 9 or 10.

        Might also be worth pointing out that Alexander of Macedonia started out being tutored by Aristotle when he was 13. At 16, he began kicking asses and taking names.

      • In the story, Taylor appears to have had a normal American life up until the point that Emma turned on her. That’s very different from being a child soldier.

        • I think that the relevance of child soldiers is that being put in adult situations ages you a lot faster, mentally speaking. All the younger characters have had traumatic upbringings, that’s the whole point of trigger events, so they’re not completely normal. Getting involved in fights and crimes is obviously going to make them seem more like adults.
          Anyway, as a teenager myself, I never saw anything unrealistic about Taylor’s behaviour. By 15, I think most intelligent teenagers are easily able to act as adults in the right situation.

    • It’s a shame, you fool, that you didn’t pay attention to the comments. Now quake with fear! Or wave with joy. Possibly tornado with embarrassment, I don’t know. So back to your shame. Your SHAAAAME! Well, a shame for one of us. Other people at least got an idea what was coming, and someone even claimed I kept them sane, of all things.

      Let me slide up in here and lay my thing down.

      But there’s no skipping around now, 0 card. Smell that potentially acrid flower, lift your head high, and prepare to step out over the precipice. You’re in my world now, not your world, and I got friends on the other side. And the higher side, and the lower side. There’s not really a side-to-side here. It’s cramped like that, but it was designed for max headroom.

      Now, it may be your predilection to write incredibly long posts, and there’s nothing wrong with that, just be aware that people aren’t necessarily going to keep following them unless they’re expecting something. Humor is a good way to keep people reeled in, but I find that adroit use of cusswords can hold people’s attention as well. Luckily Wildbow has put out a request for a bequest of criticism. And that’s some illin’ wordplay, motherfucker.

      If you want more wordplay, stick around. Sometimes people take words and make little swords and shields and have a spirited fight over the truly important issues of the story. Whether Taylor is a hero or a villain, whether Bonesaw should be killed or spared, whether Taylor prefers panties, thongs, or commando. I’m going with commando, myself. As we all know, the only thing more free than boxers after the Boxer Rebellion is the addition of commandoes to the battlefield. Truly, they are liberating, and I think my guess will win minds. Hearts are secondary, good only for pumping blood and throwing at someone as a distraction.

      Provided you’ll actually keep up with the story, you’ll have to put up with a lot of this in the comments down here. Puns and plays on words are also common. Mostly stuff by Shakespeare, of course, as he provided so many extra words, like eyeball. Eyeball. You like eyeballs? The iBall is the most popular, but not only, way to view Worm, but look out for temperature changes! It wouldn’t do to get iCy Hot on your iBalls or you’ll be sent to a very repetitive punishment with Captain ibid. i, i, Cap’n!

      Yargh, if you so choose, you’ll be part of the S.S. Worm Comments Section now. We be on a dangerous quest…to the end of the world! If you choose to stay, you’ll have to provide your own rum. Best way to keep from getting a headache from me. But that’s all on you at this point.

      It’s your decision now. Join us and face crazification, or leave and face us talking about you behind your back. That’s on you now. My part was merely to welcome you to the comments, Intelligent Fool.

    • I would like to comment on point two, where you ask wildbow to eliminate the beginning. Personally, I think the beginning is ranges from pretty good to excellent. I found the background interesting. I liked how it helped ease you into such an intense story. And I love the contrast between the first chapter and the rest of the arc. I mean, holy crap, this girl who was just mildly angsty a chapter or two ago is now holding her own against a villain we later find out beat off an Endbringer! It’s a shock, and it helps communicate how quickly Taylor is plunged into this life.

      • I suppose we simply disagree. I just finished writing comments on Hive 5.4 saying that I basically still feel that the first chapters should be a separate prequel story that people can pick up later once they’re invested in the characters. I also see near complete or actually complete disconnects from what was written then and what has been written since. You can look there for more about that.

        • I removed one because there’s nebulous not-quite-spoilers-but-they-imply-stuff-about-later-material in there.

          It appeared on Hive 5.4, and read:

          ‘Separate to my suggestions above, here are my thoughts thus far in the back-reading process (keep in mind that I started reading from after the first EB; spoilers averted by careful wording):

          - Taylor’s transition to a member of the Undersiders is completely believable. Finding a social group, leaping in head-first towards what she sees as a way to escape, continuing to be involved even after the danger because the only thing she’s really been living for is to be a cape, and slowly coming to understand the Undersiders and get more involved – all of it is natural. I’d except Taylor to ruminate and hesitate more before getting back into the fray of fighting, and I’ve felt that at several points during the story. She seems to just leap in more-or-less emotionlessly, and that’s a thing constant enough that it needs to be addressed either with an explanation, or by showing us some of her fear and rationalization. We don’t see her dealing with the massive cognitive dissonance she has to have over these issues. Rather, it seems like her only mental struggles are the tension between good & bad (in her and around her/her expectations from others), and fitting into her new relationships.

          That makes her seem like a cardboard cutout / self-insert when it comes to fighting (rushing from one comic panel to the next), but a very real person when it comes to relationship insecurities and identity insecurity. It’s a very weird contrast, and it stands out heavily as a result – especially since more people would be emotionally messed up by the fighting and less by “right & wrong”. (Grue is an example. He’s practically Taylor’s emotional opposite, it seems. I keep wanting to see him dealing with emotional struggles over his relationships and his self-identity, but all I get is battle-related issues [either about the fights and their outcomes, his position as leader/non-leader, or his powers]. The one exception seems to be an odd quietness about what happened you-know-when, which sometimes seems to disappear from his mind entirely – rather than being something always present in some way or another, even if an immediate situation like a fight forces him to focus on something else.)

          - I still very much feel like all of these older chapters aren’t necessary to your central story. I might say something different later, but I think you might be better with starting Worm from where I started reading, and use the material from these older chapters as a prequel to be released later – something people can read because they’re already invested in the characters and want to learn more about them and how they got to where they are. Honestly, if I had started reading from chapter one as you have it, I wouldn’t have come back at some point. I’m only interested because of what I’ve already read further ahead. I don’t think anything up to this chapter has contributed much of anything to your story, aside from Taylor’s slow emotional/mental transition to being a member of the Undersiders. And I only wondered about that previously because she seemed to be such an integral part of the team.

          Prior to going back, I thought that Lisa was someone she met at school, was a daughter to one of her dad’s or mom’s friends, or was someone she met on a jog. I thought that Lisa had played a part in nudging Taylor into the Undersiders, but that Grue was the one who met them and brought them both on board. Not so far off target, but I didn’t need all of these chapters to resolve my questions/curiosities.

          I also thought that one of the bullies probably either became a cape because of something Taylor did, or was a cape while bullying Taylor – and that’s why Taylor had a trigger event. I think the degree to which I was off in this case speaks to the problems I mentioned in my other comment.

          I have enjoyed the interactions between Taylor and the Undersiders just as much as I’ve been bothered by the school/bullying-related backstory. And Rachel has been humanized and become sympathetic in a way that I wouldn’t have guessed given how silent and simple her character is portrayed later on. She seems more like a person and more rational now. I feel like her later characterization is more like what I said about Taylor above – a cardboard cut-out cape moving from panel to panel to be part of action scenes.

          I also wouldn’t have expected Danny to know about Taylor’s history with bullying. He doesn’t react to her later in ways that suggest he ever really knew more than just the fact that she had been bullied. Him even knowing she was hospitalized caught me by surprise. Neither Taylor nor Danny later are characterized in ways that make it seem like the degree of intense bullying and the hospitalization ever happened, and there really isn’t a hint of it before they’re mentioned, either. The story gives no indicators to suggest that things were so bad, so it just blindsides the reader when it shows up, and then doesn’t seem to have ever happened – like a plot-explanation, character-defining missile that pops into reality and then out again, without having any impact.

          I also never would have believed that Taylor confronted the bullies in any way – especially not in public. With how much she talks about being afraid of her power and what she might become if she used it in revenge, I’d think she’d even avoid showing her anger toward the bullies. More than that, I’m shocked that there’s no hint that Taylor slapped Emma in front of her dad, or that the school meeting happened. Those are the kinds of things that I’d expect to see the effects of throughout interactions between Taylor and Danny, and I’d expect it to be part of Danny’s thought process later on. But there’s no hint of it.

          - I like the power scaling – that the Undersiders slowly grow into their abilities and become more powerful over time (perhaps because of being surrounded by new stress and/or conflict?). I also like that it feels like we’re seeing the origin of Grue’s authority perspective, but having the idea seeded by Bakuda makes it totally weird when Taylor later references her style of management as being based on Grue’s teachings. I’d expect Taylor to always associate it with Bakuda, and feel uneasy about it – to the point that I’m not sure she ever would have taken a leadership role with that attitude, and at least would never have felt comfortable with it. Maybe that’s how she starts and it changes over time – but I have yet to see how that would happen. I’d expect bad feelings about the idea to always linger. In that sense, Parian reacts more like I’d expect pre-EB Taylor to.’

          ———————
          Also – and I’ve removed other details from comments, including the move to Chicago/joining the Wards. Please be more considerate to new readers.

          • I made it a point to not imply that she joined the Wards, and to not state why she was in Chicago. And what I wrote couldn’t be interpreted without details from the later chapters. Even mentioning Parian shouldn’t be able to say anything, given that she controls Dolltown.

            But I’ll make future comments on newer entries, anyway.

    • 1. Remember Taylor’s mom for a moment. She was more or less giving Taylor “a steady diet of sage wisdom and book smarts” before she died. As for the other characters…well, maturity varies, and so does the reason for it. Grue and Vista are hardened by experience. Imp and Regent are/were pretty immature. Tattletale acts like she knows a lot because she is a (partly literal) know-it-all. Most of the more “mature” or knowledgeable characters are pretty clearly of above-average intelligence–actually, most of the capes are.
      Overall, when you consider that these teens are anything but a nice, random sampling of teenaged people…it fits.

      2. I disagree. Seeing Taylor, pre-awesome, before you see her awesome, helps you appreciate and understand her growth.
      Look at it this way: It’s the difference between seeing Luke learn how to use the Force and such over the course of a trilogy, and going back to see how pathetic Anakin was before becoming Vader.

      3. A bit of a…what’s the right term? It’s grammatical, not where my critic/counter-critic skills are. But yeah, some words seem to be used a bit. (Incidentally, you left “copacetic” off your list.)

      4. I’m not sure how much “new” stuff happened in the two years. The impression I got was that she kept doing what she had been–taking down crime lords, converting villains, joining the Endbringer fights, etc–for two years. That seems like it would get dull after a while. Remember, the entire story up to that point took place over less than a year. Taylor spent three or four months as a villain, covering over 20 arcs. Imagine, for a moment, 50-60 arcs of what we saw in the arc or two before the time-skip. And, if you’ll recall, Golem said Taylor had basically been on autopilot most of the two years; that implies that she didn’t even change much in those two years, compared to her first bit as a cape.
      It could probably have been done better (although the method used has its merits), but a timeskip of some kind had to be done.
      The lack of knowledge Taylor had about the Undersiders was addressed, basically by pointing out that it would probably be kinda hard to get in touch with the criminal overlords of Brockton Bay, aka her old teammates, without risking a parole violation (ie, risking being caught by someone who cared).
      I will hold off on judgement of if it could be done better until I see it done differently. The Bonesaw interlude’s method worked well because there were major changes and important events over those many months. On the other hand, the method used has a nice segue (Khonsu’s attack -> Taylor rewatching a vid of Khonsu’s attack), plus the readers feel as surprised about new events in the Bay as taylor does, plus we don’t see a series of attacks which are more or less like the Topsy raid.

  34. “-they’ve got crazy good interior design, what with Parian and all,” Imp finished. She made a smug little sound, like she was very pleased with herself.

    I choose to read this as “their roleplaying & bondage setup is amazing, and they’re so into it I actually gotta stop watching sometimes, because it’s like.. too intimate. You know.”

  35. Comments for Gestation 1.5, because it won’t let me post there for some reason:

    I’m confused as to why the fire didn’t get her hair or costume.

    “The irony of the fire escape being anything but didn’t escape me.”

    ^ You do this a lot; using a word (or form of a word) multiple times in close proximity.

    I think that you could start off the story from Gestation 1.5, and refer back to the events prior to where you start off either in the same chapter (e.g. the very basics on who Lung is or Taylor wanting to be a heroine), or drop them in during the next chapter. That would put the reader right in the middle of some interesting action from the outset.

    Also, unless Taylor’s backstory is revisited between here and the S9 arc I started on, there’s a lot less mentioned than I expected. You could easily scale her age up, make the bullying events bullying by someone with powers who was using them (thus eliminating the problem of most others’ responses), and/or make Taylor’s mother a sort of sage teacher who instilled a lot of wisdom into her daughter prior to her death. Variations on those ideas could easily solve a lot of the problems I brought up – especially if the bullying flies under the public radar because of the powers involved, and is done by only the more psychopathic or sociopathic kids.

    • The repeated word use can be chalked up to either a train-of-thought thing or the fact that Worm is currently, to quote wildbow, “first-draft stuff”. (Okay, closer to 1.5th-draft stuff since he’s fixed a lot of typos, but still.)

      I don’t like the idea of starting with action. Worm isn’t a story of bad guys and good guys fighting, it’s a story of Taylor’s growth and change as a person (and a bunch of other things). Starting out with Taylor at school, being bullied, works because that’s where her life started…and for the first several arcs, she’s more Taylor than Skitter.
      I don’t really like the idea of replacing the bullying with parahuman powers. It seems…cheap, somehow. And the bullying being overlooked is accounted for; I think it gets explained shortly after the Leviathan arc. Or towards the end? Either way, it is also explained that the ringleader of the bullies had a bit of a sociopathic streak.

  36. I just realized something. When Taylor threatens to kill Eidolon here, she’s actually speaking with the cold confidence of someone who has basically already done so. Two years ago, when his powers were stronger, it was Taylor’s strategy that pinned down the clone Eidolon and cut Echidna in half in one fell swoop. Miss Militia pulled the trigger itself, but…

    • I don’t think Cauldron sells the formulas it used to make the Triumvate. If I remember, they were unstable.

  37. Nilbog? What, Bonesaw isn’t making enough monsters for you?
    Or she’s going to be removed due to the changes Jack noticed back in the Interlude. Either or.

  38. I’m kinda confused as to how the Nine are getting around without being spotted. Their faces would be public knowledge at this point.

    • ” I started to pack bugs around her nose and mouth, and found that slowed her just a fraction.”
      Shouldn’t that kill Murder Rat in a minute or two?

      I also don’t get why Weaver couldn’t just tie those Murder Rats, Breed minions and Maniquins to things. She has done so in seconds in the past.
      I suppose her Sue powers only give her the barest minimum of reality warping needed to defeat her current enemies?

      “Rachel called out, before the dog decided to charge through the cables Clockblocker had used. The dog retreated a pace. Grue only hopped up, grabbing the railing, managed a grip, and then descended on them. He grabbed one and flung it towards the wires.

      It only contorted, arching its back like a high jumper to slip through a gap. It got halfway before Bastard closed his jaws on his upper body.”
      umm…
      what?
      Definitely some mistakes here, Grue hopping, descending and throwing contorting dogs?

      I don’t think Taylor was very nice to Eidolon. :(

    • There are a few possibilities as to how the Nine are getting around without being spotted. Stealth, Mover and Stranger powers, killing peiople who see them, or just moving so quickly that they’re ready before anyone can get the word to someone important.

      If Murder Rat doesn’t have extra defenses against that sort of thing. And if the fight isn’t over by then. (And it would be closer to three or four, with suffocation. If Taylor was using enough bugs, as opposed to saving some for other purposes.)

      The Murder Rats are too quick, the Mannequins are quick and can cut through them, and the Breed-bugs are kinda numerous.

      Grue was “borrowing” Murder Rat’s powers. Or maybe Tyrant’s. Or, quite likely, he switched. I’d imagine Brian’s getting good at managing his new powers after a couple years.

      No, she wasn’t. Would you be, if there was a risk of the end of the world?

  39. Damn, Weaver’s ruthlesness is contagious……and i am pretty sure my last sentence had as many typos as this whole chapter XD, sorry i am bad at english

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s