Interlude 26b

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The house was bustling with activity, even this early in the morning.  Ten children, aged four to seventeen, were doing their utmost to get ready for their morning activities.  It was a rule, that everyone had to keep busy.  A way, really, for the Gails to have a chance to breathe.

“You all set?” Mr. Gail asked, looking at him.

“Yeah.”

“Need a ride to your co-op?”

“No.  Takes about as long to take the bus.”

Mrs. Gail smiled.  “Thank you, Theo.”

He shrugged, feeling awkward.  It had only been a few nights ago that she’d brought him an ice cream sandwich, something she hadn’t done for the other foster kids the Gails were looking after.  She’d thanked him ‘for being one of the easy ones’.

He hadn’t eaten the ice cream sandwich.  Getting fit was too important, and it was already an uphill battle.

Still, it had been nice.

As he’d started habitually doing, he took time in front of the mirror to check his appearance before making his way out the door.

It was all too surreal.  Endbringer attacks every two months, punctuated by periods of mundane life and intense, focused training.  Life continued as normal, with just a little more fear.  It wasn’t the reaction he might have expected, but it was a reaction.  Everyone was a little different, animated, as though they sensed the encroaching danger, the ominous, inevitable end.  Just like one person might react to a near-death experience with a new gusto for life, society as a whole reacted to each Endbringer attack.

Not celebrating, not with the inevitable death tolls, but perhaps breathing a collective sigh of relief.

In a way, Theo mused, people seemed to sense that there was a dark cloud on the horizon.  Beyond even the Endbringers, there seemed to be an unspoken acknowledgement that things were well beyond their control.  That this thing with capes and parahumans wasn’t going to turn out alright.

The illusion built up around the whole ‘cape’ thing had broken, but people weren’t talking about it.

Surreal, as though everyone was spending more time pretending than they were spending focused on reality.

Odder still, that he’d been one of them.  He’d grown up with the reality of what happened when powers came in contact with the people who shouldn’t have them, but he’d pretended.  He’d wrapped himself in delusions and false assurances.

Getting off the bus, he arrived at the PRT building before many of the employees.  It was easier that way, because it meant he didn’t need to go through all of the usual precautions.

Taylor was awake when he arrived, her hair damp from a recent shower.

“Want to run?” she asked.  She was already stretching her arms.  She had little enough body fat that the muscles stood out in her arms and shoulders.  Her long black curls were tied back into a loose ponytail, with some strands already slipping free to frame her face.

Muscles or no, she was still narrow, still tall.  If he didn’t know her, and if the situation called for it, he might think he could take her in a fight.  Building muscle came easily to him.  Building fat did too, unfortunately, but the end result was that he was physically imposing, even at sixteen.

Yet if they scrapped, he suspected he’d be left crumpled in a heap on the ground.  It was the way she fought.  The way she thought.

“If it’s okay with you,” he said, “I was kind of thinking I wanted to do some sparring first.”

She didn’t give any indication that it bothered her.  “Sparring’s fine.  You’ll be sore for the run, though.”

He shrugged.

“Well, maybe that’s good, learning to exert yourself when you’re hurting and tired.  Stretch well, though.  We don’t want you to lose more time to any injuries.”

He winced.  Few things set him back in his fitness regimen like a twisted ankle or stubbed fingers.

“Yeah.  I’ll stretch after I’ve got my stuff on.  Meet you in the gym?”

“Sure,” she said.

He was about to leave and do just that, but Taylor spoke up.  “Theo?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you still getting anything out of this sparring?  We’ve come up with techniques, you’re stringing them together, but there’s only so much you’re going to learn from me.  You might be better off working with the others.”

“I’m… no.  I’d like to keep sparring with you.  I’ll let you know if I don’t think I’m getting anything out of it.”

She nodded.

All business.  Hard.  So focused she was almost cruel, at times.

He left, heading to his quarters to collect his gear.

Spider silk bodysuit on.  Heavier weave fabric over that, followed by the armor, which went on in layers.

The weight of it was a comfort.  It was familiar, just a touch musty.

There was a knock on the door.  “Theo?”

Theo turned, then opened the door before returning to his armor.  He tested where the panels at his hip were placed, then adjusted the position on the belt before locking it in place.  “What’s up?  You’re here early.”

“Had a thought on the suit last night, knew I had to come in early to implement it or I’d be distracted all day, trying not to forget about it.”

Theo smiled.  “Tinker life is hard.”

Tecton chuckled.

“So you just wanted to say hi?”

“No.  There’s something else,” Tecton said.

Theo strapped on his pauldrons.  They consisted of more panels, and in a pinch they could be strapped to a point on his side or at his hip.  Backup, in case others were removed.

“I guess it’s kind of like the armor tweak thing.  I’ve got to bring this up now or I’ll never be able to find the right time, or I’ll forget, or whatever.”

“It’s serious?”

“Serious-ish.”

Theo turned, giving Tecton his full attention.

“It’s come up with the others, because there’s been points where things got uncomfortable, awkward, and we had to talk.  You’re the only one I haven’t discussed it with.”

“Weaver?” Theo guessed.

“Weaver.”

“I think I can guess where this is going.”

“She pushed Cuff a step too far, back when we went after Topsy.  It worked out.  Grace found herself at odds with Weaver when we went up against Deathadder.  There were hard feelings for a bit after that.  I don’t think Weaver knows she’s doing it.”

“I think she knows,” Theo said.  “I don’t know if she cares.”

“That’s not better.”

“Wasn’t saying it was.”

“Listen, Theo.  I’m not going to tell you to stop being her friend-”

“Is that what you told the others?”

“No.  But she isn’t exactly buddy-buddy with anyone else on the team, is she?”

“She’s not good at making friends.  I’m not either.  I get what you’re saying.”

“I hope so.”

“But we came from the same city.  We’ve got common background.  And we’re maybe the only people who are buying into this end of the world thing.”

“That’s- that’s good.  That’s fine,” Tecton said.  He didn’t manage to sound convincing.  “But…”

Of course there’s a but.

“…I can tell you, she pushes herself hard.  We’ve all seen it.  She expects everyone to match her in that, up until you demonstrate you can’t.  She’ll back off then, but… that’s not a guarantee that there won’t be some permanent damage.”

“Permanent damage,” Theo echoed his team leader.

“Physically, emotionally.  Or even to your relationship with her.  I hate to put you on the spot, but… do you like her?”

“As a friend, sure.”

Tecton didn’t respond.  He waited.

Theo shifted his weight, felt the armor at his shoulder shift, and turned his attention to adjusting the clasp.  It made for an excuse to break eye contact.  “Nobody else is here, right?  Nobody’s going to overhear from the hallway?”

“Just me and you.  I ran into Weaver as she was heading upstairs.”

“She can hear through her bugs.”

“I know.  I asked her not to listen in.  I’m going to hope she won’t breach that trust.  And if she does, if she is listening, then maybe hearing what I just said will be a wake-up call for her.”

Theo nodded.  He ventured, “A little.”

“A little wake up call?”

“No.  What you were saying.  I like her a little.  But that’s not really me and her.  That’s me being a big enough loser that I fall in love with any girl that spends more than five minutes with me.  We wouldn’t work out, I know, because I know how hard she can be to get along with.”

“You’re not pursuing anything?”

“If I like anyone, it’s Ava.  But she has the boyfriend-”

“Not anymore.  It was another point of contention, Weaver keeping us so busy she couldn’t maintain a personal life.  We’ve… geared down on that front, made sure we had downtime, but that didn’t fix the rift in her relationship.”

“Oh.”

There was a pause.

“Wait a while before approaching her,” Tecton said.  “You’d make a good pair, and I think you’re both nice enough you’d make it out okay after a breakup.  Anything more, anything that happens after this, do your best to convince me and the bosses it isn’t happening.”

Theo nodded.

“But on the subject of Weaver, I don’t think it would be nearly as good or welcome.  I’d even recommend you back down.  I can arrange training schedules with the others, if you want to maintain your regimen.  Work on your versatility.

“I appreciate the offer-”

“-Hear me out,” Tecton said, raising one gauntlet.  “You like her.  Maybe you’re a little in love with her.  That’s normal.  I’ve been there, had that phase where I fell in love with girls really easily, ’bout a year ago.  I’m glad I came out of it in one piece.  So to speak.”

Tecton laughed a little at that, self-depreciating.  Theo smiled in sympathy.

Tecton continued.  “But there have to be times you’re… not so keen on her.  You said it yourself.  She’s hard to get along with.”

“Yeah,” Theo said.

“I’m worried that if this training continues, a rift will form.  You’ll stop being able to function as a team.”

Theo nodded.  “I understand where you’re coming from.  I do.  But…”

“But you’re going to keep doing it.  The training.”

Theo only nodded.

“Good luck, then.  I should get going to school.”

“Later, Everett.  Thanks for being straight with me.”

“Later, Theo.  Patrol tonight.  You and… Cuff?”

Theo smiled, shaking his head a little.  “Sure.”

With that, Tecton was gone, his heavy boots making surprisingly little sound as he walked over to his own quarters to remove the armor.

Theo prepared the rest of his armor, leaving the mask off, and walked briskly over to the gym.

Weaver was already in her full costume, framed by a half-circle of bugs.

“Done?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“Everything okay?”

He nodded.  “Yeah.”

“I was thinking you should work on your vaults with the hands chained together.  If you-”

“Full contact,” he blurted out the words.

She stopped.  “Sorry.  I should have asked.  Seems like you know what you want to do, already.”

“I do.  Yeah,” he said.  “You against me.  A real match.”

She nodded.  “This have something to do with your talk with Tecton?”

“Yeah.  But not like you’re thinking.”

“Alright,” she answered.  Her bugs shifted position.

It was a signal.  Theo let himself settle into a better fighting pose, hands close to the panels.

She didn’t fly for cover.  She didn’t move further away from the surfaces of the ground, walls or ceiling.  She made a beeline straight for him, flying low to the ground.

He created hands, but she reacted with an inhuman quickness.  A fault of his power, that it was so easily telegraphed.  Kaiser wasn’t so unfortunate.

But that wasn’t the entirety of it.  Her bugs crawled on the ground’s surface.  She felt their movements like she felt a touch on her own body.  The moment a hand started protruding, she knew.

Bees, wasps and cockroaches settled on his armor, covered his lenses.  He shook his head to clear his vision, saw her fly right between his legs, turning her body to slip through the gap.

He turned, felt a hand on the side of his head, a pull that capitalized on his shift of balance.

He looked up just in time to see the lights of her flight pack go dark.  She let herself fall, settling one knee on his shoulder, the other at the space where his shoulder joined his neck.  Over a hundred pounds of weight settling on top of him while he was off-balance, disoriented.

He fell, and she leaped off him, out of reach.

Roll with the attacks, use them.

He let his chest strike the ground, his arms sinking into the ground.  He reached.

But she was too quick, already reacting.  She positioned herself on the battlefield, not behind him, not on either side, but above.  Forcing him to look up, disorienting.  A slight shift of position forced him to turn around to keep her in sight.  A failure to keep her in his sights saw her darting close to strike, to knock him off-balance.

And that was her.  The bugs were massing, looping threads of silk, biting and stinging.

Short of her refusal to deal permanent injury or kill him, she barred no holds, showed no mercy, offered little kindness, if any.  There wasn’t a thought to his morale, to the fact that she was systematically, methodically destroying the confidence he was building up.

No.  Not heartless, not wholly inconsiderate.  She tore him down because she trusted him to pull himself back together, to rebuild that lost confidence and redouble his efforts.

Nevertheless, this was one of those moments where he found himself hating her a little.  His fondness for her shrunk a fraction.  He felt, even though he’d asked for this, the slightest sense of betrayal.

Nothing Tecton had said was new.  He knew this stuff.  Knew that walking down this road and continuing this training was going to hurt things between himself and Weaver in the long run.  Somewhere along the line, their friendship would suffer.  They’d dial up the seriousness of what they were doing, focus more on business than friendship.

He knew.

She knew.

Weaver caught his legs, flying between them, catching his knees in the crooks of her elbow, dropping him onto his back, hard.  He was already feeling trepidation at the run they’d scheduled for after this.  It was going to suck.

But it was necessary.  If she could just impart one useful lesson, it could make all the difference.  Some technique, some of her ruthlessness… something.

Anything would do.

Hookwolf’s storm of blades had been augmented to an endless range, the strength of the cuts, thrusts, slashes and stabs augmented a fraction by Jack’s power.  It didn’t make the cuts more severe, but only extended the strength and severity of the cuts to the peak point in the blade’s movement.  Heavy armor plates were scarred, cut and torn away.  The wounds to Golem’s face, arms, chest and legs were different, the pain oddly delayed, as if it took time to sink in.

Blue.”  The voice sounded so far away.

It was the push he needed.  He twisted around, very nearly collapsing in the process.  The blades scarred the armor at his back, and precedent suggested it wouldn’t last more than a few seconds.  It was a chance to move.  To run.  He’d have time to run, to get to the nearest alley, before the armor was shredded.  He could use his power to block it off, to buy himself time, contact the others…

All he had to do was put one foot in front of the other.  Get away first, then attend to the rest.

His foot raised off the ground, and as if he were walking through a doorway that marked the point between reality and a dream, he felt the strength go out of him.  He felt red-hot pain that seemed drastically out of proportion for the small areas it was concentrated into, all across his front.  Felt warm, damp blood in his boots, squishing between his toes in their spider silk stockings.

The shock of it was the worst part.  Stunned, unable to shift mental gears, Golem collapsed.  The pain was worse, as he landed flat on his stomach.  He let out a guttural groan, mingled with despair.

Too hurt, too damaged.

I’m sorry, Theo.”

The last words he’d ever hear?

He waited for the end to come, but Hookwolf had stopped.

“This is the point where we have a long talk, Theodore,” Jack said.  “So I’ve had Hookwolf ease up on you.  You can bleed out while I taunt you, and maybe I talk about what I could do when we revisit your stepmother.  Gray Boy is the only person who may be able to touch her, but that doesn’t mean Bonesaw can’t give him a few things.”

Golem’s fingertips scraped against the surface of the road, as if he could find some kind of traction there.  When that failed he clenched his hand into a fist.

“It’s my favorite part,” Jack said.  “Except… you’re clearly not interested.  Stop talking, Jack.  Which means we skip right to it.”

Golem couldn’t see, but he felt it as Jack struck him.  Not Hookwolf’s blade, but that damn sword.  It hit him in the side, shearing through the metal of his armor, stopping at the reinforcing struts and spider silk armor beneath.  The force of the blow was enough to flip him over onto his back.  He was left gasping.

Golem shifted his head, saw his own chest as a mess of blood and grit from the road, a ruin of shredded armor.  The damage extended down his legs to the tops of his boots.

Further down, Jack rode Hookwolf like Hannibal astride his elephant, a small contingent of his ‘army’ behind him.

“What was it I said, back then?  Crotch…”

Jack lowered the blade, pointing.  He stabbed it forward a fraction, and Theo felt the impact on his armor, between his groin and his thigh.

“To…”

Jack moved the blade.  It dragged along Golem’s intact armor, and he could feel metal parting, the armor shifting, pulling against his ravaged chest.

Like a dream, something surreal.

He thrust his hands into the panels at his sides.

Hands emerged from his ruined armor, no larger than his own.  Each hand grasped the wrist of the other, pulled to draw each other closer together, to draw the ruined armor together.  Jack’s blade moved faster, before Theo could shore up the rest, raking across his ribcage, shoulder and the edge of his chin.  He could feel the blade rasp through bone.

Jack didn’t lower the sword after striking.  He left it there, his arm extended, the point aimed at the horizon.

It was a cue, an order.  The Nine began advancing, a crowd of them.

“D-” Golem started to speak, but his face was too ruined.  Couldn’t see out of one eye, and that cut to his chin made even moving his jaw too painful.

RedEleven.

He didn’t even have to think about it.

He created two more hands.  Large hands.

It was a gamble, but any maneuver would be in a situation like this.  Two hands, each on opposite sides of the street.

Just as Theo had created hands to jab at Jack’s knees or to strike at Crimson’s weak points, he created them to strike at a different sort of weak point.  Shaped into fists, the hands slowly, inexorably extended into the corners of buildings.

When the hands stopped making headway, he opened them, felt how slow they were to move, as if he were flexing his hands inside thick clay.

Nevertheless, he closed the hands on major supports, and pulled, withdrawing them back into the ground.

Had Bohu made the buildings sturdier in the course of attacking the city?

Theo used the last vestige of strength to wrench with one hand, to twist, in an attempt to get that one vital support to come down.

The building remained standing.  Too thick, too solid.

But the building on the other side of the street, the one he hadn’t touched, it shifted, then slowly toppled into the middle of the street, leaning slightly away from Golem in the process.

Which helped less than he might have hoped.

He reached down once more, feeling the pull against cuts on his chest as he moved his arm, and a large hand emerged from the ground, helping him to his feet.  He used it for support as he got his feet under him.

He felt as lightweight as a cloud, but that was deceptive.  His armor was heavy, and his strength was dribbling out of him in a hundred thin streams.  He moved in a deliberate way as he planted one foot in front of the other.

He could patch up his armor or he could knock down more buildings.

D- muh,” he mumbled.

Red.  Help’s on the way.  Ten questions left.  Do your best.”

Golem began tearing down the next set of buildings.  Too many in that group of Nine would survive or avoid the impacts, but it was something.

Ten questions, and Jack was still okay.  Jack was too quick, too fast.

It reminded Golem of sparring against Taylor.

He hadn’t won those fights either.

Hadn’t won any, up until the point where the deadline for the end of the world was imminent.  He suspected that was a mercy, a small encouragement.  An intentional loss.

The buildings crashed down behind him.  He couldn’t run, but he could manage a limping jog.  He began to patch up his armor.

There was a sound of a blade leaving its sheath, somewhere behind him.

He turned, and saw a Mannequin approaching, rounding the corner at the end of the alley.  Blades extended from the tinker’s forearms.  The expressionless face still managed to stare.  If anything, it was more expressive than half of the people Golem interacted with, by virtue of body language alone.  It moved with a kind of anticipation, let itself shift and flop this way and that, almost in a taunting way.  With swagger.

Golem backed away, found himself at a corner, and turned to enter the adjoining alley.

A wall of criss-crossing blades barred his way.

Bohu’s work.

It made him think of his father, a man he had to go to great effort to see as his dad.

Golem reached into the wall, saw the Mannequin move, dodging the outstretched hand.

He extended another hand, and it reached out from the first’s palm, catching the Mannequin around the throat.

Entomb, he thought, almost hearing Weaver’s voice uttering the word.

He created more hands, binding, holding, getting as much of a grip as he could manage against a foe that was as smooth as chrome, hard as crystal.

His target struggled and squirmed, very nearly slipping free as he let his neck disconnect, cut the chain that attached torso and head.  Golem caught one leg around the ankle.

Mannequin disconnected that too, leaped-

And was cut short by a hand emerging above him, knocked back down atop the lump of frozen hands of concrete and brick.  Theo gripped Mannequin’s arms and legs, then extended one arm and punched one hand into the neck-socket the head had fit into.

Others were approaching at the end of the alley.  A Crimson, swollen with blood.

The man barreled through the alley, his path of destruction not reaching the hands that held Mannequin a matter of feet over his head.  A Murder Rat followed just behind him, pointing with one foot-long blade.

Signaling others.

Theo used hands of stone to break and bend the lattice of blades, then created more to fashion a set of stairs, footholds to walk up as he made his way to the roof.

Footholds too fragile for Crimson to use, with his excessive weight and massive feet.

The man started to climb, and Golem interfered.

The Murder Rat was a bit of a problem, though.  So were the ones that were due to follow.

Using hands and feet both, he made his way up a hand-made staircase without rails, approaching the rooftop.  He concentrated, collapsing more buildings.

Ran his fingers along the panels, and felt the steel in Hookwolf’s body, as the creature moved Jack out of the way of danger.  Siberian would be close.

Golem used his power to find the concrete, finding the area closest to where Hookwolf had been, and then began bringing down more buildings.

Slow, too ineffectual for a face to face fight, but it was a good way to apply pressure.  Keep Jack on his heels, wondering if Golem was close.

Heartless, ruthless, reckless, even.  There was no telling which heroes were near.

But the Golem of myth, the creature of clay fashioned by the Rabbi Bezalel, was heartless as well.  There was only the will, the order, the message, inscribed on its forehead.

Fitting, in a way.

He’d regretted choosing the name, not long after Weaver’s video of New Delhi had reached the public, setting the identity and name in stone.  Regretted it because it was petty, because it was ill-fitting, and above all, he came to regret it because of the heartless nature of the creature he’d named himself after.

Now, he clung to it.  The message, the objective.

He reached the top of the staircase he’d made and came face to face with Chuckles.

The clown was fat, tall, and generally pear-shaped.  It was dirty, grungy, almost fetid, smelling of sweat and blood and worse things.

No wonder.  He can’t even clean himself, with arms like those.

The Chuckles had arms that zig-zagged, consisting of more elbow than arm.  They trailed behind him like ribbons, and the hands at the end were large and blunt-fingered.

“Ha,” Chuckles said.

The clown drew one arm close, folding the elbows, then lashed out with a surprising speed, extending the elbows all at once.

Golem let himself fall face-down on the rooftop before the fist could connect, unsure if he’d even be able to rise.

The clown laughed, a discordant sound, as if there were a different voice for each syllable of the utterance.

Super speed in the head and legs, super strength in the chest and arms.  He had to deal with perceiving the world too fast, unable to communicate.  Only managed to teach himself to make a sound like laughter.  Kind of.

Went crazy.  Like Purity’s going to.

Already, the clown was preparing to strike again, planting his feet, rearing back, and condensing one of his accordion-arms by folding all of the elbows.

Theo reached into the ground, creating a large hand from beneath Chuckles.  He closed the fingertips on a single point.

Chuckles crumpled, but Theo’s grip between his legs was strong enough to hold him upright.  Hanging limp, in too much pain to move, Chuckles giggled.  A strained sound.

A scrape marked an approach at the other edge of the roof.  Golem raised his head and saw a Murder Rat approaching, trailing her claw-tips on the ground.

Cuh,” he managed a single syllable.

Red.”

Attack?

He lashed out, and she dodged.

He struck out, this time with two interconnected hands, and she slipped out of reach.  Too fast, too flexible.

She closed the distance as he rolled onto his back.  From various collapses and falls, he’d had dirt caked into the wounds.  It might lead to blood poisoning, might lead to infection, but it was helping to staunch the blood.

Fat lot of good it would do him now.

He reached for a panel, but the blades of her claws punched into the ground around his wrist, pinning them.  He moved his other hand, and she did the same.

Couldn’t move his wrists.  His feet-

He didn’t have the abdominal strength to raise them.

Her mouth, conical, shaped by surgery into the vague shape of a rat’s snout, riddled with canines, lowered towards his face.

Her eyes are so humanI wouldn’t have thought.

He closed his eyes.

Golem seized up in pain as he felt something press up against the left side of his face, twisting every wound that had already been present.  A tongue draped against his chin, and he could feel her hot breath.

Hot blood flowed around his neck.

Enough that he could put the pieces together.  Know that it was too much for any one person to survive, no matter how immediate the medical assistance.

“Golem.”

He opened his eyes to see Weaver perched between Murder Rat’s shoulderblades, her flight pack glowing.

Murder Rat had collapsed, her face against his.  Her eyes were rolling up into their sockets.

The blood that was flowing wasn’t his.

“Shit, I can’t believe you made it,” she said.

“Nuh,” he responded.

Not so sure.

Weaver hopped down, then kicked Murder Rat off.

He wanted to hide, to crawl away.  They’d put so much time into it, but in the moment, eye to eye with his enemy, he hadn’t been able to manage it.

He’d failed to kill Jack.

“Can you fight?  Do you need me to get you help?”

He shook his head, not sure which question he was answering.

But he was able to raise his hand, then lower it into the rooftop.  He pushed himself to a standing position with his power.

Bitch was present, along with Tecton, Parian and Foil.

He felt the painted steel panel, sensed Hookwolf.  So little of Hookwolf was usable, his power needing sufficiently thick material to use, but he could track the man.

His least favorite of his dad’s old lieutenants.  Kayden had been kind, if not quite a mother.  Krieg had been respectful.  Hookwolf had treated him as the fat, scared little boy he’d been.

He pointed in the direction that Hookwolf was.

“Jack?” Weaver asked.

Golem nodded.

“You stay.  I’ll call for help, and we can go after Jack.”

“Nuh,” he managed.  He set a hand on her wrist.

“Okay,” she said.

“Golem,” Tecton said.  “I know I’m not your team leader anymore, but-”

He realized how hunched over he was.  With excruciating effort, he managed to pull himself to an upright posture, meeting Tecton’s eyes.

“You’re too hurt.  You’re dead weight.”

I could use my power,” Dinah said.

“Nuh,” he said.

“We let him come,” Weaver said.  “Parian?”

“On it.”  Parian hopped down from the dog’s back.  Spools of thread unfurled, each tipped with a needle.

The dog landed on a rooftop.  The pain was bad enough he considered throwing up, or throwing himself off.  Either would probably tear stitches.

They approached one spot at the edge of the roof.  Golem accepted help in dismounting, then eased himself to the ground.  The others hunkered down to get a view of the scene on the street below.

Nostalgic,” Weaver said, her voice barely audible.  Rachel grunted.

Jack was atop Hookwolf, giving orders to his minions.  The Siberian was on the ground.

Foil lowered her crossbow, aiming.

Weaver placed a hand on top of the weapon.  When Foil looked her way, Weaver shook her head.

“It’s not him,” Weaver whispered.

A monster that looked to be one of Nilbog’s creations, outfitted with one of Bonesaw’s control frames crawled along the edge of a rooftop.  It perked up and looked at them, tensed.

Foil shot it before it could open its mouth.  It died without a sound.

Chevalier approached.  Nearly blind, he crouched in the center of the roof.

Hoyden and Revel were conspicuously absent.

“He…” Golem started to speak, winced.

Heads turned his way.

“He’s… like Weaver.  Some… other power.”

“Another power?”  Tecton asked.  “People have speculated, but-”

“But… few survive meeting him.  Minor.  He… probably doesn’t know.  But… reaction too fast.  Too efficient.”

They fell silent.

“A thinker power?” Tecton asked.

Golem considered, then nodded slowly.

“I believe it,” Weaver said.  “Like me?”

“Senses things… that kind of reaction time.”

“Tattletale?” Weaver asked.

At first he thought she meant like Tattletale.

No.  It was a question.

Yes,” Tattletale said.  “Can’t say much more than that.  Sorry.  Drawing blanks.”

“Trump card,” Golem said.  “Dinah.”

Heads turned.

“She’s talking to you,” Weaver said.  “We can give ourselves optimal odds.”

Yes,” Dinah said, but from the reactions, she spoke only to Golem.  “Seven questions, Theo.

Seven questions.  Seven chances to make this count.

Red or blue wouldn’t cut it.

“We called for reinforcements.  Chance of assistance from outside?” he asked.

I can answer that for you,” Tattletale said.  “You’ve got capes converging on your location.”

I’m not asking,” Dinah said, “You’ve still got seven questions.  But the more time that passes, the worse chances are getting.  I can see a lot of dead ends coming up.  You need to act.

“If we attack Jack right now, what’s the chance of the world ending?”

Ninety-seven percent chance, but the alternative is worse, and it’s getting worse every second!

He barely had time to register the thought.

This was it.  The moment.

“Go,” he said.

The defending capes moved in.  Foil slid down, her cleats digging into the surface of the building to afford her some drag, then leaped off to stab a Crimson through the skull.

Tecton jumped.  His intact piledriver-gauntlet punched the ground, breaking his fall by making the surface almost fluid.

He struck the ground again, and the shockwave destabilized every one of the Nine in the enclosed area.

Foil threw darts, killing two more.

Parian’s stuffed creation landed atop Hookwolf’s head, and the two dogs used the opportunity to leap down.

Jack’s defending group of minions was thin at best.  The one atop Hookwolf moved to stand-

And was promptly shredded as Hookwolf stirred into action.  He shook, and the illusion was turned into a cloud of smoke, billowing out towards Foil, Tecton and the dogs.  The two young capes staggered back, covering their noses and mouths.

“Where’s Jack?” Golem asked.  His entire body ached, and a heavy feeling, like a bruise multiplied in intensity a thousand times over, had settled in his abdomen, making it hard to breathe.  “Left or right?”

Left.”

He turned, moving towards the edge of the rooftop.  A Hatchet Face, Breed, Cherish and King made their way towards the entrance of the alley.  Golem created hands to block their path.

The Hatchet Face raised his axe, then chopped at the hand.  It cut a gouge into it.

Golem created a large hand at the roof’s edge, then pushed it off, dropping it straight onto the two villains.

The concrete fist shattered into pieces.  Impossible amounts of dust billowed out from the hit.

Did I get him?

No.  The Hatchet Face marched on, pushing at the hand and shoving it down.

On the other end of the alley, Hookwolf’s body of whirling, scraping blades altered, becoming more shapeless.  No legs, no arms.  Just a blob.

A blob capable of moving with surprising speed.  It leaped up onto a building face, then dropped down towards Foil.

Golem changed tactics, using his power to block the blob.  He failed, serving only to change its course.  Foil was quick enough to leap to one side.

The second the blob landed, the sheer surface area meant the countless blades that all moved in the same direction were able to get a grip, like a monster truck tire spinning freely.

It meant that Hookwolf was able to reorient himself, veering straight for Foil.

Parian’s creation threw itself at him, sandwiching him between it and the wall.  Blades and hooks scraped against fabric, but failed to deflate the creation.  Momentarily, he was trapped.

Golem raised large hands to cup the blob, holding it in place.

Up until the moment Hookwolf deformed himself, flowing through the gap between the hands like a fluid.  He perched himself on twenty or thirty stilt-like legs, raising himself above the ground, surveying the area.

A second later he lunged, and one of Rachel’s dogs intercepted him.  Blades shredded one muscular, bone-encrusted leg.

Chevalier, standing at the roof’s edge, took careful aim and then shot Hookwolf.

Hookwolf’s individual components scattered everywhere as a hole was blown into the shifting mass of metal blades.

But he reformed himself again, a wolf-headed serpent, too narrow a target to shoot.

The gang of lesser Nine members approached the periphery of the fight, but they didn’t join it.  They watched as Hookwolf fought.

Where’s Jack?”  Golem asked again.

“Five questions left.  To your right.”

He glanced left, then right.  Tried to imagine the paths Jack might have traveled in the span of time Dinah had suggested.

Weaver was drawing her swarm together, and she attacked the least likely target.

Her bugs flowed into Hookwolf’s shifting mass of blades.  Countless bugs no doubt died.

Silk thread?  Golem thought.

Except Hookwolf wasn’t even slowing down.

Weaver drew out a line of bugs across the alley.  Foil rolled, raised her crossbow-

Hookwolf slashed out, extending a long, wavy piece of metal to cut at the crossbow.  Foil pulled it out of reach, but her shot went wide, sailing off into the distance.

She drew her rapier from its sheath, throwing it in the same motion.

It penetrated Hookwolf, sailed past him to impale the side of one of the tombstone like buildings.

Hookwolf wavered, then collapsed into a heap that looked like it would make for an exceedingly dangerous game of pick-up-sticks.

Where’s Jack?

Left, then right?  He’d ask again, but he couldn’t help but think that he’d get an equally perplexing answer.

He hadn’t seen Jack move.  Weaver hadn’t seen Jack move.

There was a crash as an Azazel landed at one mouth of the alley.  Heroes deployed.  a battered Cuff and Grace.  Clockblocker, Kid Win and Vista…

Defend the perimeter!” Chevalier ordered.  He lowered his cannonblade, pointing it at the newly-arrived Nine.  They tensed, but the King looked over his shoulder at the Cherish, and when he looked up again, he was smiling.

“Hold off!” Golem said.

Chevalier stopped.

Weaver was amassing her bugs, poising them for an attack on this squad of reinforcements.  The bugs stopped as well.

No.

Something was wrong.

Shit on me.  I can see through Chevalier’s helmet-mounted camera.  It’s a trap!”

He’d been right.

He reached down, using his power.  The mouth of the alley was narrow.  Easy enough to close off, trapping the villains within.

Two hands, positioned to divide this group of Nine from one another.

They reacted, backing away as giant hands rose like tall, narrow walls, separating them from one another.

Two remained untouched.  The King and Hatchet Face.

Or, Golem thought, Jack and Siberian.

Weaver was already attacking, and it was a form of attack that suggested she knew exactly who she was up against.  Bugs flowed past them, stringing thread, binding.  The two in the back were the targets.  Nothing she could do against Siberian or Jack.

Golem struck out, two hands reaching out from the walls on either side.

He felt a moment’s hesitation.

“Dinah.  Attack?”

Attack.  Chances are getting better.  Ninety-two percent.”

Monsters, but…

The training had offered something, at least.  Or maybe the pain he was feeling with every breath served as a motivator.  He managed to find the aggression inside himself, to strike out at someone who wasn’t even aware of him.

The illusions collectively shattered as he squashed the head of the ‘Cherish’ against the wall.  Nyx.

Which revealed the other three.

Jack.  No surprise.  Hidden inside King.

Siberian.  To be expected.

And Gray Boy, squashed against the wall.

His heart dropped.

He drew in a deep breath, feeling every sutured wound straining, very nearly coughed and lost the air he needed.

“Gray Boy!” he shouted.

Just the act of shouting made him double over in pain.

“Run!” Weaver called out.

Tecton slammed his piledriver into the wall.  The cloud of debris offered a small amount of cover.  Too small.  It wouldn’t be enough.  He ran, and Bitch whistled, the dogs stampeding past her.

The corpse flickered, and Gray Boy reappeared, sitting atop the forearm of the hand that had squashed him.  He hopped down.

His time loop power protected him.  Any time he was hurt, any time he was debilitated, his power would kick in, taking him back as far as he needed, allowing him to maintain his position if he wanted.  He’d remain conscious, retain any recollection, and with his offensive power, he could shut down any threat.

It was that same power that kept him from aging.  Aging was a danger, change was a problem, so he continually retained his appearance from the very moment he’d triggered, reverting back several times an hour, or any time he even got dirty.

A multifaceted, instinctive defense.  An offense that could trap Scion.

Parian’s creation blocked his view of Foil and Tecton.  He froze it, looped it.

Jack, for his part, drew his sword.  He cut, and the weapon sliced through the cloth.

“That’s spider silk,” Parian said.

Three questions left.  Three moves.  The last few had bought them time, had broken the illusion.  They hadn’t been caught off guard, at least.

Foil threw darts.  Gray Boy froze them in mid-air.

Weaver’s bugs dissipated through the alleyway, blocking Gray Boy’s sight.  Cover, for her allies.

“Doesn’t matter,” Gray Boy said, his voice high.  “Don’t really need to see.  Just have to guess.  Stop running!”

He used his power, and the area at the far end of the alley was frozen.  A ten foot high wall of looped air.  Tecton slammed into it, struck the air as if it were a solid wall.

He punched the wall, and it shook.  Gray Boy proceeded to freeze the walls on either side.

A dead end.

“Shooting in the dark,” Gray Boy said.  “Let’s see.  There!”

One section of bugs were caught, trapped in a loop.

“A miss.  Phooey.  There!”

Another section of bugs frozen.

And Foil shrieked.

Shrieked again.

Shrieked again.

A loop.

Parian’s own scream joined Foil’s, but there was no loop there.

“Gotcha,” Gray Boy said.

Weaver hung her head.

“We’re going to walk out of here,” Jack said.  “In… about five minutes.  We’ll freeze everyone we see.  Tell them to run if you want.  It won’t matter.”

Foil’s screams continued.  Each the same length, with variations on the tail end, as she managed to reassert control over the bodily impulse that was being performed anew each time.

Jack and Siberian advanced, passing Gray Boy as they closed the distance on Tecton.

“How much more damage can we do?  Is it a question of doing as much damage to as many people as possible?  Can we get a second trigger event out of one of you?  Bring about the end of the world?”

Jack seemed so pleased with himself.

Jack has a thinker ability. 

What?  Not precognition.

“Or is it about doing something significant?  Does killing Scion count?”

The heroes outside the perimeter were aware Gray Boy was inside.  Had to be, by Foil’s voice.  They were caught between watching for outside threats, of which there were bound to be few, and guarding against an approach from within.

What does Jack do?

He grasped for a thought and failed.

No.  He needed to think about it from a different angle.

What does Weaver do?

“Dinah.”

Three questions left.

“What’s the chance?  For what I’m thinking right now?”

Allowing for the fuzz I’m getting from Scion’s presence above you?  Seventy.

Seventy.

The numbers are better,” she said.  “You’re on the right path.”

“I know,” he said.

Jack had raised his sword  to Tecton’s throat.  The Siberian stood behind him, one hand on his shoulder.  Gray Boy looked up and Golem leaned out of sight.

“Weaver, you have anything up your sleeve?”

“Yes and no.  A way to stop Siberian, maybe.  Or Gray Boy, maybe.  But… I need an opening to do either.  A distraction.  And whichever one we don’t stop is going to destroy us.”

“Okay,” Golem said.  “I’ll get you that distraction.”

“Was going to use my bugs, get Clockblocker.  With him, maybe we can take out both at once.”

“Don’t,” Golem replied, tensing up despite himself.  He’d nearly raised his voice to the point that Jack could hear.  Foil’s continued screaming drowned him out.

“I… won’t.  What are you thinking?”

“That there’s an answer.  A stupid, silly answer.”

He stood, resisting the urge to groan, and he approached the end of the rooftop closest to the heroes who were defending the areas outside of the alleyway.

He gestured, signaling to one.  When they didn’t move, bewildered, he created a hand, pushing them.

Others, he stopped.  A shake of his head.  Clockblocker was out.  So was Imp.  Grue, Vista, Kid Win, Cuff and Grace wouldn’t do.

Only this person would serve.

“Two more questions?”

“Yeah.”

“Left or right?”

Right.

The long way around.  Not the way he would have expected.

“Now, or wait?”

No response.

He gestured, and he created hands pointing the way.

Now,” she said.

He shut his eyes.  This was it.  Last question asked.

“Be ready,” he said.

This would be the moment everything fell into place.

The man made his way down to the end of the alley, and Golem created more hands;  six hands in a matter of seconds, sticking out of the wall.  Each pointing in the direction they needed.  He created a platform and started raising it.  Raising their potential savior up towards the top of the wall of looped time.

“You’re- he’s walking into a trap,” Weaver said.  “They’ll see him.  They’re looking right at him.”

Something was wrong.  Something missing.

“Attack.  Sound the attack.  Distractions!”  The words were wheezes.

Weaver signaled, her bugs drawing words.

Chevalier shot his cannonblade into the far end of the alley, furthest from the villains.

Golem created a hand.

Just what they needed.

The man leaped down from the top of the wall.  His light armored suit absorbed his fall, made it quiet.

The D.T. uniform.

He sprayed containment foam at both Jack and Siberian.

Nothing.  It wouldn’t achieve a thing.

But Tecton took the moment of Jack’s blindness to duck, to strike the ground.

The Siberian wasn’t immune to gravity.  She fell, and just for a moment, she broke contact with Jack.

Tecton slammed his fist into Jack’s stomach.

The D.T. officer had turned the containment foam onto Gray Boy.

Except Gray Boy reappeared, out of the way of the stream.

The containment foam froze in mid-air.

No.

The Siberian leaped out of the fissure, then paced towards Jack.

Her hand stopped an inch away from him.  She lowered it.

Jack had turned gray.  Trapped, looped.

“Pathetic,” Gray Boy said.  “Stupid, useless.  I thought you’d do something interesting, but you made yourself prey, instead of the predator.  If you’re going to be prey, I want you to be my prey.”

It dawned on Golem.  Gray Boy froze him.

Foil’s screams continued, and were soon joined by Jack’s, as Gray Boy started using his knife, reaching within the field.

Up until the moment Foil, still screaming, using her augmented sense of timing to measure the length of each scream, stepped around the monochrome field he’d cast just in front of her.  She threw a handful of darts through the Siberian and Gray Boy’s head as his back was turned.

The Siberian flickered out of existence as Gray Boy collapsed.

Neither reappeared, healthy or otherwise.

“Get back from Jack!”  Weaver called out.  “Quarantine him!”

Tecton used his piledriver, erecting a shelf of earth.  Golem stepped back, then did the same, folding large hands around Jack.  Jack’s voice was mellow, inaudible, with a funny cadence.

The D.T. officer, for his part, tore the containment foam hose free.  He got gunk on himself, but he managed to direct the resulting stream at the gaps.  Sealing Jack, burying him.

They stood in silence, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“We got him,” Weaver said.  She raised a hand to her ear.  “We got Jack.  He’s down.  Everyone report in.”

Houston is safe,” Defiant reported.  “Battered, but safe.

“What are the numbers?” Golem asked.  “Dinah, if you give me one more answer today…”

No response.

Reporting from New York.  We told Bonesaw Jack was down, and she just surrenderedNo idea what to do.

Chevalier answered, giving instructions for containment.  Bonesaw was loaded with viral charges and worse.  Quarantine was best.  Nilbog could be taken to a secure facility.

“That’s… are we safe?”  Golem asked.

“Unless the catalyst event just happened,” Weaver replied.  “Get sorted, get organized.  First aid, asap.  We need to check all info, then we quarantine ourselves for the time being.  Stay calm, stay focused, be alert.”

There were nods all around.

They made their way to the ground.  Waiting as the others joined them.

Weaver looked at Bitch.  “Guess we can hang out for a bit, while we wait to see if there’s any lingering effects or traps.”

“Hanging out sounds good.”

She looked at Golem.  “Yeah?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t-”

“I don’t either,” she said.  What they didn’t was unclear, but the message still served.  “You beat Jack in the end.”

“I wish I was so sure,” he said.

“So do I.”

A long pause reigned as Tecton and Foil caught up with them.  Parian wrapped her arms around Foil, openly sobbing.

“Anything?  Any clue what might have happened?”  Weaver asked.

“No,” Bitch said.

“No,” Golem answered.

“Jack said something,” Tecton said.  “I don’t… I don’t think I should say it.”

Just like that, the peace was gone.

“Was it-” Golem started.  “No.  Stay quiet.”

Weaver hung her head for a moment.

“I don’t think it was the catalyst,” Tecton said.

“Pick someone you trust,” Weaver said.  “Someone you know to be sane and safe and non-dangerous.  Then whisper it.  They’ll give a second verdict.”

Tecton’s eyes fell on Golem.

Golem nodded.

Tecton leaned close.  “Doesn’t make any sense.  Nonsensical.  He said-

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

492 thoughts on “Interlude 26b

  1. Finished this last minute, literally, thanks to thunderstorm cutting power for 30 min. Sorry for missing links/lack of spellcheck as of the time of posting.

    Thanks for reading.

    • “He winced. Few things set him back in his weight loss, strength building and training than a twisted ankle or stubbed fingers.”

      Awkward usage.

      Probably something more like “Few things set him back in his fitness regimen worse than a twisted ankle or stubbed fingers.”

    • “And was cut shrot by a hand emerging above him, knocked back down atop the lump of frozen hands of concrete and brick. Theo gripped Mannequin’s arms and legs, then extended one arm and punched one hand into the neck-socket the head had fit into.”

      Shrot? Probably “straight”.

    • -Over a hundred points of weight settling on top of him while he was off balance, disoriented.-

      Points of weight? That might be right but I never heard of that before.

      -“In… about three minutes. We’ll freeze everyone we see. Tell them to run if you want. It won’t matter.”Foil’s screams continued. –

      A lot of extra spaces here.

      —-
      -Jack and Siberian advanced, passing Gray Boy as they closed the distance on Tecton. “How much more damage can we do? Is it a question of doing as much damage to as many people as possible? Can we get a second trigger event out of one of you? Bring about the end of the world?”Jack seemed so pleased with himself.Jack has a thinker ability. What? Not precognition.“Or is it about doing something significant? Does killing Scion count?”The heroes outside the perimeter were aware Gray Boy was inside. Had to be, by Foil’s voice. They were caught between watching for outside threats, of which there were bound to be few, and guarding against an approach from within.What does Jack do?-

      Just a load of missing and extra spaces here.

    • I kept thinking of Golden Axe since the namedrop of Deathadder.

      “Few things set him back in his ” Set him back more?
      “a hundred points of weight” Pounds?
      “Just the act” a cut off there.
      “matter.”Foil’s screams” Missing paragraph break.
      “world?”Jack seemed so pleased with himself.Jack has a thinker ” Missing paragraph break and missing space between sentences. The entire paragraph has a bunch of spots like that.

    • “Hadn’t won any, up until the point where he approached end.”
      Not clear what this means. It would make more sense as “approached the end.”

    • This is not a typo, but seems like a continuity problem. Everyone at the end there is apparently ignoring the Siberian, who should still be on-scene, right next to Jack. Everyone at the end there is apparently ignoring the Siberian, who should still be on-scene, right next to Jack. Nothing was said about Siberian either leaving or being defeated.

    • “A fault of his power, that he choreographed each use of his power. Kaiser wasn’t so unfortunate.”

      I think you meant telegraphed each use of his power.

    • “We’re going to walk out of here,” Jack said. “In… about five minutes. We’ll freeze everyone we see. Tell them to run if you want. It won’t matter. “Foil’s screams continued. Each the same length, with variations on the tail end, as she managed to reassert control over the bodily impulse that was being performed anew each time.

      after ‘It won’t matter.’ Instead of the “, there’s a space, then the opening ” is in front of Foil

    • Tecton leaned close. “Doesn’t make any sense. Nonsensical. He said-“
      Cut off sentence. You need to fix it, right away

    • Parian’s creation blocked his view of Foil and Tecton. He froze it, looped it.

      Jack, for his part, drew his sword. He cut, and the weapon sliced through the cloth.

      It seems from this sentence that Jack sliced Parian’s time-looped creation.
      And Jack is not supposed to be able to do that.

    • Heroes deployed. a battered Cuff and Grace.
      - Missing capitalisation

      I can see through Chevalier’s helmet-mounted camera.
      – Not sure if this is deliberate, but I found this completely ambiguous between “Tattletale can pick up the feed from the camera” and “Tattletale has noticed the camera is translucent”.

      “The numbers are better,” she said. “You’re on the right path.”
      - Second sentence is missing italics. So is the “Yeah.” a couple of paragraphs later.

    • “Shit on me. I can see through Chevalier’s helmet-mounted camera. It’s a trap!”

      [Who said this? What did s/he see through Chevy's cam?]

      He’d been right.

      He reached down, using his power. The mouth of the alley was narrow. Easy enough to close off, trapping the villains within.

      Two hands, positioned to divide this group of Nine from one another.

      [Huh? So.... They're trapped in an alley, in two groups?]

      They reacted, backing away as giant hands rose like tall, narrow walls, separating them from one another.

      Two remained untouched. The King and Hatchet Face.

      [I'm confused!]

      Or, Golem thought, Jack and Siberian.

      [Was there a clue, or is Golem psychic now?]

      Weaver was already attacking, and it was a form of attack that suggested she knew exactly who she was up against. Bugs flowed past them, stringing thread, binding. The two in the back were the targets. Nothing she could do against Siberian or Jack.

      [So Siberian and Jack are not in the back?]

        • I’d say that this chapter right here was the CMOA for the heroes, soxfar at least. Vastly outnumbered against increadibly powerful opponants? No match for teamwork and inginuity! An epic Win for Weaver and friends!
          But are Scion and the others still looped now that the Grey Boy is dead? Knowing Worm, they probably are. Still, Jack getting a horrifying end almost makes up for losing Scion.

    • Now that I think about it, I’m not sure if Foil faked being trapped:

      2 possibilties:
      -Faked being trapped, killed Gray Boy
      -Was trapped, her darts bypass Gray Boy’s power (and if they do, they’re the only thing we’ve seen that can other than maybe Clockblocker and possibly Scion depending on what happens later) and his death frees her.

      I thought it was the first, but I’m beginning to be unsure.

      • I believe she was really trapped but was badass enough to bide her time and with her sense of timing know when to strike. Didn’t she state somewhere before that her powers also break space-time? That might explain why her darts worked on Grey Boy.

        • I read it as trapped and realising it after a few shrieks, timed it split second in the loop to throw her darts a split secodn before she looped again.

      • Gray Boy was shooting blind-using his power on whatever he could get. Foil got lucky enough to avoid it, and started timing her screams so that he’d think she was caught.

      • Pretty sure she was faking, otherwise why would Jack (apparently) still be trapped in the loop following Gray Boy’s (supposed) death while Foil was freed?

      • Not trapped. If she was trapped, she would not be able to throw her darts in the first place. If she was hit, she’d be stuck doing what she was doing until an outside force effected her.

        It missed her. Reality ignoring darts pass through gray field. Gray Boy killed instantly. This was either because the damage the darts inflict trump his time powers, or because he has to consciously use it and instakill shots don’t give him time to react. Probably the first.

        • Yeah, the first. According to Wildbow down below, a sniper shooting him would just cause his power to reset him anyway, so it’s active on a passive level as well.

          And then I begin to muse on what Tattletale said about the usefulness of powers and how many people’s powers seem to have both an active and passive component, like Jack, Taylor, Foil, any Tinker, and Golem.

    • I’m not sure she faked it, actually. Parian was still crying over her body.
      Might be her power gives her an inherent sense of timing and she shot them while looped.

      In any case, CMOA. (And I want to know what Jack said already. And I want Jack to die already.)

      • actually, Parian was hugging her and crying in relief. She DID think that her lover/wife/soulmate was lost forever.

        Must be quite the relief.

        Also, when Parian stepped around the corner and threw her darts, I think she hit me as well. Knocked my off my seat, at least

  2. Wow….just…just wow Wildbow . You’ve outdone yourself this time. I’m going to re-read that last part several time.

    In other news: Things are going to get worse any second now…..

  3. Great chapter, but your cliffhangers are going to kill me wildbow. Nonsensical, something about the passengers maybe? Cauldron still hasn’t made their move, the birdcage isn’t open, Scion is still trapped, and Jack said the words to Tecton. I think Scion will eventually get out, but I am unsure about what the catalyst could be.

  4. “Tecton leaned close. ‘Doesn’t make any sense. Nonsensical. He said-‘”

    “I. Hate. Cliffhangers.”

    “…the fuck you think he meant by that?”

    • That was the cliffhanger I referred to in the comments just a bit ago, talking about how I had one idea while I was walking on the weekend and it put an evil smile on my face and a spring in my step.

        • Well now we’re all going to be wondering what Jack said and how it is supposed to make Theo destroy the world. Or I’ll be barking up the wrong tree on that. Well Saturday isn’t that far off. If Wildbow had wanted to be really evil he’d have done this cliffhanger on a Tuesday, with no Thursday update.

  5. “On it.” Parian hopped down from the dog’s back. Spools of thread unfurled, each tipped with a needle.

    The dog landed on a rooftop. The pain was bad enough he considered throwing up, or throwing himself off. Either would probably tear stitches.

    …oh! She stitched him up!

    Also, that had to hurt. More props for Theo’s badassery.

    • More props for Theo’s badassery.

      Yeah, I’d say this chapter definitely shows he got top marks at the Taylor Hebert School of Awesomeness.

      1. Taking lots of pain and still going? Check.

      2. Capable of defeating enemies in decidedly brutal ways? Check. (I’m looking at you, Nyx’s crushed head!)

      3. Able to use those around him to take down greater opponents? …O.k., on reflection, he doesn’t really do that to the extent Taylor usually does (Foil, for instance, had no influence from either of them when she acted), but he did get the D.T. guy in there to help throw Jack off. B-

      • if that D.T officer makes it, and the world survives, he’ll have have stories to tell and will probably be able to get date.

      • Yes, I suspect Jack’s thinker power is an ability to anticipate the actions of other capes, which wouldn’t work for the Dragon Tooth soldier.

    • Unless they can find a healer-cape or a really fantastic plastic surgeon, he’s gonna have some wicked scars, too.

      • They’ll be scars of the badass variety. The kind that you can tell stories about.
        Actually, that’s why I secretly want some sort of disfigurement. I’d always have something to fill awkward pauses in conversations. Imagine the stories you could tell of you lost an hand! They wouldn’t have to be true, even if I lost it in a cheese cutting accident, I could still claim crocodile wrestling or shark punching was the reason why I had a hook attached to my wrist.

        • Eh, not worth it. Voice of experience. Sure, being busted up can be a conversation piece but it isn’t as nice as having all the equipment in working condition.

          http://oi42.tinypic.com/24qj0r6.jpg

          Sure, I have a great Halloween Trick, and can mystify five-year-olds with my disappearing finger, and I am even lucky enough to only have to clip 9 fingernails to clip now… but I’d give up all that in a heartbeat if I weren’t “digitally challenged” in the most literal sense of the words :)

        • I would actually way rather tell stories about losing my hand in a cheese cutting accident than about losing it playing thumb war with a grizzly or whatever. One of my favorite things to do is to point at the little hypertrophic scars on my left hand and say, “You know how I got these? Cookies.

    • Nope. That’s a full on nailed it.
      Don’t think Weaver has even thought about Theo that way though.

      Yeah. I got Cuff as Ava as well. There was also mention that Tectons name is Everett. We know Annex was Kirk, (R.I.P). That leaves just Grace and Wanton.

      • I wish I could claim to have full-on nailed it, but I certainly wasn’t sure of Theo’s attitude at the time — at best you can credit me with winning on a dark horse bet.

        On the other hand, I was sure that Taylor didn’t reciprocate Theo’s feelings, and I’m not now. I still think she doesn’t, but that “I don’t either” line is throwing me.

        • Could be Theo starting to say something about it not being a good idea to stand down. Don’t know, decidedly unclear.
          Could be that Theo is a bit uncomfortable with Rachel.
          Could be that neither one of them think that they should be in each others ‘Hang Out Together’ group.

          Somewhat related, I think Theo DID pick up something useful from all of the sparring with Weaver. He got used to soldiering on through the pain. That helped him with determination and the will to continue. He got accustomed to fighting an opponent who was hyper aware of his attacks. This helped him to spot the similarities in Jack and come up with a counter.

          Side note:
          The training flashback made me think of the guy in her old territory who wanted a fight over the rat killing swarm. Back then, Taylor might not have been able to take him out in a true no powers fight. NOW, there is no question in my mind that she could probably wipe the floor with almost any three normals without using either her power or her flight pack.

          • The training flashback made me think of the guy in her old territory who wanted a fight over the rat killing swarm. Back then, Taylor might not have been able to take him out in a true no powers fight. NOW, there is no question in my mind that she could probably wipe the floor with almost any three normals without using either her power or her flight pack.

            Leaving aside the question of the guy from her territory (whom I see as not being an actual fighter, and therefore someone she could have taken at the time): according to a cursory Internet search, one 2002 study found 5% of Americans participated in martial arts within the last year and 28% of those participate “every chance they get”. If we assume this is set up like an exhibition match with MMA judges … yeah, I think 99% of the time Weaver could win it.

            That said, the no-powers fight I would want to see is Weaver vs. Grue. That fight I would not want to lay odds on.

  6. So Jack+Hookwolf is as OP as I expected, but was shut down easier than expected. They could have done a lot more damage with that combo than they did. My guess is Jack thought it made things too easy.

    • Hate to break it to you, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t ok. It’s just her power lets the bolts from her weapon ignore the time field. Remember, she was using her own looping scream to time how long she had to react and get the shot off before her groundhog second restarted.

      • Nope. She’s fine. She was walking around: “Up until the moment Foil, still screaming, using her augmented sense of timing to measure the length of each scream, stepped around the monochrome field he’d cast just in front of her. She threw a handful of darts through the Siberian and Gray Boy’s head as his back was turned.”
        Also, powers don’t work after Gray Boy catches you, iirc.

          • I would love to see Shadow Stalker try to get “revenge” on Taylor. It would end up being a hilarious one-sided curbstomp fight. As much of a social darwinist as SS is, she doesn’t have an iota of the ruthlessness that Taylor has. SS was an athlete during her high school career, but judging from the acrobatics during Theo’s sparring with Weaver, I would guess Weaver has far surpassed her on that front too.

            • Right now, Weaver is in the top tier of superheroes, just below the “well, yeah, but besides them” group of Endbringers, Eidolon, and Scion. Golem had a brevet top-tier rank for the duration of the Jack Slash situation — whether his performance will confirm that promotion is yet to be seen. Tecton is a solid second tier. And Shadow Stalker, last time she was on the streets, was third tier.

              Yeah, that’d be a curbstomp. Even if Shadow Stalker has learned to use her head during her term in juvie, Weaver has too much tactical awareness of her surroundings for Sophia to have a chance in any kind of direct confrontation.

              • It should happen anyways. Imagine the comedy value of such a fight. Hell, you could probably even apply slapstick sound effects and maybe some of the 60s Batman action words “POW! BIFF! BAM!” The real question would be if Weaver has to set down her teacup at any point during the fight.

              • Unless Regent’s curbstomping of her mind set her into another trigger event, in which case we don’t know what she might be capable of.

              • I’m fairly sure second trigger events aren’t that subtle.

                Also, Regent probably would have noticed the presence of additional powers.

                Also, we’ve seen her since then, and she didn’t act like she had other powers.

              • Yeah, considering she’s giving people orders, Weaver seems to be (unofficially) ranked along with Chevalier, and he’s the leader of the Protectorate.
                So I agree, with her power and cunning it would be an easy fight.

              • She DID give orders to Chevalier at one point. Of course it was more of a “heat of the moment” kind of thing and Chevalier was more amused than anything else, but still. Oh and do you think Weaver became head of the Chicago Wards after Tecton graduated or did Grace and/or Wanton trump her due to seniority?

              • In regards to leadership in the field, You listen to the ones that have a proven track record of winning fights. Off the field is a different story. That’s when rank and official status and whatnot matter again.

      • Yep Gray Boy trapped Jack because he was no longer interesting due to acting as Prey instead of Predator:
        “Jack had turned gray. Trapped, looped.

        “Pathetic,” Gray Boy said. “Stupid, useless. I thought you’d do something interesting, but you made yourself prey, instead of the predator. If you’re going to be prey, I want you to be my prey.”

        It dawned on Golem. Gray Boy froze him.”

  7. Okay so…. lets figure out what just happened. Foil pretended to be caught by Grey boy? But her power nailed him and he couldn’t reset? How did they kill the original Grey boy then? Or was she caught but managed to get a shot off and her bolt nulled his power? Would she be able to shoot if she was on repeat? If his power is nulled then Scion is free and Jack is only contained by foam. Thats portentous. OH MAN! and now Cauldron might have control over bonesaw and the remnants!?

    And how did they get Grey Boy to nail Jack? It was unclear- it seemed to me that he was connected to the foam that was shot at Grey Boy that Grey boy then froze and took Jack with him? Or something….? Who was the random Dragons tooth that came out of nowhere?

        • It might be a member of the Dragonkillers working undercover, but it won’t be Saint — he’s too busy trying to replace Dragon at the helm of her network.

          • Considering it was an Azazel suit that dropped off Chevalier and the others near the end, I really doubt it was Saint. He seemed to need to be at a PC or some other obvious computer concentrating in order to control Dragon’s network.

    • Pretty sure Foil was not caught (not actually sure how the idea she was actually caught came up actually, seemed pretty straightforward in the text “Foil… stepped around the monochrome field he’d cast just in front of her”

      Gray Boy was getting sick of following Jack around. Nobody was expecting that, I don’t think. Makes sense, considering they were being chased around the city, herded, trapped, and Grey Boy isn’t one to be made to look bad.

      Scion is not free, and neither is Jack. I have hope for some capes with other inviolable powers nullifying though. It does seem like they forgot about Scion.

      The DT officer, I’m guessing Theo picked him because he was nonthreatening enough that it’d be no fun for GB to take him out, uninteresting enough Jack hadn’t made plans to do so either. Thinking like Weaver: she had made plans against Gray Boy and Siberian, the more deadly foes. She wasn’t considering the more minor villains no doubt around somewhere at all. Therefore, Jack would not be thinking about countering any humans (why bother?)

      Bonesaw’s high profile enough that someone will be paying attention, don’t think Cauldron can secret her away anywhere. She would probably be of the most use to them though (maybe she can fix the capes with grosser physical defects?)

      What I’m curious about is Siberian – Foil’s darts dispelled the projection, but did Weaver take out Manton?

      • To support the idea that Grey (sp?) Boy just got tired of and/or annoyed with Jack, back in the Bonesaw interlude we had a few lines that basically said “Bonesaw only made one copy of Gray Boy because Jack could only control one at a time”.
        (not sure how to do quotes)

        So either it’s because his (GB’s) personality and desires are just to alien and Jack finally slipped up, or because Jack was so distracted and overwhelmed dealing with nearly 300 psychos, plus the hero’s, and didn’t pay attention.

        In other news; Grey Boy seems a lot like a ranged-Clockstopper. I wonder how he would fare against the Endbringers? In fact, there are several of the S9 that I’d like to see in those fights. Some of them I can understand staying away (Siberian/Manton) but frankly it seems like the kind of party Crawler would love to show up at.

        • I think it’s because he reverted time on himself all the way from before he was just a sample of DNA to his original Gray Boy body, so he didn’t have any control mechanism in him like the others did. It also explains the clothes he had when he stepped out.

        • Yeah, Crawler could have been an awesome hero. “Masochistic Tendancies? Meh, you’ll fit in pretty well.” He would be a little annoying though, always wanting people to try and kill him in order forhim to adapt.

        • He easily could have. There were only three Endbringers when he was alive, and of those only two could actually give him a good fight. Simurgh would just mind fuck him and/or find a way around his regeneration. Heck, showing up at them would actually explain a lot about him if he did try fighting the Simurgh.

  8. Uh, Tecton? You have the right to shut the fuck up now, you are gonna look really stupid if what you’re about to say to Golem is actually the thing that ends the world.

    Well, atleast Jack is done. Don’t have to put up with his smug bullshit anymore. Covered in white gunk while moaning and screaming for eternity certainly wasn’t my first choice for his comeuppance, but it’s definitely growing on me.
    youtube.com/watch?v=yqMRZZghBKY

    Hey, y’know what would’ve been really cool to have in this situation? A giant robot. Now where would we find one of those? Do you know Defiant? Don’t look at me like that, Foil just surpassed you by a hundred badass points, and she’s earned it.

  9. Wildbow, this was a great fight. Man oh man. I’m still not quite sure where all the badguys ended up- it seems like some might still be unaccounted for- but that is housekeeping for another day that seems almost petty considering the huge cliffhanger. Of course, with bonesaw surrendered there is no reason SHE can’t use the kill-switch.

    Poor Theo’s gonna need a lot of recovery. His body probably looks like roadkill at this point, and I doubt Parian’s patches were altogether good for him in the long run… But he certainly earned his badass of the month award.(Though Foil comes close)

  10. Hm.

    So the theory that brings in the Dragon’s Tooth guy is that Jack has some sort of sensory or maneuver-trump thing tying either to passengers, parahumans, or powers. (Since the D.T. armor blocks normal senses it’s also possible Jack taps into everyone’s senses, but it’s not clear why the D.T. guy’s awareness of the camera or Theo’s vantage on the D.T. guy or whatever wouldn’t work.)

    … I guess I don’t mind not knowing exactly, since the most important thing is that there are viable possibilities and Dinah confirmed that the plan it led Theo to would work. And between Dinah talking to Theo, 3% events happening quite regularly, and the looped precog-immune Scion taking up a share of everyone’s attention, it’s comprehensible that the numbers would be able to change substantially without any single particularly unlikely break.

    I’m not completely sure about how Jack got looped. Was he in containment foam that got frozen, or did the D.T. battle computer outmaneuver him so that the reappearing Gray Boy was just naturally shooting in Jack’s direction, or did he look hurt enough from the Tecton punch that Gray Boy froze him in disgust?

    I guess probably not the last option, so—he was in the containment foam? Or did I miss something in the positioning that would make it make sense that the reappearing Gray Boy would be shooting in his direction by default?

  11. Now, I mean this in the nicest way possible. I fucking love this serial. It’s great. Thank you for writing it.

    OH SCREW YOU WILDBOW. NOT COOL.

    See? Done. Now I just gotta wait for Saturday to find out exactly what the fuck.

    (Well played, by the way.)

    • DOOOMED. WE’RE ALL DOOOOOOMED!
      On that note, new WMG: The trigger event that ends the world will result in the breaking of the fourth wall, causing people to go Mad With The Revelation. Psycho Gecko is at fault for most of it.

      • And I’ll sing death, death, devil devil devil devil, evil evil evil evil songs. Hell you know that’s how I get along. The world is full of tragedy, so how can it be wrong, singing death death death death, devil devil, evil evil songs.

  12. I’m guessing Jack is a parahuman telepath, or has some other ability that specifically affects parahumans. His ability to read and manipulate them always seemed a little unnatural, and Golem specifically sent a mundane after Jack. All the talking he does might be a stalling act or it could give his power something.

  13. So… looks like Gray Boy’s loops do persist beyond his death? If so, we may be getting 2nd triggered Jack soon.

    • Even if we do, it shouldn’t matter, as powers reportedly don’t work in Gray Boy’s fields. Or… something like that. Actually, I recall something about Crusader’s duplicates not being able to escape the field, which may mean they work inside the field but can’t reach out of it, in which case an appropriate Trump power might be able to get someone out.

  14. Kudos to the previous commenters who called Gray Boy turning on Jack.

    What ~!@#$%^&*()_ level of Breaker is Foil? Her powers punch through Endbringers and kill beings who can loop time. Mercy kills on Gray Boy’s victims, maybe? I don’t think we ever saw her attempt to potshot Siberian, but based on what we just saw she might be able to do it.

    Too tired. Will brainstorm Jack’s secondary power later.

    • That, and his power requires conscious thought. He probably rolls himself back to avoid needing sleep, which is not mentally healthy (like that matters to him), but a sniper could have ended him all along. Problem is, the 9 fights sudden engagements in urban conditions.

      Fought sudden engagements.

        • Well that’s unfair.

          Almost.

          Now that’s interesting. Back to what Tattletale said…Taylor and her powers, Chevalier and his powers. I wonder if EVERY parahuman potentially has powers that function both actively and passively.

          • The original probably isn’t dead, there’s someone named Nicholas in the parahuman asylum codenamed “sadboy”

          • Maybe they dropped him in an active volcano or something. He can reset himself, he can reset his enviroment, but he’ll still get swallowed by molten lava. Or someone with a breaker/trumph power similar to Foils killed him.

      • Yeah, but there’s only one of Manton left, without allies to cover his projecting rear, and the whole world (or at least the part that wear capes) knows his weaknesses.

  15. I seriously thought Golem was dead. And apparently Scion getting trapped isn’t the catalyst for the end of the world. That was a hell of a turnaround.

  16. Taylor was a secret Thinker 2, and Jack was an even more secret Trump 2. As long as a situation was entirely composed of Parahumans, his power wouldn’t let him make any sort of blunder, ever. I theorize it was a completely passive and much less broken (but more subtle) variant of Contessa’s power. This is why he did so well controlling the Slaughterhouse Nine: they didn’t travel with normals, so his power was always in full force. When the DT was introduced, his power stopped being perfect, and he made some tiny misstep in his dance with Grey Boy and got his foot stepped on.

    Also, his control of Bonesaw only wavered when she interacted significantly with the unpowered guy at the store in Killington. Up until that point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bonesaw hadn’t had a real conversation with anyone without a Passenger since she triggered.

    • > Also, his control of Bonesaw only wavered
      > when she interacted significantly with the
      > unpowered guy at the store in Killington.

      Beautiful!

      Hats off to Wildbow for that, and to you for spotting it, if this is actually how Jack’s power works. ^_^

      • Huh. You know, I bet that’d be why Jack was so insistent about giving people second triggers. Maybe it gave him some greater control or something.

        *gets a hunch, turns to Wikipedia*

        Son of a BITCH! I should have looked up even more of the biblical references sooner. I had picked up on that bit about Bet and Aleph already(The Torah, and that whole creation part, starts with Bet, giving it a more honored place, but Aleph gets to start the 10 Commandments, the laws and orders of the Jewish god)

        Jacob, Arabic for “Heel” or “Leg-puller”. Later named Israel and had his tribe/descendants named after him (check for physical similarity to Zion there).

        Associated with a prophecy “the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger”

        And indeed, King and Grey Boy both, for a time, served him.

        Not sure yet how to interpret wrestling with the angel/God, mainly because there’s so many ways to look at that one.)

        Some of that is iffy, but I like that Jack, aka Jacob, fit with his name pretty well, even if their interpretation of Heel was a little different than ours.

          • “Forget the stupid names and spandex. Tell me your heart isn’t pounding, that you’ve never felt more alive than this.”

            Harbinger shook his head.

            “We can live this. Together. Every waking second…”

            “Jacob.”

            “Jack,” Jacob said. He kicked King’s body again. “Fuck it. He always called me Jacob, practically purring. His little killer in training. As if I could match up to his Gray Boy. I want to be more than that. Get out from under his shadow.”

        • One possibility about the whole “wrestling with god” bit (if your conjecture has any validity) would be how he’s developed an unusually close bond with his passenger (see Riley’s interlude) and yet retained an operant personality/will of his own.

          • I’m not sure how much of it is just me seeing patterns where they aren’t meant to be. There’s just been so much other stuff to get thrown in. Aleph, Bet, Golem, Tohu, Bohu, Behemoth, Leviahan, Zion, and probably more stuff I’m forgetting.

    • If Jack’s power does work that way, it would lend an amusing note to a comment he made back in…either Snare or Prey, I can’t remember.

      Panacea accuses him of being like Tattletale, and Jack responds that his ability to read people is purely learned.

      …Except, y’know, not.

      I wonder if it’s possible for a parahuman to not be aware of a sufficiently subtle ability.

  17. Golem is not true to his namesake. He appears to be made of iron instead. Now then, I was hoping I’d get to suggest this song for him this chapter. I had a song ready for if Golem pulled through and fought him of (youtube.com/watch?v=filTeTUFcmc if anyone’s interested) but I’m making a last minute change in the lineup here that I think better reflects the situation.

    youtube.com/watch?v=icKsv4jA5ZU

    Also, ladies and gentlemen, I want that Dragon’s Tooth soldier laid, now! If he doesn’t have 24 women pregnant by tomorrow morning, then we’re behind schedule. Unless he’s into guys. In that case, do everything in your power to help him get 24 guys pregnant by tomorrow morning. And if he’s asexual, then dammit, I want 24 virgins mysteriously impregnated!

    Once again, given the nature of the chapter, there’s a few I wonder about. I’m not sure how hard Theo squeezed, but that’s a pretty important artery where he got Chuckles. Still, I didn’t count it. Also, not sure if he actually penetrated against the Mannequin trapped in the Kaiser screen.

    Still, here’s our first iteration of this update’s killcount:

    Mannequins poisoned by anti-plastic: 3
    Cherishes put on a bus: 9
    Siberians imprisoned in Kolyma: 8
    Shatterbirds eaten by gluecats: 0
    Crawlers turned into crullers: 2
    Burnscars put on ice: 0
    Hatchet Faces at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake: 2
    Murder Rats shredded like cheddar: 4
    Kings left a-hunk, a-hunk of burning flesh: 1
    Screamers calling for their god: 3
    Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
    Breeds inbred: 3
    Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
    Nyxes ixnayed onay ivinglay: 4
    Psychosomas all in their head: 3
    Damsels of Distress in another castle: 0
    Winters ended by global warming: 1
    Chuckles’s hit in the faces with pies: 0
    Hookwolves off the hook: 1
    Skinslips given a pinkslip on life: 0
    Night Hags defeated by the Day Man: 4
    Nice Guys friendzoned: 2
    Miasmas kissin’ my assma: 3

    Bonus Round:

    Snowmenn lost their magic hats: 1
    Nighty Nights bitten by bed bugs: 0
    Laughjobs had it handed to them: 0
    Tyrants hiding in spiderholes: 1
    Spawners violated: 0

    Bonesaws on the shelf: 1
    Grey Boys black and blue: 1
    Jacks in the box: 1

    Nilbogs locked in Rapunzel’s tower: 1
    Saints glued in a female gorilla suit and tossed into a troop of males, covered in birdseed and dropped in an ostrich exhibit, had Tokay geckos tied to his ears, had his computer shined up real nice, turned sideways, and shoved straight up his candy ass, stomped a mudhole in and walked dry, tombstone piledriven straight to hell, had a catheter repeatedly stuck in and pulled out, given an orange juice enema, fed high protein cupcakes with laxative cream on top, beaten in the head with a shoe, recircumcised, had his nipples scraped with sandpaper, dragged through mud, hit with carrots, had a rabid badger tossed in his pants, tarred, feathered, drawn, quartered, had his tongue ripped out, shot, and then had his tongue shot, and trimmed that scraggly beard: 0

        • To essentially live forever while having a never ending orgasm? Well I think we can rule out Sad boy being Grey Boy now. If there is a parahuman that can do that to people with a touch, then Purity and the others might not suffer so much.

      • There is a chance that a Cherish or two is alive. Didn’t Dragon just horribly mangle a bunch and expect them to bleed out when she got ctr+alt+deleted by Saint? I think one of them could of been saved by an emt no knowing better

    • Negadarkwing is right. Easy to miss with all the names and fighting being thrown around, but I think we’ve established that you don’t want Foil sticking something in your skull.

      Crimsons running red: 2

  18. Dear sweet mother of God. That D.T. officer just took on Siberian, Gray Boy and Jack Slash… With a foam gun. You know he understood that if anything at all screwed up he would be the deadest man in the universe for the rest of eternity, and he did it anyways. Screw Taylor and Theo and everyone else. That man has the largest balls any human has a right to wield.

    I want a new character. This guy just had a trigger event brought on by pure unadulterated awesome and is now Scion 2.0

    Oh wait crap. I just figured out how the world ends.

  19. Three more thoughts, then off to bed.

    The parallels between Taylor and Jack continue – both have a minor Thinker power that allows them increased awareness of their opponents. All of Theo’s training with Taylor allowed him to notice when his opponent had such an advantage, and he used his brain to figure out what it might be.

    Theo, you have won the right to call yourself a badass and stare down whoever you come up against in the future. You continued to fight when apparently defeated, pulled a Chevalier vs. Behemoth moment, came up with a Taylor-level tactical maneuver under the highest possible pressure, and were heavily instrumental in taking down Jack Slash.

    Everyone at the end there is apparently ignoring the Siberian, who should still be on-scene, right next to Jack.

    • My bad on the Siberian bit. Was making edits after the chapter went up and a thunderstorm knocked out my connection – it came back up, but I lost some edits, and a fix on the Siberian thing was one of them. Fixed.

      • And couldn’t even give me a clarified kill on Siberian in the process. There be a lot of holes in my killcount. Explainable holes, given unspecified 9 deaths and fights that occurred off screen, but still.

        • Of course there are holes Gex. It wouldn’t be funif weknew who might show up later to cause trouble.
          Why do I have a feeling that this isn’t quite over yet? I think Cauldron are going to do something interesting.

  20. Hmm.

    I think I just understood why Gray Boy’s power is able to catch Scion, and why it persists after his death: he’s not trapping the person, exactly. He’s cutting, pasting, and stitching the space-time around them.

    It’s like how Taylor is allowed to surround Scion with bugs: the state of “being surrounded by bugs,” like the state of “being inside a repeating moment,” is not actually an effect on the target, but an environmental description.

    Of course, this says odd things about the ability to remember across loops. It’d probably feel weird if his death stopped consciousness from persisting across loops, so that probably remains too, but.

    I wonder what feedback Weaver is getting from the frozen bugs. I mean:

    * theory 1: when Weaver is near the bugs, she gets normal feedback from them, and their looping feels a bit like a hiccup.
    * theory 2: when they were looped, she instantly lost contact with them.
    * theory 3: for the rest of eternity, or at least until some big parahuman thing interrupts it, Weaver will be aware of/through those bugs.

    Theory 2 is possible because powers don’t reach out of the field, but is weird because information does travel out of the field.

    Theory 3 is possible because part of Weaver’s mind/awareness was in the loop when it closed, and if it can get away, that’s a pointer to a failing/weakness in the power: it suggests that you could, say, extract the consciousness of a Gray Boy victim and then they’d be unconscious for future loops.

    I suspect it’s 1 or 2, but the powers and interactions here are complicated!

  21. What happened to the siberian? Did foil also throw darts thru her and/or did Weaver kill the manton? Was that supposed to be clarified in this entry or is that to be made clear later?

      • I believe it’s more because Foil’s projectile’s break reality a bit. I vaguely recall this happening before where Foil’s projectiles shut down a projection of the Siberian. As badass as the Siberian is, it seems like when she’s confronted with another unstoppable power (Foil, Clockblocker, etc…) she seems to be trumped every time.

  22. I’m calling it now, Kayden second triggers and is the end of the world scenario.

    I suppose on a long enough timeline, Gray Boy was bound to meet someone who could manage to work their way around his power, and ultimately beat him.

    • Also, is there a Cauldron cape in that DT suit? I could imagine the Number Man or Contessa pulling off something like that.

      • Doubt it. I’m of a kind to believe what others say, that Jack’s thinker is a parahuman telepathy. And so the D.T. who took him down was, by necessity, just your average human.

        • “Average” is not the word you’re looking for. Like someone upthread mentioned, this hired hand just earned a top-ten slot on the Wormverse Brass Balls List, and we don’t even know his name.

              • It reduced it at that point only because he was needed to overcome Jack’s power…probably. The probabilities went up and down based on individual actions, just because him being there at that point reduced the probability it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t increase if he is near Tecton now. Remember Theo was doing simple left and right, attack and retreat questions to change the probabilities earlier. If Theo attacked when he should have retreated the probability of stopping Jack went down. So it could still be the DT guy that is the trigger and the whole evil mind of Wilblow could be that he was also needed to bring Jack down.

                Also here is a guess: Remember what Jack said was in a cadence, I bet that is an important part to cause the trigger not just the words but how they are said.

              • Speaking in cadence implies a song, poem, or some other prepared statement. Jack knew this was going to happen.

  23. Clearly, this never would have happened if Jack Slash was willing to let the Siberian give him a piggy-back ride.

  24. Hmm, if my guesses last chapter hold any water, and Jack’s secondary power is a low grade communication with or possibly an ability to interfere with the passengers of other people, he probably had the power in an “always on” state to survive amongst the nine.

    For as long as he would have been using that power constantly, he might have the most developed passenger on earth, if passengers develop best in a condition of continuous power use by their hosts. He certainly fits the mold of the constant cape power user losing their humanity, emotionally.

    So if Jack just said “I’m about to have a baby” they better keep him in the Gray Boy field (if there’s any choice) and hope it works on passengers while they are still contained in the human brain.

    On a different note, did I miss something about Dinah’s state? Hopefully she’s just hurting and unable to talk, not dead from a stroke or something.

    • I think Dinah’s first question of the day was “How many times can I answer a question until I black out from the pain?” She’s probably curled up passed out on the floor.

  25. Well, here we are. Jack’s in the box, Bonesaw’s on the shelf, and Gray Boy’s black and blue. There are still some Kings out there, but I think they will be handled. At the very least, they won’t be anything like Jack was.

    And I believe it was the Slaughterhouse acquiring Blasto and making off with the resources to clone all these guys that tipped my hand to say the entire world deserved to be destroyed. It certainly didn’t help all the times that people were proven to deserve it after that…but the main factors in all that have been dealt with.

    Live and let live, Wormverse, live and let die.

    • You just HAD to tempt fate by saying everything is dealt with. I just know that because you said that, Wildbow is going to have all the Endbringers show up at once, Scion turns evil, Cauldron causes every passenger to manifest in this dimension, farts become colored and visible, all ice cream disappears, dogs become friends with cats, Paris Hilton becomes president, all alcoholic beverages become V8 juice, etc.

  26. Theorisng What Jack said:

    “Tune in on Saturday loyal readers!”
    “I would have gotten away it if it wasn’t oft you meddling kids and you dogs!”
    “Theo, *I* am your mother!”
    “I am half of scion.”

    On a serious note, maybe “Aster’s alive,” That would be heavy duty for Theo and Taylor and might not make too much sense for Tecton?

    Finally, Wildbow, you did to us agaiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnn!!!!!! and beautifully so

      • ~I mean to live forever if I can! By any trick of Nature or of Man… there’s so much I haven’t done, haven’t tried or seen or won, that I mean to live forever if I can!~

        • “Spit in the crocodile’s face, have a menage a trois with two female apes,
          Then sleep in the barrel of butcher knives,
          I drink honey, straight from the bee hive,
          Bungee jumping off the Empire State, butt naked,
          Rollerblade across the Golden Gate, butt naked,
          With the baddest man alive, and I don’t plan to die,
          When the grim reaper come out, look him right in his eye,
          I’ll bust him in the face in the witch of the east,
          Tell a great white shark to go and brush his teeth”

    • That movie was awesome and you are given a mental Gold Star for referencing it.

      While I’m here, I’ll ask: How would the Endbringers fair in Pacific Rim?

      • Pretty damn good with their reality breaking powers. But Pacific Rim was pure awesomeness, and the fact it didn’t do better at the box office is pure fail.

        • No, it did fucking amazing overseas especially in china. We got a confirmation on a sequel and a Jaeger Kaiju hybrid.

          • I knew it was doing good overseas, but I was dissapointed in the US showing. I mean Transformers 3 spends its first hour or so just dicking aound with bad comedy and boring “Sam wants an office job” and does gangbusters.

  27. “Doesn’t make any sense. Nonsensical. He said-“

    1. “You’re still in the locker… Emma.”
    2. “Switch… to … Geico…”
    3. “Lisette is crying that the world must die.”
    4. “Don’t you think Weaver looks tired?”
    5. “In the Toybox nobody dies, they just get put away.”
    6. “Now one of YOU is Jack!”
    7. “Cauldron stole my monsters. :(”
    8. “My God. It’s full of stars!”
    9. “I know how to save Dragon.”
    10. “Doctor Mother is… Nurse Joy.”

    • 11. “The pigeon has no agenda.”
      12. “Rosebud.”
      13. “Hotdogs. Armor hotdogs.”
      14. “I bet it’s a Tuesday, could never handle Tuesdays.”
      15. “The jester hops on the leg of time.”

    • 17. “Last Words’); DROP TABLE Living Humans;–”
      18. ” ‘Doesn’t make any sense. Nonsensical. He said-’ Tecton shuddered, twitched. ‘Doesn’t make any sense. Nonsensical. He said-’”
      19. “import universe U1; import universe U2; import Jack of Swords; ~ATH(!Jack of Swords) { } EXECUTE([U1, U2].DIE();)”
      20. “Yasu is the culprit.”
      21. “Danny is Butcher.”
      22. “Your turn, Madison.”
      23. “It was worth it. All of it. The Klondike bar. It justified it all.”

    • 24. “Supercalifragilisticexpyalidocious. Even though the sound of it is something quite atrocious.”
      25. “I rolled a 1.”
      26. “I’m always about to fart.”
      27. “Now I’ll never tell you where I buried the treasure.”
      28. “Could someone hold up a TV showing the Simpsons right in front of me?”
      29. “This is the song that never ends. It just goes on and on my friends. Some people started singing it not knowing what it was and they’ll continue singing it forever just because…”
      30. “Hey, want to hear the most annoying sound in the world? EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

        • 35. I ship Chevalier X Contessa.
          36. Pull my finger.
          37. You and Taylor would make a great couple!
          38. Wildbow you bastard!

            • 40. But it was so artfully done!
              41. Man, I couldn’t take her.
              42. Wasn’t Taylor pregnant?
              44. Winners don’t use drugs!
              45. This is still better than Mass Effect 3′s Ending.

            • 46. I have to go now, my planet needs me.
              47. It’s a livin’!
              48. Tyrion kills T-
              49. Did I leave the oven on?
              50. Howabout we talk this ov-

              • 51. Cut Ties. Not Sorry.
                52. He will knock four times.
                53. Roooosebuuuud…
                54. Execute order 66.
                55. Soylent Gree- Er, Cauldron Formula is people!
                56. We have entered an endless recursion of time.
                57. We have entered an endless recursion of time.

              • 58. Doesn’t matter, had sex
                59. Your princess is in another castle.
                60. I just divided by zero. OH SHI-
                61. Oh sure, he just had to trap me in a loop just as I farted.

              • 62. “…for they shall inherit the earth.”
                63. “non servium”
                63. “You never cared until she made you care.”

    • Number four made my skin crawl. Seriously. That’s one match-up where I wouldn’t give Taylor odds: against the Doctor, especially Ten.

      • What you mean that quirky alien white dude the Brits have on their propaganda channel?

        I give him ten seconds against Weaver before he starts screaming.

        • Having watched a few episodes of the reboot recently, I can’t imagine a situation in which Weaver would actually carry through an attack on the Doctor. I think a remark I posted on the Nixed Interlude applies:

          I remember saying to some of my RL-friends who love the story that if you trapped Superman, Batman, Squirrel Girl, and Skitter in an arena to fight to the death, the battle would end with Skitter kicking your ass.

          Adding the Doctor to that mix would just mean getting your ass kicked even faster.

          • “I can’t imagine a situation in which Weaver would actually carry through an attack on the Doctor.”

            Oh ye of little faith. “Lets You and Him Fight” is a trope for a reason. They just need to make Weaver look like the big bad for half the episode, and the Doctor would do all the work.

            • It might have worked against Skitter, but even then the Doctor’s a genius who always tries for a peaceful option. And it would be hard to make Weaver seem like the villain these days.
              Anyway, I figure that those kind of hero against hero fights would just end in an awesome teamup.

            • Adding to what Jerden said: I’m fairly sure that if the Doctor has a superpower, it is “being able to identify and leverage allies”. You know how Skitter refuses to coup-de-grace Battery in the agnosia fog when Jack and Bonesaw (pretending to be Grue and Tattletale) pressure her to? From the little I know about the Doctor, he is harder to manipulate into such a position.

              That said, if you succeeded, I would imagine the result when the Doctor realized his mistake and called off the troops would look a lot like this one.

      • Let’s see if we can get at least a hundred of these.
        56. I wish I’d gone to the bathroom first.
        57. Fuck, should have let Bonesaw put in the pain cutoff.
        58. Tell Harbinger I love him. In a purely platonic sense.
        59. So that’s what the doctor meant when he said he was “sorry, so sorry.”
        60. All that money I spent on tide to keep my whites white and my brights bright, wasted.

      • 91. Would you kindly kill everyone?
        92. I know a song that gets on everybody’s nerves, everybody’s nerves…
        93. Exactly As Planned.

        • 94. …And so I squeezed the mayonnaise onto the egg. Mayonegg.
          95. You just lost the game.
          96. This is just a dream.

          • 97. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me being cut hurts this much?
            98. This is actually kinda nice. I think I’ll stay here for a bit.
            99. You know I got my trigger event after being abducted from the car crash my family was in…
            100. I actually wanted to call the Slaughterhouse 9 the Scary Muthafuka squad, but it got shot down.

            That’s hundred, but if anyone has more ideas feel free to contribute.

              • I thought so too, so I went to check some dates. Number Man’s flashback, our earliest look at Jack is set in 1987. Chevalier’s Interlude, however, has no dates whatsoever, which is strange because usually the scenes set in the past do tell us the year. Is wildbow hiding something? Can we evince when the Wards program started with the data available to us?

                I bet negadarkwing only meant it as a joke :).

              • From Gestation 1.6: “If I had to judge, with only the lower half of his face to go by, I’d guess he was in his late twenties or early thirties.”

                Assuming we push it and say he was 35 in 2011 and 13 when the Wards were formed*, that would imply the Wards were formed in 1989 and Chevy’s brother’s kidnapping was in 1986.

                It’s not absolutely impossible, but I don’t buy it. Years don’t really add up.

                * Aside: Judging by Hero’s glimmer, I think Colin is probably the boy with writing on his skin.

              • Actually I was referencing some comments in Chevalier’s interlude that were people speculating that Jack or Grey Boy could be Chevy’s brother.

            • 101. “You are now aware of your tongue.”
              102. “Your tongue is now aware of you.”
              103. “*Weaver* is now aware of every bug’s digestive system within six blocks.”
              104. He was just repeating ‘hey stir’ over and over again, but wouldn’t say what he wanted to stir.
              105. “Hail, hail, fire and snow, call the angel, we will go, far away, for to see, friendly angel come to me”
              106. “I surrender, in humanity’s name, to Simurgh Imperatrix.”
              107. “Her Mom’s alive, you know.”
              108. “Make a contract with me and become a magical girl!”
              109. “I only wanted to make people happy.”
              110. “Remember to put the anti-Gray-Boy hack here when you get access to time travel. Remember to put the anti-Gray-Boy hack here when you get access to time travel. Remember to put the anti-Gray-Boy hack here when you get access to time travel.”
              111. “And we all lived happily ever after, forever and ever, amen.”

  28. So, as long as they used actual DNA samples like pieces of the person in Bonesaw’s version of the cloning process, then I think I know how Gray Boy came out of the tube clothed.

    If he was formed even just a little bit by a few molecules of the original Gray Boy, then he was able to reverse time along his body past the point when he was just a skin flake and back to the point when he was a fully clothed Gray Boy.

    As a result, he had his original body as well, with none of Jack’s control tampering in place to keep him from turning on Jack or trapping him in a loop or something.

  29. Speculation time:

    The reason why Theo picked the DT was that the DT was the only one there without a passanger.

    Theo realized by analogy to Taylor that Jacks secondary thinker power involved Parahumans only and that a normal could throw a wench into his plans because he was a normal not depite it.

    • Adding a layer to your speculation:

      Why else would the numbers *improve* with Dragon out of the picture?

      Without her AI presence in the DT armor, the DT armor becomes nigh-invisible to such a sensing/control method.

      Add in that the ‘coordinator’ for such was ALSO human by this point, well, it was a two-fer.

      So Saint, as much as one might want to hate his ass for doing Dragon like he did, may have been a key component in Saving the Day. Maybe.

      • That is a brilliant addendum to the speculation on Jack having a power that affects / makes him better against parahumans. He has slipped away from the Dragon/Defiant combo on more than one occasion, despite them being two of the most effective parahumans in the world. With Dragon gone, the DT personnel become normals untouched and unaided by direct parahuman abilities.

      • Speaking of Number Man, I wonder if Jack’s power isn’t simply winning against parahumans but also influencing them someway. Number Man was way more scared of taking on Jack ( who had none of Bonesaw’s implants at the time nor the Siberian at his side) than it would be logical for someone like him. And then he still think of him as his best friend or something despite Number Man explicitly believing that things like friendship are just lies civilization tells itself.

  30. Wouldn’t it be funny if Jack Slash was the creator of the Endbringers? Since he’s stuck in the time loop, that would mean that the Endbringers now cannot be stopped at all. End of the world right there.

  31. I just want to say something.

    I’ve been reading Worm for nearly a year now, and I am not disappointed by it. Lately I’ve noticed a certain level of fatigue from readers in threads and comments, but I want to say that I am not experiencing it. Worm truly has improved or maintained quality throughout in my opinion. I suspect that a lot of the more negative comments we’ve seen lately has a lot to do with the vastly widening audience. As more people read the series more personalities see it, and no story appeals to everyone.

    This really is a wonderful work of fiction. Constantly surprising, ever changing, awesome, exciting, cool, and beautiful. I am thankful that this exists and I am thankful to have read it.

    That being said, I am glad that Worm has a planned ending. I do not think the qualities of wildbow’s writing that make Worm a good story are limited to this setting. I’m really excited to see Worm’s ending and I want to see the successors. All of the title and genre combinations are intriguing in their own way. They manage to get me excited for works with absolutely no information about them.

    In my case screams over cliffhangers are HAPPY screams.

    Just felt I hadn’t praised Worm sufficiently in a while. I can archive binge a lot, but keeping interest in this web serial for this long has amazed me.

    • From what I read of Sting, before I left on va-cay, it was as good as my personal favorite chapter, Coil’s downfall, if not better. Coming after the fatigued Drone+Scarab? A breath of fresh air – laced with adrenal vapor.

    • I just wanted to second this. I started reading Worm a few months ago and if anything, for me, it’s only got better as we proceed. Continue with the great work wildbow.

    • I know what you mean about looking forward to Worm’s ending. I too love the story and characters, that’s why I want to see how it all ends. Also, I’m looking forward to a massive reread of the whole story.
      Not the comments though. That would be way too much.

  32. “What’s the chance? For what I’m thinking right now?”

    “Allowing for the fuzz I’m getting from Scion’s presence above you? Seventy.“

    … Scion is still having an effect while inside Gray Boy’s field. Normally powers don’t, and if he was stuck in there there would be no potential future actions to influence Dinah’s numbers. So either Scion’s powers trump Gray Boy’s (allowing for the possibility of him breaking the field, although it’s possible that only his powers can pass through the field) or it never affected him at all (and he’s just standing there because Weaver asked him to, or for some other inscrutable reason).

      • Well, Wildbow has promised a Scion interlude at some point, and I really doubt he’d make one for a character rendered irrelevant. I’d say Scion getting out is a foregone conclusion.

        • Think on these two points:

          1. Khonsu the Endbringer that manipulates time and was able to trap heros and villians inside time bubbles, teleports AWAY from Scion and will not fight him. If time bubbles really did stop Scion why would Khonsu run away? So I think it unlikely that Grey Boy’s Time Loop should be able to hold him because of point…

          2. Remember when Chevailler touched Behemoths heart? Remember how all his power went away? Remember Behemoth wasn’t able to effect/stop Scion’s power since Scion blew Behemoth into so many little pieces? So now why would Grey Boys nullification power work on Scion, especially when given the clue that Scion is still effecting things outside of the time loop.

          Two of the main effects of Grey Boys power is similar to Endbringers and in the Endbringers they do not seem to be enough to stop Scion, so I think Scion was not effect very much by Grey Boy if at all.

          • You know, it occurs to me that Scion is very nearly autistic from constant information overload.

            So what happens when you cut off that information overload? What happens when an omnipotent man suddenly has time (ha!) to think?

            What if he can use that omnipotence to build filters, shields, what have you, to enable him to process that information better? What if it’s the only thing he needed to actually stop being overwhelmed, but could not do it himself?

            That would explain why Khonsu wasn’t interested in using his time powers on Scion. It would actually help him, rather than hurt him.

            Scion’s not still stuck in Gray Boy’s time bubble because he can’t get out. He’s in there because he’s enjoying the peace and quiet, and taking the time to get ready to come out again with his mind able to handle the information overload.

            Following this line of speculation, then, the question becomes: what’s he going to do when he comes out again?

  33. I must congratulate Cauldron for the great job they did in helping to put down Jack, and perhaps even avert the end of the world. Without them and Saint, wherever would we be? More than any other set of individuals they were willing to go the extra mile, and kicks puppies EXTRA hard, and don’t you know, it all paid off!

    Why, I remember it as if it were this chapter. Cauldron and Saint playing vital roles in taking down Jack, singlehandedly, rather than dicking around, attempting mass murder, and slaying Dragons.

    Oh, wait…

      • It got lost in the mail. Hey, it’s perfectly possible. Let’s not forget Cauldron put down one group of the nine, the Thanda helped with the Siberians. As for Saint

        Yea. Lets say he passed out from information overload, that seems suitable. Woke up just in time to send a single Azazel to Jack.

        • Yeah, information overload, that’s it. It’s not like he realized that he was in control of a system that could download all the world’s porn in seconds or something. *whistles innocently*

  34. Deathadder. Probably a snake themed villian, but wouldn’t it be funny if he actually had Math based powers? And then you have Numbers Man’s real arch enemy, the Mathmagician!

  35. So I’m gonna go out and a limb and say that Jack’s secondary power is somewhat similar to Chevalier’s power as well. Something that allows him to detect the passengers on some level. But I don’t think he is aware of them outright since he never uses this kind of knowledge to fuck with people.

    I think it’s a kind of instinct, a subconscious awareness of someone’s passenger and what he needs to say or do to get a reaction out of it. It’s how he’s survived among all the goddamn psychopaths for so long, and how he molded Bonesaw into his tool, he knows exactly how to worm into the good graces of a passenger and reinforce it. He’s like a lion tamer, he knows how to read the passenger to tell how to calm it down, or how to get out of the way when it lashes out. Which explains how good he is at avoiding attacks.

    Also notice how Jack was surprised by Weaver in 26.6. I think this was because Taylor managed to achieve a sort of zen-like seperation between her and her passenger, so when she started shooting the Nine, she was acting as normal human, and therefore outside of Jack’s ability to read.

    I’m thinking now that the passenger isn’t some sort of nefarious space tick that manipulates the host, but some sort of distillation of the emotions and drives behind the trigger event into a sort of separate will. A baser instinct that Jack can pick up on.

    • “I’m very, very good at finding those weak points.” Jack said back during his debut. We know that the human-passenger connection isn’t seamless (Look at Bitch’s doggy mentality, look at the too-broad passenger connections of the cloned Mannequin – “Wall me in. Wall me in. Wall me in.” – and Damsel of Distress – “Serve me or I shall chop off your head!”). What if his secondary subconscious power isn’t to be aware of the passengers a la Chevalier, but to sense the seams between the human and the passenger? It would fit with his conduct during the Nilbog standoff, and his predilection for breaking candidates for the Slaughterhouse Nine. Too broad and he has to search a larger area for a weak point, too deep and any weak point is too tight to slip into. He then prises the two apart, slips some good old-fashioned brainwashing in there, and steps away and lets the brain do all the work.

      This also explains why his candidates have been, aside from power, otherwise middle-of-the-road. Leaving aside the cauldron capes for a moment (Hookwolf, Shatterbird and Siberian come to mind, but I’m sure there are others) We have Cherish, who I’m assuming has a similar passenger relation to Regent, plus a little vanity (which could go either way in terms of passenger breadth, IMO). We have Bonesaw, who was fairly young, and therefore fairly broad, but whose weak point was still her family, and made weaker by lack of sleep, overwork, and fear. I will admit that we don’t know a lot about the members of the Slaughterhouse Nine, but I’m fairly certain that a big part of Jack’s “tests” are testing the seams between human and passenger.

      • Also normal humans are seamless by this analogy. Jack’s passenger probably doesn’t want him to look at them. (Normals scare it, for instance, or some other thing that explains why he didn’t see the DT agent)

  36. Rachel: Hey Taylor, why the gold guy is still there?
    Taylor: because I asked him not to interfere, pretty please.
    Rachel: uh, so “please” is important too… why are you not telling him he can came down now?
    Taylor: I’m waiting on word from Dinah or Lisa.

    Tecton: hey guise, I know endoftheworld secret stuff lol

    Taylor (in a low voice): or, I could just eavesdrop with my bugs.

    (listens in)

    Taylor: NOOOOOOOOOOO!

    - second Taylor trigger, her range grows to a dozen light minutes, all the insects on Earth start attacking humans -

    And that would be the most logical conclusion… except that her anti grav pack was glowing when she rescued Theo.

    That’s because Scion passed her powers to her, and now she’s using those to fly!

    Of course she has not realized it yet, she’s used to process a certload of data. But that explains why Jack’s super-persuasion thinker powers stopped working. It’s not the baseline human that blindsided him, it’s Taylor!Zion that is mucking it up.

    Btw, Taylor!Zion is way more thematic a ship with Golem now.

  37. Well Scions practically dead, which pretty much eliminates any possibility of killing another endbringer, and severely impacts the worlds ability to defend against them. So fucking great on that.

    Although that really feels like bullshit. It’s scion, the mans fucking omnipotent, if he were actually sane the end bringers would already be dead. If he didn’t have some sort of power immunity he’d be dead already.

    • Besides, his power was working on the area while he was in Grey Boy’s time loop (Dinah mentioned her power being fuzzy when Scion was already trapped). He’s getting out somehow.

      • As I mentioned before, Wildbow mentioned doing a Scion interlude. It would be pretty pointless and boring if it was just him sitting there repeating the same 5 seconds over and over.

        • What negadarkwing said. Also, he’s looping, but he can still see things outside the loop, and he can still think.

          I don’t think Scion will stay trapped either — I’m just saying that meta reasoning isn’t going to cut it as far as explaining why he won’t.

          • I think it will be delayed until the very end. Eidolon, Legend, Pretender/Alexandria, they’ll all be dead, world’s about to end, Weaver can’t do anything… Then Scion returns.
            It would be awesome.

  38. I’ve been busy so haven’t had the time to check on Worm since Monday. Today I finally had the time to catch up.

    So, when I get to the end of 26a, I wipe my brow and tell myself “Whew, good thing I didn’t have the time to read this before, now I don’t have to stop reading at such a major cliffhanger.”

  39. I see Golem took one play from Weaver’s book. He was using his power to give directions. He could potentially get the same synergy with Foil that Taylor has.

    Speaking of Foil Grey boy did freeze some darts she threw. So did his power trump hers there, or is it a case of she wasn’t using her power, and it was a fake out to set up her later shot. And a few chapters ago Hatchet Face was negating Foil’s power so her bolts didn’t penetrate too far. I would assume she was already in range of her power, but how would Hatchet Face’s power negation work on Grey Boy?

    Even if what Jack said isn’t a world ending trigger we still have lots of problems. The Endbringers still have to be dealt with. That means they have to fight the designer. Cauldron is going to make a move at some point, and they seem to have plans for what’s left of Jack’s army. Saint is probably going to open the Birdcage. Scion is stuck for the moment. And who knows what he’ll be like when he escapes. And quite a few of our heroes are worse for wear now.

    • Hatchet Face’s power negation works on people specifically, not on their powers. If you’re outside his range, the only thing you have to worry about is somehow defeating a guy who can axe cars in half and comfortably survive being run over by a steam-roller.

    • I suspect that Foil’s power trumps Grey Boy’s injury-rewinding power and is trumped by his time-loop power.

      So he can trap her projectiles or her body, but if she hits him then he won’t get un-hit like he normally would.

      • Well, I recall that Foil can cause her projectiles to bond irrevocably with something. She stabbed Taylor in the shoulder with a bolt before and bone surrounding it had to be cut out to remove it. I can imagine she just shot him in the head and bonded it to his brain in such a way that even trying to rewind time on him wouldn’t fix it.

        • I dunno, he’s always in a loop, and apparently it goes back to when he got his powers. Seems like he could loop back to before it was even fired.

      • I don’t think it works like that. I’d bet that the reason Grey Boy’s power didn’t save him is that he was disabling his own power while he was beginning to torture Jack.

        Remember, cape powers don’t work in a Grey Boy field. If he’s reaching into the field he set up with Jack and making adjustments to the field so he can torture Jack, then I’d guess his own power would be nullified. If he were instantly killed when his personal defensive power is disabled due to exposure to the field around Jack, no rewind.

        • Powers work in Gray Boy’s field, they just can’t penetrate the boundary. It is likely that when Gray Boy’s personal time field intersects his created loops, i.e. when he is reaching in and torturing people, that less of his power is available for automatic defense. However, hitting him while he is distracted and looking elsewhere is sort of an obvious weak spot (they know his offensive powers take conscious control to work and sight to aim properly), so it is unlikely that someone has never before tried killing him while he was working on another victim.

  40. Wildbow. I just got it. I think. Why you called them passengers anyway.

    The passengers aren’t actually “passengers” they are “back seat drivers”. Just like so many passengers in real life.

    • The term is specifically Bonesaw’s. Cauldron calls them “agents” instead. It is an in-setting term of art created by someone who does not understand them that well and admits to being bad at names.

  41. My theory on why Foil could kill Gray Boy:

    Physical damage isn’t the answer. Wildbow has said if a sniper hits him then he loops back automatically uninjured. So I think the key is involving what someone posted above:

    Gray Boy usually loops back automatically when injured. His brain stays from the future because he needs to retain awareness of what happened. So he uses his most recent uninjured brain template (so to speak) and chooses whatever body of any time.

    Remember that Foil’s dart can bond completely to the material it penetrates. They had to cut around the bone Foil’s dart goes through. So the dart penetrates his brain, BONDS with it to such an extent that every time he loops back passively (without him even willing it to) his brain comes back bonded to the projectile. So he keeps dying. {

    My theory, at least.

    • That works… I thought foil’s darts simply were in the same dispalced dimension gray boy is.
      He can block them, but since it takes a second or so for the passenger to roll him back, if he’s dead in the “savegame” it does not matter.

      Your solution, however, is much more elegant.

  42. So, here’s a thing.

    The numbers get better when Theo thinks about what Weaver does.

    No. He needed to think about it from a different angle.

    What does Weaver do?

    “Dinah.”

    “Three questions left.“

    “What’s the chance? For what I’m thinking right now?”

    “Allowing for the fuzz I’m getting from Scion’s presence above you? Seventy.“

    Seventy.

    “The numbers are better,” she said. “You’re on the right path.”

    Instead of thinking about Jack, he’s thinking about Weaver. And the numbers get better.

    Why is that?

    Is Weaver the one who gets catalyzed, the one who needs attention paid to her?

    This connects to Dragon being taken out by Saint, and the numbers get better.

    Taylor is like Jack. Taylor is close enough to Dragon to have her own Dragon-craft — the Dragonfly.

    Does removing Dragon as a Weaver ally make the numbers better?

    • Or, he’s thinking about a girl he likes.

      So if he gets a girlfriend and is happy enough he does not second trigger and the end of the world is averted :)

  43. Okay so I recently added a bunch of tropes to the tropes page and ran into a snag. I wanted to show how things are different in various places around the world in the wormverse. I added the following, but I think it might be a little too long, have a few mistakes, and might not fit. So I’m posting it here to see if I made any mistakes in the lore, and hoping Wildbow has a few little factoids to add. Feel free to edit it on the tropes page. If packbat is reading this, should I just delete it and add this info to the wiki instead?

    Counterpart Comparison: Parahumans exist all over the world in the Wormverse.
    America and Canada have formed the Protectorate, which is the largest gathering of heroes in the world and also has the most powerful of them in its ranks. They provide support and leadership to other heroes all over the world and generally act more like police than a military unit. They cover all of North America and are in talks to cover Mexico as well. Parahumans are generally treated well, and they seem to have quite a few parahuman immigrants. Though the US in particular has a lot of villains, and they have had to deal with more S class threats than anyone else.
    Europe has many individual teams of heroes in different countries but they aren’t united like the Protectorate. They have only one other S class threat to deal with besides the Endbringers, the mysterious Sleeper, who primarily stays in Russia but does roam around.
    South America has many villains being government controlled or working for Cartels. The few heroes working to help people are treated like villains by many goverments.
    Shatterbird’s interlude shows that at least a few Middle Eastern countries’ heroes act more like military than police.
    India’s “capes” are divided into two groups, ‘hot’ and ‘cold’, with very strict rules on who falls into a category. Hot, is about flash, color, appeal, and engaging the public. Villain or hero, they are treated as cape celebrities. Cold, deals with bloodshed, violence, assassination and secrecy. Capes of the underworld that the public doesn’t see or hear and the media does not speak of them. Those between the two groups get the worst of both.
    Africa is mentioned as having some of the greatest concentration of Trigger Events and Parahumans in the world with witch burnings against them being mentioned. At least a few areas have no government to speak of and are ruled by powerful parahuman warlords who rise and fall quickly with one notable exception.
    Japan in the past had many heroes and even a large group of them that dressed like Sentai Rangers. Though Leviathan’s devastating attack killed over 9 million people, left millions more homeless, killed most of their heroes, and reduced Japan to a third world country that requires a lot of aid from the rest of the world. As a consequence they only have a small handful of heroes in the entire country.
    China has a very negative view of parahumans. They have many parahumans, including a few American villains that were sold to them by others, brainwashed and forced to join their military organization called The Yàngbǎn. It’s members are given a number, wear the same concealing costume, and they are not treated as individuals. They have found a parahuman that can have most of it’s member’s powers weakened and shared between each other, with all of them being trained to fight as a unit. Anyone who acts differently is shunned.

    • The Protectorate is American, Canada has a Parahuman organization called the Guild which often works with Protectorate. Dragon originally ran with Guild before becoming an honorary member of the Protectorate.

      I don’t recall any mention of South American Capes before but I thought the ‘Heroes are bad, villains are good’ thing was for India? I remember Phir Se saying his group were good guys who got smeared by the government.

      • It’s in the fight against Khonsu. Calif de Perros is one of the South American heroes but Weaver muses that he’s treated like a villain by the government because he doesn’t approve of the corruption and the treaties with drug cartels.

        India is more complex. The hot capes are both heroes and villains who fight in the open and tend to see it as a game. The cold capes are also both “heroes and villains” (whatever that means in regards to them) but are ruthless and fight in the shadows. Phir Se was one of the god cold capes and believed it acceptable to destroy India, including his daughter, for a chance at behemoth. he also could have saved his wife once by time travelling but didn’t do it.

        • Might be a little long for a trope entry. But what you wrote would work great for an Analysis page on TVTropes.

          • Thanks. I have always liked the way wildbow tackled the organisation of parahumans worldwide.

            America has the huge, government-sponsored super team*.
            Europe also seems to have teams but they appear to be smaller and more independent.
            India has the cold and the hot capes.
            Africa is a everyone-for-themselves kind of place.
            China has the brainwashed, power-sharing military.
            Etc.

            *Forgot to say in the previous post, that while Canada has the Guild as its own super team, we know that the protectorate has at least one branch (Toronto) in Canada, captained by Narwhal (leader of the Guild), and that according to the cast page Dragon is a member of both teams.

  44. 368 comments? What the…?

    Anyway, I doubt I’ll input anything new, but better late tan never.

    If this chapter thought me something it’s to never bet against wildbow. When I first saw Cherish I was thinking “hmm that’s a mistake all Cherishes are dead” but of course it was actually Nyx. Then Foil got trapped and I was ready to light my torch and sharpen my pitchfork and then she hit Gray Boy (btw I did call it that he was going to turn on Jack, so yay!) and I was all “wait a minute…hum maybe her trump everything powers can go through the well but she’s still trapped” but then I read further and Parian was hugging her, which meant she wasn’t in the well. FUCK YEAH! I was so ridiculously happy.

    As for Jack I agree with those who think that his other power works on parahumans. Golem had the idea to bring the DT officer in and Dinah confirmed he was on the right track to find out what the other power was. So, this Contessa-like power that gives him an edge on parahumans puts many scenes in a different light, especially the one with Purity where he made her back off by finding out her achilles’ heel. Powers of observation my ass (of course it’s a subtle enough power that Jack may actually believe it’s just his keen intellect at work.)

    Please shut up Everett. (Seriously who the heck still calls their son Everett in this day and age?)

    And uhm I just realised I may have inadvertently offended any Everett who posts on this site, so, apologies.

  45. Foil’s power doesn’t necessarily negate Gray Boy’s time loops. As seen here:

    “Foil threw darts. Gray Boy froze them in mid-air.”

    As I saw someone suggest somewhere in the comments, Foil’s power may only negate Gray Boy’s revive on death power, not his freeze people in time loop power.

  46. “368 comments? What the…?”
    We got the conclusion to a major plotline, and a cliffhanger. No surprise that there would be a lot of comments.

    I have a friend called Everett. Ev for short. Actually it’s his middle name. First name is Patrick, Pat for short. He doesn’t use it because his father is also Patrick. It’s one of those deals where it’s a family tradition to name the firstborn son Patrick.

  47. I had to read this three times before I realized just what Taylor was doing with her bugs against Hookwolf. She wasn’t trying to bind him. She was finding his core so she could tell Foil where to shot to kill him!

  48. Apropos of nothing, I had a fanfic idea: on Earth Aleph, did Annette Rose marry Danny Hebert, and do they live in Brockton Bay with a daughter named Taylor? If so, how did they react when Skitter was outed, and how did Jess — the cape geek — react when she looked up “Hebert” in the Brockton Bay phone book?

      • I know — but Annette Rose and Danny are both over 30, right? They might well have chosen the same name for a daughter, even if the daughter is a different person.

    • I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll mention it again: we need an area to post fanfic ideas. That way, anyone who’s interested in writing them can write them, and it could (theoretically) allow for a variety of different takes on a scenario. We’ve already got at least three possibilities (this, the fantasy setting, and the reversed morality setting) that must be seen.

  49. Realisation: There is a kill order on the S9. Bonesaw has surrendered and her surrender seems to have been accepted albeit with her in quarantine whereas many of the S9 I think would have been executed immediately. Bonesaw though, could very well be considered an emergency replacement for Panacea given how desperate cape fights with endbringers have become.

  50. Reading again, for the third time, it occurs to me that if whatever Tecton is about to tell Golum isn’t the trigger for the End of the World, she is going to have a hard time turning off the FOCUS she has had for the last couple of years. Last time this happened, she quit the Undersiders in order to chase down Jack and stop the End. Now that she is going to be at loose ends again, what is she going to do? Take over the country?

    Scenes I would like to see…..
    Weaver, as an acknowledged Queen, negotiating and orchestrating Nilbogs return to his people. Maybe for his ‘people’ to just quit fighting, or she can throw him a bone in better provisions. She might even go for the ultimate win/win. Get Faultline to make a gate to a different world than the Brocton Bay Gate. Then get her to turn it to a dead end after Nilbog and his creatures have left. Nilbog lives – ‘win’. Nilbog is off the planet – WIN.

    Weaver as she is leaving the quarantine zone – “Weaver, this is Defiant. I’ve got something I need your help with. Meet me in New York as quick as you can. It’s about Dragon.” Along with all of the hilarity that ensues with their revenge on Saint.

    Taylor, walking around her territory in Brocton Bay. Maybe discovering a nice statue of Atlas, in a good spot. Be nice to see the peoples reaction to her after all this time has past.

    • Weaver, in recognition of all her hard work is made protector of Brockton bay with special priviledges to deputise whomsoever she feels like to defend the city and gate and legitmises the Undersiders.

      She then forms a combined Undersider/formerWards team that operates in *Grey* mode and leaves grue and TT in charge of the Undersider team as leader and deputy and leads the protectoate force with her leading and Clockblocker as spiritual adviser. Bitch is assigned to help Miss Yamada with therapy and shows people to puppies again.

    • Personally, I would be totally cool with it if she tossed her costume in her closet, filled a truck with beer and drove through the portal to go help Rachel kill some bison for the next few weeks. If anyone comes crying to her about Enbringers or whatever she should just tell them to go fuck themself.

      Though, of course she’s not going to do that. Saint’s probably the next target, whoever is causing shit among the Birdcage escapees after.

      • God yes. Taylor needs some damn downtime as Taylor. Or in twenty years she’s going to be like Eidelon, desperatly begging to be allowed to help because that is all she has, and without it her life is meaningless. Assuming Taylor lives that long, it’d be nice if she has a life outside the job.

        • Taylor, as Taylor, looks in a mirror and wonders who that is and then goes, oh yeah it;s me… then starts laughing with genuine humour. Everyone nearby is confused (except Theo)

          Then she rings up Danny and arranges picnic. Said picnic is bug free…

        • The problem is that if you don’t prevent the end of the world, you really won’t have a life outside work.
          Plus, with great power comes great responsibility, and with great responsibility comes great blame.

  51. Always had my suspicions about Jack’s ability to continue to survive in the midst of everything going on, and his relaxed attitude about everything. It fits with the idea of him having some sense about the passenger(s). If Hana and whoever else can recall things about the passenger(s), I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack had. It would also explain why he was directing Bonesaw to and the others to cause trigger events and study them [if that's what he was doing].

    I was still totally freaked out when I thought that the catalyst might be Jack being time-looped and Grey Boy taking over. It hadn’t occurred to me that Grey Boy was also a Manton. Talk about crazy. I’d be containment-foaming the whole alley the moment he went down, then dropping Bakuda’s bombs everywhere – obliterating the places he’d recently existed. I don’t understand why Foil’s attack killed him. It seems like he should have some way around that.

    And who was responsible for Foil’s ploy? Weaver? Tattletale? Foil? Parian clearly wasn’t in on it.

    —-

    So what I’m thinking after reading Dragon’s interlude is this:

    Given…
    - Hana’s description of the passenger
    - Someone’s (forget who; Tt?) description of the passenger dying
    - Dragon being essentially created by being unleashed from Richter via Leviathan
    - Dragon having a passenger
    - The Travelers being set up by the Simurgh
    - Echidna being the result of a powers formula
    - The S9, Cauldron, and Birdcage crews all trying to figure out where powers come from
    - Cauldron near-disregarding the Endbringers and having stopped the end of the world once before

    Tentative conclusions…
    - The passenger(s) [one is all?] is dying for some reason or another – perhaps because other worlds are dying off, so it is seeking new harbor/anchors in new worlds
    - The Endbringers are controlled by the passenger(s)
    - The conflict between humans and humans & humans and parahumans & parahumans and parahumans is engineered by the passenger(s)
    - The conflict is for some reason other than the lulz; perhaps because conflict powers the passenger(s) somehow (we know it creates a greater bond between passenger(s) and human – directly in the case of Eidolon – besides being a requirement of the initial bond), to reduce the population so that the passenger(s) can have smooth sailing in using what’s left as an anchor
    - Cauldron is fighting the passenger(s)

    What doesn’t yet make sense…
    - Power lineage [Why does the passenger(s) give similar powers in similar situations and bloodlines?]
    - Clone powers [Why do clones get powers? Why isn't cloning considered screwing with the passenger(s)' ultimate goal, and rejected? Is the passenger(s) too stupid/nonconscious to notice?]
    - Why the passenger needs humans [Why wouldn't any other species work? Or every species? Can only humans develop the brain connection? Why is the brain connection needed?]
    - How the passenger/power brain makes any sense [I can understand a connection between entities, but I don't understand how something that can't/doesn't communicate with humans would work with them to give them powers. What benefit does giving people powers provide to the passenger? Is it necessary somehow? The only way to anchor?]
    - How humans give the passenger anything valuable [Humans seem like a pretty weak anchor. I could guess that the passenger is wanting to merge in order to hide/survive, but that's akin to saying that God wants to survive by becoming an interdimensional neuron pathway - not really survival.]
    - How the passenger manipulates the universe to cause powers/make them function

    A few other things…
    - The change in the numbers Dinah sees after Dragon dies could have to do with the passenger(s)’ plan to use her to do something (maybe to serve as a catalyst to create new bodies that the passengers can take over completely, rather than just a section of human brains?)
    - It could also have to do with Dinah being unable to see events clearly with Dragon as a variable (like Thinkers and Precogs), so the numbers change is a change in clarity – and they might have actually dropped with Dragon gone, rather than increased (she wouldn’t have been able to recognize that)
    - Despite the term “End of the world” being thrown around everywhere, Dinah never says that’s what happens. She just says everyone dies, and that it takes longer for some to die than others. I don’t think the passenger(s)’ goal is to destroy the world, but somehow link to it to stay alive – which results in the death of human consciousness, if nothing else. Would Dragon die? Is Dragon a person in Dinah’s mind? Again, can Dinah even investigate anything related to Dragon with her power? (Recall that Dinah said Taylor would be taken into custody with Dragon and Defiant going after her at the school, but Taylor made it out. I wonder what the numbers would have been if only Defiant would have gone, or if Dinah could even see an answer if Dragon was involved as the solo hero trying to bring Taylor in)

    I’m interested to see how Dragon is set free by Colin.

    The one thing that gets me most about all of this is that if the bad guy is the big, godlike entity, it just seems like a pathetic plot. I’m obviously hoping there’s more to it than that, or that I’m off base. I much prefer the idea that the passenger(s) is just some sort of connection between human brains across universes, and that the connection somehow ties to some kind of way that all universes in the Wormverse are constructed – like the universes seem like ours when there aren’t any connections, but appear more flexible (in laws of science, etc) when connections appear. Kind of like the difference between ice and water. Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way to make that idea fit with things only being human-centric and having limited effects. Still, I just dislike the use of godlike or godlike-ish beings in any setting. It feels cheap, leaves so many unexplained things hanging, and and diverts the story from being about people and whatever other plausibleish world they live in. It’s the ultimate cop out.

    • And who was responsible for Foil’s ploy? Weaver? Tattletale? Foil? Parian clearly wasn’t in on it.

      I would guess that Foil came up with it on the spot.

  52. Holy freaking carp. Are you serious? Jack contained. New Gray Boy dead (go Foil!). The Not-Nine taken care of. Bonesaw surrendered. GB’s victims freed (?). The catalyst possibly stopped.

    Things…got better?

  53. That chapter was awesome! I love how you inverted the trope of random mooks being the first to die to the DT officer playing a pivotal role in taking down Jack.

  54. I have a hard time seeing how some powers could be used for anything but villainous activities. How would Gray Boy ever have been a hero? Bonesaw could have healed people, Jack could have fought people I guess? But Gray Boy just does evil things, you couldn’t have that on the good guy side without everyone hating him, maybe against the Endbringers (also he’s super OP since one touch = win)

    • Some powers are pretty hard to picture as heroic, yes. But not Grey Boy. Rather than looping people during tormented times, how about he goes around finding dying children, giving them the best experience of their lives, and looping them at the height of that? Or scientists or philosophers might love to be put in a loop at a carefully chosen time, with their cognitive powers at a peak. Remember you can still have conversations with people who’re looping. For a more perverse possibility, Psycho Gecko proposed looping someone at the height of orgasm.

      And there’s great potential in using his power on inanimate objects. He can freeze chunks of building, for example, which could be very useful in civil engineering.

  55. This, sir wildbow, was a truly epic chapter. Fantastic stuff. I particularly love Foil’s fake-out and perfectly timed revelation. What I don’t think anyone’s commented on yet is that that particular trick by Foil is only possible in an interlude. Because Weaver would have been aware as soon as Foil started her scream looping that the bugs on Foil were not cut off from the world. In other words, this beautiful trick by Foil had to be saved for a confrontation with Grey Boy that was seen from a perspective other than Taylor’s! Superbly done.

  56. Typo: ‘self-depreciating’ -> self-deprecating, unless you mean Theo is writing off his value a little more each year!

  57. When I finished reading this chapter, my heart was beating as if I had run around the block D:
    Wildbow! sell this as a book intended for cardio workout! XD

    Tecton leaned close. “Doesn’t make any sense. Nonsensical. He said-“

    ˆ This, mister, almost made me yell in the middle of the office. AGHHHHHHHHH HAVE TO READ NEXT CHAPTER!!!!

    Holy mother of cliffhangers!

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