Interlude 26

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The entity swims through the void and it remembers.  Everything is stored, dating back to the very beginning.

In the beginning, a species chokes their gray planet.  Here and there, landmasses appear, created by inhabitants to trap or uncover the scarce food that exists, but the landscape is largely liquid, water thick with silt and other particles.  The creatures worm in and around one another, and the planet has as much space taken up by the creatures as there is space left for other things.

Each has evolved the same capacity to shift between layers, to explore the alternate versions of this same world, and each of these other worlds are choked by more of the same creatures.  Still, they continue to reproduce, and in their spread, they have eradicated virtually every source of food from every world they can access.  The species is so numerous that it is nearly impossible to find space to surface at the uppermost areas of the water, where they might absorb starlight and radiation.  What little energy they do manage to acquire in the process is lost in struggles to stay at the top and the continued efforts to avoid being pushed and pulled down by the coils of their neighbors.

Tangle.

The ancestor is aware of this, fully cognizant that the fight over resources will soon reach a climax, and there will be a war where every creature fights for itself.  These wars are not graceful or sensible.  The strongest can be torn apart as easily as the weakest.  Once it starts, it will only end when a meager few remain.

Then, as they retreat to individual worlds to mend and restore themselves, the prey will multiply, and there will be a span of feasting for those lucky enough to survive.

With that, the process will begin anew.  The same things will occur.  This has happened no less than one hundred and seventy times, with little variation.  Each time it occurs, realities are left dead, the grace period before resources run out once again is shorter.  That the number of worlds exceed the number of particles that might exist in one world’s universe is inconsequential; the creatures multiply exponentially.

They are running out of time.

The ancestor knows this, and it isn’t satisfied.  It knows its kin aren’t satisfied either.  They are quiet, because there is nothing to say.  They are trapped by their nature, by the need to subsist.  They are rendered feral, made to be sly and petty and cruel by circumstance.  They are made base, lowly.

With all of this in mind, the ancestor broadcasts a message.  Each member of the species is made up of cells, of shards, and a typical broadcast is a simple concept, a single message nuanced by a million individual influences brought to bear by the shards that made up the speaker.

Proposal.

The message is voiced with violence, across innumerable wavelengths and means, through heat and motion and electromagnetics and light.  Each shard cluster retains different abilities, minor tools for self-defense and offense, for finding prey and helping the ancestor make its way in the cold gray mud.  In communicating, it turns the vast majority of these resources outward, to transmit the signal, and each form of communication has different ideas, different subtleties.  In this, a greater, complex communication is achieved.

The act of speaking nearly kills it, it is so starved for energy.

It continues, and because this message is so different from the screams and cries over food and territory and everything else, the others listen.  They expend their own energy to transmit it further.  The idea spreads across every possible world like a ripple.

A species needs to continue evolving.  It needs conflict and variation.

Failure to meet these objectives leads to self-destruction.

By the time the ancestor is finished communicating, it is depleted, unable to even move as it is shoved by the bodies of others that swim past.

Then, in bits and pieces, it is devoured.

Devoured not for energy, but for material.

The shards are absorbed, made a part of the eater, and the ones who eat swell in size.  Unsustainable sizes, but they grow nevertheless.

All across the possible worlds, the creatures turn on one another.  It is a war, but it takes a different shape, a different form.  This time they are not eating for energy, but to stay afloat and stay large enough that they are not subsumed by a greater whole.

The gray planet makes several revolutions around its star before things reach a climax.  Many of the creatures are so large they cannot subsist in one world alone.  They weave into one world and worm out into another.  Every flank is vulnerable to another of its kind lunging out into a world and attacking, consuming whole chunks at a time.  Heat, cold, electricity and mental manipulations are leveraged in these struggles, slowing their targets down enough for them to wrap themselves around, shear off a section to take into themselves.

More revolutions, and only a handful remain.  Energy is scarce, even with the individual bodies taking up whole oceans of the thin gray mud, absorbing all of the light and radiation they can.  Countless worlds have grown dim, absorbed of all possible life and nutrients in the course of struggles and fighting.

The smallest ones recognize the fact that they don’t have energy, that it would cost them all too much if they continued fighting this uphill battle.  They submit, and are consumed.

Two remain.

They spend time reorganizing themselves, shifting the sheer masses of shards they have acquired into forms useful for another task.

Once they are reformed, they leech all of the heat and energy from countless worlds and concentrate it in a single reality.  The energy boils the oceans of silt-choked waters, disintegrates the landmasses.

Their bodies form into a large, complex shape, with only small fragments in this one world.  The extensions of those same fragments extend into other realms, in concentrated, specific shapes, made for a purpose: to survive the next step.

The energy is released, and the planet shatters.

The shattering is so extreme that it extends into other worlds, through the same channels that the fragments used to extend into other realities.  Every single one of the remaining habitable worlds is destroyed in the ensuing blast.

And the fragments radiate outwards, shedding and dropping their protective shells as they sail into the black, empty void.

Gestation.

Still flying through the void, the entity forms the word in the midst of its recollections.

They are children.  Offspring.  They travel the void, hoping to encounter another habitable world.

This is the beginning.

Countless perished, no doubt, in contact with lifeless moons, expending the last of their energy to search the possible iterations of that moon for life.  More die within moments of the detonation, their outer casing too damaged, vital processes separated from one another

But others made contact with other worlds.

A world with life rooted in landmasses, weathering brutal storms of caustic acid.  The one who arrives on that world struggles to find a means of survival.

It finds refuge in one of the dying plant structures, provides ambient heat to nourish it, so that the openings might close up and the shelter be made more secure.

The planet revolves around its star many times.

Many, many times.

The one that occupies the structure has bred, now, fragmented into clusters of shards that could occupy others.

Some shards have different focuses.  This is the experiment, the test.

Of these plants, some thrive.  Others die.

The creature tests different capacities, different clusters of shards.  It watches, observes and records events into memory.

It borrows of the conflict and stress of this new, alien species.  It borrows of the evolution, of the learning, of the crisis.  In some ways, it is a symbiote.  In others…

Parasite.

The fragments continue to divide, feasting on abundant resources, on light and radiation and the alien food sources it has started to learn how to consume.  It spreads quickly now, across every possible variation of this world that sustains life.

It encounters another.  A later arrival to the same planet, a member of its own species, another that is multiplying and consuming and growing.  This new arrival chose a different means of survival, but it too chose a kind of parasitism.

They exchange shards where they meet.  In these shards are codified memories, as well as the most effective techniques they have observed.

The planetoid is small, the range of options limited.  A message is broadcast.  Mutual agreement.  They will move on.

Migration.

The process is similar.  Drawing themselves together.  There is cooperation, this time, as each shard returns to the source.  The hosts die in droves, and are absorbed for energy.

They gather into the same vast forms that span multiple realities, and they leech energy from other worlds to fuel their exit from a single one.  It takes time.

But something else occurs.  A broadcast from the other, followed by an attack.

A carefully measured attack.  The two creatures ruin one another with friction and pressure, burning hot, and shards are destroyed.  Many are partially destroyed.

The other creature joins shards together into combinations, discards and destroys.  Repeats the process.

New shards are created.  Different functions.  Forced mutation.

The end results parallel the studies the creatures have made of the plant life on this planet with its acid rain.

More blatant than intended in the beginning, but nothing lost.  New strengths, regarding growth and durability.

They concentrate the energy as they form themselves into an encasement around the small planetoid.

Shell.

The detonation of the small planet scatters the individual clusters of shards, and this time, they are better inured to the harsher elements of space.

So the cycle continues.

The next world encountered has sentient life, civilization.  A complicated, rich world.

It is a symbiosis, this time, more than parasitism.  The two species learn from one another.  The shards code the ‘technology’ of this new species into their memories.  They learn of warping space and gravity.

Until the species turns against them.  Those lucky enough to bind with the entity’s offspring war against those who do not.  Some seek to rule.

Monarchs.  The entity forms the thought, defining the memory.

The cycle is cut short by a forced exit, as the shards are rooted out and destroyed by the natives of this civilized world.  They meet, they bind and again they share ideas.  Richer perceptions, complex technologies and more are fashioned in the unity of three larger creatures.  It is through differences in the greater entities that a richness is created, new derivations, new connections that none would be capable of on their own.

The planet is expended, the offspring are cast off in every direction once again.

This time, they are capable of moving, of controlling their course.  Gravity, warping space.

The entity recalls all of this as it swims through the void and makes its way to the next target.  It can reach back into the depths of its memory to recall all of what came before.

Each time the cycle started anew, lessons had been learned, methods refined.  Each time, the spawn that are spewed out from the destroyed planet are more robust, larger, hosting innumerable memories.  Where memories fall in parallel, they are shared out, offered to others.

After more than three thousand cycles, there are safeguards, there are protections.  The arsenal of abilities, powers and protections the creature possesses have been built up.  The entity remembers past failures and has adapted so they will not happen again.

The entities travel with partners now, moving in spirals while maintaining a measured distance from one another.  Each is slightly different from the other, taking on a different role.  Attacker and defender, warrior and thinker, builder and destroyer.

This divide is so they are able to take a different stance, shape their shards in subtle ways and clarify the results when their shards are compared and joined once again – some shall be kept, others discarded.  Some will turn up interesting possibilities that can be explored when new shards are invented at the cycle’s end.

These individual focuses drive the pair, shape their tasks as they approach their destination.

The entity reaches out with clairvoyance, with precognition, and it views its destination.  It communicates, covering vast expanses of space, transmitting signals across channels formed of the very foundation of this universe.  These signals are broadcast only across specific realities, so that no aftereffects or lingering transmissions will contact a version of that world that hosts no life at all.

Destination.

Agreement.

Trajectory.

Agreement.

Each signal is nuanced, shaped with subtle details and clues by the trillions upon trillions upon trillions of individual shards that make up the entity.  Through these nuances, it conveys more information than an entire planet of sentient beings might in a hundred revolutions.

They have settled on a target.  Old lessons are remembered.  It is a planet of sentient lifeforms, more primitive than some the entities have run into, more advanced than others.  Social creatures, forming communities.  These societies teeter on fine balances, but they persevere nonetheless.  A world rife with conflicts, big and small.

Agitation.

The new hosts are to be bipeds, with a binary reproduction.  Not uncommon, and rich with potential.  Such a division and natural competition for reproduction fosters a natural evolution and development.  The entities will focus on them over any of the sub-species.

These bipeds raise structures of hard earth or plant matter for shelter against the elements, draping themselves in softer materials for further protection.  They shape the world around them, but are more immutable, unchanging in form.  Different from the entity, in many ways.

This was the stage in the cycle when the entity is most aware, most focused.  It observes the possible worlds and judges which would be best.

Colony, the entity voices the idea.

With that same signal, the various nuances suggest countless worlds that are to be removed from consideration.  Worlds without enough population.

Agreement, the response comes.

The entity’s counterpart is taking a passive role, investigating only to confirm, to validate.  This is concerning.  Where is the counterpart’s focus, if not on this vital decision?

Study reveals worlds with dominant belief systems, peaceful worlds, worlds crowded with twelve billion individuals.  Worlds with almost none.

The entity pares through these, deciding.

It investigates, and in the doing, it prepares some shards for analysis and understanding of this particular society and culture.  Language, culture, patterns of behavior, patterns of society.  This is something the counterpart should be emphasizing.

The process is interrupted by an arrival.

A member of their own species, approaching.  It was smaller, took a different form.  It used different means to travel.

This was what had distracted the counterpart.

Its ancestors had traveled a different path, easily hundreds of cycles ago, before the entities had begun traveling in pairs.  This new arrival had encountered different worlds, less worlds, and it had developed differently.

The lesser one crossed paths with the entity’s counterpart.  For a duration, they intertwined, meeting through multiple realities, their bodies rubbing and crushing against one another.

A sharing of details, a wealth of knowledge, from hundreds of cycles.  A sacrifice of the same.

The lesser one moves on, bloated with new shards and knowledge, but the counterpart flounders.

It sacrificed too much.

Concern.

Confident.

The counterpart is not worried.  The signal carries notes of hope for the future.  The counterpart will replenish its shards, its stores of knowledge, memories and abilities at the conclusion of this cycle, reuniting with the entity.

The counterpart is supposed to be the passive figure, the thinker, the planner, while this entity is the warrior, the protector.  The entity is forced to make up for the counterpart’s disability, to slow its advance through the void as they approach their destination and devote resources to analyzing, something the other should be doing instead.

The focus is on one reality.  They will subsume it first, then expand to others.  The most efficient route, achieving maximum amounts of conflict.  By testing their own shards against one another, they gather information.  The entity’s shards will fight among each other, and they will fight the counterpart’s, and they will steadily learn.

With a species such as these social bipeds, the entities can draw new conclusions, come up with new uses for shards.  It tracks and records details that allow it to shape new shards at the cycle’s conclusion.

But their new hosts are a weak species, fragile.  The abilities must be limited in scope.  Worlds that are too advanced would be too fragile, as advanced weapons eliminate too many, cut the process short.

Destination.

Agreement, the response is not so complex, is expressed in a softer, quieter manner.

Still, the pair have settled on a set of realities.

The entity focuses on one.  Enough individuals, natural conflict and confrontation.  A balance of physical and emotional stressors.  The environment is damaged, but not so much it would inhibit growth.

Hive.  The entity communicates the decision.

Agreement.  The counterpart grasps it immediately, knows which reality he means.

The focus changes.  An interplay of communications, one bouncing off the other, as they designate realities.  Each shard needs one, some shards need to cluster and reside across multiple realities.  They draw on these worlds for power, for energy, and thus fuel the techniques they have been coded with.

Each shard, in turn, needs a target.  The entity’s focus expands, designating likely partners.  Past mistakes have been accounted for, and the shards will connect in a covert manner.  They will reside in other worlds, uninhabited worlds, and they will remain cloaked and concealed in areas this new host species is unlikely to explore.

It is a negotiation.

Ownership here.

Claim there.

Territory here.

With each statement, they each catalogue the realities.  Similar realities are included together, for both the entities and the shards.  Too many complications and confusions arise when interacting with worlds that are exceedingly similar.  Not an effective form of conflict, when it is the same lessons learned over and over again.  It is better to connect them into groupings, limit exposure to each set of worlds.  One shard is capable of settling in a grouping of near-identical worlds, drawing energy from all of those worlds at once.

The entity looks to the future to check for danger.

Plague.

All signs point to the shards murdering their hosts.

The hosts must be protected, or this will be disastrous, counter-intuitive.  The entity adjusts the innate safeguards, protections to reflect the host species and their tolerances.  The bonding process will protect the host, where the host needs protection.  Shards that are capable of providing flame at will cannot burn the hosts, now.  Shards are reorganized, combined and clustered where necessary, to grant sufficient protection.

Infestation.

Better, but not perfect.  The entity refines the process, limits certain abilities, so they will not eradicate too many at a time.

Soft.  The broadcast is sent out to the counterpart, along with suggestions and tips on how to refine the shards.

Agreement, the counterpart accepts.

But the entity can still see fallout effects.  There are parallels in memory storage.  Not many, but there may be glimmers where the subject is capable of perceiving the information stored in the shard as the connections are formed.

For good measure, the entity breaks up one shard cluster, tunes it, then codes the effect into each and every shard.  It studies the host species further, refines, attunes.

It takes time, but the entity forms a sufficient safeguard.  The host species will forget any significant details.

The broken shard is cast off, joining countless others.  It will bond to a host.  The entity looks forward, checking.

After the target planet has revolved thirty-three times around its star, this shard will connect to a host.

A male guards his offspring, a female, with his size and bulk.  A group of hostile bipeds cluster around them.  They call out, making unusual loud sounds, suggesting intoxication.  One of the hostile ones gestures, gripping its male parts, pulling them free of their coverings.  A sexual gesture follows, waving the organ left and right, thrusting it into the empty air.

Sounds of amusement, laced with hostility.

The male and his offspring retreat as far against the nearest construction as they are able.

The shard connects, attaching to the male.

No.  It is ineffective.  The female is clearly more distressed.

Prey.

There is a way to maximize exposure to conflict.

The entity taps into its understanding of the bipeds and how they operate, recognizes the signs of distress, the nuances such things can have.

It views the future again, with changes made in the code.

This time, the shard settles in the male, then immediately shifts to the more distressed female.

Insinuation.  The shard connects to the host’s neural network.

The bond is created.

The shard opens the connection as the stress peaks, and the host doubles over in pain, bewildered, stunned.  The shard then forms tendrils that contact each individual in the area.  It retains traces of the entity’s tampering, of the studies in psychology, awareness and memory, and is quick to adapt.  It finds a manner in which it can operate, then alters itself, solidifying into a particular state.  The remainder of the functions are discarded, the ones in the shard itself are rendered inert to conserve power, while the ones in the host fall away, are consumed by the shard.  The host’s neural network changes once more.

The female disappears from the awareness of the hostile ones that surround it.

The entity looks to the future, to see if this is sustainable, efficient.

All seems well.

A view of other bondings suggests this emphasizes younger targets, particularly those in a middle stage of development, between a lesser phase and an adult phase.  Emotions are higher at that juncture, and the possibility of conflict increases further.

The entity allows for deeper connections to foster more conflict.  The underlying instructions are already present from previous cycles, and can be left largely alone.  These bipeds war with each other enough.  It will only serve to assist the most extreme cases.

Forget.  The entity informs its counterpart of the changes it made.

Agreement.  The counterpart acknowledges.

Emotion.  More changes.

Agreement.

Before the last response is received, the entity has already begun shedding shards that won’t prove useful or particularly problematic.  Shards for attack and defense, distributed over an even geography, an even timeline.

More complicated shards require more focus.  Ones that harbor stored memory of technology and development in past cycles are prepared so they might bond with a host and transmit that knowledge.

For others, there is no easy way to apply the contained knowledge, so they are coded to draw from the host’s recollection and awareness, or to search the entire planet for details and information on what it might be able to do.

Ones that alter the nature of the host in fundamental ways are planted throughout, so as to add more variables in how the others must adapt to them.  A host that chooses how gravity applies to it.  A host that can become a storm of friction, intensifying all friction in an area around it.  One that becomes immaterial.  Another that can make paths between realities, with safeguards to keep it away from ones the shards are rooted within.

The entity is approaching the galaxy cluster in question now, and it sees its counterpart doing the same, if at a slightly slower pace.  Both are trailed by a cloud of shards now, each cast off in such a way that it won’t reach its target location until a set time and date.

The entities begin to close their spiral dance, drawing together as much as they can with the counterpart struggling.

They approach their destination, and begin to disintegrate in great quantities, until thirty percent remains, twenty, ten, two…

It will take one hundred and sixty revolutions before their destination reality hits critical mass.

Three hundred and thirty-one revolutions before the shards reach a critical mass and enough information is gathered.  To look to the future and seek that information in advance would take too much energy.  To do this and fail would be a catastrophic setback in the cycles.

This suffices.  It spends the least energy for the maximum result.

The counterpart is descending, having selected a destination world.  It is hemorrhaging shards in clusters, due to the excessive exchange of shards with the lesser one, too soon before their arrival at their destination.  These shards are breaking off in huge volumes.

A check confirms these shards are coded, that everything is technically well.

Danger, the entity broadcasts.

Confident, the counterpart replies.

The counterpart remains secure.  Nothing to be done.

There is no more time to devote to the crisis.  The entity focuses on its destination, on the next part of the cycle.

The shards have largely been assigned to hosts.  They will remain latent, they will wait for the first crucial moment of crisis and use that to shape their function, to better assist their host.

It is impossible to check the exact circumstances for each event.  Some shards harbor particular concepts, and will shape their application to the host’s needs.  Others are coded with particular applications, and will either scan viable realities or the host’s frame of reference for how that application will come to pass.

Physical harm will grant physical assets, be it direct or abstract.  Immediate danger will nudge the shard towards defensive abilities.  Ranged attacks against living threats, an ability to shape or affect the environment against environmental dangers.

Successes will help refine the abilities, provide inspiration for the development of new shards.  Failures will help all the same.

In hosts, too, there will be variations.  The shards might seek out different hosts, if others are in range, as the perception-altering one did.  They will fragment and transmit to other hosts, as they grow and develop.

The entity is satisfied.  In terms of raw size, it is but a small fragment of what it once was, barely a cluster of shards now.  Its part in this phase of things is nearly done.

The next part of the cycle begins.

It chooses an unoccupied reality.  A barren planet.  Its perceptions focus on the landmasses in idle curiosity.  Different from the focus reality, but similar.

They have reached the solar system in question now.  They brush up against one another, and the entity shores up its counterpart where it can, sacrificing its own shards in the process.

Acceptance.  Gratitude.

The counterpart’s message is thin, but the entities are but a ten-thousandth of a percent of their original size.

It turns its attention to adapting.

In the course of thousands of cycles, the entities have refined their methodology.  There are no true points where they are vulnerable.

As the whole, as the entity, it is safeguarded by countless abilities, defenses, perceptions and options.  It is fat with the knowledge of every generation that came before, the mistakes, the problems, and the solutions.  While it travels the void, it is virtually untouchable.

But there have been times where the shards were vulnerable, after bonding with hosts.  Even now, there are dim possibilities that they might be rooted out.  There are issues where shards that have been coded to generate conflict could do too much damage, disrupting the cycle.

This is something that must be tended to.

The entity turns its attention briefly to their target reality, observes the various life forms.

Always, in the course of its examination of the possible futures, it was evaluating, checking to see what was necessary.

A quick glance into the future, not so deep a look as to expend too much of its remaining energy.  Conservation is key at this juncture, and from here on out.

The entity’s present configuration is satisfactory.  The chance the cycle can be interfered with has become infinitesimally small.

The shard that allows the entity to see the future is broken up, then recoded with strict limitations.  It wouldn’t do to have the capabilities turned against the entity or the shards.

The fragment it just used is sent off, directed to a small female.

The other fragments in that same cluster are retained.  To see the future is resource intensive, but the entity will harbor it as a safeguard.

More abilities are used to check, investigate, and then cast off.   The ability to communicate and receive signals is unnecessary now.  To transmit signals across wavelengths.  It, too, is intentionally crippled as an ability.  It would not do to have that one being used with regularity.  Such would be distracting for the entity and its counterpart.

When it knows the configuration is absolutely decided, it reaches for the last fragment it will cast off.  This one, too, it cripples, even largely destroys, so as to limit the host from using it in the same fashion.

In a haste to decide matters before it enters the stratosphere of that barren planet, the entity casts it off to a similar location as the future-sight ability.  A similar time, thirty-one revolutions from now.  The destination is a male, thin, in the company of strong males and females, drinking.

And with that, the entity lands on the barren planet.

The planet revolves around its star once before the entity even moves.

The entity rises and extends its perceptions across multiple realities.

It’s time.

Chrysalis.

The entity changes.

A star that burns twice as hot burns for half as long.

Not truly, but the entity is aware of the idioms and patterns of this world, is already thinking periodically in terms of the words and ideas of their languages, to frame thoughts for itself in this pivotal moment.  It serves to help codify the messages and intent.

The entities burn as hot as any star, with their sheer mass, their scale, the power they wield.  This is acceptable while traveling the void, when much of the body remains in a hibernation state.  Stored energy is expended as a resource, to view the future, to perceive and communicate.

But this is not sustainable here, in this phase of the cycle, when the entity is so much smaller.

The entity has cast off all but the most essential parts of itself, distributing the shards throughout this reality.  More shards will shower on other realities in time, likely around the point the first have started fragmenting in greater numbers

Cycle to cycle, the role changes.  Direct involvement, watching from afar, being visible or staying out of sight.  Different roles to shepherd the shards through different worlds.

The entity takes shape.  It retains the capabilities it had when it first arrived.

Imago.  Adult state.

Much of it is still too large for the target reality.  It leaves that portion of itself behind, maintains a connection.  A safeguard.  The body it uses is but an extension, a tendril.

It codifies the thoughts and memories of the society it investigated into a usable fashion.

Then it waits.

Sentinel.

Time passes.  A revolution of the planet around its star.

Something has gone wrong.  It is time, but it has not received a broadcast from the counterpart.

The entity emerges, stepping into the target reality.

It can see its shards showering down from above like meteors traveling the void.   The first to arrive.

It can see the shards of the counterpart.

Not all are intact.

Dead shards.  Damaged ones.  Vital shards, even, going to hosts.

The entity destroys these on sight.  They are corrupt, ruined.  They will fail to provide usable results.

Extending its perception over the world and other realities, the entity can sense everything at once.  It can sense conflict.  Wars.

It remains aware of its limited lifespan.  Three thousand and six hundred revolutions.  To search like this costs a tenth of one revolution’s time.  There is more than enough remaining before the cycle concludes.

Or there should be.

The entity abandons the search.  Enough information has been obtained for it to know.

The counterpart is dead.

For a very long time, the entity is still.  It does not move, and instinctively holds back every ability, as if conserving energy in the face of a vast threat.

But this is not a threat that it can weather, like a storm of acid rain: The cycle has been disrupted.

Worse, it is terminated.  The entities have altered themselves so that each half of a pairing serves part of a role.  It is only with the counterpart that it can gestate, that it can modify the individual shards, cast the next generation out and start the cycle anew.

In seeking to understand the host creatures, the entity had coded shards to emulate them.  It is those same shards that experience the entity’s first ever emotion.

Crushed.

The entity comes to experience a deep, profound sadness, for the very first time.

Time passes, as the entity considers the ramifications.  The sky grows dark, then light again.  Dark, then light.

A structure, a vehicle approaches.  A hull pierces the water as it draws nearer.  A crowd stands on the uppermost surface, gathering.  They stare, even babble among themselves, their voices jumbling together, a hum, a blur.  He can see into the other realities that lie adjacent to this one, similar people, similar crowds.

Drone.

Buzz.

They are communicating, and the entity is unconcerned.  It watches as they draw close to the edge of the vehicle, pressing themselves against the barrier that was erected at the edge.  They reach out.

They worship him.  Of course they do.  His form was crafted to fit the values of this reality.  They hold faith, and the entity chose a shape that fit the most celebrated figures of the most popular faiths.  Race divides this species, so the entity deliberately chose a form that didn’t fit any one race, with skin and hair given the color and texture of another thing they celebrated and worshipped – a mineral.

This is intentional.

The entity sees a shard already taking root in one of the vehicle’s passengers.  One of the dead shards, damaged.  The entity’s vision allows it to see the man’s inside, the damage.  He is dying of a systemic issue in his body, producing the wrong type of cells in the wrong places.

The entity reaches out, feels others touch his hand before the male finally makes contact.  A simple wavelength serves to kill specific cells.

The shard will grow now, damaged as it is.

With that, the golden man turns from the crowd and flies away.

The Entity slowed as a figure barred its path.  A female, with her arms outstretched.  Smaller life forms were arranged around and behind it.

Vaguely familiar.

“Stop, Scion,” the female said.

The entity came to a complete stop.  It could see the connection to the female’s shard, the activity as it broadcast signals, reaching out to contact lifeforms throughout the area, coordinating them.

All around the entity, there were shards in varying states of maturation.  The female’s was among the most mature.  Seasoned by conflict, heavy with information, lessons learned, tactics, applications, organization.  It had already fragmented once, heavy enough with information that it could afford to handle other roles.  The fragment would have a derivative ability, and given proximity, it would hopefully remain close enough to exchange information with the shard that it had split off from.  There were no signs of that exchange.  The female had separated ways from the fragment.

The entity recognized her shard.  The last one that had split off before the entity took on this form.

Queen.

The entity’s despair deepened for a moment.  It was a good thing that the shards were harvesting such good information, but nothing would come of it.  The cycle had been disrupted.

“I know you want to help, but it’s too dangerous.  You’re too strong, and this situation is fragile.  It’ll do more harm than good.”

More harm than good.  Scion accepted that as a given and decided to stay where he was.

The female kept on talking as memories stirred.

A male approached.  No shard, no powers.  The area was dark, the planet turned away from its star.  The entity was hovering over the highest point of a short bridge that spanned a river.

Lost.  It had created itself for a purpose it could no longer fulfill.

The male pulled off one foot-covering, hefted it, then threw it.  It bounced off the entity’s face, not even eliciting a blink.

The male hauled on the other foot-covering, but it was too tightly bound.

He gave up, half-hopping, half running up the length of the bridge, pounded his fists on the entity’s chest, scratched, clawed.  Aggressive actions, but it didn’t matter.  The entity was invulnerable.  It could glance into the immediate future and know there was no potential reality where this male would be able to harm it.

Not that it mattered.

“Damn you!” the male cried out.  “Fucking perfect golden man!  Fuck you!  Just… just bleed!  Fucking feel this!”

A strike to the entity’s face.  The male nearly fell from the bridge.  The entity would have let him.

“You don’t- you don’t deserve this!  This power!”  The male sniveled, mucus running from his nose.  Flecks of spit dotted his lips from the sheer force of his words.

“They keep saying you’re fucking sad!?  What do you have to be sad about?  You weren’t beaten black and blue by a fucking girl you were too chickenshit to hit back!  You haven’t been kicked around by motherfucking teenagers who thought it’d be good for a lark!  Buggered against your will… no!  You get to be untouchable!”

The male clawed and scratched, long dirty fingernails scraping at the entity’s body, clawing at a nipple, at the part the entity had crafted to look like genitalia.  Nothing did any harm.  Even the dirt skidded off, failing to find any traction in the entity’s skin.

The male collapsed, his face pressed up against the entity’s chest.  His mucus and saliva slid off with the same ease the dirt had.

“Fuck you.  Fuck you, golden man.  You don’t… you don’t deserve to be miserable.  Or you don’t deserve to be miserable and useless.  Fucking burden on society, distracting people from shit that needs doing.  Fuck you, you ponce.  You… Fuck you!  Go do something.  Never got that.  All these sad fucks that kill themselves or hide away… if you’re going to be miserable without a damn excuse, go to Africa and help those damn kids who were orphaned in wars.  Go… save people from burning buildings.  Help clean up after disasters.  Work in a fucking soup kitchen or something.  I don’t care.”

The man’s voice had gone quiet, barely more than a whisper.

Another pound of fist against the entity’s flesh.

“I don’t care if it’s penance or if it’s a fucking way to kill time.  Do some goddamn good, and maybe you’ll feel like you’re worth a damn.  Maybe you’ll stop being so fucking miserable.”

The entity continued to stare out over the city.  It absorbed the words, considered them.

It was a task.  A role it could play.

It was something.  What had this male said?  Which were ones the entity could achieve?

Save orphans in wars.  Rescue people from burning buildings.  Clean up after disasters.

The entity took flight once more.

The entity remained patient.  Patient then, patient now.

“…You could go to Houston or New York, even.  That’s far enough away from Jack,” the young female with the administration shard was still speaking, quiet, intense, urging without prodding.

The entity and the young female were still hovering over what was becoming a major site of conflict.  The entity extended its senses over the area.

At the center of it all was a man.  Not at the center, but everything tied to him.  Everything moved in relation to him, and he moved in relation to others.

The entity stared, intrigued.

“…We can’t stay here.  Come on.”  The female host was still talking.

The female paused, waiting.

“Orrrr you don’t understand what I’m saying.  Or you don’t care.  Fuck me.  Listen to me, Scion.  Pay attention.”

The entity turned its attention to the young female.  Its hands found the entity’s, pulled.

There was a meaning behind the gesture, but the entity was too lost in observing what was going on below to care.

A confrontation had started between a young male and an older one.  A fragment of a shard against a very mature shard.  The most mature shard in this area, at a glance.

The more mature power was unleashed.  A wavelength power, a kinetic transmission.

The entity watched, and it recognized the shard at work.

The broadcast shard.  One that had been crippled, just like the shard of the female that floated before the entity now.  The same shard that had managed communication between the entity and its counterpart.

The entity turned to observe another conflict.  One shard was connected to eight individuals.  A lesser shard, connected to eight unusual hosts.

The eight advanced in clusters, moving towards the various individuals that seemed to be hostile to them.  The shards connected to each individual provided more detail than anything else.

“You big golden idiot!  Come on.”

Her subjects formed a thick cloud, blocking the entity’s vision.  No matter.  It could still perceive the world.

“Come on!”

She pulled harder.

The entity turned to follow the confrontations.

The male with the broadcasting power was swinging his sword.  The younger one was erecting defenses, lashing out.

Their shards were reacting.  The entity could see how every aggressive shift in the younger one was met by an instinctual retreat in the older.  Cause and effect, invisible but there.  The nature of the shifts changed as they started speaking.

To strike the one with the mature passenger was akin to trying to catch a leaf in the wind.  The hand moved the air which moved the leaf, and it slid just out of reach, just beyond the hand’s grasp.

Ah.  There.  A narrow miss.  The male slid out of reach, and he prepared to go on the offensive.  His shard shifted, just as ready and able to capitalize on the weakness in offense as he was able to evade trouble in defense.

A shard flared to life, and the entity saw an effect take hold around it.  It reached out and found a barrier it could not penetrate.

Cell.

Its hand was moved back to the previous position.  It was caught in a sinkhole of distorted time.  Over and over again, it moved in a steady loop.

Snare.

A trap.

The city burned, and the entity wielded its power.  Controlled wavelengths disrupted the molecules, extinguished each source of heat, inside and out, rendering it a little cooler than the ambient temperature.

Countless individuals fled for safety, running in droves.  The entity watched, but it did not rest.

It hadn’t rested in years.  The longest it had stood still was in the company of Kevin Norton, where the man gave it a white covering that clung to its body.  As instructed, the entity kept the cloth clean, pushing out energy in patterns and yields that would drive out the soil and smoke while leaving the cloth intact.

It lowered itself to get a better angle on one blaze in the basement area of a library.  In the doing, purely by accident, it lowered itself to eye level with a female on a balcony.

The female was startled, afraid, unable to even breathe.  It could look inside the female and see the emotions as an increased heart rate, hormones and adrenaline churning through her system.

It almost blurted out the words.  “Kto vy?

The entity understood the Russian words as it understood all languages, through the knowledge it had scanned for and codified, prior to arriving.

It remembered the instructions Kevin Norton had provided.  To be polite, to be considerate.

Speaking, nonetheless, was an unfamiliar concept.

How to answer?  The entity did not know what it was.  It had no role but the one ascribed to it by Kevin Norton.

In thinking of the man, the entity thought of a thing the man had said.  A word in the midst of a story about ill-behaved spawn.

As it did most words, the entity had searched its memory for details on the concept.

Zion.

A promised land.

A utopia.  A harmonious kingdom.

The promised land could be this world at its climax, the shards at critical mass, the entity and its counterpart bringing about the end of the cycle.  It could be utopia, as the entity understood the term.

It could be the world at peace, people saved from hardship, as Kevin Norton had described it.

Whether the entity was somehow able to return to its original task or whether it continued carrying out Kevin Norton’s answers in an attempt to find itself, the term fit.

Zion,” it spoke.

Memories.  A refuge, a reminder of how things should be, if the cycle were intact.  There would be more shards, more conflict, but it would be more controlled.  The dead shards polluted the setting, almost too numerous.

The female with the administrator shard had long since fled, covering the retreat with her small army of lesser lifeforms, more traps snapping into place in her wake.

It thinks of Zion, and it thinks of other metaphors and ideas.  In the thirty-three revolutions since arriving on this planet, the entity has had time to think.  It has saved a lot of individuals from harm, heard many prayers.

It was aware of everything that occurred around it.  The planet’s star moved across the sky, above the dark, heavy clouds of moisture.  Small movements, but movements nonetheless.

It thought of the beetle in one mythology, rolling the orb across the sky.

It was an idea that persisted across mythologies.  ScarabChariotThe Brother.  The Sky Barge.

Abstract thought.  Was that the sort of pattern that led to a connection, an inspired idea in the development of new shards?  The entity wasn’t sure.  Its counterpart was supposed to handle such matters, retain that capacity for thought and analysis.

Its physical body continued to loop in time.  It didn’t matter.

The conflict continued.  The broadcaster was moving in and out of trouble, relying on a pronounced projection that was being emitted by a dead shard to provide further protection.  There was another entity nearby.  A boy with another dead shard.  Odd, that they had gravitated towards the broadcaster.

Mature shards, a situation ripe with conflict, so much to be gained, and nothing could be done with that.  The entity felt a hint of another emotion, dismissed it.  The simulation of the host-creature’s psychology was only that.  A simulation.

It would spend some time here.  Nothing would change in any event.  Kevin Norton had passed.

The entity observed the ongoing conflict.  No less than five seconds after it had been trapped, two figures had emerged from a doorway between worlds.  The entity could see the paths forming, trace them back to the source.  Another world, a living world without a shard occupying it.

They engaged the eight with their own perception abilities, intervening to assist a group of others.  As a pair, they opened fire with guns, then waded into hand to hand combat.

The entity looked at the male, and it saw the connection to the same shard as the eight.  His connection was stronger, more mature.

It looked at the female, and it saw a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.

Puzzling.

The fight progressed.  Strikes with weapons and with the creature’s limbs were evaded, a careful dance of attacks where each edge and bludgeon touched skin, many even shaving off the finer hairs from cheeks, noses and chins.

The male fought the eight in such a way that they couldn’t move without exposing themselves to attacks from the female.  Each movement placed the male in a path for obvious harm, a fatal blow, but the eight could not capitalize on that.  At the same time, he positioned himself in such a way that four or five at a time were unable to retreat.  Not just in reach of weapons, but in reach of arms, elbows, for being taken hostage.

The female felled three of the eight, and the situation was decided.  The remaining five dropped to a position where they sat on their knees.  She spoke, and an interdimensional portal appeared behind them.

They crawled through, heads down, and the portal closed.

The pair glanced up at the entity as another wormhole opened.  They stared.

The entity, in turn, faced a different direction, but it could perceive them nonetheless.

They disappeared back into the portal.

Puzzling.

The entity observed as the fight concluded elsewhere.

The broadcaster remained unaware as an individual without any attachment to shards at all entered the confined space, unloading a vaguely familiar substance over the group.  Something the entity might recollect if it had access to all of its memories.  A technology.

It didn’t matter.

The entity watched as the broadcaster was sealed in a time distortion.

A female, standing just outside another time distortion, walked around the effect, charging objects with energy.  The entity could see as the small pieces of alloyed metal unfolded, taking shape in not just this world, but all realities, at the same space and time, bristling with an effect that would sever their attachment to most physical laws.

They were thrown, and they disrupted connections to two shards at once.  The projection disappeared, only to reappear a distance away.  The boy who had created the time distortions fell as well.

Sting, the entity thought.  Once it had been a weapon for his kind, against his kind, back in the beginning, when they had dwelt in oceans of gray sludge.

The others hurried to confine the broadcaster.  They were apparently aware of what he could do.

Interesting.

“Just you and me,” Tecton said.  “That’s what he said.  Between gasps of pain, anyways.  ‘I wish I had better company, but I’ll take what I can get.  Ironic, that you’re so boring.”

Golem looked at his old leader.  “That’s it?”

Tecton shook his head.  “He said, ‘I bet you think you’re noble.  You’re not.  You’re uglier than any of us, sparky.”

“And?”

“And that’s it.  The D.T. guy foamed up the gap, I raised the shelf, you closed the hand, and he was completely sealed in.”

“You’re right.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

“He hasn’t ever met me.”

Golem shook his head.  “Doesn’t seem world ending.”

I always hated the blank… slates,” Jack groaned the last word.  His utterances were finding an odd cadence or rhythm between the gasps of pain, the fresh wounds that were actively criss-crossing his body, opening his stomach, his intestine being gripped and pulled through the wound as if by an invisible force.

The foam weighed him down, and in the midst of the complete and total darkness, he stared skyward.

“…Never that interesting…”  He grunted.  “Never created art, never… created variation...  you’re worse than… most…”

High above, the entity listened.

Tattletale listened over the earbud microphones as Tecton finished relating Jack’s statements.

She raised her eyes from the computer.  Her underlings were arranged around the room, along with others.  Her soldiers were at the ready, alongside Imp’s Heartbroken,  the first and second in command of the Red Hands, Charlotte, Forrest and Sierra.

Sierra was bouncing her leg nervously.  She’d cut off her dreads, and her hair was short to the point of being in a buzz cut, with a fringe flopping over one side of her forehead.  But for the hair and two small hoop earrings in one ear, she was a businesswoman.  Had to be, when she was the ostensible owner of all of Brockton Bay’s prime real estate.

Charlotte was in the company of one of the children, holding him close.  Her fingers toyed with a paper origami cube, and she was doing her best not to look like she was poised on the edge of her seat for any news at all.

The second she gave the word, they’d be ready to evacuate the city, to get people onto the trains and moved through the portal.

But…

“Things have settled,” she said.  “Jack is contained.”

She could see them all relax as if strings that had held them rigid had just been cut.

“That’s it?”

“I don’t know,” Tattletale said.  She grinned wide.  “But if the world is ending, then it’s an awfully quiet end.”

There were chuckles here and there, nervous relief.

“Go home, or go do whatever,” she said.  “I’ll be in touch with more news, let you know how your territory leaders, past or present, are coping.”

As a crowd, the others began filtering out.  Sierra stayed where she was, pensive, but the nervous bouncing of her leg had stopped.

Charlotte, too, remained.

“Sup?” Tattletale asked.

“It’s him,” Charlotte said.

“Aidan.  Hi Aidan.”

“He triggered yesterday.  It… didn’t take much.  Which is probably good.”

Aidan hung his head.

“That’s excellent,” Tattletale said.  She looked at the seven year old.  “How are you?”

“Okay.  Had a nightmare for the first time in a long, long time.  I woke up and I was sleepwalking, and I didn’t know where I was… I got scared, and then it happened.”

“What happened afterwards?” Tattletale asked.

“Birds.”

“Birds.  I see.  Interesting,” she said.  Her eye moved over to the boards that marked the perimeters of the room.  Each was packed with information in her small, tight, flowing handwriting.  Messy, but she’d gotten good at putting pen to paper these past few years

“I push and the birds go where I pushed.  Or I pull and they fly away from that spot.  It’s hard to do.  I can see what they see, but not while I’m controlling them.”

“Like Taylor, but birds, and not that flexible.  I see.”

“We suspected he would trigger,” Charlotte said.

Tattletale looked up, surprised.

“Aidan had a dream one night, back when the nightmares stopped.  He drew that picture.”

“Picture?”

“I gave it to you.  I kind of emphasized it might be important.”

“Pretty sure that didn’t happen,” Tattletale said.  She stood from her desk.  “Sorry, Aidan, to squabble in front of you, but Charlotte needs to remember I don’t tend to miss stuff like that.”

“All that money you’ve given me for helping to look after the territory?  The money for the kids?  I’d stake it all on what I’m saying now.  I promise, I swear I handed you that picture.”

Tattletale frowned.

“I swear,” Charlotte said, for emphasis.

“Then there’s a fucked up stranger power at work.  Don’t like that idea.  Let’s see.  Um.  I store everything in a rightful place.  If you handed me a picture… was it here?”

“Here.”

Tattletale crossed the room.  She pulled a bin off a shelf, then sorted through file folders.

Charlotte said, “There.”

Tattletale stopped, then went back a page.

“Huh.  I stand corrected.”

There was a beep on the computer.  Tattletale went back to the computer to investigate, shrugged, then sat down.

“Well?” Charlotte asked.

“Well what?”

“The picture.”

Tattletale frowned.  “What picture?”

“What’s going on?” Aidan asked.

Charlotte stalked over to the bin that was still out, grabbed the paper, then slammed it down on the desk.  “I don’t think a piece of paper can have superpowers.  Pay attention.  Focus  Memorize.”

Tattletale frowned.  She turned her attention to the paper.

There was a block there.  She felt it slide out of her mind’s eye, caught herself.

She turned her attention to the surroundings, the underlying ideas.

“Aidan?  Describe it to me.  I don’t know what you drew.”

“Those are kind of like fish, or worms, or whales, but they fold and unfold in ways that are hard to understand, and there’s stuff falling off them.  Those are stars, and-“

Tattletale felt something fall into place.

As though a floodgate had opened, the pieces started coming together.  She stood from the desk, striding across the room.

There were still gaps in her work on the boards, where she was outlining everything, trying to decipher the underlying questions.  Now, she began unpinning things from the board.

She was remembering, and she was putting it together, now.  There was a block, but she’d formed enough connections now that things were going around the block.

The whole.  The idea had stuck with her.

All powers fed back into a greater whole, each was a piece of a greater construct.

Of Aidan’s fish-whale-worm things.

But that wasn’t it.

No.  It didn’t fit in terms of timeline.

There was more.

“Like gods,” she said, recalling.

“Like viruses, like gods, like children,” Charlotte said.  “Back on the day I first met you, you said that.”

Like viruses, infecting a cell, converting it into more viruses, bursting forth to infect again.

Like gods.  So much power, all gathered together.  All powers stemmed from them.

Like children.  Innocents?

Blank slate.

“Oh,” Tattletale breathed out the word.

“Tattletale?” Sierra asked.

“Oh balls.”

“I’m notDarwinist,” Jack gasped.  “None of that… bullshit.  Augh!  I’m… I think it is simple-“

He continued grunting.  His switch to turn off the pain took a second to activate, took deliberate action, but getting in the rhythm meant he could buy himself one or two seconds of relief with each loop.  It was a question of concentration, and his concentration slipped.

“It’s simpler.  Us monsters and…  psychopathswe gravitate towards… predation, because we were originally… predators.  Originally had to hunt…  Had to be brutal, cruel…”

He paused, spending a few moments grunting in pain, letting the loops continue.

“Order to survive.  Violence was what made us… or broke us back… in the beginning.”

The entity was patient.  It had time to spare.

Saint swayed slightly in his seat.

The information continued to stream in along a dozen different channels.

Too much.  It was too much, but somehow, somewhere along the line, they’d succeeded.

Jack was contained.  Things were quiet.

Until he noted someone bludgeoning their way through Dragon’s password security.  A series of personal questions, ranging from a favorite texture to something about a pet name for Dragon to a question about the first results of the ten by ten game.

The first two were answered in order.

DefiantGetting access to the system?

No, too crude, too obvious.

The individual stalled on the last question.

He waited a few long moments, then saw the same individual making calls to Defiant.  Three communiques, initiated within one or two seconds of one another.  Then emails, to the PRT and Defiant both.

Saint intercepted it.

Fuck, finally!”

“What are you trying, Tat-“

Shut up and listen, douchestain.  It’s Scion.  He’s the point where it all catalyzes!  And I just clued into the fact that he can probably sense Jack!  Get Grue back to the area, blanket Jack in darkness, now!  Now, now, now!”

“Mags!” he shouted.  “Dobrynja!  Get Grue back to the scene now!  This is it!”

“On it!” the reply came back.  There was a pause.  “Grue is four miles away!”

“Teleporter,” he said.

“We don’t have any that survived the last few Endbringer fights!”

Saint hesitated.

Too far, it would be too late.

The woman who claimed she could control Scion.

His tired fingers flew over the keyboard.  He dug up the file.

It had been seen to.  They’d taken her name, but there’d been no proof.  Hearsay.

Hearsay was better than nothing.

The cyborg was piloting the closest Azazel.  Controlling it could be seen as an attack.  The cyborg would fight, wrestle him for control.

He opened up the window for a message, instead, even as he used the full access Dragon had for every camera, email and phone message to find this Lisette.

A Hail Mary, if there ever was one.

“Defiant,” he said, overriding everything in his way to open communications with the cyborg.  “Help me.”

The entity followed the movements of the various individuals around the battlefield.  More containment foam was being layered over the broadcaster, burying the area.

A noise, a blare that had people doubling over, covering their ears, started emanating from one of the craft.

The craft launched a second later, flying right for the time distortion.

It crashed into the area of warped time, wrapping forelimbs, tail and rear claw around the irregularly shaped feature.

The blaring noise stopped as a voice emanated from the speakers.

“Scion.  Zion.  Golden Man.  It’s Lisette.  Kevin Norton introduced us.  What the man down there is saying… whatever he’s saying, don’t listen.  Turn away.  Please.

Turn away.

The entity moved, and it broke through the time distortion effect with ease.  The craft fell head over heels before propulsion kicked in.  It had to fly in zig-zags to keep pace with the entity’s slow retreat from the scene.

I- uh.  You broke free.  Okay, good.  Leave.  Run!  Please go.  I’m- I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to talk to you before.  You never came back to that spot, and I could never reach you to talk to you.  There was help you needed and I couldn’t give it.  I went to authorities, and nobody believed me.  But now, now maybe I can give you advice.  We can work on this together?  As a pair?  Is that alright?

The entity didn’t respond.

I hope it’s alright,” she said.

The entity took flight, leaving it all behind.

Leave.  Run.

It didn’t return to the task of saving lives.  For a period, it only flew.

It stopped when it had circled the world twice, hovering over the ocean where it had first appeared.

The broadcaster had finished speaking just a moment before the craft had launched, oblivious to the blaring noise that had been intended to drown him out.  What I don’t understand, is why a blank slate like you would default to doing good deeds, rescuing cats from trees.  Why not turn to that violence, as our ancestors did?  It drove them, just like it drives the basest and most monstrous of our kind.

Had he known he had a listening ear?  Had it merely been a struggle to continue doing what he’d instinctively done for decades?

The shards retained memories, motivated, pushed.

The entity looked to the future, looked to possible worlds, and it saw the ways this could have unfolded.  It burned a year off of the entity’s life, but he had thousands to spare anyways.

There was a scene where the entity stood over the broadcaster’s corpse and ruminated on what had driven the male to such extremes.  The shard wasn’t a particularly aggressive one.

A scene where the man died, and years passed, the entity slowly coming to the same conclusions as it observed the rest of the species.

The entity had done good deeds for years, at Kevin Norton’s suggestion, waiting and hoping for the reward, the realization.  When none had occurred, it had simply kept doing what it had been doing.  Seeking out alternatives wasn’t even in the realm of imagination, because imagination was something it lacked.

It had power, though, and if either the counterpart or the cycle had been intact, they could have filled in for that imagination.

Still, it could experiment.

It gathered its power, then aimed at the nearest, largest population center.  Kevin Norton’s birthplace.

The golden light speared forth, and the island shattered, folding, parts of it rising from the ocean.  Crumpled like paper in a fist.

The entity did not eliminate the smoke or the waves that followed.  It simply let the aftermath occur.

The simulated human mind within the entity felt a glimmer of something at that.  Pleasure?  Relief?  Satisfaction?

Something deeper inside, something primal, tied to memories back in the beginning, before the beginning, responded in a very similar fashion.

The entity extended its perceptions outward, felt the reaction, the outcry.  It turned words around in its head, as if it were broadcasting to itself.

Scourge.

Extermination.

Extinction.

That last one was the one to fit.

An interesting experience.  After so much focus on the species as a whole, the evolution and development of the shards, on the cycle

In this, it almost felt like it was evolving as an individual, moment to moment.

The entity opened fire once again, and this time it struck out at the coastline on the opposite side of the ocean.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

694 thoughts on “Interlude 26

  1. So. This happens to be the chapter I’ve been dreading the response to since the very very beginning. Answers provided, climax and more.

    Maybe, in the midst of that, I’ve blown this out of proportion. Maybe not. Whatever the case, I hope it’s well received.

    Whatever the response, thank you for reading.

    • I… Oh… This… Good heavens.

      ::Claps::

      You did good, Wildbow. This beautiful, fascinating world that you’ve built is going to die screaming at the hands of its first savior, and many, many of our favorite characters are probably going to die before it’s done. And I am loving every word of it.

      The world ends, in a way I did not expect. And the powers are explained, in a way that ties every part of the story together once again.

      Damn. This one… Yeah. I’m glad I stayed up late for this one.

    • I am… curious to see where this goes and what happens. Seeing Scion turn like that – turn in a way that makes it scarier than the Endbringers – seeing it not be connected TO the Endbringers as I might have thought…

      I am left with a great sadness. God DAMNIT Jack.

      Well done, Wildbow.

    • For my part, I didn’t see it coming. Scion going Omnicidal Maniac? Not even on my list of hypotheses.

      I guess the fact that he was so bad at being a good guy should have been a hint, though.

      • I just wish I could go back and find a list of my WMGes to figure out if this fits any of them. It seems like I remember someone suggesting passengers were offspring of the entities.

        • For some reason, I always imagined the entities as giant deep blueish-green and deep greenish-blue interrealitarian space worms, and that the passengers were little bits of their essence they attached to people with a sub-reality umbilical cord. And the Cauldron formula made one of those connections involuntarily.

          • I thought “passengers as offspring of the entities” was fairly well known (by the readers) at this point, based on what we’ve seen in the trigger visions so far. That Scion is the head entity and that there’s only 1 entity left and that the entities are world destroyers is all new though I believe (though the world destroyers bit was guessed at – we just didn’t have the info to know one way or the other before this for sure).

            • Actually you are wrong to say that Scion is the only one left. Remember as he and the counterpart was approaching Earth Bet they ran into a third of their species?

              That means even if the counterpart did die there is another entity out there that has the same knowledge that Scion has. The question is does it come back or not.

    • That was…unexpected. But beautifully written. For a while I was actualy sad for these constantly warring, cannibalising, space parasites.

      • I know. I think it’s a sign of a good author when you can pity an eldrich abomination, even when it decides to destroy humanity on a lunatic’s suggestion. I mean, Zion’s only searching for the purpose it lost! If 33(?) years of good deeds doesn’t make it feel better, logically it’s time to try evil.

        • It is. I’m sure it says that its counterpart would struggle against the entity now known as Zion in order to strengthen them both, therefore it’s pretty strongly implied that that creates the Endbringers, and why the Endbringers aren’t just killing everyone.
          The mysteries now are: 1. How does Cauldron fit in, 2. If the counterpart’s dead, why are new Endbringers appearing (is it really dead? Why is it pretending? Ect) 3. How does the world survive a Zion attack, and 4. Will Weaver and Golem ever get together?

      • Simurgh was the entity that damaged Scion’s companion, I think.

        The Endbringers are an evolutionary offshoot of the same species as Scion.

        The other Endbringers though, are still a bit up in the air. They are probably offspring of Simurgh, but they might also be fragments of Scion’s companion, or a combination of the two in some sort of way.

        Now the question I have is… Scion is actually puzzled by Contessa, it seems. I wonder if Doctor Mother might actually contain the final remnant shards of Scion’s companion. Enough to actually understand shards, and control or even fabricate them in some way?

        If so, is there enough of the outsider left in Doctor Mother that she would want to join Scion and resume the cycle, or did she, the contemplative half of the pair, intentionally allow herself to degrade and actually wants to end the cycle?

        Scion indicates that looking into the future cost him a year of his life, but that he had many more years left. some 3600 or so years left if I read right. How many years did blowing up part (or all?) of the UK cost him? Will Simurgh and the Endbringers fight Scion directly in order to keep him from destroying the world that they are trying to live in?

        Many, many questions still left here :)

    • The first part was a bit of a struggle to get thru, what with the lack of human mindsets for me to identify with or respond to. Once humans were reintroduced to the narrative it got a lot more readable.

      The big reveal was good, the other answers were woven into the story well, and there’s enough left unanswered besides the fate of the world to keep me interested in what is to come.

      • It was actually the opposite for me. The first part was an easy read. Then, once familiar characters started showing up, I got distracted trying to figure out who was who.

        Definitely looking forward to what happens next, though.

        • As much as anything it reminded me of the highly depersonalized last few pages of Baxter’s _Space_. “Tasks that were performed.”

          Since that’s some of the best writing Baxter has ever done, that’s fairly high praise. (And wildbow’s worldbuilding is immensely better than Baxter’s.)

    • Wildbow.

      You’ve done well.

      You’ve done really, really well.

      Wherever you take this story from here, wherever you take this universe from here, I will follow.

      • Well their all going to look like burnt out toaster ovens. I won’t say I guessed it, but Scion being an actually passenger, and the end of the world being him turning were both on my possibilities list. Granted it looks the normal end resault of this cycle is an earth shattering Kaboom.

        But now we have new mysteries. What role does the third entity play? Did it somehow cause the other to commit suicide? Where did the shard Contessa is using come from?

        • Scion isn’t a passenger, he is the entity that makes passengers also if you go back an reread Scion recognizes shards from his missing counterpart:

          It can see the shards of the counterpart.
          Not all are intact.
          Dead shards. Damaged ones. Vital shards, even, going to hosts.
          The entity destroys these on sight. They are corrupt, ruined. They will fail to provide usable results.

          He sees his counterparts dead shards again in Grey Boy and Manton:

          The broadcaster was moving in and out of trouble, relying on a pronounced projection that was being emitted by a dead shard to provide further protection. There was another entity nearby. A boy with another dead shard. Odd, that they had gravitated towards the broadcaster.

          So when he looks at Contessa and doesn’t recognize the shard and it is living

          It looked at the female, and it saw a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.

          This can only be explained one of two ways:
          1. Cauldron got a hold of the remains of the counterpart and somehow birthed another entity. This would explain in my mind the case 53’s and if they knew about the entity’s and the block in most people you can see why they were doing what they were doing.

          2. The third member of Scion’s species didn’t go away and gave a shard to Contessa.

          • One must still wonder about the Noelle situation(1), as well as the Endbringers. Are they the bigger shards the counterpart created? If so, how did two more come into being(2)? Also, what is different when multiple people awaken at the same time? Why is it associated with each getting multiple powers(3)?
            1 – From Noelle’s mention of being the wrong person for the shard to connect to, one can theorize that, if she is indeed correct about that, Cauldron’s formulas create a forced connection to shards. Perhaps it creates connections only to dead shards (going by Manton’s case alone)?
            2 – The “big shards” might also be those of the Triumvirate. Eidolon’s power, in particular, seems connected to the entities’ concern for conservation of energy – it’s versatility is also at odds with the idea of shards being tested and selected, since it is mutant.
            3 – It kind of sounds like a triggering is an area effect, in a sense – if one triggers near someone else, each shard affects many people. This might be proven or disproven through analysis of powers arising from such situations.

            • The shards can go to more than one person as seen in the interlude, at least when they are clones. We need a little more information on them to know if the Shards can be connected to multiple different people because that hasn’t been shown yet.

              As to Noelle not being the right person, this interlude shows that the normal shards dropped by the Coutnerpart and Scion pick who they go to is they see someone better suited to them. An example of this is that when Scion sent the “Queen”/”Administrator” shard on its way he sent it to a person that matches Danny, Taylors father:

              When it knows the configuration is absolutely decided, it reaches for the last fragment it will cast off. This one, too, it cripples, even largely destroys, so as to limit the host from using it in the same fashion.

              In a haste to decide matters before it enters the stratosphere of that barren planet, the entity casts it off to a similar location as the future-sight ability. A similar time, thirty-one revolutions from now. The destination is a male, thin, in the company of strong males and females, drinking.

              The entity recognized her shard. The last one that had split off before the entity took on this form.

              Queen.

              It is also explicitly stated that this happens:

              A male guards his offspring, a female, with his size and bulk. A group of hostile bipeds cluster around them. They call out, making unusual loud sounds, suggesting intoxication. One of the hostile ones gestures, gripping its male parts, pulling them free of their coverings. A sexual gesture follows, waving the organ left and right, thrusting it into the empty air.

              This time, the shard settles in the male, then immediately shifts to the more distressed female.

              The shards might seek out different hosts, if others are in range, as the perception-altering one did. They will fragment and transmit to other hosts, as they grow and develop.

              So it’s a given that the shards seek out the most compatible person in the area but Cauldron is messing around and making a formula and they have known for a long time that some formulas only work with some types of people. We know this from the interlude where Battery got her power and from the Interlude dealing with the Travelers. So Cauldron in there own way tried to do what the shards were designed to do by Scion and so the odds that the formulas that the Travelers ingested were the right ones for them was very small.

              • That does not seem to agree with their success rates, or with the fact that they let the customer choose the power. As for one shard connecting to multiple people, it is possible, just look at the Harbingers vs Contessa+Number Man fight in this very update. The question is, do they do this naturally?

              • @Nayn

                If you go back you will find that Cauldron’s success rate is very small that is why they had all those Case 53’s and in the Battery Interlude you see they do not let the customer choose the power since there is no guarantee to what happens including what power they do get. They can shave odds and almost guarantee a power group but not a specific power.

                No sample provides the exact same powers every time. The bullet points note examples of the powers gained when the sample was tried on a human subject or a client. There’s typically a common thread or theme connecting powers from a given sample. One sample might have a tendency to work with the production of acids and a tendency for physical manifestation. This might allow an individual to turn into a living pool of acid, to secrete acid from his pores or to spit streams of corrosive venom.”

                “Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, there are no guarantees. A given sample does not provide the same effects every time it is tested. There are admittedly some dangers involved in the use of our product. Sometimes there are physical changes that cannot be masked. You have seen the heroes or villains with glowing eyes or less human features.”

                “The ‘R’ value refers to how predictable a given sample is. There are some that produce very simple, reliable results. In sixty-three tests of sample T-six-zero-zero-one, it has only failed to grant a form of flight on two occasions. Contrast that with sample B-zero-zero-thirty. It has, in four tests, granted an individual the ability to make things implode, it has created a powerful vacuum in someone’s mouth, that draws everything into a portal where it is promptly annihilated. Sample B-zero-zero-thirty killed the other two test subjects.

                “How do you test this? You’re talking about a lot of tests, sixty for just one sample, but there’s no way people wouldn’t notice or that word wouldn’t get out if you were doing something like that.”

                “As you’ve seen, Cauldron has resources.”

                “That doesn’t really answer my question.”

                “It does. Just not as clearly as you want it to.”

                “This… is what you can afford.” The Doctor hit a key and the graph was reduced to the white and light blue cubes. ”You could theoretically push into the seven range of ‘P’ values, to put yourself at this Madcap’s level in terms of raw power, but you would be forfeiting a great deal in the other two departments. Your powers would be relatively simple, defaulting to the sort of abilities that countless other heroes already have… and with the low ‘R’ score, you would be risking getting something you do not want. Physical changes, perhaps, or powers outside of the area you wanted. Super strength when you desired telekinesis, for a crude example.”

                As you can see that B0030 has a 50% success rate in even allowing the person to live, something that the shards are encoded not to allow happen and they had to do lots and lots of tests before they even got to the client stage and no guarantee you get the power you want.

                Also they do deep background checks and psychological screening of all potential customers to get the best results they can:

                “I’m-”

                “No names. We’ve already investigated you, we know much of what we need to know, but I think there is a great deal of symbolic value in having you maintain some anonymity.

                “I like to talk and establish expectations before we begin. You should know that almost every aspect of this experience can be tailored to your tastes. Cauldron’s usual routine, however, is to arrange one face to face meeting. We’ll discuss your budget, your situation and goals, and then we’ll peruse a catalog to find something that fits your budget and will hopefully give you the results you desire. There is a two month waiting period, during which time I will assign you some testing, some regarding your physical condition, other tests for psychological reasons.

                “Psychological? Is that to make sure I won’t flip out and go villain when I get powers?”

                “Is there anything else I could do? A way to get better results?”

                “We have options, but I don’t know that they apply to your case. I mentioned the psychological testing earlier. You should know that an individual’s personality, mental state and background do seem to have a great deal of effect on the resulting power. I would even say it’s one of the primary factors, outside of the sample itself.

                Also Cauldron set up fake sites to see who wanted the powers so they could investigate “likely” candidates first:

                “How did you find me? I just got an email.”

                “I’d have to check my notes. We have ways of finding interested parties. If I remember right, you were browsing websites, researching ways to acquire tinker-made armor and weapons?”

                Jamie nodded. ”I was. So many were fakes or scams that I wasn’t willing to trust the ones that did look legit.”

                “We own several of those sites. All are fakes. That might have been where we first noticed your activity.”

                “That’s a little creepy.”

                “Creepiness is an unfortunate reality when you’re forced to operate covertly, without a steady customer base.”

              • @Boballab Those things aren’t mutually exclusive. Cauldron’s success ratesat granting superpowers are quite good *now*, with minimal failure rates and an ability to pick your powers fairly accurately. It took them a lot of experimentation to get this point. They had a lot of failures in the past (which is where all the case 53s came from). The process still isn’t perfect but it’s a lot more reliable than it once was.

    • *Slowclap*

      Wow, just, wow.
      Doing all this, trying to stop the world from ending and then getting fucked because the one thing that kept all the bad guys from fucking over everyone gets turned.
      for the rest I love the explanations for the powers, passengers and all.
      I really loved this chapter and I just had to comment.

    • Bow… you have 0 to worry about. This was framed perfectly.

      Also i loved the properly alien descriptions which you made, and this final moment…

      This chapter was beautiful.

    • Just caught up… and then this. Oh balls, to cite Tattletale.
      This is one of the few fiction works recently made that still manages to blindside me with its plot, not to mention the sheer expressiveness and involvement the narrative creates, and for that I thank you. It has been an amazing ride, this past week reading Worm, and I can honestly say I feel it was well spent.
      About this installment, you managed to create in me just the correct mix of unpredictability and inevitability to fill me with dread. I guess Bakuda would have approved. This made my hairs stand on end, and I can honestly attest to laughing (a bit desperately) when it all fell into place in my head.
      Worm is addictive (in a good way), touching and overall a wonderful read. Thank you for giving me access to this literary narcotic. I’ll wait for the next update!

    • I started to read Worm two weeks ago, I finally catch up and this is what I find? It’s… I don’t even have words to say how amazing it is, I suspected some things, but the way it all fits together? genius!! I can’t wait for the next chapter.

      If you were afraid of what people was going to think about this… well, I didn’t like everything, but it makes sense, and since it is your world you can do whatever you want with it, even if that means destroying it against our wishes.

    • Oh my God. I knew things would get bad, but I never expected anything like this.
      This is brilliant. I honestly don’t know what else to say. Well done.

    • WHAT THE FUCK, WILDBOW. HOW COULD YOU. HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO YOUR READERS HOW COULD YOU. I can just imagine you dancing around some random bonfire singing your theme song of doom and periodically screaming PLOT TWIST BABEH while cackling evilly in sadistic glee, leaving us in a melted puddle of feels and awe. Well done. Truly, well done. Obviously I’m a new reader, and well. I didn’t even guess it would come down to this. Wow. Feeling a little incoherent right now. You just turned the supposed savior of the world into an entity who thinks extinction is the ideal cause now. Wow. *claps*

    • ” It burned a years off of the entity’s life, but he had thousands to spare anyways.”

      It burned years off, or it burned a year off?

    • Not sure if it’s a Typo, but… at a few points you refer to the Entity/Scion as “he” and at others (more often) you use “it” and in all honesty, I prefer the latter. Even in male form, Scion being essentially inhuman seems pretty important, especially BEFORE becoming Scion.

        • Ah, when the Entity is Scion, I don’t mind as much, but was commenting because occasionally it was being used before being revealed as Scion, before that connection was made.

    • They engaged the eight with the perception abilities, intervening to assist a group of others.

      I’m thinking that “the” shouldn’t be there, if the perception abilities are a reference to Contessa and Number Man.

    • around the point the first have started fragmenting in greater numbers
      – Missing period

      He can see into the other realities that lie adjacent to this one, similar people, similar crowds.
      – Before and after this the entity was referred to as “it” rather than “he”

      Messy, but she’d gotten good at putting pen to paper these past few years
      – Missing period

      Pay attention. Focus Memorize.”
      – Missing period

      It burned a year off of the entity’s life, but he had thousands to spare anyways.
      – Another “he” for the entity

    • Not a typo but maybe inconsistency. In interlude 1, It is stated that Vikare’s sister got healed from cancer by Zion, so unless both the brother and sister had cancer at the same time, it doesn’t fit with the information presented in this chapter, where the one passenger with cancer is also the one with the damaged shard.

    • “This was the stage in the cycle when the entity is most aware, most focused.”

      Not sure why it slipped into past-tense there, but unless I’m missing something, it shouldn’t have.

  2. So, it looks like what makes Jack different is that he remembers his trigger event. All of it. And he decided to help out, for lack of a better term. And now we understand passengers, and Cauldron. Damn.

    • We don’t understand Cauldron. We have the ability to make a very very good guess as to a lot of what makes up Cauldron (and some things are confirmed as to motive). But no more than that.

      • In a way we do understand a part of Cauldron: They know about the entities not just the shards/passengers and we know this because of Contessa.

        Remember that Scion’s counterparts shards/passengers are dead now and he recognizes them on sight so when he sees Contessa and doesn’t recognize the shard and it is living it tells you that Cauldron has dealt with another entity of Scion’s species

        • My point exactly. We understand a part. A fairly large part, but still a part. Not the whole. That comes when Cauldron’s passenger source is revealed.

  3. The first part was a bit confusing, with the lack of names and stuff, but I think I understand.
    It’s great that a seventy per cent chance actually does come true! I don’t like it when in stories a really high percentage figure is quoted that later turns out to completely defied later on. This is refreshing.
    What are the differences between damaged shards and other shards though?

    • Eh, an issue is that such precog stuff is still highly limited and therefore of sometimes-wildly-varying accuracy due to limitations* keeping it from seeing/taking into account all the data.

      *both the ones built-in by the Entity and the fact that Alcott’s, at least, seems to only take into account the factors that are currently in play and therefore fails to take into account factors that enter later on (which is why she doesn’t just zero in on a single correct answer as more time passes and more stuff happens/gets figured into her calculations but rather her estimates bounce all over the place)

      • Why you have to pair Alcott with Tattletale. One figures the chances, the other figures the factors, and together, they can zero in on the specific results.

    • While I tend to agree, a 30:70 chance could easily go either way. People achieve things with much lower chances of success every day.

      And probabilities go out the window once precogs are involved anyway. Probabilities hinge on individual actions, some of which have a much bigger impact on the overall probability than others.

      Re: damaged shards, there are some good theories below but I believe we don’t have definitive answer at this point…

        • I believe the entire island is mentioned.

          “The golden light speared forth, and the island shattered, folding, parts of it rising from the ocean. Crumpled like paper in a fist.”

          Well…I guess that means it truly is anarchy… *puts on a pair of sunglasses and a Sex Pistols T-shirt* in the UK.

            • “I was in my early twenties when I started out,” he said. ”Born in London, had nobody left after my parents died in my teens.

              No such luck.

              • So that means the death toll starts counting in the dozens of millions and likely several times more than that when the fallout from the explosion hits the nearby countries(winds, tsunamis, etc).

            • Two big ones (Northern Island is technically part of the UK), quite a few smaller ones that would mostlybe utterly obliterated by Zion’s attack.
              So the new UK is likely to be the United Kingdom of Northern Ireland, Orkney and Shetland. Going to be pretty tricky to find anyone left in the royal family though.

  4. 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’ ends nigh!: 3
    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

    Scions extinct: 0

    • Correction, and be nice if Wildbow could help me out here.

      Crimsons running red: 2

      Saints punched in the ovaries, made to be a smelly pirate hooker on whore island, been told that jazz flute is for little sissy boys, 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

    • In the first battle didn’t the other group encounter three Shatterbirds? Since the nine haven’t been retreating we can probably assume they are dead at this point.

  5. Rats. The one time I get to read the chapter when it comes out because I’m in the States and I won’t be able to sleep :D

  6. Oh SHIT! Oh SHIT! Jack just turned Scion into an Endbringer.
    Things we learned?
    1. Scion had a partner that I’m assuming Cauldron killed-the dead, broken shards. Though that doesn’t explain Contessa whose shard wasn’t its own but wasn’t dead.
    2. After enough conflict and experience, shards break off into new ones. Taylor created Aiden. Though it doesn’t explain how parahuman’s children trigger earlier and aren’t weaker.
    3. Imp’s minions are called the heartbroken, ha.
    4. The passengers take steps to limit the abilities that parahumans get so too many aren’t killed. They crave and mature with conflict, stress, and experience.
    5.. The Endbringer and Scion I think are the same? What does critical mass mean? Does every parahuman simply stop having powers as the passengers rejoin the whole or die?
    Oh, and again HOLY FUCKING SHIT, THE WORLD IS SO FUCKED. Scion has alot more lives, knows exactly what powers everyone has, and practically is a reality warper. The only way to stop him is to convince him of another purpose, find a new mother/queen passenger to partner with?, or just send him into another world.

          • I’m thinking the entities they crossed paths with launched a few of their own versions of shards. Remember, they dealt with worlds that had fewer living creatures on it. In that case, it’s possible that some would be entirely composed of shards. It would also be possible for the Endbringers to consume each other and become strong enough to take out Scion if they are of the same species.

      • So who is making Endbringers… The presence of ”alien” Shard may mean there is a third party. The only ones who can fight Endbringers are Capes, so perhaps the objective of the Endbringers is to kill all Shards, stop them from reproducing.

        What if damaged Shards are those produced by the Cauldron. So the true purpose is not to make Capes but to damage Shards.

        I wonder, if Scion realized somebody is messing with the cycle and probably killed his counterpart he might have considered tracking down the killer instead of killing humanity.

        • Endbringers appear predictably rather than whenever, attack one target (except Khonsu) and stop as far as we can tell. They don’t go all out at first but respond to every threat while escalating. Most damage they suffer doesn’t actually hinder them at all and their cores are relatively indestructable (maybe Foil’s cheating might work there.) The way they hold back as such makes me think they’re not trying to mess with the cycle or kill all capes, but simply to cause conflict. They make capes fight intense battles that push them to the heights of stress. Rather than an outside factor, they seem like a very distinct approach to achieve the same goals as the Passengers. Even the way they evolve and copy strategies used against them is indicative here. I’m guessing that the third is setting up something similar (Endbringers versus his own capes? (Maybe Contessa as an example since her origin is now doubly obfuscated).

        • If you kill the host, do you kill the shard? Glaistig seems to point towards “no”. They’re extradimensional superdrones who can exist within several identical hosts, even, probably extremely tough to kill.

          Do they “exist” in the same dimension where the main body of the Entity is hiding?

          • Speaking of Glaistig, it looks like her 300 year timeline was right on the money, no? My guess on her shard is that she got the mechanism that recollects all the other shards to initiate the next step in the entities’ reproduction cycle. What might be interesting is if she got the shard from the dead entity and is basically, slowly reconstituting it.

          • The shards were mentioned to exist in worlds inaccessible to parahumans. Maybe a mental block similar to the one Scion engineered that makes them forget about trigger events.

        • No the damage shards are not Cauldrons by themselves, it is stated very clearly that Scion (When known as the Entity) damaged them deliberately so that the Human powers would not be as strong as his and be able to be used against them. This was the case of the shard that Dinah got as well as the one that Jack got:

          The shard that allows the entity to see the future is broken up, then recoded with strict limitations. It wouldn’t do to have the capabilities turned against the entity or the shards.
          The fragment it just used is sent off, directed to a small female.

          The ability to communicate and receive signals is unnecessary now. To transmit signals across wavelengths. It, too, is intentionally crippled as an ability. It would not do to have that one being used with regularity. Such would be distracting for the entity and its counterpart.

          When it knows the configuration is absolutely decided, it reaches for the last fragment it will cast off. This one, too, it cripples, even largely destroys, so as to limit the host from using it in the same fashion.

      • It appears to consider the Endbringers no different from any other disaster it was dealing with because it was asked to. The destruction of New Delhi no different in magnitude from, say, a house fire.

        Now that’s an *alien* perspective. I guess when you think in terms of consuming whole groups of parallel Earths to power each of trillions of shards, a single city — or planet — is relatively unimportant.

        Even wiping out Earth Bet as an experiment — with no malice or even vehemence, note, just mild curiosity — is not apparently problematic to it. After all, the cycle is over anyway. (I’m not sure it could pick another reality and ask the passengers to reconnect to it: that probably requires the administrator shard, which is a) damaged and b) dropped, and connected to Taylor, right now. Maybe if she bites it in the destruction Scion can pick it up and ask the passengers to connect to humans in some other reality.)

        • Yep it is stated that the Harbringer Clones share one shard:

          The entity turned to observe another conflict. One shard was connected to eight individuals. A lesser shard, connected to eight unusual hosts.

      • The fact that the shards are dead might also explain why they seem to be relatively weak compared to the originals: they don’t have a living partner giving them the boost.

        • Not just that, but as shown both in the fight of number man and contesta vs harbingers, and via scion’s observations, the clone’s shards have not had the time to mature, alive or dead, and are thus less powerful, whatever metric is being used.

      • not just them. The dead shards still have the power, but not the same seeking ability. All the shards were predestined for people, but the dead ones just fell randomly, connecting with different people.

        • The dead ones = people like S9 is refuted because Jacks shard is one of Scions and alive, crippled like just like Taylor’s and Dinah’s but alive.

          The entity watched, and it recognized the shard at work.

          The broadcast shard. One that had been crippled, just like the shard of the female that floated before the entity now. The same shard that had managed communication between the entity and its counterpart.

          The male with the broadcasting power was swinging his sword. The younger one was erecting defenses, lashing out.

          The broadcaster was moving in and out of trouble, relying on a pronounced projection that was being emitted by a dead shard to provide further protection. There was another entity nearby. A boy with another dead shard. Odd, that they had gravitated towards the broadcaster.

          What the dead shards had a tendency to do is gravitate towards Jack, probably due to the fact his is the power to broadcast between entities.

    • #2 explains how parahuman’s children are practically guaranteed to have the potential for power. Several times in the chapter we have seen that conflict causes the shard to grow and gain power. Golem now is (or was recently) weaker than Kaiser was at his fall. However given enough conflict, his shard could out mature Kaisers. A second trigger seems to be a reshaping like the first trigger and a burst of intense growth for the shard. Since shards are shown to affect the personalities of their hosts once they activate (primarily in terms of seeking conflict), the trauma of a second trigger could become severe.

      • Also #5, it was specifically states that they will die if the cycle is completed. Then the entire planet across all realities shall be destroyed.

        • I think Cauldron must have killed or incapacitated the counterpart, thus saving the world for the first time and probably giving them the source of their “shards” ie superpower serums.

          • I think you’re right. More than that, I think the reason their headquarters is multidimensional is because they built it around the corpse of the counterpart. Well, the main reason. Protection from capes like Faultline is a nice side benefit.

          • Maybe so! The question is, how?

            We know that Cauldron acquired two of the early shards: “One that becomes immaterial. Another that can make paths between realities, with safeguards to keep it away from ones the shards are rooted within.” (Custodian and Doormaker, respectively). We thus know that there is no way that they could have stumbled across one of the counterpart’s shards (or the entity’s).

            With the powers we’ve see I don’t see how they could have eliminated the counterpart: even weak, it spanned countless realities. Worse yet, by the time it neared our galaxy (!) it was less an organism than a huge stream of shards, each falling in a separate universe, and all of those universes are empty and in any case Doormaker can’t access *any* of them.

            I suspect the counterpart’s shards died on their own as they travelled the void towards us, Cauldron found (by chance?) a way to connect to the dead shards, and the rest is unexplained. (Such as how dead shards can do *anything*. Clearly ‘dead’ means something very different to the entities than it does to us.)

    • Actually i think the dead Shards are those from Scion’s counterpart, and the non-dead, unrecognised shard Contessa has is from that other entity that rammed against the counterpart, wounding it. Cauldron seems to be harnessing the dead ones (see Siberian and Gray Boy) so I have no idea how Contessa fits.

        • Pfft, nah. Multiversial extinction aside, fucking with these space bugs seems like a really bad idea that’s gonna backfire if it hasn’t already.

          • NOT fucking with them guarantees that the Entities initial plan would end with the death of ALL capes followed by the destruction of the PLANET.

            Cauldron follows the basic Worm credo. Doing the wrong things for the right reasons. We may well have to rethink our positions on Cauldron.

            • And now a completely different apocalypse is going to end the world even sooner. We don’t know enough about the links between Cauldron, the entities and the Endbringers to say. But I’m going to guess Doctor Mother doesn’t conveniently avoid the “we tried to do this one good thing and fucked everything else up” trap just about every other organization has fallen into.

          • They’re still evil though. They probably only saved the world in self defense and/or to get power. Not good, just doing some good. Probably by accident.

            • Well, they have explicitly said they don’t care about money. Despite having vast resources that would make it easy to secretly rule the world, they have a rather laissez faire attitude in regards to worldly affairs, except when it comes to protect Cauldron capes. Sometimes simply wanting to live is a quite powerful motivation.

              • Yes. All the money in the world won’t protect them from Scion destroying the world.

                Survival is a very powerful instinct. I like Order of the Stick’s take on it, where a paladin is more unnatural than a lich. The lich took that form out of the will to survive, a basic instinct of all living things, whereas the paladin doesn’t care if he or she dies in the line of duty.

        • Actually we can prove that the Cauldron Capes are not all dead or damaged shards just by looking at Contessa. It is stated plainly that her Shard is alive and Scion in his musings never stated that it was damaged. He also didn’t recognize it as one of his or of his counterpart:

          It looked at the female, and it saw a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.

          Also the Numbers Man is the original Harbinger and the Clones of him use his Shard and that shard is alive and one of Scion’s:

          The entity turned to observe another conflict. One shard was connected to eight individuals. A lesser shard, connected to eight unusual hosts.

          The entity looked at the male, and it saw the connection to the same shard as the eight. His connection was stronger, more mature.

          Notice he didn’t say that shard was dead which he does when he comes across the ones in Grey Boy and Manton.

          Now as to the Case 53’s I think a simpler explanation would be that they stumbled over the remains of the dead counterpart and experimented with that.

          • Remember Number Man joined Cauldron only after leaving the S9. Way after he got powers. He is presumably a normal trigger event cape. Apart from the mystery of Contessa , who seems to get her powers from the third entity, I think it’s safe to assume that Cauldron’s formula involves the dead counterpart in some form or the other.

            • Obviously it does, they must have killed the counterpart an so saved the world for the first time.
              Can they save it again though? Probably not. The Endbringers are our only hope!

    • Actually Scion hinted at two ways to kill him, the most direct is Foil’s attacks which are apparently a weapon that the entities used to use on each other, the other is something like Khonsu’s time acceleration fields since Scion has a temporal life span, it’s just measured in millennia.

      • Of course Scion can obliterate land masses and tear apart Endbringers with his bare hands, so good luck getting in that kill shot before he annihilates you.

      • Unless Scion crippled Foil’s shard the way he crippled all the other shards he thought were too powerful for mere humans. (Dinah’s, Taylor’s, Jack’s).

      • Actually no for the simple fact is that what we see as Scion is just a teeny tiny fragment of his whole. Remember that most of him is in another reality as a safeguard:

        The entity takes shape. It retains the capabilities it had when it first arrived.

        Imago. Adult state.

        Much of it is still too large for the target reality. It leaves that portion of itself behind, maintains a connection. A safeguard. The body it uses is but an extension, a tendril.

        So even though Foils attacks go through all realities but it is fixed in the same space in all realities:

        he entity could see as the small pieces of alloyed metal unfolded, taking shape in not just this world, but all realities, at the same space and time, bristling with an effect that would sever their attachment to most physical laws.

        So even if she hit Scion with them that only cuts off that little tendril of him not the majority of him unless he happens to be standing on Earth Bet at the exact same spot his main body is on that other Earth.

        As to Khonsu that is not even close. Remember Khonsu runs from Scion because Khonsu, just like Grey Boy, effects time in an area and that doesn’t work on Scion unless he wants it too. Remember he only stayed in Grey Boys time distortion field because he wanted to see how things faired.

        The entity moved, and it broke through the time distortion effect with ease.

        Once he decided he wanted to leave, he just flew out, just like what he would do to Khonsu. That is why Khonsu teleports away when Scion appears, it can’t hurt him.

        • That’s something, though, isn’t it? *small glimmer of hope* So far (correct me if I’m wrong), there’s been no mention of Scion being able to teleport. The entity can weave through multiverses but it had to /travel/ the distance between its previous destination and its next one. When Khonsu teleports, Scion can’t (or doesn’t?) follow by teleportation. Maybe that was an ability his counterpart possessed or maybe it comes from the other entity. Either way, it seems the parahumans have at least /one/ advantage. Strange (or significant), though, that teleporters seem to be targeted by Endbringers. Possibly because they can help evade conflict so easily…

          • There is a short but very important sentence in this interlude that answers your question on whether Scion “can” teleport. It takes place after “Scion” threw off the shards which has been called passengers by Humanity. Those “Shards” are nothing but parts of Scion and they are each one corresponds to one power that “Scion” has. That means if a Cape has a power that lets them teleport than Scion has that same power but greater since :

            The entity has cast off all but the most essential parts of itself, distributing the shards throughout this reality. More shards will shower on other realities in time, likely around the point the first have started fragmenting in greater numbers

            Cycle to cycle, the role changes. Direct involvement, watching from afar, being visible or staying out of sight. Different roles to shepherd the shards through different worlds.

            The entity takes shape. It retains the capabilities it had when it first arrived.

            Scion retains every power that he gave away in shards and he still has powers that Capes do not have since he still retains shards and some other shards went to other realities such as Earth Aelph.

            Now as to could it have been only a Counterpart power? It is possible but the odds are unlikely. Remember the Counterpart and “Scion” were partners for time unimaginable and they experienced the same events and then shard the “information”:

            The entities travel with partners now, moving in spirals while maintaining a measured distance from one another. Each is slightly different from the other, taking on a different role. Attacker and defender, warrior and thinker, builder and destroyer.

            This divide is so they are able to take a different stance, shape their shards in subtle ways and clarify the results when their shards are compared and joined once again – some shall be kept, others discarded. Some will turn up interesting possibilities that can be explored when new shards are invented at the cycle’s end.

            While they are on planet the entities develop different from each other, however when they leave they share with each other. Now where it is possible is that the Counterpart shared with that third entity but the amount of shards the counterpart in that exchange was small. That means that statistically that the “teleport” power was one of the few transferred from the third entity to the counterpart and not one that was shared between the counterpart and “Scion” is small.

            Now where there is hope is the fact that there is evidence that the third entity is at the minimum interfering with Scion and at the best opposed to him. The evidence is the shard that Contessa carries. It can only come from an Entity and it didn’t come from “Scion” or the counterpart according to Scion.

            Now the reason to believe it might be opposed to what Scion is doing is inferential in basis. The third entity in space developed not only differently than Scion but it is stated that it travels trough the multiverse differently:

            A member of their own species, approaching. It was smaller, took a different form. It used different means to travel.

            Its ancestors had traveled a different path, easily hundreds of cycles ago, before the entities had begun traveling in pairs. This new arrival had encountered different worlds, less worlds, and it had developed differently.

            We don’t know how it travels but it might mean that the third entity doesn’t have to destroy multiple planets to move, thus when it exchanges information with the counterpart is dismayed that its own species is roaming through the multiverse destroying everything just like their ancestors did on their home planet.

            This also brings me to how I think the counterpart died. It didn’t die from giving too many shards to the third entity but after absorbing and thinking on what it learned from the third it committed suicide. Remember that on this round of planet destroying the counterpart was to be the thinker of the pair:

            The counterpart is supposed to be the passive figure, the thinker, the planner, while this entity is the warrior, the protector. The entity is forced to make up for the counterpart’s disability, to slow its advance through the void as they approach their destination and devote resources to analyzing, something the other should be doing instead.

            Now another thing to keep in mind is that we know that “Scion” learns about emotion from a shard of his:
            n seeking to understand the host creatures, the entity had coded shards to emulate them. It is those same shards that experience the entity’s first ever emotion.

            Crushed.

            The entity comes to experience a deep, profound sadness, for the very first time.

            Now think on how Humans deal with something as comparable to losing a spouse suddenly and that is what Scion feels at that moment. Now think on this: What if one of the shards the third entity gave to the Counterpart dealt with emotions and particularly the emotion of Guilt. So here you have the thinker entity going through the information given by the third and discovers the feeling of guilt and it is coupled with a perfect memory that stretches back through time un-measurable. How much guilt could build up in a year from thinking on how many other creatures and planets it destroyed? It can’t talk about it with “Scion” since they are in Crystallis and not communicating, so it offs itself.

            • Great analysis.

              Regarding Taylor and the Protectorate, the’re even more screwed then they thought, since Scion has every ability and presumably beats every ability.
              The’re only hope rests on another alien god.

              Can’t say I like it, but maybe we’ll get surprised.

            • Huh. I really like the idea of the third entity passing on “guilt” or some sort of info that changes the other’s perception.

            • I’m reasonably certain that once the entity dumps a shard, it cannot use that shard’s ability itself. I see nothing in the text to suggest otherwise. The entity retains the capabilities it had when it first arrived, sure, but what it was when it first arrived was far, far smaller than the original entities: nearly all of its constituent parts had already been discarded in great stream of shards, hitting huge numbers of parallel earths. (They were not *dropped* on Earth Bet: they were dropped on *other*, empty Earths, protected by being inaccessible to Doormaker — but perhaps not to the Labyrinth/Scrub combination!).

  7. Hmm…so.

    There is a way out here.

    The Endbringers and Cauldron need to step up now. They have something to do with another Entity, and another Entity is capable of killing, consuming, or coaxing away Scion.

    Unfortunately, this is not a situation that can be cured by a liberal application of chemical weapons. Or nukes and tungsten rods launched from space, for those about to chime in.

    • If Cauldron is following the ”Path to Victory” provided by Contessa, then this could be part of the plan. Maybe the other Entity lacks power to kill Scion. But if Scion became a world ending threat, it could mobilize resources of its own Shards against it.

      • Contessa admits that the end of the world is a blind spot for her, which makes sense considering it revolves around Scion. Her “Path to Victory” only leads up to the point that Scion snaps, ensuring that Cauldron is in a position to do – something.-

        Actually, the fact that Dinah could exactly predict that Jack would be the catalyst, and yet draw a blank on what exactly happens to end the world should have been a really strong clue that it would be Scion ending it.

      • I really see your point. Maybe the four/five remaining Endbringers teamed up could win this one.

        They are almost certainly members of his “kind” after all. At least as much as the shards are. They’re probably taking inspiration in their own way through sending Endbringers and seeing how their enemies adapt. It may actually be in their best interests to stop Scion from killing everyone. That would be a sound explanation for why Scion never actually kills everyone in any timeline.

        • I am now imagining the tag-line for one of the next chapters.
          Worm: Where it is a good thing that the monsters that have been systematically destroying humanity for the last decades kill the god-like being that has saved millions.

          • Zion has now killed millions though, and he’s just getting started. Jack is going to gloat so much. Nobody tell him, he doesn’t deserve the satisfaction.
            Anyway, Endbringers vs Zion would be awesome, and probably will destroy at least one continent if both sides stop holding back.

    • Hmmm…what if…no…they…they wouldn’t!

      Oh.

      My.

      God.

      Level 4. The Counterpart, it’s alive, they’ve kept it alive on Level 4! Or at the least, they have it’s corpse.

      THAT’S where they get the dead shards, they harvest them from the Counterpart, from there they’re made tangible, into their elixirs! It’s the only explanation, the ONLY thing I can think of that would scare Number Man.

      If Skitter wants to save the world, one way or another, the sole answer rests on the 4th level of Cauldron/

      • Yup. It also explains why Scion was so disgusted with Eidolon. The guy’s essentially powered by his mate’s corpse.

        Speaking of Eidolon, heroic sacrifice in a futile attempt to stop Scion in 3…2…1…?

        • I actually know why Cauldron didn’t just cap Jack. The problem is Scion. He was always going to be a problem eventually. They are trying to set up a point where they can actually get to the real body and kill it.

          • Good plan, I like it. I always dislike it when the good guys (I’m not talking about Cauldron here, just mentioning a pattern) try to keep the villain from overcommiting. See Animorphs.

            Problem is, Scion doesn’t have a real body. Is there any way they can stop a Passenger?

            • Scion does have a real body, he is not a Passenger he makes passengers. What you see as Scion is a fragment of his body left behind:

              The entity takes shape. It retains the capabilities it had when it first arrived.

              Imago. Adult state.

              Much of it is still too large for the target reality. It leaves that portion of itself behind, maintains a connection. A safeguard. The body it uses is but an extension, a tendril.

              It is that its body is so big that it would wipe out Earth Bet, that is why it is back on a barren version of Earth.

              • So killing Zion would be possible, but it would be like severing a thumb. Irritating but survivable for the rest of the entity.

              • It could refer to how the Animorphs needed Visser 3 to not send in the big guns, because they liked their world intact, plzthx. But very poorly worded, I’ll admit.

      • Possible but it would have to do with the fact that her shard/passenger is the one that allowed Scion to control all the shards that made up its original body and shape them. Remember that Scion crippled it so badly that it was almost destroyed before he set it free:

        When it knows the configuration is absolutely decided, it reaches for the last fragment it will cast off. This one, too, it cripples, even largely destroys, so as to limit the host from using it in the same fashion.

        In a haste to decide matters before it enters the stratosphere of that barren planet, the entity casts it off to a similar location as the future-sight ability. A similar time, thirty-one revolutions from now. The destination is a male, thin, in the company of strong males and females, drinking.

        It was initially meant for Danny but switched to Taylor. If that shard could be repaired imagine what Taylor could do.

    • When Scion goes bad, Endbringers go “good”? I was trying to think along those lines but why would they attack Scion? Cuz he’s messing up the other entity’s cycle? But wasn’t he doing that before with fighting the Endbringers? And they didn’t seem to care about going after him then. Let’s just hope he’s messing with the other entity’s cycle enough that it decides to take him down. Then the wormverse can focus on the fact that this other entity is also working to expend it.

      Also, Scion and the Endbringers are just projections (like Siberian), right? So say you destroy one (like Behemoth), the “maker” (or entities) still exist and can make more. I think it’s more a question of destroying the entity than Scion. And Faultline’s crew can hopefully help with finding the correct world the entities are operating from…..

      I be speculating. Tons. And going off on a tangent. Apologies.

  8. Hm.

    …I have to admit, I’m having some trouble figuring how bug powers can be used against the S-man. On the bright side, though, the guy seems pretty unimaginative — that might be exploitable.

    • To be fair, I can see what Jack means about him being boring and unimaginative.

      I’m especially disappointed that Scion doesn’t have an understanding of evolution if he thinks it applies on the individual level. Plus, just look at him, unconcerned with the continuation of the species. That’s not a predator. That’s a Darwin Award.

              • I cannot tell if you are being purposefully dense or just have started seeing things on so many levels that the obvious no longer registers.

                Or maybe it’s both. That would be /so/ like you.

              • It’s funny in a way too. See, Jack had a dead shard, as described by Scion, so he never really was in tune with his passenger. He was just an asshole, murderous human. Specifically, he’s one that would have died out because evolution tended to favor humans that worked together for the survival of the whole group rather than one who favors his own desires over everyone else’s, at least for a long time. So he’s wrong on many levels.

                Maybe Scion’s just so empty, so unused to feelings as that seemed to be more the other entity’s area, that his simulation of humanity has creeped up on him more than he knows. And so, by being able to connect to the all-powerful asshole human part of Scion, Jack has become the most dangerous person by becoming in tune with the daddy of all passengers.

                So this time, when Jacob wrestled with God, Jacob won, kinda. That, or we’re just getting to the genocidal part where the orders given are to stab pregnant women through the womb and keep the virgins for the men. Or perhaps the implication is that a god can not wrestle with a human without sinking enough into humanity to become vulnerable to it as well.

                Then, to mess with things even more, we have this whole Asherah thing. Good name for the other entity. See, at one point the Jews were polytheistic and Yahweh had himself a wife called Asherah. With the origins of the passengers being an aquatic species, it’s interesting to note that a translation of Asherah’s name and title in Ugaritic means “she who treads on the sea”.

                As for the bit about the jellyfish, that particular species I mentioned has the ability to turn back into polyps by messing with their own cells. And so they become immortal, so long as something doesn’t kill them. Here you have the shard beings who revert to smaller, immature forms that are vulnerable to dying until they grow enough to collect into the thing’s mature form.

                I don’t really see anything wormlike in these entities except that, like a worm, Scion will die without his other half that was cut off (in entity traffic).

                And I wonder if the supposed warrior-protector’s inability to spot the other entity on approach and then refusal to go after it post-collision has any relation to its lack of acknowledgement of the Endbringers even since it has fought the things. Along with Cauldron’s secretive nature and the possibility they’re working with that other entity, makes you wonder if the entity is making use of some stranger powers it has collected to fight the Scion entity.

                Then again, I also wonder why Aiden of all people had a trigger event where he saw the original ocean scene instead of the twin entities like everyone else.

              • Jack’s shard isn’t a dead shard. It’s Scion’s broadcaster shard, that he used for communication. Siberian and Gray Boy have dead shards.

      • Ah, but Scion’s people do evolve as an individual: they get to keep all the old memories of past generations! And the elder generations I think have some sort of link downstream? Eh, whatever.

    • He sees and experience all emotions of hosts, so maybe they can beat him by sharing emotions with him. He mentions he only briefly felt sadness once. So I think we need a emotion controller/projector. I think its time for the new Butcher to come out.

    • The power that Taylor has is not specifically “bug powers”, that is why its descendant shard works on birds. What it is, is the administration power of Scion and what lets him do what he did to the shards originally. That is why both Jack and Scion recognize her as the Queen:

      When it knows the configuration is absolutely decided, it reaches for the last fragment it will cast off. This one, too, it cripples, even largely destroys, so as to limit the host from using it in the same fashion.

      In a haste to decide matters before it enters the stratosphere of that barren planet, the entity casts it off to a similar location as the future-sight ability.

      The entity recognized her shard. The last one that had split off before the entity took on this form.

      Queen.

      “…You could go to Houston or New York, even. That’s far enough away from Jack,” the young female with the administration shard was still speaking, quiet, intense, urging without prodding.

      If her shard was not crippled as it was she could control all the shards. Fix that shard and all villians and heros with Scion shards fall into her control and that might also include the shards that Scion kept that forms his body back on that other Earth.

      • I wasn’t talking about her theoretical future powers — just the tools we’ve seen her use all story. If she finds something more she can do, that’ll change things.

      • This, of course, means that the assumption everyone had when they saw the title of Arc 18 was not as incorrect as it first appeared. Yes, the ‘Queen’ in that chapter was Echidna… or perhaps not!

        (Hm, I wonder if Echidna had the dead — uncrippled! — administrator shard from the counterpart entity? It seems rather unlikely — there are trillions of shards, after all. But it would explain both her powers and the title of the arc as compared to the arc name drop here, and, hey, the odd coincidence makes life go round. If the uncrippled administrator shard does *that* I’m bloody glad Scion crippled it before siccing it on Taylor.)

    • I think making the power useless against the S-man was the entire reason Taylor only has bug powers. Remember that when Echidna cloned her, one clone had rats, and the kid has birds. The unlimited form of Taylor’s power might not have any restriction on what she could control. Even humans.

      Considering that the shard was originally for administration within the entity, it probably would have allowed her to control any other shards within her range. Unlimited, Taylor’s power would probably trump everything that anyone in the story has.

      • It wouldn’t affect Case 53’s or Contessa though. Just Scion’s shards. If the Endbringer’s are from the Counterpart or the rogue worm, they would be immune as well.

        • What her power affects doesn’t include any Scion-shards at all — if we’re hypothesizing about future extensions of her power, that might not be a restriction.

  9. Did anyone else notice that all the arc titles are used in this chapter? That was an exceptional touch.

    So, two arcs left, right? Extermination and Extinction.

    So, Scion, Zion, is going to destroy the world.

    Hm…

    This needs a great deal of processing. I think I love it. It wasn’t what I expected for either Scion’s interlude, the end of the world, or the powers. It feels more like a culmination of everything we’ve seen than a set of shockers. That’s not a bad thing. Everything feels like it makes sense.

    I think this might have been the longest chapter. Took my the longest to read unless I am mistaken.

    Very, very good. It’s hard to imagine just how even Earth Bet could beat the entity.

      • You’re completely right.

        Hm, does this mean a single arc left? Timeline doesn’t seem to fit perfectly, but wildbow always said the endpoint of Worm had error bars in slightly different words, and there easily could be a secret ending arc title that was hidden in the chapter.

        • There should be 3 arcs left at a minimum. More/less depending on what the story calls for, and then a fair number of epilogues, for any characters that actually make it through (this is how I intend to finish off the donation interludes – one epilogue chapter per donation chapter left in the queue).

              • You heard the man. Donate! Donate! doughnuts… for something to eat whilst donating…

              • How could holding beloved characters hostage for monetary gain possibly be seen as crass?

                More seriously this statement implies that people are inevitable going to survive the end of the world. Actually, I think this has been said since we heard about it from Dinah, so probably not a huge spoiler. The uncertain part is if it’s 99% of everyone is dead or 30% fatalities IIRC.

              • I like the way Wyldcard4 puts it. XD

                On another, more depressing note, I wonder who would live if you had finished up ALL of your interludes a while ago.

            • It’d be terrible, but I kinda wish there would only be enough for one chapter. That’d make for a hell of a scene. Maybe a “What If?”… Nah, those usually suck.

          • I’d ask if they were hidden in the chapter we just read, but yeah, that’s not something I would answer if I were in your position.

            • I want Taylor to survive obviously. But I suspect that if she does it’ll be in a “ascended to a higher plain of existance” style.

              So Foil and Parian? Too bad I have problems with Paypal.

              • Foil and Parian have already had interludes. I suspect anyone who has had an interlude will be beyond saving.

                So, um, basically down to Assault, Eidolon, Contessa, Doctor Mother, and some members of the Chicago Wards? Um, perhaps Uber and Leet. Some of them are going to get interludes before this is over.

            • “Plz to not gratuitously slaughter 90% of all named characters.”
              Agreed. Hmn, maybe I can see if I can get a buddy of mine who uses Paypal to donate. That might work.

  10. It was never the shards that were causing conflict. They simply took advantage of the conflict that was already there.

    Fuck it all.

    • Her’s is also the Queen. I somehow doubt that is just her commanding insects. Here’s my WMG. Taylor is going to pull Shards into hers, to create a new entity that can stop Scion. This will kill the capes who’s shards she takes. The ones left are those with dead or damages shards. Taylor will end the series having ascended to a higher plane of existence.

      • In away I agree. You can see by what Scion said about the shard when he crippled it that it has the ability when whole to control all the other shards he sent out into the world.

      • Why would she need to pull Shards into her to stop Scion in this case? She should be able to just control Scion and all his shards…

  11. In greater detail.

    This is the art of truly good writing. Where the end result was not something that anybody really guessed, yet everything fits perfectly.

    I love just how… beautiful, how simple, all of these little things are. The evolution of powers being a definitive result of increased strife and conflict, maturing, creating new powers among those around them, and growing more powerful as they mature. The cut off, blinded broadcast shard being enough to let Jack ride a group of deadly killers for years.

    I don’t think Cauldron killed the counterpart. I think they found her already dead. But I cannot be certain, admittedly. Who knows? The nature of the

    I find it interesting. Scion worked, for years, seeking the pleasure, the happiness, that came from doing good things for others, but ultimately, he only started to feel something from that human template when he destroyed. When he lashed out. He was hurt, and he was alone, and his mate had sacrificed herself and had died and he didn’t have someone there to guide him. He would die, alone, on this brick of a planet, and how can you feel good when that’s happening, knowing that three thousand repetitions of life have now come to an end because of a simple mistake that you can’t do anything about.

    God.

      • He looked disgusted at Eidolon.

        Huh…Ha!

        Scion’s shards grow more powerful from conflict. That’s how they learn and all that.

        These other ones grow weaker. There’s at least one entity who figured out something akin to more true symbiosis.

        • That makes sense. Scion was the warrior and the counterpart was the thinker. Scion’s shards get power from conflict, Cauldron capes are more powerful when they…reason?

        • Oh, *right*! That’s what being dead gets you!

          Living shards learn and grow with use, drawing power from their barren Earths and accumulating knowledge. Dead ones just… wear out, run down, crumble into dust scattered over their barren Earths. One can presume therefore that the component of shards that allows them to give humans superpowers is not actually alive, just some sort of non-biological component which works even when the shard is dead. (They also cannot connect: Cauldron’s formulae are reaching out to dead shards scattered on parallel earths and connecting *to* them rather than vice versa.)

  12. Okay, I reread the chapter again and I’m still confused. What the hell do the Endbringers have to do with everything? I assume Cauldron is connected to Scion’s partner in some way as well but how?

      • I thought so too. But then Scion says that Contessa’s shard is not one of his and neither one of the dead ones, so the other non-twinned entity seems the obvious choice.

        Crack theory: Contessa is an Endbringer in human form.

    • My guess is that they are the “vital” pieces of the dead entity. The quote which gave Scion his instructions didn’t include any mention of fighting Endbringers, right?

      That might also explain where Cauldron is getting their samples from. They just harvest pieces from the Endbringers.

    • Marvel, Ultimate Marvel, and DC are ones I know of for sure.

      I mean, think about it. They destroy the world and also spread to alternate versions of that world when the conflict becomes bad enough. Sound anything like Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis, and the Flashpoint Reboot, where we continue on in a slightly different version of the world that is explained as having been retconned?

    • Well, it’s not the Kings Man. Working theory is Cauldron from the’re pocket dimension, the Thanda since their used to hiding, whoever Weaver ands up as and Faultlines crew. The Yangbang seem to be a big deal world wise, but I can’t see them doing anything against Scion.

  13. So this leaves:
    Endbringers as a mystery.
    Cauldron as a mystery.

    Damn good chapter, what a shocker. Scion is so much scarier than any of the Endbringers. Literally nothing has ever damaged or even delayed him, so this will be a game of run away and persuasion.

  14. Well bugger, given that Scion can perceive all the alternate realities, even evacuation to a parallel universe might not get them far enough away.

    • It seems (from the Number Man interlude) that Cauldron absconded with the corpse of the other Entity. Or at least that seems to be the going theory.

  15. Wow, Jack managed to clutch it out. Ironically, the horrific eternal torment that people were clamoring for ended up giving him the chance to turn it into a pyrrhic victory.

  16. I just realized that this would have happened anyway at some point. Dinah confirmed that if Jack had been killed, then it would have happened anyway at a later date. Scion does good deeds for a long time, doesn’t find any purpose or reward, and just decides to kill em all.

    • Yep. Jack was a possible catalyst because Jack’s shard was interesting to Scion and Jack was the right kind of evil to put murdery thoughts in Scion’s metaphorical head.

      What makes Dinah’s predictions particularly interesting, however, is that there are always survivors of the end-of-the-world scenario. Which implies to me that Scion will have a later revelation and stop.

      • Jack’s shard was explicitly one having to do with transmitting and communicating between entities. That explains how he could talk to Scion, and presumably how he manipulated people in general. It also explains how he only had one power. Wildbow said they all only have one power.

        And the thing where Foil damages something in all possible realities explains how she killed Grey Boy too, incidentally.

          • They clearly don’t all have one power. Murder Rat has loads, right? Plus Alexandria, Glory Girl, all those required secondary powers…
            I doubt you said it.

            • I think it’s more accurate to say the Shards have one purpose, and the powers a parahuman gets are related to that purpsose.

            • Murder Rat was a mix of two different people. Mouse Protector had her mouse holes, Ravager had her wound worsening. Just like Hack Job was two people joined together surgically.

              • Mouse Protector was however a “kitchen sink” cape, as Taylor puts it, not unlike Circus or Watch who had a slew of completely unrelated powers. And since you mentioned Hackjob, Hatchet Face was a high-end Trump and Brute both.

              • You can have a power that gets applied different ways. Someone was even saying Circus’s power had to do with just the hammerspace, like keeping something in there for the fire and just knowing how to handle knives and tightrope walking. With this update, I’d say it had more to do with a higher perception of physical space that comes with the hammerspace.

                And part of the power classification system is in how you use the power as well. You can have 15 different methods of telekinesis all classified differently because one guy uses his power to lift swords and fight people like that, while someone else puts on a baseball uniform and chucks baseballs at people with his power.

                Taylor didn’t gain any extra power when she was classified a Thinker, she just learned new ways to use her power to gain more information about the battlefield.

              • You’re right most of the times capes with multiple classifications are simply using the requisite secondary powers of their main power, like Taylor being Master and Thinker. Hatchet Face, however, had both Power Nullifying and ridiculous amounts of superstrength and super-endurance. Those are clearly different powers.

                And while I can accept that explanation for Circus, Watch had telescopic/x-ray/360 degrees vision AND super speed AND intangible hands. Those powers have nothing to with each other.

              • I’m pretty sure that Murder Rat had improved agility as well. There are definitely multiple powers, but presumably all given by the same shard. Siberian, Hatchet Face, Alexandria, Legend, Glory Girl, and plenty more, and then there’s powers like chuckles, who seems to have sped up perception and ability to move at super speed and immunity to the friction that would kill him. Sometimes it’s probably part of the same power, but not all the time. I think a shard can definitely give multiple powers if it suits its purpose.
                Forgive me for using Cauldron (dead shard) capes, but Eidolon is the perfect example. Unless he’s attached to hundreds of shards somehow (unlikely) he’s got a shard that is capable of giving him two or three powers at once, of a very large selection. It’s all part of his one power, but at the same time it’s multiple powers in one. That’s probably what others have, in a more limited form. One shard that gives them multiple powers.

              • Shards aren’t powers it’s handing out. There more like organs. Parts. So a shard can give two wildly different powers due to both being needed for it’s function, in some way.

          • As it stands, Wildbow, I’m not looking through all those comments. And while you’re slightly more likely to troll me than other commenters, I’ll take your word for it. Mainly because I don’t try to argue with the Word of God.

            And I’m making this clear now because I saw below how you get annoyed at people putting words in your mouth. I’ll have you know that I would never put anything in your mouth that you don’t want there. Innuendo, on the other hand…

          • The speculation (!) from some characters was that the *Endbringers* all have only one power. That’s not the same thing at all!

    • Wait, though. Didn’t Dinah say that if Jack leaves Brockton Bay there’s a big chance the world ends soon, even if you catch and kill him in the next town over? How would this have still gone down if Jack were dead?

  17. Some thoughts on Mannequin and the Worms.

    There is no suggestion that what the Worms did was entirely hostile. It was parasitic, in some ways- But things like the Tinkers, the introduction of all of these new concepts, they could evolve a species, a planet, its societies, in ways that can be beneficial, and certainly could let them survive and thrive after the powers are removed and the planet destroyed; Remember, we were talking about three hundred years that they’d be on the planet before it was destroyed.

    I’m not saying it was good- The beneficial results to the host are hard to compare to the whole screw-you effect of blowing up the planet and jetting with your belly fat on energy. The Worms were always a ravenous species, more blessed with power than with philosophical thought; All they could do was think of how to best spread and expand as much as possible, despite transcendance. But it wasn’t hostile. And they didn’t want to wipe out the species, at least, not before they moved on.

    They were unimaginative. They were methodical, and they were vastly powerful, and as we’ve seen that is never enough to defeat Taylor, but they were always unimaginative. Their solution to feeding frenzies gradually depleting their realities was to destroy their planet and spread spores across the universe to repeat the process on other worlds for all of time; Not exactly brilliant thinking there.

    But at least they had a balance. Without that balance, Scion is lost. It is a powerful warrior and fighter without any guidance. It latched on to any guidance that was given to it that promised something better than what it had.

    Sphere did good. He wanted to save the world. He could’ve helped humanity survive past the destruction of the earth. Then something happened, something beyond his control, he lost the ones he loved, and he decided to fuck ti all.

    Because that’s what humans do. When a human’s reasons for living are taken away, then they lash out. And Scion always built himself on the psychology of a human; A simulation, but when your real life has absolutely no purpose, wouldn’t you take any simulation you can get? And so, he lashes out at the world, and destroys things.

    So who can give him a purpose? Who can recreate his mate?

    Cauldron. They know more than most likely do about these things. Tattletale’s reaction explains an astounding amount- The block, much like the one Imp had, implanted in every cape, blocking out their awareness of these things. Fascinating stuff, though clearly surmountable. But Cauldron definitely knows these things; Gray Boy, and Siberian, both known Cauldron users, possessed dead shards. And it seems that in the wrong body, dead or damaged shards can create Endbringers- As with Noelle, as with the Endbringers themselves.

    God. What a world.

    • No, endbringers are still mysteries. Noelle wasn’t a real endbringer, or even a real nascent endbringer. Endvbringers were never human. And, this is why I love worm. My everything is blown. not just my mind, my everything.
      -Zeta

    • I think that the Worms (as it seems we shall call them) thought of a suprisingly human solution. Sure, we plan tobreak our planet down for spaceship material once we’ve finished with it, but its pretty much the same idea.

      • Who’s we, you got a mouse in your pocket? The break the earth down for material is one bit of highly speculative science. There is also leaving it alone to recover and give other lifeforms a chance.

  18. and tattletale gets scaryiest utterance so far with “Oh balls.”

    also, Moord Nag, scarier
    also, Glasitig, scarier

    Hmm, time to open the birdcage for everyone vs Scion then?

  19. This is probably the most beautifully written chapter of Worm. In a lyrical sort of way. Which makes sense. I liked the interpolation of the Arcs titles.

    So, I was almost right in my theory about the passengers (should we call them shards, now?). They are indeed parasites trying to reproduce but thanks to the counterpart’s death, this isn’t possible anymore. Sion isn’t autistic: he simply didn’t have a purpose after his species couldn’t reproduce anymore and Norton gave him one. And then Jack used this need for a purpose against him, appealing to the Human Are Bastards school of thought. Damn you Jack.

    Cauldron, seems to be harvesting powers from the dead counterpart but at least Contessa seems to get her powers from the other entity, the one that appeared out of nowhere and wounded the counterpart. At least I think so. I’d like to say that this other entity is the source of the Endbringers, but it doesn’t really fit.

    Speaking of Cauldron, did you notice the recruitment of those Harbingers in the background. Because one Number Man apparently isn’t enough.

    Oh, and with Scion on a rampage I think it’s more obvious than ever that whatever Amy discovered on the passengers/agents/shards is the world’s only hope.

    • Damn stupid no-editing post.

      Just noticed something: Scion’s lifespan is 3600 years. Wasn’t that the time it would take for the fairies to rise, according to Glaistig. Except of course we now know they’ll never rise because the counterpart is DEAAAAAAAAD.

      • I thought it was implied the Sundering would happen much earlier than that, that the 3600 years was just a maximum time it could keep itself alive if it didn’t use up energy.

        • If I’m remembering correctly, Glaistig Uaine said that the “faeries would rise” in 300 years, and in this chapter it said 331 years before the shards would reach critical mass.

        • I’m thinking that Glaistic Uaine got the main body of the dead worm, or the part that is supposed to gather all the bits together at the end.

  20. I was going to post a IT’S HERE ーーー( ゚∀゚)ーーー!!!!!! when I first started reading this, then post something about the Queen shard going to Taylor’s dad, but now, now all I can just say

    holy fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck FUCK

    Also will we ever learn about Cauldron and the Endbringers? A Scion interlude and those things are kept hidden. Sheesh.

    • Ok, let’s see. Dinah’s prediction that the world will end has always been about Scion going nuts — Jack is just the “two years” catalyst, while the other times “fifteen years” etc. are when Scion itself goes nuts from frustration.

      No one is going to trigger to become Anti-Scion, because that kind of power is reserved for the entities. The Counterpart is dead, but what about the lesser one that had gone through a different evolution? Maybe that one is the creator of the Endbringers? Could it create an Anti-Scion to save the world it preys on?

      • I think the Endbringers could kill Zion. He then comes back, even more pissed off. This continues, distracting Zion and delaying the end of the world long enough for Weaver, Caulron and anyone else to think of a plan to kill the entity.
        This is assuming that Cauldron killed the counterpart, but I think that that’s a reasonable assumption.

  21. My current theory is there’s another ”Worm” behind Endbringers and Cauldron (Doctor could be Scion equivalent, partner or pawn). It’s not as strong, so it’s doing things in sneaky way. Cauldron formula corrupting Shards, Endbringers killing them. The fact that Contessa’s power is imbalanced can be because this ”Worm” specifically made it this way. The endgame is to have Scion kill hosts of its own Shards, which means they’d stop growing and reproducing. Scion wastes energy, turns it’s own Shards against himself and gets killed. The competing parasite is driven out and all the Earths are free to be feasted upon.

    Of course the fact that Scion fought Endbringers makes me wonder, how he didn’t consider such scenario, so maybe it’s not that plausible. Then again he saw a foreign Shard and had zero interest in following after it to investigate.

    • This… is a very interesting thought. A parasitic life-form. It approaches one of the Warrior-Thinker pairs, wounds the thinker with an unfair exchange, then lurks, and feeds off the alone and unimaginative Warrior… This is a really interesting concept.

      • A parasite feeding on parasites. I think Thinker was targeted also because it was weakened and didn’t have strength to defend itself properly.

        My other theory is that advanced civilization that expelled the Worms – they could have studied and adapted the Shards- bred their own controlled ”Worms”. But I still favor the first one.

        Also – when Scion met Eidolon the emotions were probably directed at his Shard. Eidolon is losing power, because his Shard is Dead/Damaged.

        • That advanced civilization’s planet was still blown up. (But maybe they’d got off it before then.)

          I’m tempted to go with the parasite feeding on parasites theory though. It has the ring of plausibility without being hackneyed.

  22. First of all, for the land of Kevin Norton’s Birth… RIP

    (Barring a Doctor showing up in a Blue Box and making everything awesome again, of course)

    And then…

    For all those who feel that this is a horrible thing…

    • oh did those feet in ancient in times
      crush down england’s mountains green
      and was the burning light of god
      seen from the shores of normandy

      and did the resentment divine
      shine upon their clouded hills??
      and was Jerusalem burned down
      among these dark satanic mills

          • Greetings from beyond the grave fellow readers! We always were a marine nation (or three) and once more we led the world, damned shame it was into oblivion.

            and my fianl words on this matter are *Glug* Glug* Glug*

            • Truely it is an honour to be the first to feel Zion’s presence in a very real and very terrifying way.
              On the plus side, us Brits now have no reason to care about the world’s fate, so I plan to just sit back and casually watch the world burn. Bring on the Endbringers vs Zion, and hope France gets in the way! (Notthat I’ve got anything against the French, but if they out last Britain by more than a few days the gloating would be embarrassing.

              • we do indeed have something against the French.. we call it the English Channel….. albeit a tad enlarged now. ((jk, vive la difference)

    • Let us mourn the destruction of stiff upper lips, the royal family, Big Ben, St George’s Day Parades, oh and of course, pretty much everyone that I’ve ever met.
      (This Briton doesn’t go abroad a lot.)

      I really hope that the disposable country trope is averted or subverted, but I can understand that if Scion continues like this we’re talking about the loss of entire continents, so one country may not seem too important.

  23. Well, this seems as good of a place to start commenting as any.

    Well gosh.

    There, those are my thoughts on the subject. Please continue.

    • Reminds me of this one giant snake demon thingy that was the mayor of a town.

      Well, Bolt the dog, you’ve just joined the ranks of a very animated group of commenters and commentators and so on and so forth. I often show my appreciation for the commentation station with words meant to cause elation and even prostration. Might want to get your prostration checked, by the way. Can never be too careful.

      Now that you’re commenting, keep it up. Don’t like all the discussions of who got what power juice? Start your own discussion. With blackjack! And hookers!

      Specifically, I’d say now’s a good time for people in the Wormverse to shift their money into casinos and brothels. End of the world’s coming up, good time to take chances, people are going to go wild here.

      Then again, it may be worthless to even play the stock market with the end of the world coming up, so I expect a lot of stocks to tank. No word yet on if stocks can handle that kind of aggro and DPS.

      Welcome, laconic LupineVolt, to the comments section.

  24. On the plus side for Aidan, when he grows up and with a little training, he can make any superhero battle look like its directed by John Woo.

  25. First off: not at all what I was expecting from Scion or the source of powers. At all. Goddamn.

    Second: Holy shit, everything makes sense now. Cauldron is mining the dead Worm for shards/powers; meanwhile, the one that killed the thinker member of this pair is making the Endbringers and giving Contessa her power (which was described as a living shard that wasn’t from the Zionworm) in an attempt to hijack this pair’s evolutionary cycle. It’s a war between cosmic beings playing out in Earth’s living room.

    Fuck.

  26. So cauldron IS the good guy, trying to take over the role of the Worm that was killed by the smaller one they ran into and all. I assume that one is causing the endbringers, which would put a source to their design.

    And with contessa, my guess is she got powers from the entity that caused the endbringers, unless the other one in the warrior/thinker pair is (or was) still actually slightly alive.

    Also, I would bet (a lot) that Jack’s absurd persuasiveness is linked to the fact that he got the shard responsible for transmission of ideas.

    Good news is tattletale figured it out, bad news is pretty obvious…

  27. … Huh.

    Huh.

    Thoughts
    – At no point does Scion/Zion/Passenger Zero ever mention the Endbringers. It’s as if he has an agnosia as to their existence that doesn’t impede his ability to fight them.
    – Jack’s power is crap because the shard is crap. Or crip, as it were. On the other side of the mirror however, he is untouchable because his shard responds to the attacks of other shards like a like magnet responds to a like magnet and this manifests as him always being a step ahead, tactically and socially. Theo is a goddamn genius.
    – Cauldron capes are the bearers of the dead shards. No second triggers, no growth. Eidolon is a particularly potent one, is all.
    – they saved the world by killing Counterpart … or so they think
    – guess we now know why New Wave all have close iterations of the same power; they lived together
    – Doctor Mother is either a creature similar to Scion but better adapted to human-level socialization OR a creature from an enemy species that seeks their annihilation.
    – Contessa’s shard isn’t one of his and isn’t dead either. She’s not a Cauldron cape (we already knew Number Man wasn’t either.) Perhaps Doctor Mother triggered her personally?

    Questions
    – why is there a Stranger effect on the drawing of the trigger event?
    – the girl and her father earlier on, they are the first Strangers? The real first paras who no one knows about because they are Strangers? They certainly predate Scion’s first appearance.
    – Danny Hebert is a parahuman after all? He got a shard so critical that Passenger Zero had to cripple it first and Wildbow couldn’t tell us what it does :p ? Then we need to find someone who can repair broken shards.
    – he got his shard roughly the same time Dinah got her powers? Connection?

    • The drawing had the same effect actual trigger vent have. The entities put that safeguard so that the hosts couldn’t turn against them.

      Danny’s shard went to Taylor. While the entities planned where the shards would go they allowed them to switch hosts if they felt a a stronger emotional output in the vicinity.

    • > – At no point does Scion/Zion/Passenger Zero ever
      > mention the Endbringers. It’s as if he has an
      > agnosia as to their existence that doesn’t impede his
      > ability to fight them.

      Either that or Wildbow is being coy. It’s not like we saw a scene where Scion *should* have been thinking about Endbringers—it’s possible that there’s something Scion would have mentioned there that would have been too early a revelation.

      I’m assuming they’re either key to the resolution of this story, or they really genuinely are a different puzzle and Wildbow is saving them for a sequel.

      > – Cauldron capes are the bearers of the dead shards.
      > No second triggers, no growth. Eidolon is a particularly
      > potent one, is all.

      Makes sense.

      > – they saved the world by killing Counterpart … or so
      > they think

      Either Counterpart or the third entity. But yeah, probably Counterpart, which means they probably *are* the third entity in some respect.

      > – Doctor Mother is either a creature similar to
      > Scion but better adapted to human-level
      > socialization OR a creature from an enemy
      > species that seeks their annihilation.

      That seems pretty plausible.

      > – Contessa’s shard isn’t one of his and isn’t
      > dead either. She’s not a Cauldron
      > cape (we already knew Number Man wasn’t
      > either.) Perhaps Doctor Mother triggered
      > her personally?

      It’s interesting that she went loopy when Lung triggered, although I guess the third entity has access to shards straight from the Counterpart. But I wonder which kind of shard Lung has.

      > – why is there a Stranger effect on the drawing
      > of the trigger event?

      I’m pretty sure that’s just a combination of Tattletale’s shard being partially crippled to prevent her from knowing too much about the entities, and parahumans in general being altered to keep them from remembering too much about the entities.

      > – the girl and her father earlier on, they are
      > the first Strangers? The real first paras
      > who no one knows about because they are
      > Strangers? They certainly predate Scion’s
      > first appearance.

      I was wondering whether that was precognition/simulation or something that actually happened at that time.

      > – Danny Hebert is a parahuman after all?
      > He got a shard so critical that Passenger
      > Zero had to cripple it first and Wildbow
      > couldn’t tell us what it does :p ?

      You’re figuring that Danny was the one who got the Queen shard originally, or is this something else? I’m a little confused by the father-daughter jumps the shards are supposedly taking.

      > Then we need to find someone who can
      > repair broken shards.

      Yeah, this would be good.

          • Up until now, opening the Birdcage? Hell no. Not worth it, no matter how bad things get.

            Now? It seems like the least of our concerns. Like, okay, let’s get some of our handguns and pistols out of the containment they were in for being broken, and maybe one of them will make a scratch on this titanium coated nuclear warhead.

            So, time to bring the the big guns, Panacea, out.

            • @ Dinstow, you also seem to have forgotten Bonesaw. If anything can make the Protectorate press her into use I would say this it

              • >Also, Glastig … if anyone speaks crazyfaeriegobbledegook well enough to persuade her to do so.<

                Unless the Faerie Queen decided that she much prefers to dance in the sky with the Faerie King instead of fighting him.

  28. Wow, sure is getting Jack Kirby around here. I bet Galactus is all like “give them powers and let them kill eachother first? DAMMIT! Why didn’t I think of that?!”

    And Scion. Zion, whatever. About experimenting… don’t you think there’s a bit of a middle ground between trying new things and killing everyone? I mean, if you were a college kid you’d end up overdosed naked face down in a toilet before frosh week was over.

    Well, now I guess things are going to be less about fighting, and more about minimizing the damage while they try to get Scion to calm the fuck down. And now the worlds most sophisticated evacuation resource is cripple, great!

    • Actually there was a great story written By Stan Lee and drawn by the great late Moebius, called Parable, where Galactus arrived to Earth but since he had promised to not destroy it, and Galactus’s word is law, he simply claimed to be God and told humanity to do whatever they wished. The predictable happens. Silver Surfer even calls him on this ridiculous loophole abusing

  29. Oh well, I don’t really know what to say. I guess I will have to reread this chapter a few times, reread the arc and possibly the entire story in lights of this revelation to make sense.

    This was probably one of the best chapters yet.

    I have one minor nitpick though:

    The explanation about how the Tinker abilities work does nor quite make sense. I guess they could pick up things like anti-gravity and programming AIs from other worlds they have visited before, but this wouldn’t really work for Tinker abilities specifically designed to work on human/earth biology.

    Unless the entities previously visited a world inhabited by humans they could not have picked up info specific to humans before coming to earth.

    It is a bit of a letdown that in a chapter with aliens as alien as the entities, somehow the standard start-trek expectation that the universe is full of carbon-based lifeforms that are just humans with different forehead wrinkles is implied.

    Maybe it would have been better to state that the info for the bio-tinkers like bonesaw came from the entity observing humans or something…

    • It did mention that some of the tinker shards used scans—

      “For others, there is no easy way to apply the contained knowledge, so they are coded to draw from the host’s recollection and awareness, or to search the entire planet for details and information on what it might be able to do.”

      —instead of pre-coded knowledge. That read more like an explanation for thinkers, but I suspect it’d cover bio-tinkers too.

      • Also, sufficiently advanced biotechnology would be applicable to most forms of life. The shard just translates the general ideas into specific ones applicable to humans/dogs/plants (looking at you, Blasto) and discards or withholds the non-relevant data.

        I like the idea that every tinker out there with a different specialty may represent the culmination of an entire world’s technological development. That’s pretty heavy. Also, says some interesting things about said worlds. Like Chariot. Their technology was focused on… going fast. Versus Dragon’s creator, whose precursors were given to creating new minds, new beings, through ingenuity alone.

        Also, this may explain how Dragon had powers. If artificial links to a shard can be formed, like the S9000 clones being artifically linked all to one shard, and new shards can be spawned, like second-gen capes and Aidan, then she could have either inherited her creator’s shard or been invested with a child of it.

    • Um, it sounds to me (given the one alien species whose biology is described at all) like they have experienced/examined/messed with thousands or millions of wildly-distinct biologies. Given that, wouldn’t it be almost a non-issue to understand earth/human biologies in light of all their experiences and analyses with/of various biologies/ecologies?

    • The Litany of Fuck has become a refrain as a response to new chapters of the Book of Worm, but this… this is it. This is the thing. The revelation. And it merits a “Fuuuuuuuck” at no less than three distinct points. I will have to reread this chapter at least twice more before I’m satisfied that I’ve absorbed it properly, something I’ve never done with a previous chapter and almost never do when reading at all.

      One of their paired entities is dead: Fuck.
      Scion is the surviving entity: Fuck.
      Tattletale found her way around the memory block: Fuuuuck.
      The words that end the world were meant for Scion: Ohhhhh fuck.
      Taylor’s passenger spawned a lesser passenger, like those granted to second-generation capes, and it landed in one of her foster kids: What the fuck?
      Jack’s “other power” is basically what everyone guessed in the comments on thursday: A little disappointing, but appropriate. The fact that his shard used to be Scion’s “speech center” is a cool twist.

      And that’s just the surface-level stuff. Oddly, Scion blowing up Great Britain and northern France didn’t really elicit much of a response. That oh fuck moment happened when I realized that Jack was talking to him and THAT was the end of the world. Underneath all this is the storytelling complexity and success, the inhuman, yet ultimately relatable perspective and accompanying tone and language use, and the questions that still linger.

      Who has dead shards versus live ones? Gray Boy’s and Manton’s were apparently dead, and they “gravitated” toward Jack, possibly because they were part of the other entity and Jack’s shard was designed to talk to them. Do we know who Scion healed in that first contact? Who he became? No other individuals were mentioned as having dead shards.

      What’s the deal with Contessa? She’s puzzling to an “omniscient” being. Is she the only Cauldron cape there? He’s seen Cauldron capes before; he fought alongside the Triumvirate dozens of times. So she’s not just that, though…

      How does Cauldron make capes? They’re not /creating/ epochs-old shards of power and information, certainly. They could be harvesting the dead/damaged shards that miss their mark or intercepting Scion’s shards before they reach their intended destinations. Recycling the shards of dead capes? That’d explain why they could provide dead capes for Moord Nag or the faerie lady so easily compared to large numbers of non-capes; they already have infrastructure in place for it. Connecting multiple people to the same shard is clearly possible, but results in the same powers every time that we’ve seen, so it’s probably not that. If they’re using shards of the third entity, then you’d think Scion would’ve been puzzled by them for the same reasons it’s puzzled by Contessa; they’re living shards, but not his. Contessa, on the other hand, could clearly have one of Entity 3’s shards, which raises the question of who else does. It also gives a tidy explanation for why her ability tells her not to fight Endbringers, if they’re manifestations of Entity 3 (see below).

      What the fuck are the Endbringers? Scion doesn’t seem to think they’re worth even thinking about, despite the fact that they’re clearly threatening the viability of the shards’ hosts. My leading theories are that they’re either a normal part of the cycle, created by Scion to sow more conflict and provide a richer environment for the shards to grow, or they’re the work of the third entity that passed by and damaged the counterpart. If they’re manifestations of that third entity, that’d fit well with what we know of them, but it doesn’t fit well with what we know of Scion; why doesn’t he mention that he has something resembling a peer here? A less evolved life-form, clearly, but still far closer to him than the humans he’s hanging around with.

      So… no, I don’t think you have anything to fear, Wildbow. This chapter is a great success and leaves us wondering and worrying and /fearing/ on an even bigger scale. You continue to escalate things beautifully.

      • That wasn’t actually meant to be a reply to Loki-L; it was meant to be a stand-alone comment, but… take it for what you will.

      • I’m pretty sure Cauldron capes are created by harnessing the shards of Scion’s counterpart.Hence Scion being disgusted with Eidolon. Both Gray Boy and Siberian had dead shards and we know that they are Cauldron capes. Contessa is a mystery.

        • Oh, we do know that about Gray Boy, don’t we. Are we entirely sure that’s how Manton got his powers, though? It was a guess for a long time, given that he worked there, but there was also the traumatic event with his daughter that could’ve been a trigger event.

          Also, we know that not all of the dead shards are Cauldron capes, unless Cauldron existed prior to the first sighting of Scion. The guy on the boat had cancer, too, which Cauldron’s elixir usually clears up.

          Still, it’s a pretty good chance that the standard Cauldron MO involves harnessing those dead shards somehow and bottling them.

          Raises an interesting question re: Noelle and Oliver, though. A whole bunch of questions, really. And Doctor Mother’s admonition to drink the entire thing. You would think drinking less of it would just give you a weaker link to the shard, but Noelle’s link certainly wasn’t weak, while Oliver’s probably is. Curious.

          • Manton: Didn’t Doctor Mother specifically state in one of the interludes (Legend’s or Alexandria’s, i think?) that Manton had stolen a really powerful/expensive elixir right before he ran off (and started doing the siberian thing) and after he’d tried giving an elixir to his daughter?

            Noelle/Oliver: Wasn’t something mentioned about one part of the elixir having to do with controlling/moderating the effects of the bonding with the host (lessening the chances of becoming a blatant case 53) and another part had more to do with the strength of the power, and that Noelle got more of the latter and less of the former in the part that she drank (uneven mixing?) and Oliver vice versa?

            • Re: Manton. Yup, just checked. Doctor Mother explicitly tells Alexandria that he took the Deus formula, the same Genesis of the Travelers took, but with practically no balance to dilute it.

            • The part about Noelle getting more strengthening agent and Oliver getting more balancing agent is purely fan theory, though. Even if a character threw out the idea in the story, nobody but Lisa could actually know that. And it still doesn’t explain why Noelle turned into a quasi-Endbringer and Manton, who had a virtually identical serum, “only” got incredibly broken world-of-cardboard powers.

              • Oh wait, nm. Same serum as Genesis, not Noelle. Fine… she can have Endbringer powers. It’s clear that the only reason the powers are in any way “balanced” is because the entities put artificial caps on the power the shards can grant.

          • I have the feeling that the elixirs probably contain things that the shards use as homing signals to attach to a host- bonesaw’s interlude showed that there were multiple ways that the shards tracked and reattached to hosts and to control HOW the shard influences them(attaching too soon in the clone’s development, for instance, ruining the host’s implanted personality).

            I imagine that it isn’t something like ‘drink x amount of this material’ so much as, ‘we crammed all the discrete markers we could into a test tube, so drink them all because you can’t tell what will be left out.’

  30. Test shard for the memory block: due to activate any time now (anyone trigger recently that’s important to the story?)
    First test shard for bonding to host: Unknown female Stranger that was one of the first to trigger (unless that was a prescient vision?)

    Taylor’s power may not just be administration, but specifically administration linked to precog shards.

    It’s interesting that a lot of the last few shards got directed to Brockton Bay, 31 years in, but Jack’s power was in between Taylor, Dinah, and (presumably) Danny’s and wound up going somewhere else much earlier.

    It it possible now to start establishing a meaningful distinction between the Cauldron Born’s powers and the natural triggers? Theoretically, the Cauldron powers should all be from the thinker, which should have a different tone than the ones from Zion.

    Cauldron powers /can/ bond naturally, but may seek out dying hosts due to the similarity (the one Zion notes has cancer). Are there any triggered capes that we know of that got their powers while dying of something not conflict-based? Do naturally-bonded dead shards behave differently than Cauldron-administered ones?

    • I could be wrong but I strongly suspect/believe the dead shards ARE Cauldron-administered by definition. The crippled shards on the other hand are the ones ‘Scion’ had to discard but couldn’t risk handing off to some random human at full power; too much chance of them being used against ‘him’.

      • The Zion over the boat bit seems to indicate that the dead/damaged shard he found in the guy with cancer was one of the ones from his partner. Presumably he only destroyed the vital ones.

        Though I guess it’s still possible that the guy on the boat was a very early Cauldron experiment that didn’t take; they did like to target the sick early on.

        That guy got powers, right? Assumed to be from contact with Zion, but now known to be just Zion interacting with an already sharded host. Do we know anything more about him than a brief mention?

  31. Oh, Wildbow, the feels! Due to the magic of timezones you have saved my Friday night. A horrible day turned into a night of wonder and beauty.

    Also, my last comment was right, so very right in all the wrong ways. Scion is a vessel, an avatar. He is the Goblin King. He is Siberian.

    Also, unless I miss my mark, Jack somehow ended up with the closest approximation to telepathy that we have seen. Did not see that coming.

    Weaver/Administrator….oh. Oh! I’ll stay quiet about what I think of that, but the anticipation is delicious. Also, Aidan is her Mini Me, huh.

    Grue apparently pulled a Spider Man and gave birth to himself, unless I miss my mark. You probably won’t answer, for now, but am I thinking along the same lines? Second trigger events are fragmentation, I think that was the word you used? Which would mean that Weaver has in fact had a second trigger event, resulting in the shard that occupies Aidan and exchanging information with it resulting in some flaws being reduced and some strengths being increased. Grue had a second trigger event and fragmented but retained the shard for himself, resulting in an amalgamation of himself. There’s a dick joke in there somewhere.

    If I am correct, which I’m probably not, it means that the Wheel in the Sky keeps on turning, I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow, I can’t take this very much longer.

    If I am right, the Cycle is still continuing, but on such a scale that it scarcely seems to be happening. Scion is using a telescope to look at cellular activity, he can’t see the amoeba for it’s electrons.

    Second and third generation capes being more likely to inheret powers, especially those related to their parents, that’s fragmentation, change. Growth. Reproduction.

    Look at Kaiser, he was powerful, yes, but limited in his focus and capabilities. Golem’s potential makes Kaiser’s look laughable.
    Same with Marquis and Panacea, and even Nilbog, similar abilities, biogenesis or whatever the term would be, but Panacea also has bio-perception. Let’s see Marquis try even half the things they can do.

    Grue, and Weaver, and Jack, oh my! I’m sitting here with a rictis grin thinking of the possibilities of that one. It could make for the most epic of “Come at me bro!” moments.

    You’re my hero, Wildbow. I want to meet you and shake your hand and say, “I read your book you magnificent bastard.”

    • Well, let’s hope I make it big and get some merchandise going, and I can do some Con events with a table of Worm stuff (T-shirts and mugs and posters & print books) and post-Worm stuff (more of the same, for whatever follows Worm), and you’ll be able to shake my hand when I’m in your area.

      That’d be cool, yeah?

    • > Which would mean that Weaver has in fact had a second trigger event,
      > resulting in the shard that occupies Aidan and exchanging information with it
      > resulting in some flaws being reduced and some strengths being increased.

      Tailor’s second trigger happened when she had been outed by Dragon and Defiant.

      Aidan and his nightmares and his drawing and his fish-worm-whale things were mentioned in Cell’s donation bonus, 22.Y. I’ll quote the end, where Aidan is telling Charlotte about the night his regular nightmares stopped … It all fits! It’s all described perfectly! Wildbow, thanks for writing this!.

      “I know because it was the night Skitter stayed out all night. I woke up a bit after she came in. I was drawing while she made noise in the kitchen.”

      The night Skitter had been outed. Where had she been, and how did it connect?

      If not a trigger event, the potential to trigger?”

  32. More:

    – where is Dragon’s shard now? Will it bind to Defiant or to one of her meatbodies?
    – now we know why Phir Se’s time travel capability is so limited; it was deliberately crippled, much like the other critical shards it shed just before becoming Scion.
    – Foil could potentially hurt a passenger, right place right time

    • Also? Normal humans are going to be important in this fight; they are immune to things they don’t even know about and can casually see the things the world’s greatest Thinker is blocked from thinking about.

      Hmm. Any connection between Richter’s “knoweth not the word” trick as used on his creations and the one the passengers used on theirs?

      • Yeah, I loved that parallel. The fact that Saint has firsthand experience with using such built-in cripplings/limitations and the fact that he is a normal and therefore not saddled with any makes me think that he will play a major part in fighting the Entity and whatever other Worms are still around on this planet.

  33. at which point contessa wins. next chapter is the one where cauldron kills scion theyve done it before after all, they killed scions partner. the cauldron formula merely gives shards of its dead body. and if they could kill one to save the world, and there power is knowing how to win, then they can kill another.

  34. So I’ve read this through twice and skimmed a third, sort of in shock, hoping that I’m remembering the ending wrong, that things haven’t gotten so bad.

    Of all the things I forgot between readings, the end of England entirely wasn’t one of them.

    Jesus fuck.

  35. Haven’t read replies yet but damn it. This was completely unexpected, when I finally clued in what was narrating I was dumbfounded and you just kept raising the tension all the way to the end.

    I wish I could say more but even that sounds fake to me since I am more or less speechless. Well done, I am very scared for the wormverse now.

  36. weaver and tattletale figure scion out. weaver realises how to stop him, with words, gets promoted. technically saves the world at the cost of herself, or at least her humanity

    Negotiation.
    Agreement.
    Hibernation.
    Conversation.

    ?

  37. Just some rambling thoughts, but there are some conclusions in here that weren’t stated before … unless someone ninja’d me.

    A man, woman, and child are menaced by possibly drunk people, and the superentity aims a shard at the the male, but it bonds with the female, who “disappears from the awareness of the hostile ones that surround it.” By timing of the story, this would be before Scion showed up. Who is this? Doctor Mother? Some woman had power before Scion showed up? The power appears to be a Stranger-style power. Who do we know with Stranger powers who got them when in the company of her husband and child? Drawing a blank there.

    The shard of precognition has been limited and “directed to a small female.” Contessa? But later, the superentity notes that Contessa is not his, so Dinah?

    “The ability to communicate and receive signals” is crippled. No destination is mentioned. Later on in the text, it is clear that Jack is the receiver of the communication shard and uses it to react better to other shards. Later in the text: “The broadcaster was moving in and out of trouble, relying on a pronounced projection that was being emitted by a dead shard to provide further protection.” The abilities of Manton/Siberian are based on a dead shard, but Jack is based on a living one. But Manton is a Cauldron cape … by inference, Cauldron is able to “harvest” the dead shards for their abilities, but cannot touch the living ones. This theory is bolstered by “There was another entity nearby. A boy with another dead shard.” This must be Gray Boy, another Cauldron cape.

    “The last fragment it will cast off” is largely destroyed and directed at a “similar location as the future-sight ability. A similar time, thirty-one revolutions from now. The destination is a male, thin, in the company of strong males and females, drinking.” Danny Hebert? … but that means there is a chance that the precog receiver is known to Danny. Dinah does live near the Heberts, and got her power relatively close to the same time.

    “The entity recognized her [Taylor's] shard. The last one that had split off before the entity took on this form.” But that was directed at a male. So, that means the “male, thin, in the company of strong males and females” is Danny … that’s it, in the first encounter with shards mentioned, the shard was directed at the male but moved to the female to link. This must be what happened to Danny and Taylor – it was directed at Danny, but linked to Taylor.

    Taylor’s shard “had already fragmented once”. By implication, Aidan is the recipient, with his ability to control birds.

    Scion can/will live for 3600 years. The counterpart is dead. Without the counterpart, the cycle cannot continue. The superentity who pared itself down to make Scion was the warrior, its counterpart was the thinker, and the warrior has no imagination.

    The man who was cured of cancer by touching Scion, was given cancer by interaction with one of the dead shards.

    “A lesser shard, connected to eight unusual hosts. The eight advanced in clusters, moving towards the various individuals that seemed to be hostile to them.” The shard connected to the Harbingers? Then Contessa and Number Man move in “The entity looked at the male, and it saw the connection to the same shard as the eight. His connection was stronger, more mature.” Contessa kills three Harbingers with Number Man screening, and the other five are now Cauldron captives (as if they needed more ~!@#$%^&* firepower).

    Contessa’s power is formed of “a shard that wasn’t its own, but wasn’t dead.”

    Foil’s powers affect all realities at once. She is the ultimate Breaker, and her power did apparently kill Gray Boy.

    Tattletale calls Saint a douchestain. Snicker.

    Kevin Norton’s birthplace died at Scion’s hands. England?

    Hypothesis: The smaller superentity that the thinker half of the warrior/thinker pair encountered somehow killed and cannibalized the thinker and plans to do so for the warrior – that is Contessa’s “victory”. That is why Contessa is an “alive” shard but not related to the warrior – she is part of the lone superentity. That means the thing Cauldron is most afraid of is Scion.

    And the last war has started … against Scion. The only things that ever come close in power are the Endbringers, and he can beat even them.

    • Hmmm… Contessa’s power “wasn’t it’s own” but “wasn’t dead.” That doesn’t necessarily imply that it comes from the mystery guest. Before the boat scene, Zion tries to kill all the still-vital but corrupt shards from the counterpart. If he was likely to miss one, presumably it’d be the uber-precognitive one.

      Which leads to a couple of possibilities if that’s on target:
      * Contessa’s power is corrupt, and her path to victory is flawed.
      * Everything is a Xanatos gambit by the counterpart, who may or may not actually be dead.

      The whole thing with the counterpart swearing it’s totally fine already seemed a little suspicious, since if it’s really the analytical one it should have had a better estimation of its own health than its partner. What if, in the run-in with the other entity, any damage was just all part of a plan it concocted outside of its partner’s perceptions?

      What Nth-dimensional plot could require a space god to fake its own death/actually die to put a plan into motion?

    • My thought is that the girl is Imp and the guy is her dad. IIRC, wildbow mentioned that she triggered when they were attacked by the Merchants.

      • It would make sense if it were Imp, plus it would explain some things about Cauldron’s interest in Brockton Bay.

        (I mean, we’re close enough to the end that that was probably about Weaver, but it’s amusing if it’s “OK, so we have to get this ‘Lisa’ together with … I forget. Some Stranger. So she can build up her ability to think about/around… whatever the power I was trying to remember was. Coil, go set up in Brockton Bay, recruit Lisa and, I dunno, Grue. Yeah, Grue sounds good for some reason.”)

      • Agreed. I shouldn’t read when tired. The preceding sentences say the Stranger power was delayed by 33 years, and that generally fits with Imp’s trigger.

  38. I have just one small thing to nibble on, re: Dinah’s numbers. This is mostly about a detail concerning the writing, not really a criticism, more of an opinion considering, eh, plausibility and numbers, not really important and easily tweakable.

    Anyhow, it’s pretty much confirmed that those numbers were based on the ratio of futures visible to Dinah where Jack somehow ends up chatting or influencing Scion into ending the world.

    In that regards, the numbers, as they fluctuated around the 90%+ mark, seem a bit too high. That really smells like a nigh-deterministic universe, because so many things would have to go rig– wrong for Scion to go off the deep end: Jack must survive to meet Scion, he must go on a huge, huge rampage, Scion itself must be attracted to that chaos, and then they have to chat. In this timeline/present, that happened because Gray Boy pinned them down for some time, in another Jack might have just walked up to Scion and mouth off at him, but still. Those things all need to happen, and the more there needs to happen and the more they need to happen, there should less chances that Jack and Scion meet.

    What I’m saying, is that lowering the odds of the world ending by a couple dozen percent would make it sound a bit more plausible. Like, Dinah’s prediction is that “If Jack leaves Brockton Bay alive, there is a 65.5% change the world will end in two years (and 99.8% it will end within fifteen otherwise)”, and then the numbers could rise the closer we get to the Deadline. Just a small suggestion.

    • I think it’s connected to Jack’s Shard – Communication. He’d be drawn to Scion. For example how did he know how to find him? Scion is undetectable, yet Jack teleported right to him.

      • Nono, Jack caused mayhem and Scion came along to do something about. It alls hinges on the Scion doesn’t go to one of the millions of other hotspots around the globe, but instead goes for the s9000, specifically the group that Jack is in. That’s not something Jack planned.

        • It’s strongly implied Jack didn’t even KNOW about his other power. So, he may think Scion was attracted by his mayhem when it could really well be that Scion was attracted by the broadcaster shard. He certainly was intrigued.

    • first, I’d repeat what I said in response to Authy_Silverfur.

      Secondly, I would point out that that doesn’t necessarily mean a ‘nigh-deterministic universe’ (although I am not quite sure what ‘nigh-deterministic’ means, so I am assuming it means ‘deterministic for all practical intents and purposes’). This seems to be a case where a ton of things have coincidentally fallen out (or been meticulously arranged) such that the situation could play out in millions of different ways and yet a huge majority of those ways would still lead to the same endpoint (the end of the world as we know it, somehow)*

      *and that whole “it all leads to the same place” thing is made rather more understandable/believable to me by the sheer vagueness of the description, the ‘size’ of the ‘place’ that so many ways lead to. “A significant portion of the human population will die (results may vary from a third of the global population to a percentage in the high 90s)”…

    • Anyhow, it’s pretty much confirmed that
      those numbers were based on the ratio of
      futures visible to Dinah where Jack somehow
      ends up chatting or influencing Scion into
      ending the world.
      In that regards, the numbers, as they
      fluctuated around the 90%+ mark, seem a bit
      too high. That really smells like a nigh-
      deterministic universe, because so many
      things would have to go rig– wrong for Scion
      to go off the deep end: Jack must survive to
      meet Scion, he must go on a huge, huge
      rampage, Scion itself must be attracted to that
      chaos, and then they have to chat.

      You’re overthinking, I think. Scion himself says so: in some futures like this one, he goes omnicidal because Jack tells him to. In others, it takes him 15 years to derive the same conclusion and go omnicidal.

      • I’m talking about Dinah’s two year Deadline. I already mentioned what you thought I didn’t already mention. Ever since Dinah saw Jack’s picture in Brockton Bay for the first time, him ending the world in two years time if he left Brockton Bay has always been a high number.

    • You’re assuming that Scion was the only end of the world Jack could possibly initiate.

      However, it’s possible there were far more of them.
      -Jack escaped and started on the cloning project. If Dragon had blown up the Bonesaw and Jack in the car, the control switch for the clones might have been blown up with them (or they couldn’t have found the pocket dimension with clones). The S9 clones would have wreaked havoc and killed one third of the world. Till the remote changes hands, this is a possible world ending event. This might also be why the chances for success tripled after Saint shut down Dragon. (Thought: Contessa might be keeping the numbers of the world ending artificially high by not going after the remote, she told Bonesaw that she’d be asking for it later than expected.)
      -If Jack were killed before Bonesaw rediscovered herself, but after escaping Brockton Bay, she might have unleashed a deadly plague. Jack apparently held Bonesaw back from unleashing epidemics before (see his words to Bonesaw in their massacre of the Merchants, I12).
      There are probably more, such as the situation with Nilbog.

      The numbers keep changing, because each averted crisis had an effect on the probability of the next one. Talking to Scion was not predetermined, it was just one of the many possible endings.

      P.s. I kept thinking Purity after losing Aster was the potential end of the world. She gets more powerful when in the light, if she flies to the sun she might try to fry the world. Now that she’s caught by Grey Boy’s power, is she still charging? Because that might be another world ending event in progress.

      • Powers can’t reach outside Gray Boy’s fields, so even if she is storing up light, she shouldn’t be able to shoot it out of the field… Except light obviously passes out of the fields, because we can see what’s inside them, and if her power only creates the light and isn’t actually involved in it after that creation, it should still emit out of the field. I think her blasts do have a kinetic component, if I’m remembering right from earlier (and not confusing her with one of the New Wave laser blaster capes), so that might stop them?

        Seems unlikely that she’d be storing up light, though. It probably qualifies as a physical process, so it gets reset every couple of seconds.

    • The way I see it, Jack is ‘resistant’ to other parahumans because of his shard. In essence, he can’t simply be killed by parahumans; normal humans have to be part of his defeat, since they’re the only ones he can’t anticipate. And since normal humans tend to die quickly in the presence of the S9 (or run away on sight), there’s little chance of Jack dying before he can trigger the end of the world. So the event ‘Jack must survive’ has a high chance of occurring.

      ‘He must go on a huge, huge rampage.’ Was he ever not going to do that?

      ‘Scion must be attracted to that chaos.’ If you cause chaos for long enough, Scion will eventually find you.

      ‘And they have to chat.’ Remember that the entity stopped when he saw Jack, intrigued by what was happening. If he had seen Jack under other circumstances, Scion might have stopped to listen as well.

      This might explain those high numbers, at least in part.

  39. Hah, I just wondered – what if Golden Age of Capes was the original plan, and Dark Age of Superheroes happened because the cycle was disrupted by the death of the Scion’s partner.

    Also I can see how Scion fixated on a single person – he’s used to communicating with a single other entity. Norton was a surrogate for the lost Thinker partner.

  40. And to the bewilderment of many, the last message to come out of Great Britain before it sank beneath the waves was a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backward somersault through a hoop while whistling the “Star Spangled Banner”.

  41. “Sting, the entity thought. Once it had been a weapon for his kind, against his kind, back in the beginning, when they had dwelt in oceans of gray sludge.”

    So does this mean Foil can kill Scion…? Assuming Scion didn’t downgrade it so badly that it can’t be used to kill entities themselves anymore. It might be enough to hurt Scion though since it can hurt Endbringers who are weaker entities, I think?

    • The side-effect of this power, the attack over all timelines, should be fun. Because it attacks in all timelines. So, somewhere on Earth-Aleph, there are physics-defying darts appearing from nowhere.

      • Earth Aleph’s heroes are considered pretty lame, and it can’t get much lamer than the Invisble Dart! A Stranger/Breaker, who has never been seen, or known to actually stop any crime, but has left molecularly bonded darts, crossbow bolts, and lengths of chain all over the north eastern coast.

  42. So does Jack qualify as a Complete Monster yet? The man’s gone out of his way to end the world just so he’ll be remembered as one of history’s greatest monsters, and that’s not even taking into account all the people he’s murdered and indirectly caused the deaths of while leading the Nine.

  43. Ok, so Jack talks to Scion before his end, Scion decides Violence is better then good deeds and kills billions. If Jack hadn’t talked to Scion, Scion would have reached the same conclusion later.
    If only Jack had died.

    Wait, Cauldron could have killed Jack. And Contessa sees the path to victory. Did they want Scion to go on a rampage now, rather then twenty years in the future? Why? So humanity can fight him at full force rather then after another twenty years of Endbringer fights?

    I feel bad for Lisette. She tried her best, yet she was the last one to speak to Scion before his rampage. Hope Tattletale can quickly shed light on what happened in a way non Thinkers can understand.

    Bet Weaver and everyone feel real stupid now. Should have let the Triumvirate and everyone else lose to _quickly_ kill Jack. Evil Eidolon? Who cares, there’s bigger fish to fry!

    Portals to escape might or might not work. We know Scion can look into other worlds, but it might cost him to much energy to follow. And besides, he’s not interested in humanity, if there arn’t enough shards, he might not even follow.

    Gotta say, Worms amazing Wildbow. Everything just fits. Powers come from shards, the counterpart died. Conflict for viral evolution. Jack has the communication shard. Scion as the end of the world. It’s not obvious or absurd, just fitting.
    How much did you plan before writing?

    • What constitutes victory? Bringing the passengers to critical maturation mass (which results in the planet getting blown up) is victory.

      • For the Passengers. For Contessa, its a loss since the Passengers consume everything on the planet and alternate planets before travelling further. Including, you know, humanity, Cauldron and Contessa.

        And Contessa can ask for the path to a certain outcome as long as it’s possible. Like ‘billions of people don’t die’ or ‘multiple Harbinger minions’ or ‘Jack dead, me sane’.

        • > And Contessa can ask for the path to a
          > certain outcome as long as it’s possible.
          > Like ‘billions of people don’t die’ or
          > ‘multiple Harbinger minions’ or ‘Jack
          > dead, me sane’.

          . . . you know, while I was going with “Jack would have sought Scion out” or “his communication shard arranged a way to communicate with Scion” or “Dinah’s power sabotages her to reinforce rather than avert Scion-action futures” or just “dramatic necessity says this was coming rather than random”

          . . . a much more likely reason for “why was this outcome so incredibly likely?” is “Contessa.”

          • I suspect that as well. And Endbringers did bring the End. Simurgh intervened, preventing Panacea from delivering information that would have made people realize the truth about Scion (which Tattletale did a bit too late).

            P.S. What if this is end of the world averted? Nobody said alternative wouldn’t include one heavily populated island getting destroyed…

            Hmm… Can Cauldron create independent Shards… Probably not.

            • I’m not convinced that the Endbringers are in any way involved in this. As bad(ass) as they are they seem to be seriously pulling their punches, and I can’t help but wonder whether their goal isn’t really the destruction of life than something similar to what the entities want to do.

              For all we know, the Simurgh could have scrambled Amy’s message so it isn’t heard at that time. That she foresaw that if it has a better chance of being used if it’s brought to light at a time when it seems actually relevant.

              • Something else to note about Contessa’s power. With the revalation that her shard isn’t from Zion or his counterpart. The path to victory in this case may be for the Worm that the shard came from. But we don’t know what it’s victory would be.

    • I have been looking at the passengers and wondering when they would turn into a danger for their hosts.

      This hit it exactly on cue.

      Now to see how and what Cauldron’s hidden war is about.

      Three more arcs. That really puts the Scion rampage in focus.

      The mind gap for Scion and Endbringers. Kill one. Then they drop out of his focus until they are causing a ruckus.

      So much so still the air. Well done.

  44. First of all, this is just beautiful, wildbow. It goes a long way to show that you’re one of the best authors out there. Cudos, man. Cudos.

    Now, I need to make bulletpoints to get through my thoughts on this chapter:

    – the stranger-girl was Imp. We know that she triggered when some people assaulted her and her father, now we know that they explicitely tried to rape her. Enough mental stress to get a mental power like hers – the power to hide from them. Remember, the Worms act across time, so just because she’s the first one to get a shard from them doesn’t mean that she’s chronologically the first one

    – So that’s why Contessa’s power isn’t confused by Thinker abilities – she got it from the third Worm, so it’s alive, but not directly connected to those of the Scion-Worm or the Counterpart-Worm. Thus it is not affected by their own safeguards.

    – Sooooo… Tattletale’s power was intentionally crippled all this time. Explains why she had all those gaps/why she didn’t figure out this whole thing earlier

    – Of course, now we’ll never know what she could have done, since Scion just lashed out against the Eastcoast. Knowing wildbow, he’ll probably hit Brockton Bay and kill’em all. T_T Please no…

    – More points to the fact that Cauldron may indeed be on the side of the angels – complete, multiversal extinction DOES kind of top all the other issues we’ve learned about. Even the Endbringers don’t compare

    – We still have no idea where the Endbringers come from and what their purpose really is, though the need for conflict does point to a close connection to the Worms.

    – Weaver’s shard is one of the shard’s used for communication – thus she could, somehow, communicate with Scion-Worm and stop it.

    – Now it’s explicit: Weaver has already had her second trigger event (as I’ve been saying).

    – Weaver is going to get a Sidekick! Go, Birdboy!

    – Really sad that one of the first things Scion-Worm does is to kill Lisette. She really tried to help.

    – So, Saint really, absolutely can’t cope with Dragon’s work. To be expected.

    – Still hope that Dragon somehow survived. Andrew Richter couldn’t have predicted her triggering, so his program couldn’t have erased all of her. Maybe her shard will rebuild her somehow?

    – Now, regarding the Third Worm: it seems, maybe, that this one might have developed into a symbiotic relationship with its host species, as opposed to the parasitic one of the Scion-Worm and Counterpart-Worm. At least, I got the feeling that it did.

    – Notice how Counterpart-Worm felt HOPE as it lay dying. Hope for a better chance at survival. Maybe, what it learned from Third Worm was a way to live in symbiosis with the host species, prolong their existence along with theirs instead of wiping them out and restarting.

    – Does anyone else think that Jack just turned even MORE pathetic in this chapter? I mean, the crap he spouts is right out of every emo-teenagers secret diary

    – It’s ironic that Scion-Worm fell for it, since, by its experience, the opposite should be true. The Worms were DYING OUT when they lived in conflict and they only survived because they cooperated

    – I’m betting that Cauldron is harvesting the corpse of the Counterpart-Worm and distributing it. But even the corpses of the Worms would have defense mechanisms, so Number Man wouldn’t dare go down to fourth level.

    – Since no shard from Scion-Worm or Counterpart-Worm could ever directly affect either of them (explaining Scion’s total power-immunity), this would make it necessary for Doctor Mother’s shard to be from Third Worm, instead of the other two. It’s the only way she could affect the corpse, and the only way she could defend herself against its defense systems (again, Number Man has one of the Pair-Shards, thus he needs to stay away from Fourth Level)

    – Doctor Mother might not be a tinker, after all. In fact, I HIGHLY doubt she is. Now that we know that the super serum is directly connected to Counterpart-Worm (as far as I understood it), the need for Tinker powers is removed. She needs something different, to access the corpse and harvest it. A really, REALLY major power. Which also explains why the other inmates in those cells never attack her twice – any power strong enough to affect/access even the corpse of a Worm would trump anything that COULD come from the normal shards of a Worm (those are, after all, coded to be unable to access the Worms in any way)

    – Terminus-Project… a way to terminate the Scion-Worm, so it cannot harm humanity any more?

    – Notice how Cauldron seems to be insistent on parahumans being in charge… but NOT themselves… they want Parahumans in charge with shards from Scion-Worm or Counterpart-Worm, not Third Worm (since Doctor Mother and Contessa likely have shards from that one)

    – This explains the Case 53’s, as well. Cauldron uses the dead shards, which are stunted, crippled. They can’t properly bond with their host, thus EVERY Cauldron-Cape is a Case 53, even if some, or most, might be subtle.

    – Now I’m really motivated to finish my Worm Fanfiction. ‘Cause now it seems my ideas behind it actually fit this universe. Hurray!

    Alright, need to praise this again. Seriously, wildbow, best background for powers I’ve ever read, and I’ve read A LOT of those. And it doesn’t make me sad to admit that my concept for my own universe is inferior to this. You just topped every other superpower-writer. Damn man.

    TO BE CONTINUED (once I’ve figured out more bulletpoints)

    • Why not go a step further? Doctor Mother isn’t powered by a shard of the Third Entity (remember Contessa reacted to Lung’s trigger whereas she didn’t): she IS the Third Entity. Or rather she is to the third entity what Scion is to the warrior-entity.
      Or maybe she’s just a random human. We know that Scion’s safeguards don’t work as well with normal humans, hence why she can access the counterpart’s corpse but Number Man can’t.

      Oh and regarding Jack, you must admit that it’s difficult to come up with good speeches while your insides are repeatedly becoming your outsides. :) .

      • I think it’s unlikely that Doctor Mother is a normal human, mostly because their safeguards are also supposed to protect them from non-powered enemies that still try to kill them (some of their former host-species turned against them and tried to exterminate them).
        Whether or not she’s the Third Worms manifestation in this reality… possible, it would also explain why she doesn’t seem to age. But I think it’s unlikely.

      • Regarding Jack: There’s a host of speeches he could have done instead. He could have read his own intestines, several times, just to be sure and explained what he saw in the future. Or he could have done some interesting philosophical thinking on how they looked so strange, being all grey and not their usual colour.

        Or he could have just repented, really. That would have given his character a very much needed third dimension.

        • What strikes me about him is, in the end, none of his efforts really mattered. The Slaughterhouse 9 or 9000, his attack on Brockton Bay, kidnapping Nilbog, nothing of that had anything to do with how the world really ends, which was simply a deluded fucked up person who happens to attract Scion saying something crazy that has horrible consequences.

          • I think the fact that he was ultimately just there to speed things up a bit – and that NONE of his grand plans actually supported him in that function – is kind of the point. Jack really was/is pathetic, as Weaver said back in Brockton Bay. There’s nothing to him, he’s just another murderous thug who, through sheer luck, managed to outgrow himself. Seeing now how his power works, how much influence his shard had on him, you can make a convincing argument that few of his achievements were due to his own skill.

            Contrast: Weaver may have a similar relationship to her shard – but notice how, not only is she trying to remain her own person, but she actively works AGAINST her shards intent – her actions, while brutal and tainted by the Worm-shard, are all for the sake of stability, of peace. The very opposite of what the shards want/need. While her shard may push her to be far more effective on the ground level, her overarching agenda and maneuvering is opposite to its desires, unlike Jack’s, who did just what the shards wanted.

  45. When I read the end there, I yet again burst into a 10s of seconds long spew of profanity. Wildbow, your emotionally-engaging writing and really surprising/often-not-so-happy plot twists tend to do that to me (eg. Saint’s reveal/Dragon’s death).

    I really must acknowledge and second Ajoxer’s statement that:
    “This is the art of truly good writing. Where the end result was not something that anybody really guessed, yet everything fits perfectly.”

    I love your world-building.
    I especially love the way that you worked hints and premonitions and clues of this stuff into the past entries so cleanly and yet without giving away the whole game and then brought them all together to make things make sense with this one.
    I also especially love your elaborations of…I don’t know, non-normative psychologies and backgrounds?
    …The way you did Armsmaster as an near-evil ‘good guy’ and then how you gave him a semi-redemption through Dragon as Defiant,
    …the way you dealt with Dragon’s rather particular background and circumstances as a created-/cyber-sentience (her ‘abominably abusive parent’ metaphor really stuck with-/made sense to- -me),
    …your (to my knowledge relatively unusual and imo awesome) treatment of ‘innocence’ and ‘loss of innocence’ with Bonesaw/Riley,
    …your treatment of high-functioning sociopathy (or is it specifically lack of empathy or conscience?) with Alec/Regent,
    …Taylor’s ‘thing’ with bullies (CHOKE, ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL/IMPORTANT PEOPLE ON THE PLANET WHO IS ALSO A TERRIBLE BULLY, AND DIE!) and relatedly her whole should-she-be-a-hero/villain dilemma/issue,
    …Shadow Stalker’s and Jack’s philosophy of strength/survival/violence
    …THE FREAKING PSEUDO-‘Abusive Precursors’ STARFISH ALIENS WITH THEIR FREAKING WEIRD YET SEMI-UNDERSTANDABLE BIOLOGY/PERSPECTIVE AND THEIR DAMN CASUALLY-XENOCIDAL MODE OF EXISTENCE/BLUE AND ORANGE MORALITY (this last one is actually meant as a congratulations on crafting a really interesting/cool Biggest Bad (and one that makes pretty good sense to me): ‘like viruses, like gods, like children,’ like absolute genius)

    I am most certainly not just getting off of a tvtropes binge…

    • I’d say they’re less Starfish Aliens and more Eldrich Abominations, as they exist simultaneously in multiple universes and break/alter the laws of physics, plus the whole incomprehensible god thing that they have going on, but that’s just my personal interpretation.
      But I agree with everything else you said, particularly the part about Dragon. Even people who who thought she was too powerful must have thought that she was understandable.

    • The way I read it was that her ‘second trigger event’ was her shard maturing enough to fragment off a new shard, which attached to Aidan (hence his trigger event and his intensely-Taylor-reminiscent power)

        • Wouldn’t that be Buggirl and Robin?

          Also, since we now know that second trigger events are just the stage where the shard spawns a child shard, how soon until third and fourth “trigger events” happen? Can the shard keep spawning new child shards at regular intervals or is it one and done?

          Oh, and hi all. First post, though I’ve been following this story for about a year now. Excellent writing and Wildbow is a master at weaving together story elements in ways you never expected. I am both anticipating and dreading the finish!

          • I don’t know, there could be someone out there with the ability to control bats. Beware, I am the mighty baseball bat controller! The Sultan of Swat! The King of Swing!

            And welcome, dear lurkinger follower.

            I’ve never heard of Boilerman before, but he sounds like a guy who can handle the heat and then go let off some steam when he needs to. Hopefully he won’t crack under the pressure of following along with us in the forums. Just keep him well fed and I think he can chug along into the depths of our digital depravity well into the evening. You’ve made a little noise here as you’ve just gotten started in the comments, but now that the hard part’s done, you can just roar on into the night. Just remember, Boilerman, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.

            And welcome, Boilerman, to the comments.

  46. The big mystery now is the third entity. And was the counterpart’s death Murder, or Suicide? We know the third and the Counterpart communicated. Maybe the Third shared information with the Counterpart that caused it to break the cycle? Perhaps it realized that they were still stagnent in their evolution, or that the cycle would eventually become unsustainable? Perhaps what is going on, why the counterpart felt hope is that we have a mutation in the evolutionary process now.

  47. Wow. Have all of the kudos, Windbow. All of them.

    Not much else to say that hasn’t been covered by others already, except this: I thought that Lisette’s “we can sort this out as a pair” might just get Scion on-side. That line might even have been fed to her by Tattletale, who might now know about the dead Counterpart.

    Then I remembered that Lisette probably just died with the rest of Britain. Welp.

  48. *whistles* 0.0 I always knew you had promised a Scion interlude, but I sure didn’t expect this. Also, it was a very nice touch to have the different chapters echoed in the narration.

    I wonder who all the shards were? “Queen” was obviously Weaver, and I think Imp was mentioned in passing, and the broadcast shard was Jack Slash, fighting the younger shard, Theo, but who were the others?

  49. !!!!!!

    Wow. Just wow.

    So Cauldron saved the world once already… by killing the Counterpart? And Contessa has a shard from a third Worm. Hmmm.

    I actually feel sorry for Scion, even though they were going to blow up the world.

    • “I actually feel sorry for Scion, even though they were going to blow up the world”
      Well the Worm’s aren’t malicious pricks like Jack. It just that’s what they do.

      • Yeah.
        Jack’s a pathetic psychopath who wasted his life.
        The Worms are pitiful parasites. Cosmic tapeworms. It’s in their nature to destroy the planet.
        I guess you could argue that it’s in Jack’s nature to kill people, but even he had the choice.

        • What really drives this home is the scene where Scion muses why Jack went to such extremes because the shard he got wasn’t particularly violent. Remember when we were speculating that Jack being fine-tuned to his passenger was the reason of his psychopathy? Nope, it was just Jack all the time.

  50. No wonder you had to time Scion just right, Wildbow. You need a very specific time to deliver…this. At first, I thought it was a normal interlude. And shoot, unresolved cliffhanger.

    Then I started reading it, and holy crap, this is it.

    Then I finished reading it, and holy shit, this IS it. The ending, the final countdown, the last battle.

    The perfect beginning to the end, full of a huge, sudden understanding of what’s going on and the culmination of over a million words of steady preparation, and the best part is, I have no clue what will happen. None. Anyone can die, anything can happen. I wouldn’t put it past you to kill off Taylor, honestly. Right now, I’m waiting eagerly for next Tuesday, and may it arrive very, very soon.

    • We know that Taylor would not be the protagonist if wildbow writes a sequel to Worm.

      This implies that Taylor MAY die or do something similar like merge with Scion at the end. Of course, it is nowhere near proof, as there are many other possible reasons for wildbow to stop writing Taylor.

      • Replace the counterpart possibly. Evolutionary emergency. Which could make her first person narrative here a retelling of the events but to whoever/whatever replaces Scion.

  51. Oh crap. Oh crap.

    Okay, now that I’ve got the reaction out of the way, let’s see of I can figure out what’s going on. I’ll probably have to reread this to figure out everything in this anachronic mess, but here’s what I got:
    Scion and his “counterpart” set out to seed worlds with superpowers. Their goal was to create conflict, but they didn’t want the conflict to just destroy everything, so they put limits on the powers like the Manton effect. I’m not clear why they were doing this – they wanted life to develop in some way, but powers are so random I don’t see how they could direct it. I think they were trying to make the shards evolve? Create new superpowers?
    Then, something went wrong and destroyed Scion’s counterpart. Scion had a complete BSOD and did nothing until Kevin told him to be a hero. He kept doing that until now, when Jack suggested he try violence instead. Much more cathartic. And Scion, with nothing better to do, agreed. So now the world’s strongest superhero is trying to cause the extinction of the human race.

    Conspicuously absent in all of Scion’s musings is any mention of the Endbringers. We already knew they weren’t human, but now I suspect that they don’t fit the normal system of powers at all. Unless his counterpart was responsible?

    • They broke themselfes into Shards, gave the Shards to people to give them powers. In conflict, the Shards matured and multiplied. And when a critical mass was reached, they would draw together as one (two) again and consume everything. The conflict and the randomness was to learn and gather information.

      When the counterpart died, many many Shards were lost and the grand plan became impossible. Scion became letargic, since the plan was broken and he was destinied to stay on earth for the rest of his numbered years (millenia).

      He followed Kevin Nortons orders since he had no plan himself and Norton promised him satisfaction. He turned to violence since conflict accelerates evolution, development. Or maybe he just liked it.

      • More than slightly reminiscent of one of Eric Frank Russell’s shortest and most haunting works, _Sole Solution_. In part:

        “He created a mighty dream of his own, a place of infinite complexity schemed in every detail to the last dot and comma. Within this he would live anew. But not as himself. He was going to dissipate his person into numberless parts, a great multitude of variegated shapes and forms each of which would have to battle its own peculiar environment.”

  52. Woo, this was nice to wake up to.

    A belated thank-you to Joseph for the donation. Thank you to Christopher, Stephen, and William for the donations last night. :D

    You guys are awesome.

    I’ve put another chapter into the queue.

      • Yeah, Taylor not being the one to take down Jack was a really nice aversion, I thought. And Wildbow laid out the cards well enough that not once did I feel cheated by it…

        Although you can probably count it as an indirect victory anyway, since Theo was trained up to the task and coached by Taylor and even explicitly won by going ‘What Would Taylor Do?’.

  53. Good. The idea behind the space whales was kept simple and “believable”. (i.e.: not breaking the willing suspension of disbelief)

    There were not that many motivations possible for the space whales, however you did manage to keep us guessing until now. (Btw my guess was: they were playing) That was extremely difficult to pull of and still reference them as much as you did. So you get another point there.

    The chapter itself is somewhat heavy to read in some points, and too quick in others. But I feel that writing about “godlike” enitites is extremely tricky for pretty much anyone. MostWritersAreHumans after all, and tackle such things by having humans comment on the godlike beings instead of the other way around.
    You did manage to make it good, despite limiting yourself to the space whale point of view. You do get another point… and a pointer? You might want to check out “The last question” by Asimov for a short story that spans humans and “gods”.

    You did use, but not abuse the ChekovGuns you had laying around. And Taylor had a kid. We knew that adopted children have the chance of being second generation capes after all.
    Should be only half a point because it’s spelled out too clearly… except that the drawing thing was plot relevant, so it’s another full point.

    Most importantly, for the rest of the work, you left things open for hope. I was really worried we were in for a global TomatoSurprise, and that would probably have killed off some interest… well ok, we did get one, inevitable. But it was not “you have already been assimilated by the borg collective”, it was “you can still fight because you’re still your selves”.
    That’s… a lot of points. I’m not sure I would have been as interested if it wasn’t otherwise to be honest. Good call.

    How you treated the endbringers was maybe a bit too blatant there. But the end is night, and you can and should be a bit more heavy handed with clues.
    You still managed to give us a few different believable options, so another point and a cookie.

  54. Scion might not have imagination, but he has racial memory, and an absurd intelligence. He casually blew through Grey Boy’s field entrapping him.

    I doubt very seriously that any application of power will stop him. I doubt that even the Endbringers acting in concert could stop him, though that is by no means certain, since we aren’t sure if the Endbringers have ever really shown the fullness of their abilities. Behemoth’s being killed by Scion seems to lead to the conclusion that they weren’t holding back powers that would let them fight Scion more effectively, but based on this interlude, Simurgh is the original Endbringer, and she traded information with Scion’s counterpart.

    I think that Tattletale is going to get involved here after her breakthrough with Aidan’s picture. She’s broken her conditioning in much the same way that Dragon was breaking her conditioning.

    So… If Tattletale’s power doesn’t cripple her with headaches anymore (was this part of the conditioning?) and if she talks with a few of the capes in the world with a better understanding of passengers, she might be able to piece together enough to actually talk with Scion.

    This won’t be a “trick” it will be Tattletale using her power to help Scion in much the same way that Scion’s counterpart used to. The most important psychotherapy ever.

    • You’re assuming Tattletale is still alive. Scion’s last action is to aim an attack “at the coastline on the opposite side of the ocean.” I’m assuming that’s the east coast of the US. Hopefully Brockton Bay survives, but I’m not counting on it.

      Are the shards even intelligent enough to recognize Scion as their source? I don’t think so or I’d think Tattletale’s shard would have worked harder to block her from realizing what was going on.

      • I think I see what you are getting at. But Remember how good at making connections Tattletale’s power is. She needs to go talk to the crazies and nutcases with powers, the ones who talk about their passengers like they have a presence.

        Now… End of the world scenario. Get teacher in the same room with Tattletale and Defiant and Saint’s computer network connecting all the Dragon network together.

        Put Dragon back together. Use her to gather data for Tattletale to piece together.

        Keep the area effect regen cape from Accord’s team in the room with these capes, so that as their powers try to disable them, IF any of them are still susceptible to headaches, their brains are healed.

        But nobody’s fighting Scion. Either directly or indirectly. Remember that he immediately was able to connect every player with every power that was used. Manton and Siberian were connected. These shards are childs play for him to understand.

        In the end, there are three ways for this to end, I think.

        1) Annihilation of humanity.

        2) Move as much population as possible to the other world, and start closing portals. When the last portal closes, Scion destroys whatever’s left on the other world. I believe it is mentioned that one of the ways he limited himself was in his requirement to stay in one dimension.

        3) Someone makes a connection to him and talks him out of beating on humanity. Whether that’s by putting him on the track of the endbringers, and convincing him to backtrack along Simurgh’s path killing all of it’s offspring in repayment for the loss Simurgh caused him, or offering to somehow join/accompany him.

        I’m hoping for #3, because, somehow, it seems like teaching the unemotional nigh-omnipotent being about the concept of revenge is just… fitting for Worm.

  55. Gentlemen, BEHOLD!!! MY AWESOME CRACK-THEORY!!!

    Interlude 26 i.e. the chapter above: “I push and the birds go where I pushed. Or I pull and they fly away from that spot. It’s hard to do. I can see what they see, but not while I’m controlling them.”

    Like Taylor, but birds, and not that flexible. I see.

    Hmm? What does this remind me of?

    Drone 23.1“: Felix Swoop, tier three member of the group,” Jouster said. “Master-blaster hybrid. Controls birds, but not as much control as you seem to have. Thing is, he applies fire immunity and pyrokinesis to the birds, programs them with movements. You said he’s distracted?”

    Oh?

    Check it:

    – Aidan has powers. Rough bird control, nowhere near as fine as Weaver’s bug control. So does Felix Swoop albeit with a secondary talent.
    – Felix Swoop is a member of the Adepts
    – the Adepts are led by a time traveler, Epoch. A time traveler!!!!
    – who’s to say Epoch didn’t come from the shattered future we have just seen coming to pass? Who’s to say he didn’t bring some kid with a connection to Weaver with him? Who’s to say that kid didn’t have a second trigger during the apocalypse, one that lets him set his birds on fire?

    I know, I know. Ridiculous, right? Probably just a random coincidence. After all, there’s no way Felix Swoop wouldn’t have recognized Weaver when they met in Drone 23.1, right? Still a fun notion.

    • I assume finer control of the birds will come to the new kid in time. Along with sensory perception, multitasking and all that good stuff. Because Taylor had a bit of a head start in learning her powers by being cooped up in the hospital and having a really bad trigger event, where Aidan is being eased into it.

        • Hourglass is taken. youtube.com/watch?v=wyZ3VS0WPR4

          He’s the main villain of Superhero Movie, which actually isn’t that bad. It’s not made by the same people as Not Another Teen Movie, Epic Movie, or Romance Movie. It’s better than those, that’s for sure, and more of a parody of the first Spider-man movie of the Tobey Maguire trilogy

          Not a horrible soundtrack either between Superbounce aka Superhero! Song (see above link) by Drake Bell and I Need a Hero by Sara Paxton.

          • Then, I don’t know, Quickload or something. “Epoch” seems a little grandiose for someone who can only do an hour at best.

  56. Okay so here is my theory on 2nd trigger events and why they are rare. It’s rare because there is only a very narrow window of time where they can happen. A passenger grows and matures with conflict, stress, emotional turmoil etc. Taylor in her 3/4? months as Skitter dealt with dozens of fights, fought 3 s class threats, had to deal with the stress of being an undercover hero, becoming a villain, worrying about her people, etc. and thus her passenger matured in a astonishingly short time. It matured and split off into Aiden, but Aiden didn’t have a trigger event because the passengers take steps to not become active until they are in their adolescent years usually for maximum conflict, stress etc. that is normal for teenagers. After reproducing Taylor couldn’t have a 2nd trigger event ever again. In contrast Brian’spassenger was very mature as well, but before he could reproduce he was in a stressful life or death situation and his passenger expanded his power. So to have a 2nd trigger event you have a very small window for it to work where your passenger has to be mature and getting ready to reproduce but hasn’t created another yet. If Echidna had attacked a few weeks earlier before Aiden was created then Taylor might have had a 2nd trigger event while trapped in her stomach. I am most curious about Grue’s passenger because it didn’t reproduce.

    • Another theory: Second trigger events are triggers from Twin Shards that are from the Dead Counterpart, and which were meant to be originally paired up. In this theory, the parahumans of Worm are *weaker* than they should be, because their Shards aren’t properly twinned. Improbable.

      Third: Second triggers are from the Counterpart or the Third or both, no twinning involved, the shard just fits in to old patterns already present.

      • Interesting. There is still the 2nd/3rd generation capes and why they are stronger/trigger younger. Then there are the mass trigger events briefly mentioned with the Travelers before we found out their origins. I can’t remember where, but it’s said to be very rare as well. Hopefully all the other little kids won’t trigger with him later on.

  57. Huh.

    I just realized that parts of this were foreshadowed in Jack’s very first appearance — he killed Oni Lee because Lee was a blank slate.

    • Also, this may have been mentioned above, but I guess we know why it’s called Worm now — it was named after the entities, not Taylor.

  58. I didn’t think this chapter went up until tonight, for some reason.

    As pretty much always, this chapter was a mixed bag for me. Whereas other times I’ve been very happy (around Taylor being revealed as an undercover agent), this time I’m extremely disappointed.

    The first part of the chapter outright bugged me. It went exactly where I was hoping it wouldn’t go – the god route. A wizard did it. What annoyed me even more is that not only is there no real explanation for these god-beings, but their evolutionary story is flawed from the start. The creatures appear to be the result of normal evolution in a normal universe/multiverse, and somehow start breaking the laws of the universe to spread out through/across worlds. This without any solid background of how they got the initial energy for that or how it makes any sense at all. Absorbing energy from a sun, etc, doesn’t make sense. It would have been better if their origins were left completely obscure, and the interlude started from some point along their travel path.

    In that case, it would appear that we have the “A wizard did it” scenario with room left for guessing about the setup of the universe/multiverse and what these things really are. We can suspend belief in the fact of simply not knowing how the very fabric of reality works. Instead, what we get here is a self-contradictory origin story that requires an “A wizard did it” for the creation of the species used as the in-story “A wizard did it”. Not at all satisfying, grating on the semi-realistic foundation the story seemed to be set on, and irksome in how it cops out.

    It’s the equivalent of using “God’s logic is above our logic” and other nonsensical phrases to try to ignore problem with one’s belief system. I hated that even when I was a Christian. Things have to make sense, somehow or another. Appealing to a mysterious “big thing out there” makes everything involved in the subject of discussion small and worthless.

    To restate what I wrote in the comments of the previous chapter: I’d much rather see a strange world than a god copout. I can accept the idea that the universe doesn’t work the way we think it does because that’s happened so often in our history. I can stretch my belief to think that cross-world mental connections could be part of some effect from a weird science – a collision of entangled mirror-quantumish oddities that naturally occur between multiple realities at a given point in their respective universe’s timespans. That those connections somehow relate to adapting rapidly to a better, but fragmented understanding of the universe(s) and their laws of operation. The Rule of Cool mixes with my previous acceptance of human intuition – that what we know subconsciously from lifelong experience with something can produce conscious awareness of knowledge related to that thing – a knowledge that we can’t explain. Like chicken farmers knowing which eggs weigh more or contain males or other stuff, without using scientific tools. That mix lets me suspend disbelief or look past it enough to enjoy the story.

    With this god/wizard plot device that’s larger than necessary and so massive that it brings up so many holes/problems and draws so much attention away from what was working in the story, I’m unable to look at the story with the eyes I had before. I’ve lost a lot of potential enjoyment of it.

    Introducing a god-being also throws all expectations out the window. Nothing is stable anymore. Other god-beings could appear, the current god-being could shift massively, and who knows what else could happen. It’s no longer a human story is a somewhat predictable world. It’s the equivalent of walking into a cave with some classmates and finding that you’re in the middle of someone’s interpretation of Hell. Everything you know goes out the window.

    Gaiman’s “Lucifer” can pull off a good run because there was never an expectation that the world was as the audience knows our world, and the characters appear to have a solid, predictable understanding of one another. More than that, they’re all human-like. There are in-universe rules that govern everything. None of that exists in the Wormverse you’ve just revealed. These Entities are are like floating plot devices that also overshadow the characters and world you’ve built because of how involved they are in it. It’s the equivalent of putting a Supergod into “Lucifer” as the source of all powers, characters, and so on, and then giving it a role as a character in the series. Even God in “Lucifer” was a more-or-less hands-off being. It had to be, in order for the story to survive. Active gods, in the true senses of the meaning, ruin stories. Because stories are human (or human-like), or nothing at all.

    The difference between a somewhat-different universe and a god-filled universe is the difference between Naruto/Power Rangers/whatever and Lost/whatever. The latter almost always jumps the shark because of something massive it uses to try to justify an element or elements in the universe, or because the universal scope includes things so massive that they’re unrelatable and unpredictable. It’s the scope shift that jars everything and leads to the audience backing out.

    This chapter is the part of the series/movie when people start saying “…And it was all a dream”.

    Not everyone will say that or think that way, of course. A lot of people loved Lost way down the line toward the very end. But this comment is written from my perspective, and I judge things based on how it seems to me things work best and ought to be, rather than what can keep a chunk of peoples’ attention.

    There are also problems with the specifics of what you wrote. Much of it has to do with a lack of clarity about the size and scope of the entities. At the start, they seem like gigantic things that require whole worlds of resources to sustain any tiniest fraction of, but then the shards somehow are suddenly small enough to fit into humans? Sounds like a complete contradiction. The problem might just be in the way you worded things. Perhaps you meant to communicate that the shards are on individual world and a tendril or something from them connects to a human(s).

    You also write that shards can multiply inside of human brains in a fragmentation process, and that contradicts the idea of two entities needing each other to reproduce – which was implied to be necessary. If the shards can reproduce on their own, the Entity should instantly realize that and not be so depressed, even if the cycle (perhaps a more efficient evolution) is impossible for a solo Entity. (In which case, doesn’t it just need to find a new partner?)

    Speaking of realizations, these god-like beings are terrifically stupid. Millions of years of knowledge and experience, and they can’t communicate more than simple things like “Agreement”? Access to the full of human language, yet the EntityScion still thinks in single words? Massively powerful, but unable to defend itself against host creatures? How does it have the power and ability and planning to guide selfevolution (shattering of shards and worlds and all), but not enough to prepare adequate countermeasures for defense? Why would a species so long exposed to conflict not be more risk-averse?

    Human cooperation naturally evolved, as did (apparently) Entity cooperation. How is it that this species that can absorb the knowledge and experience of other species never been able to put the simple pieces together to engineer cooperation to the greatest benefit, rather than rely on conflict? How can it analyze possible futures with mere brain(?) power and plan to the smallest details of integration with previously unknown species, yet it can’t communicate in complex conversations with species it joins to – or is too stupid to thought of having run such experiments?

    I mean, even if the entities are at-base stupid and blank slate to begin with, exposure to the evolution of other species – some said to be far more advanced, populous, and civilized than this world’s humans – should cause them to adapt the knowledge of others to learn.

    Instead, what you’ve written is basically nothing more than a horrible powerful, terribly inept, low-intelligent AI which has the function of cataloging the knowledge of millions of years for millions of species, yet which can never access or apply that knowledge to itself. I don’t know that I believe it’s realistically possible for such a thing to exist as a result of evolution. It would need a creator who intended such a stupid design. And that brings us back to the “A wizard did it” problem.

    Moreover, the ability to see possible outcomes for a world contradicts the idea of these Entities existing in possible iterations of the world. It makes even less sense than trying to group sets of worlds by differences in order to prevent problems with the shards. At what point do you say that a color is more blue-red than red-blue, when you’re looking at a continuum?

    It seems like most of what you introduced in this chapter just tears down and contradicts what you previously wrote and other parts of what you wrote here. All of the discussion and consideration of AI that grew up around Dragon, for example, is summarily crushed by the Entity being blank in the face of all of the knowledge and experience it had. If Dragon can become a person – and a good one at that -, the Entity should have been one long ago. Unless you want to say that an understanding of universal (if not only human-like) nature reveals that destruction and conflict are all that exist or are all that are deserved – in which case the Entity shouldn’t have ever made Scion be a good guy, much less get involved. In fact, I’d expect the Entity to be controlling the Endbringers and having Scion/itself act in essentially the same way. And I’d expect every character to end up more hostile and selfish and negative over time. That all contradicts your patterns.

    I like the idea of Scion being a blank slate – a stupid, incredibly powerful character that is vulnerable to manipulation. I thought previously that he might be the Entity or closely related to it, but I dismissed the idea out of hand immediately because it would bring up problems like what I’m mentioning here. I wanted to believe that Scion was something more interesting. I wanted to believe that the Entity wasn’t the Entity – that the dreams and talk about passengers were misinterpretations (as happens in real life with people’s interpretations of experiences and false memories leading to beliefs about supernatural things).

    Simply put, I wanted a better story than this becomes with this chapter. And I think you could write a better one.

    One thing still interests me at this point: Jack’s ability that Scion says the others don’t know about.

    Other than that, the only reason I feel like continuing to read is to see if more of the story with Taylor and the setting continues to reveal the ugliness of humans and human institutions. That reflection of reality is what drew me to the story, which probably makes my reaction to this completely nonhuman, nonemotional, nonrelatable setting/plot element stronger than it might otherwise have been. Then again, I don’t know i I would have kept reading beyond an arc or two if the story didn’t have the human focus to begin with (instead, just the superhero, battle scene stuff).

    • You know I don’t really get this post. We knew from as far back as Miss Militia interlude that powers were granted by multidimensional physics defying Eldritch Abominations. The shards are both gigantic and small enough to enter human bodies (and frankly I don’t believe they are literally inside human bodies) because they aren’t really in this dimension ergo why Foil’s power to affect every dimension at once was originally a weapon devised to kill their own kind.

      You have problems with the direction this story took with this chapter. Fine. De gustibus non est disputandum. But I, for one, never doubted that we’d go to Lovecraftian cosmic levels.

    • Eh, I think that you need to reread this again, because apparently something set you off and you stopped comprehending what you were reading.

      I see no problem with the backstory of the Outsiders. Sure, they are currently godlike, but they have been around for millions if not billions of years, eventually turning themselves into something resembling like a cross between Saberhagen’s Berserkers and the Borg.

      They are also not perfect, especially when they lose a companion / mate / whatever. Scion, without his mate, reminds me a LOT of the Beyonder from Marvel Comics. Hugely powerful, hugely intelligent, but flawed and unable to relate to humans because humans simply don’t have the mental connections. He’s inhuman. And he’s alone. Humans can’t understand him, or haven’t until now. Jack finally twigged onto something though, and managed to hold Scion’s attention long enough to get him to try something different, which, unfortunately, also awoke emotions in Scion which he apparently wants to continue feeling.

      So, do we have evidence that Simurgh was in the same place as Jack? I’d be willing to bet that Simurgh is pulling the trigger on this, hoping that between Humanity and the other Endbringers, they will be able to kill Scion.

      We casually throw around Simurgh’s ability to mindscrew humans, but it looks like she managed to mindscrew Scion’s mate, and is aiming for the same from Scion.

      After all, we still don’t know anything about Simurgh. Maybe she’s not on Earth for any reason other than that there are other outsiders here. It’s very possible that she’s actually preying on the other outsiders, and what she does to humans is just a sideshow as she sets up her real prey.

      There’s LOTS of different ways this could still go.

    • The shards being able to divide doesn’t contradict the entities needing to be in pairs to reproduce – shards appear to be kinda like animal cells, if we distributed memories and skills and brainpower inside all cells. Just because a cell can divide doesn’t mean humans can reproduce asexually.

      • Except that cells can cause asexual reproduction, so even your metaphor breaks down. Remember, this species initially existed as independent, asexual creatures – and they don’t really have any solid biology like we do to restrict them to sexual reproduction.

        • What do you mean, cell division can cause asexual reproduction? Not of the whole creature they can’t, unless it’s asexually reproductive to start with.

          We don’t have information on why, mechanically, they need two entities to continue the cycle. But the shards being able to multiply themselves has no bearing on it, because it’s an entirely separate process.

          They work on totally alien biology, so why are you sure you know what is and isn’t possible for them? Just take it as it’s written, they need two of them to reproduce. That’s not an unreasonable claim.

      • I’m reminded a bit of the Pak Protectors from Ringworld. The whole reason the author created them was because he wanted to deconstruct the idea that a more intellegant lifeform would not be controlled by instinct. The Worms are still very much instinct controlled.

        I also wouldn’t say the Worms are a case of a god doing it. I’m an athiest. But if a God, a truly all powerful, all knowing entity existed it wouldn’t have to worry about their not being enough food or energy. It could simply make more, violating the laws of thermodynamics however the hell it wants due to being able to do anything.

    • Hmm… how could interdiamentional creatures evolve? Perhaps in some diamentions, the laws of physics are different enough to allow it after billions of years of evolution? It’s not impossible, just improbable. And isn’t that the point of other diamentions? Everything happens somewhere?
      Still, I understand that you prefer mystery, but I personally prefer an explaination. Good to hear that you’re not angrily quiting the story though.

      • You’re confusing “dimension” with “possible/alternate world/universe/reality”. A dimension is a demarcation, like height, width, length, space-time, etc. The idea of “everything happens somewhere” is the idea of p/a worlds/universes/realities, in which every possible response to a decision happens in some universe, somewhere.

        Having possible worlds be -actual- worlds, rather than just a concept, and having the Entities exist in all of (or even just most of) those worlds makes the idea of precognition nonsense because to say “I’m looking at all possible worlds to see the % of how many X doesn’t take place in” would be nonsense given the omniscience of existing in those possible worlds. That is to say, any “future-seeing” ability would always work 100%, because all a future-seeing ability would be is understanding the cause-and-effect pattern of the given world and comparing it to the cause-and-effect pattern of the other worlds.

        That ^ might take some people awhile to grasp the meaning of, because it isn’t a simple concept and it’s common tot he way we think about the future or decision-making in general, but once you get it, you’ll see how the “precognitive” abilities in Worm are logically nonsense.

        Your proposed idea that the universe is fundamentally different from our own in all possible worlds, such that the Entities would evolve, is a good counter to my complaint about their apparent natural evolution and my preference for the setting to move by natural laws, except for two things:

        1) Occam’s Razor of Fiction: The simplest method of producing an effect is best. There’s no need for an intergalactic species to be created in order to solve all of goals that wildbow apparently has lined up (Endbringers, Scion, powers, war over parahuman resources, ends of the world), and introducing them rather than something simpler raises more questions/problems than it eliminates, distracts/disconnects from the story so far, and – as I said above – throws everything into complete unpredictability. If, rather, everything was the result of humans misunderstanding the universe, and then coming to grasp what was previously unknown, the framework (of both the characters and the audience) for understanding and reacting to the world remains stable, fewer issues need to be resolved/explained, and the story’s focus remains at human/powered scale – the established scale.

        2) Crossover of separate fabrics: A universe in which the Entities evolve because the physics, etc. are warped in such a way for Them to exist isn’t likely (if even possible) to have had the conditions for the existence of humans as the audience knows them, and wouldn’t be likely (if even possible) to have generated a near-audience-normal Earth Bet (much less Aleph). It’s like saying that humans evolved alongside the Entities the way that humans evolved inside of a flat universe.

        And that reminds me of something else wrong with this whole idea. Supposing that every possible world is an actual world, then there are Earths that hold non-human sentient life. A lot of them. Are we to assume that they are also being linked to shards? There’s certainly no recognition of them.

        Which leads to the recognition an even greater problem – if not even those beings are connected to the Entities, then the Entities aren’t really possible-reality-intersecting beings. And if they aren’t said beings, then either the Wormverse isn’t constructed of said kinds of worlds (despite what is written), or the Entities are in a verse so broken that there’s an infinity of existence that exists between actual infiniteness and finiteness. And that’s a whole new level of broken nonsense.

        And that makes better nonsense (it still makes no sense) than does the contradictory fact that a Verse made of all possible Verses includes the Entities both destroying and not destroying the same planets, people, etc.

        And this is just a small sample of what’s wrong with the multiple worlds hypothesis being turned into an actuality – much less being combined with the wrongness of these Entities existing and acting.

        Which brings me back to point #1 and Occam’s razor. The attempt to create a background that sounds like our normal scientific understandings and universe actually creates something completely nonsensical and more problematic than something we don’t get an explanation for in-story, or which we get a very small explanation for (such as humans misunderstanding something about the way that quantum-ish particle entanglement works, the result of which is that humans eventually stumble into a whole host of things that are scary and don’t make sense for a long time – but eventually become predictable and plausibly understandable).

        I’ll drop the story when it gets boring or annoying. This chapter was a huge step in that direction, but I’m not discounting the idea that it could still be focused enough on the themes it was before – at least here and there – that it could still be interesting. But I’m certainly not reading with any enjoyment of these new focuses.

        • I don’t get annoyed at a lot of comments, but the ones that do really annoy me are the ones that speak for me or make assumptions.

          I.F., I would ask that you not assume that the whole idea behind Scion/the Passengers is an attempt to fill in the gaps or make sense of the nonsensical.

          • To me it hardly comes across as an attempt to “fill in the gaps or make sense of the nonsensical”. Rather it fills in the gaps in the puzzle we already had pieces of. This interlude has made all the trigger event visions we’ve seen thus far make perfect sense. To me it fills in the gaps because it fits. “Their like gods and babies and viruses all at once” said Tattletale way back during Scrub’s trigger event. That fits so well with what we learn this chapter that if it wasn’t part of Wildbow’s plans for a long time I’ll be very surprised.

            • “I mean, even if the entities are at-base stupid and blank slate to begin with, exposure to the evolution of other species – some said to be far more advanced, populous, and civilized than this world’s humans – should cause them to adapt the knowledge of others to learn.”
              Your name is Intelligent Fool. Scion is actually an intelligent idiot. Or to put it another way he has knowledge, but not smarts. Book Smarts vs Street Smarts. In some RPGs you have different stats for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Cunning. Having encylcipedic knowledge doesn’t do as much if you can’t correctly apply it. Someone can pass a test by memorizing the text book and thus from memory get the correct answer. But someone else can use what they’ve learned to get an answer from actually solving the problem. Just because the entities have knowledge doesn’t mean they can actually grasp it and derive new knowledge from it.

              I can relate on your not liking the “god/wizard did it” situation though. I’m one of the few Transformers fans who prefers the Quintison (built by aliens as slaves) origin to the Primus (made by a god) origin.

              • I don’t think the analogy you’re trying to make works, particularly because inherent in the idea of Knowledge is understanding. I could quote you a bunch of mathematical formulas with no idea what they relate to or how to use them, and it wouldn’t be correct to say that I have knowledge of mathematics. Rather, I’d simply have knowledge of some scribbles and sounds people make associated with them – like me looking at a word in French, having heard it before, but having no idea what it is, means, how to use it, etc.

                For the Entities to have Knowledge regarding species, they have to be applying things. It’s clear that they do have such Knowledge, so they should have learned far more from their experiences than they apparently have.

                As an analogy, a psychopath (in the clinical sense of the word) can learn and follow ethical behavior, and will be motivated to follow it by the rewards gained from doing so. The same thing will theoretically happen with AI. For it to not have happened with the Entity – which has vastly more processing power, knowledge, and and access to further information – goes against all sense.

              • And for anyone curious, my handle comes from the meaning of “fool” as one that doesn’t follow social rules, cues, or expectations – like the Jester who is in the position to reprimand the King, or the philosopher who is condemned. Socially shunned or privileged for both refusal to follow along, and for the oddness of personality.

          • By “There’s no need for an intergalactic species to be created in order to solve all of goals that wildbow apparently has lined up”, I didn’t mean to imply that the goals we’ve seen are the only ones you have. I only meant to say that I think there are better ways to meet these ones that -are apparent-. Whatever else you intend with the Entities and such isn’t something I can comment on at all. I don’t even know if I’ll dislike or like your other goals or how things play out.

            • Hmmn you have some points here. But there are a few other things to bring up. We’ve got a definite theme of blind spots here. The blind spots put in that by Zion so people like Tattletale coulnd’t figure him out. Jack’s blind spot to normals. To a degree it might even apply to an entity. “and will be motivated to follow it by the rewards gained from doing so.” I hope I don’t end up quote mining here, and taking this out of context from what you mean. Look at people who will not stop having kids despite not being able to support all of them, and the mother’s health is suffering as a resault of constantly being pregnant. It would seem like a good idea to stop having kids, and just focus on the ones they have, but they don’t.

              But what are the entities goals? Surviving. Not dying. And up until now they have been doing this. Why go through the trouble and effort of being ethical when it’s not neccisary? A psychopath who is never punished or loses any rewards won’t bother to be ethical. Remember Zion is the Brawn of his duo. The other one was the brains.

              Let’s take a look at blowing up the planet when they are done. In all possible realities They just plain loose this for any future purposes. Has the idea of sustainable agriculture ever been encountered to them? Why not see if you can put some of that knowledge to use to leave it so you can come back for another harvest? Is it impossible or have they just never bothered to consider it? Again, as I said blind spots. Ever been in a situation where someone did something and then someone else pointed out a obviously simpler and better way to do it? We are talking about a species that consumed all the resources on all possible versions of their home planet because it never occured to them that they should curtail their breeding and growth to sustainable levels. They just keep eating and growing and breeding until collapse. And their current cycle is not really different. They just expanded the scale. They haven’t really changed.

              And the final thing is this. The mystery of the Third Worm. What is the different path is took? What was it that is communicated to the counterpart? Is it possible it realized the benifits of Ethics and applying the gained knowledge?

        • Hrm, I can think of a whole lot of different ways that this chapter could be followed up, some of which are not all that complex. I simply chucked your whole argument about seeing the future and multiple universe theory out the window, I fear, because it seems just fine to me. Realistic, no. But that’s why it’s called fiction.

          As for the complexity of the situation, I really do not see a lot of complexity here. The humans didn’t understand it from the inside, but I’ve been picking it up from the reader’s point of view for a while, and it is not complex.

          Two beings decide to reproduce. They find a nice house, in a nice school district, and have a bunch of kids. Then mommy dies and daddy retreats into himself. Eventually daddy gets abusive.

          Now, when “daddy” realizes that Simurgh was responsible for killing “mommy” what is he going to do?

          I am relatively confident that despite his incredible intelligence, Scion hasn’t made the connection between the outsider his mate encountered, which damaged his mate’s mind, and Simurgh.

          This whole story is tiers upon tiers. Normal humans, Parahumans, and Outsiders. It’s not a simple fairy tale, and it’s not in black and white.

          • I don’t think reproduce and spouse are the right words. Maybe I missed the part where he says they’ll leave the world with three entities, one smaller then the other too, but I didn’t see that. Just information gathering and evloving in the most efficient way.

            I also didn’t see the emotional dept towards his counterpart. Sure, it’s a vital part of the cycle and it’s devastated after the counterpart gone, but that feels more like a “For hundreds of cycles he was there. Now, out of nothing. Dead. The neverending cycle broken. All for nought.”

            Like counterpart stands for counterpart and mate. When did the Simurgh kill Scion’s counterpart? And how is that even possible?

            • Farmerbob has the sometimes irritating habit of talking about his theories as if they were facts. He believes that the third entity that fatally wounded the counterpart is actually Simurgh. Personally I think that all the Endbringers, included Simurgh, are to the third entity what Scion is to the once-twinned entity. With Contessa, somehow, being powered by a living shard of the third entity.

        • First off, the entities were hugely foreshadowed and Wildbow saiud he was anticipating the response to their reveal all along, so I doubt ther’e just there to fill the gap.

          The entities did not evolve in a world similar to ours. Maybe the fundamental laws of physics were the same, maybe not. I think you apply theories from quantenmechanics to much, that there is a world for every possibility. I don’t think that is explititly true for Wormverse(s).

          It has multiple worlds. Not explititly all possible versions of one. It could have one world were humans life on the moon and another were gravity does not exist. We don’t know.

          Yes, the entities encountered non-human sentien life. Yes, they linked Shards to them. They probably eventually consumed them. They linked Shards to quite a lot and saw even more, they do not need to recognize something that isn’t even there.

          I think your frustration comes from

          1: An creature that evolved in a single world learns to travel outside of it. I recommend just handwaving that away. It seems to not make sense, but what do we know about worldtravel.

          And 2: The entities and Scion seem to overshadow everything that happened so far. I feel like that too, since nothing ever came even close to Scion. How are Taylor, the Undersiders, the Wards even going to approach this ?

          But I’ll read one, just as you said you would, and hopefully there’s a handy solution ready featuring good writing.

    • Quick question:

      You are reading a story with superheroes who note that their power violates thermodynamics, and you expect the beings who grant these powers to follow the laws of nature as we understand them?

      Another:
      These creatures have a sort of cross-reality travel and sensing capability/capabilities. You expect them to act anything like normal creatures? In fact, your assumption that they evolved is impossible to prove; it’s as possible that their origin is no more special than the origins of background radiation or black holes.

      • 1) Read my other posts. It’s not human understanding or how the universe works that’s at issue for me.

        2) Unless I am totally off base, this chapter started with an evolution story.

        • 1. I’ll admit to only having skimmed your walls of text. Rereading them, I’m not sure if I got any better comprehension.

          2. It looked more like a description of a war than a description of evolution.

            • Different timescales. Evolution requires hundreds to thousands of generations for more than minor changes, and those minor changes are kind of less important than the war. It seems like the war is the main bit of that, even though evolution was going on. Kinda like how there was, in fact, economic reorganization and such going on during the American Civil War, but it was secondary to the whole “Brother killing brother” thing and that “Scorched Earth” tactic.

              • Evolution of the Shards; they mature, gather data, split and the entity sorts out which to keep and which to drop at the end. Not _human_ evolution.

              • Ah. I was assuming you were referring to something like biological evolution, not something more like technological innovation.

              • Technically, almost any genetic change can be considered “evolution,” so it can only take a single generation. What 90-99% of people think of as being “actual” evolution is macroevolution, aka the stuff that leaves a more permanent mark on the species and does take a while. Microevolution is definitely overshadowed by war.

              • If you actually read the article then you will realize that there was no mutation at that generation at all. What happened is that the darker ones had more chance of survival and therefore lived, next generation the same thing happened, and again at the next generation.

                In general that is how evolution works, mutations that happened long before and didn’t cause the death(or a great disadvantage) of the individual are passed to the next generation until a sudden change of the environment makes that trait superior to others.

              • I am aware of how evolution works. Alright? What I’m NOW aware of is its relevance to this current topic of discussion.

                Notice how it said that the strong ones got stronger and ate the weaker ones? That’s more like a game of Civilization than it is like evolution, especially since I’m not sure if any reproduction went on when they were battling for food/energy/whatever, and hence no genes could be transferred from generation to generation.

              • I was replying to:

                “Evolution does not necessarily require hundreds of generations, just a mutation in a single generation which allows for a marked improvement in the ability to breed and/or survive.”

                Which is absurd since it implies mutations are goal-driven and happen as needed.

              • Implications of that nature are hard to avoid. Look around you sometime when you’re in a natural environment. Consider how each little animal looks like it was supremely designed to survive. Small wonder that Creationist ideas have persisted so long.

                It’s part of human psychology, I suppose, that makes it so hard to get the implication of goals out of evolution. I did not intend to do such, but evolution does lead to improvement.

                What I meant was: A mutation happens that results in an improved ability to survive or reproduce. This happens in one generation and is evolution.

    • I think you’re misreading and/or misinterpreting a lot there.

      > It went exactly where I was hoping it wouldn’t go – the god route. A wizard did it
      That’s not true, or you have to check your terminology. “A wizard did it” means that a supernatural event is left without any explanation whatsoever.

      > It would have been better if their origins were left completely obscure, and the interlude started from some point along their travel path.
      So you WANTED for the powersto be AWizardDidIt? No wait, maybe it’s actually a quesion of terminology….

      > Instead, what we get here is a self-contradictory origin story that requires an “A wizard did it” for the creation of the species used as the in-story “A wizard did it”.
      Duse, it’s one or the other. Either no explanation or yes explanation. Tose thing were more-dimensional than us to begin with, and get powers by trial and error basically. That’s very clear and avoids TurtlesAllTheWayDown.

      > It’s the equivalent of using “God’s logic is above our logic” and other nonsensical phrases to try to ignore problem with one’s belief system.
      No, it’s not. I’ts the equivalent of saying “In another country they have a different culture”. Besides their motives are extremely clear cut and simple.

      > Appealing to a mysterious “big thing out there” makes everything involved in the subject of discussion small and worthless.
      Except there’s not anything like that. The space whales are shown to be fallible, extremely simple, and almost animal in their thought processes. Not mysterious at all.

      > With this god/wizard plot device that’s larger than necessary and so massive that it brings up so many holes/problems and draws so much attention away from what was working in the story,
      Actually it ties in neatly pretty much anything, and it’s a wonder we still have some doubts about stuff.
      State three serious plot holes introduces by the space whales, I dare you.

      > It’s no longer a human story is a somewhat predictable world.
      Sure, however it never was. We had always known there were organizations and forces at work, with the barest hints of what their agenda was.
      Besides “human” does not really fit when you have stuff like an endbringer or noelle around.

      > Gaiman’s “Lucifer” can pull off a good run because there was never an expectation that the world was as the audience knows our world, and the characters appear to have a solid, predictable understanding of one another. More than that, they’re all human-like. There are in-universe rules that govern everything. None of that exists in the Wormverse you’ve just revealed
      The fact that we did not know -all- the rules so far does not mean there were none.
      We knew something was up, it was big and multi-dimesional. We knew there were rules. And most importantly there never was an expectation that the world was simple as the single perspectives we got from the narration.

      > Active gods, in the true senses of the meaning, ruin stories. Because stories are human (or human-like), or nothing at all.
      Wrong. As a lot of classic sci-fi books can attest.
      Expecially -worm- gods now that I think about it.

      > There are also problems with the specifics of what you wrote. [CUT] Perhaps you meant to communicate that the shards are on individual world and a tendril or something from them connects to a human(s).
      She communicated it just fine to me, no problem with the wording at all.

      > You also write that shards can multiply inside of human brains in a fragmentation process, and that contradicts the idea of two entities needing each other to reproduce – which was implied to be necessary.
      Ok, that’s just made up. The warrior whale clearly states that since that in their particular pair the jobs were separated, the job of -harvesting the mature shards- fell to the other one.

      > Speaking of realizations, these god-like beings are terrifically stupid.
      Yes, they are. Do decide if you want them godlike and omniscient or stupid.

      > Millions of years of knowledge and experience, and they can’t communicate more than simple things like “Agreement”?
      Did you actually read the chapter or just skimmed it? I was bothered by the exact opposite, that in the agreement concept they can pass enough information to run the interent for a thousand years like it’s clearly written.

      > Massively powerful, but unable to defend itself against host creatures?
      Did you miss the part when they’re basically arming the hosts with the best weapons at their disposal? Because otherwise there would be no point to test them?

      > Why would a species so long exposed to conflict not be more risk-averse?
      Gee, I don’t know, maybe hiding in a different dimension, unreachable by the hosts, is seen as sufficient?

      > How is it that this species that can absorb the knowledge and experience of other species never been able to put the simple pieces together to engineer cooperation to the greatest benefit, rather than rely on conflict?
      Because -those two- choose that path. It’s kinda bloody obvious.

      > I don’t know that I believe it’s realistically possible for such a thing to exist as a result of evolution. It would need a creator who intended such a stupid design. And that brings us back to the “A wizard did it” problem.
      Seems a textbook case of a cell game to me. Quite believable and not at all forced.
      To quote another author, who was actually fond of wizarddidits “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. ”

      > Moreover, the ability to see possible outcomes for a world contradicts the idea of these Entities existing in possible iterations of the world.
      Oh you mean that they cannot see different iteration because they’re, you know, in all the different iterations at once and so they can extrapolate?

      > It seems like most of what you introduced in this chapter just tears down and contradicts what you previously wrote and other parts of what you wrote here. All of the discussion and consideration of AI that grew up around Dragon, for example, is summarily crushed by the Entity being blank in the face of all of the knowledge and experience it had. If Dragon can become a person – and a good one at that -, the Entity should have been one long ago.
      That’s not even remotely correlated. First of all there’s a slight difference between one way and two way communication. Second there’s a sligtly bigger difference between something evolved with the express purpose of war and strife and something expressly coded with a personality and strict moral limitations.

      > I wanted to believe that the Entity wasn’t the Entity – that the dreams and talk about passengers were misinterpretations (as happens in real life with people’s interpretations of experiences and false memories leading to beliefs about supernatural things).
      So… you convinced yourself that all the anvils dropped so far were figments of the character’s imagination or coincidence? Because it was blindingly obvious there were gian space crystal slug whales around.

      > Then again, I don’t know i I would have kept reading beyond an arc or two if the story didn’t have the human focus to begin with (instead, just the superhero, battle scene stuff).
      Human focus IS the main point of the story, always had been. This is a story about Taylor.
      There are a lot of conspiracies and shoggoths, but hey, that’s just part of the setting. Think how scary would it have been if it was a story about high school.

      • Actually, there is one other thing I would like to mention that I think is being forgotten.

        Literature is an art form. It is as much about the beauty of the language as it is about the story. When people break the story down into this ‘trope’ and that ‘trope’ (something I never really cared for) you miss this. It works as a shorthand for discussing the plot, but otherwise, should be avoided in my opinion.

        Wildbow’s writing has an undeniable beauty to it. Lines like “They weave into one world and worm out into another” seem simple on their own, but when you think of the greater story, and the choice of words in just a simple sentence such as this, the author’s talent is apparent. It is much appreciated, at least by this reader. I could give many examples of sentences I have read here with a poetic beauty, a subtle humor, etc.

        I try to avoid the generalizations. You could write a simple story that has essentially been done a thousand times before (something like ‘boy meets girl, boy pursues girl, they fall in love and live happily ever after), but a great author will make it memorable simply through the writing. Think Steinbeck, Twain, Joyce, … any of the greats really. Don’t just break the story down into its parts and plot elements and then decide if it is a good story. The real question is: Does the story entertain in the telling?

        When it comes to webfiction, most writing is nowhere near the level of writing that one would consider great ‘literature’. Worm however, stands WELL above most webfiction I regularly read.

        Wildbow does an especially great job of making the writing feel different with each new point of view. Since the beginning of Worm I have really enjoyed it any time we get a glimpse into the minds of these entities (usually during a trigger). They think in terms of concepts and generalities that are familiar to us and yet very alien at the same time.

        • What? most webfiction? Don’t sell Wildbow short.
          For me, Worm stands above most fiction I’ve read, and that’s the truth. It’s definitely one of my favourite stories.

          • Ok, you caught me. I should have said ‘any’ fiction, not ‘most’ fiction.

            I chose the word ‘most’ for two reasons – 1) I don’t want to pump his tires too much and give him a swollen head, 2) I am sensitive to the feelings of the readers of Worm who also happen to write great fiction (Jim – LoN for example).

      • What I think is that IF isn’t not-seeing what you see, but but instead that you see the same things and he’s placing more weight on different things than you do, if that makes any sense.

        People always want to believe that people they disagree with don’t have all the facts, or that they’re just stupid or anything that lets them save the effort of seeing it from the other person’s point of view. I think this is one of those times.

    • Okay, I disagree with your post. I’m not going to try and pull it apart point by point, ‘cos that way lies madness. :) But I have a few comments to make:

      When you’re writing science fiction about technologies far in advance of our own, you have to make one of two assumptions: (a) Everything we think we know about reality is true and all future advancements will be extrapolations of that, or (b) there are things about reality that we don’t know yet and, once known, will fundamentally change what we consider to be possible.

      Worm is a #b. It postulates, amongst other things, that there are ways (which we are currently aware of) to move between parallel universes (sometimes referred to as ‘dimensions’, which is not technically correct, but has strong fictional precedent) and that this is something that can be achieved biologically with enough size and energy (although it’s debatable to what extent the creatures are biological in the sense we understand it).  The creatures did not ‘break the laws of the universe’ – they just utilised hypothetical laws of the universe that we’re currently unaware of.

      Personally I find this plausible. There have been numerous times in human history where we thought we knew it all, only to discover that the universe was more complex and weirder than we ever dreamed. Relativity, then quantum physics would’ve been considered fictional magic not so long ago and I wouldn’t be surprised to find there are more such breakthroughs in future that will reframe what we thought we knew about reality.

      I think the size of the entities is quite clear –  they weave in and out of multiple dimensions. They’re big enough to take up entire worlds and touch our world with interdimensional ‘tendrils’ such as shards or Scion which are quite small in comparison.

      With regard to their reproduction, you seem to be confusing the macro and the micro scales. The macro-entities breed in pairs and consume worlds to do so. They are composed of myriad micro-entities (‘shards’) which themselves exhibit properties of living things – specifically developing and growing.  The entities seem to deliberately cut the shards off from themselves to some extent so they’re able to learn and grow independently before being reabsorbed at the end of the cycle.

      The entities *do* appear to be incredibly stupid in human terms.  I completely disagree that this is evolutionarily implausible.

      Evolution *is* stupid. It will continue doing the same things again and again for as long as they continues to work.  Evolution doesn’t seek perfection, it seeks ‘good enough’.  It does dopey things like routing our optic nerve across our retina so we have a blind spot and never bothering to correct that for as long as it still does a passable job.

      I also think you’re overvaluing intelligence.  Of all the species on our world we are the only ones to develop human level intelligence and we’re arguably less successful as a species than ants or algae. To assume that evolution will lead to humanlike intelligence is just anthropocentrism. 

      What the entities have been doing has worked for them for eons. What need do they have to evolve conscious intelligence as we understand it?

  59. Irony of ironies: Gray Boy trapped Jack when he didn’t do something interesting, but the trap allowed Jack to do something interesting.

    Golem and Tattletale invoked Murphy here:

    Golem shook his head. “Doesn’t seem world ending.”

    “I don’t know,” Tattletale said. She grinned wide. “But if the world is ending, then it’s an awfully quiet end.”

    Anyone else thinking of slime molds? They exist as multiple separate entities, but when environmental stresses trigger, they coalesce to a different form that allows better broadcast reproduction – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictyostelium_discoideum There are even different species that cooperate with different functions, producing different parts of the spooring body – see the blue and yellow in http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/03/pr03106_images.htm. The analogy gets even better – there are third party species of slime molds that, instead of cooperating during coalescence, attempt to crowd out the other species so that only they reproduce, kind of like what we suspect our lone Worm is doing. See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/01/130110-cheaters-slime-mold-science-weird/ or the nontechnical parts of http://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/~aukema/Hudsonetal02.pdf.

    So, Scion is a slime mold. There are even species with his color!

    • I’m thinking of slime molds now…
      Probably an overthought explanation, but I’m not one to complain. It’s quite understandable to overthink.
      I’m guessing that the similarity, however interesting, is more apparent than real–like the similarities between fish and dolphins, but less substantial.

  60. Normally I would say something like “the plot thickens” – but this is WORM – by this point, the plot is already iron hard, sharpened and in the process of slicing through the Earth…

    Interesting info, nonetheless. So that is how Cauldron could adapt a dose with numerical precision – there are many copies of each shard, and they use several shards – pieces of shards – in each dose, none of which has any say in the process since they’re dead.

    And the Stranger category – which isn’t common in most superhero stories – is there because there was a mechanism specially dedicated to establish censorship protocols in the shards. Fridge Brilliance!

    If the Endbringers are with the third entity, and Contessa is ALSO with the third entity, that implies scary things – Simurgh/Contessa combo! But then, it’s not totally impossible that Contessa’s passenger is from the second entity and performing some kind of long-term plan.

    I wonder how this goes together with Noelle’s memory from her passenger back in 18.z – since her passenger actually took her over, wouldn’t it almost HAVE to have been alive at that point? And it had a specific plan to follow; a specific target to attach to, with all expectation of success – I wonder just where things went wrong…

    Regarding the train evacuation thing, I don’t quite get why they wouldn’t start it regardless of outcome, simply shipping people back if the event resolved itself – they’d have plenty of time then for sorting out the resultant logistical nightmare.
    But oh well, hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

    Hoping Tattletale is OK…

    • We know that shards being “dead” does not mean they can’t serve as functional shards that act with intelligence and moderate powers. Whatever “death” means for shards it probably doesn’t remove their agency. Eidolon’s powers for example are definitely Cauldronborn and let his powers, which mean his shard/passenger/agent, select the powers most useful in a situation. Manton limitations and other aspects of shard agency/programming seem to be in effect as well. I don’t think that motivations and activities are lost to shards simply because of death.

  61. We don’t actually know the counterpart is dead. The Warrior decides it’s dead, but it has literally no imagination. It’s counterpart transmitted confidence – perhaps the Thinker had a method of rejuvenating or restoring itself when the cycle was complete, and this required the spread of it’s vital shards. Perhaps this was its plan, then the Warrior unthinkingly killed those shards and killed its own counterpart. Or perhaps the counterpart is still alive in some manner, which would explain a living unknown shard like Contessa.

    Either way, the only source for the counterpart being dead is the Warrior, which is not very good at determining unknowns and hypotheticals.

    Still very curious about Cauldron and the Endbringers myself. I think it’s a testament to the quality of the writing and the ability of the author to have such a large, satisfying reveal, and still have such large, juicy questions afterwards. Not new questions, though we’ve gotten some of those, but old questions that become even more interesting afterwards. And I can’t even imagine how the next few chapters or arcs will be. I thought the climax of the story was interlude 26b with Theo. It seems things are going to be even bigger than that.

    On that note I want to commend the author on the appropriate use of Interludes here. Theo finishes off Jack, which is a satisfying conclusion to his story, and the battle/war against Jack, but also those two interludes and this one had enough flashbacks and emotional distance from the story to let me take a breather. So we have a fully realized satisfying conclusion on several levels, a very satisfying reveal, and the start of a tremendous climax that takes the tension in the story up to 11, but I don’t feel the sort of stressed fatigue I felt during the S9/Coil/Echidna arcs. I think that shows the author has advanced as a writer. Of course, looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about those arcs and their pacing. The tension was thick, but afterwards it was very enjoyable, and I’ll remember this story and those parts in particular for years and years.

    Not only do I eagerly look forward to the conclusion of Worm, but I’ll read anything that Wildbow writes in the future. I hope he publishes it though, just so he can make some money and get his name out there.

    Thanks for the story Wildbow. :)

  62. A few things.

    One: I’ve caught up to the current end of Worm at last! It’s taken a while, but it was worth it.

    Two: When I started reading this Interlude, I didn’t think there was anything in here that could compare to the previous chapter. Neat, an exposition interlude. A nice breather.
    I was wrong.

    Three: Jack was the catalyst after all.

    Four: Is Scion worse or less bad than an Endbringer? All Endbringers?

    Five: What happened when Gray Boy died, anyways?

  63. Wildbow I usually have time to read the chapter and all comments only 24 to 36 hours from each posting. But rest assured that I love worm and, if I do not comment more it is because when i get here most of what I could say is already said.

  64. Here’s something I was thinking of. Okay now if I’m right Scion’s naming the shards is in relation to what function or role they fulfill. Not what they do, but what they are used to do. So Foil gets two powers from the Sting Shard. One is the damaging effect that hits the target in every reality. The other is the timing. Because it doesn’t matter how powerful the attack is if it misses. Okay looking at this then we can see a few things about the Queen Shard. Obviously it has the ability to control other things. It’s purpose in the greater entity was to control the other shards. We she this expressed in Taylor’s bug controlling powers. We can also see why it would give her her multitasking and organizing abilities, since it’s in charge. But if it is like an insect queen, does it also have powers relating to reproduction? Could Taylor be the ultimate Trump, able to control what powers new shards give, and where they go?

    • As neat as that sounds, I doubt it. Taylor’s good, but she’s not the centerpoint of the universe or anything.

      • Then who the is the main character?

        I’m just thowing out theories here anyways. Who knows maybe Scion gets antclimatically headshotted by Foil two paragraphs in next chapter.

        • Sounds good to me.

          Who am I kidding, not going to happen. Partly because the entities build in restrictions, the’re not going to give away weapons which can kill them.

        • Taylor is the main character, yes, but she is NOT the universe’s focal point. She’s just the eyes who we see the Wormverse through; this doesn’t mean we should expect her to solve the ‘Verse’s problems. Exhibit A: Behemoth.

  65. Okay, here’s another piece of evidence for the Jack is a Shitty, pathetic Person Files.

    Scion say’s his power is transmission of kinetic force, which he can only do with his knife. Why is this? I mean, a guy with kinetic transmission as a power period would be pretty damn dangerous, a martial artist who can hit you from a mile away, a hero who can save people without even touching them. But there’s something about Jack that prevents him from doing this.

    Maybe he was always like this, a petty, violent sociopath who has a kind of animal cunning and shallow charm that let’s hi impersonate a person bigger than he actually is. When his trigger event came along he could have become Captain Catch-a-Falling-Leaf-Without-Moving, but his small mind couldn’t grasp the potential because he had no vision or any interest other than primal violence, and he locked himself in the “cut people up” box. Compare to Taylor, who’s power is vast in scope because all evidence points to her being a relatively well-adjusted and bright person at the time of her trigger.

    I really gotta give kudos to Wildbow for solving the problem of Jack Slash not being that interesting. What do you do with a major character people think are shallow? Make him being shallow the whole point.

    • While the power going from “emitting kinetic wavelength” to “extending knife blades” probably has a lot to do with Jack’s nature (Scion is even dumbfounded at his actions because the broadcasting shard isn’t even particularly aggressive), we have to take in account also the fact that it’s crippled. Just like Taylor’s shard should theoretically allow her/Aidan to control everything but they can only control bugs/birds.

      • The gulf of power between his broadcasting and his kinetic transmission is pretty wide though. I think in this case, crippled would mean that he can’t apply his power across oceans and at the atomic level and his knife power is mostly just his fault.

    • I’m guessing that Jack just never found out, and/or a large part of his power was locked away by mental blocks. Maybe he’d discover his new powers on accident, or with a second Trigger Event.

    • Has it been shown he can’t use it on anything but his knife? He can inflict more damage by extending his knife than extending his fist after all, so what’s the point of applying it to his fist?

      • If he could use his hands I’d think he’d try to grapple or throttle someone during a straight up fight at some point. Like during his mano-a-mano with Skitter way back.

        • Have we actually ever seen Jack unarmed? Have we ever seen him weaponless, and having to improvise? Maybe he doesn’t fight with his hands because he’s better with knives. It’s really not that hard to keep a knife within easy reach at most times. In fact, Bonesaw probably gave him some sort of retractable blades like Wolverine’s claws to use in an emergency, but we never saw them, because Jack was never really in an out of control situation until Grey Boy hit him, then he didn’t have the option. Wolverine was around 30 years ago. Jack is probably old enough to remember the comics if he ever read them. Bonesaw would think it was cool.

  66. Let’s consider terminology.

    I’ve seen a few terms used for the things we now know are “shards,” the things that grant powers. What should we call them? Passengers? Shards? Power-Granting Thingies?
    How about the creatures themselves, or the specific individuals? Most notably, Being-That-Is-Scion. He tried to call himself Zion–should we call him that? Should he get a different name, like Scourge, now that he’s gone “evil”? Should he even be called a “he”?

  67. Most of what I will say has probably been said better, by others, but here goes.
    First and foremost, DAMN fine chapter!!!!!
    Second, why the hell did no one even TRY to kill Jack? I understand wanting to shut him up as soon as possible, but couldn’t Weaver had Foil make the attempt to put a few darts through ol’ Jacks brain pan? Ah well. Lava under the bridge and all that.

    *** START THE EVACUATION!!!!!!! ***

    Taylor’s ‘shard’, as powerful as we have seen it to be, has been severely crippled. If it were to be repaired in some fashion, what would be the results for Taylor? Would that give her something as simple as a major, (or minor), range boost, or would it expand her powers to more species? Sounds to me like Weaver needs to have a nice long talk with Panacea.
    Beating Scion/Zion is just not going to be in the cards for humanity, at least not a straight up physical fight. Even if the fore mentioned ‘Panacea Powerup’ is able to be mass produced. there’s just not enough power to beat Eldritch. I think that as long as she is talking to people, Weaver needs to have a conversation with Glaistig Uaine as well. Come to think of it, Tattletale needs to be there for both of those talks.

    Damnnation!!!!! We could sure use Dragon about now.
    *slides lid onto 55 gallon drum full of wood ticks. “What was that address again? Toronto wasn’t it?”*

    Not sure where we’re going from here, but it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

    • Once Jack was caught in Gray Boy’s well there was nothing that could be done. Only Gray Boy can touch someone in the loop. Even Foil’s power could only break Gray Boy’s passive resurrection power. When she hit one of the grey zones the darts bounced off like everything else.

    • I think targeting Jack directly would be a mistake, because as far as he’s concerned he’s the center of the Universe, and any tactics he uses will have his own safety as a top priority. Go right after him, and you’re jumping right into the arms of his buddies. So they need to make an opening by cutting him off from the other Niners first.

      I don’t think that Taylor’s shard being crippled means that there’s a weakness in her power as it is. It’s just that it’s a limited iteration of a much more sweeping power the entity has. Her power completely restored might give her total control of all life forms.

      • I wasn’t trying to say that her power was weak. I was wondering/speculating on how her power might improve if her ‘shard’ had IT’S function restored.

        …….
        Thought just occurred to me. Taylor has the Queen Administrator shard from the Entity that is Scion..Could it be that Glaistig Uaine has the same shard from the Companion? If so, How is it that she recognizes the shards. She DID call Weaver by the designation of her shard. How can she tell? Is Glaistig Uaine the embodiment of the Companion? Or is she the third entity?

        • Awareness of shards and entities might be consequence of being completely subsumed by the passenger. We say Taylor and Jack we’re deeply in tune with them, but we don’t really know how far the rabbit hole can go. Glaistig might have gotten to the point where she’s no longer truly human, but a mental hybrid.

  68. Here’s a thing — why does killing England, Wales, and Scotland make Scion feel something, when so many other things don’t?

  69. One thing is clear to me.
    Jack`s passenger (improving notation: the part of a shard that is bound to someone has to be called a passenger) was linked to the shard responsible for communications.
    When the counterpart died this semi conscious shard noticed since it was in contact with the counterpart.
    So, the communication shard lost its purpose. It must have felt lost and, with nothing better to do, reverted to its basic instincts and pleasures.
    When the passenger talked to Zion through Jack (Jack and his passenger are so close that Jack may be only a puppet of the thing by now) it conveyed this basic realization: We are lost, without the counterpart this cycle can`t be saved, so, lets get as much pleasure as we can before our extinction.
    All this is possible only because Zion would be the warrior, the guardian in this cycle. Thought and creativity (the little that they had) was restrained to the dead entity.
    Detail: these beings were never very creative to start with, or else they would have found other solutions for their problem a long time ago.
    And, yes, smart is not the same as intelligent and you can be intelligent in a sense (fast learning) without being much creative.
    The beings learn fast and understand new concepts, but they have little creativity to develop new concepts and they are not very smart.
    Their escape from their original planet demanded creativity, but it took millennia to think in this solution while a human being would have found thousands of solutions if he had their abilities.
    And yet, here on Earth we have a possible example of this problem. If the documentary thar I saw on Discovery is true: The Neandertals were intelligent and stronger than normal humans, but everything indicates that they used the same models of weapons for centuries before getting in contact with the much more creative humans.

  70. Shot in the dark here…

    Based on what we saw in this chapter as well as the past… A timeline.

    The outsider pair choose Earth as their next breeding site and begin moving there.

    Simurgh intersects the thinker half of the pair, and mindscrews it. Simurgh is also an outsider, but one that has evolved techniques for feeding on other outsiders, or the planets that other outsiders infect.

    The damaged thinker outsider sends out vital, important shards that it would NEVER normally send out in advance of typical breeding. It wasn’t as smart or capable as normal because it sent a vital, powerful mental shard with those abilities ahead of it, due to Simurgh’s influence. The timing of the shard delivery was probably also off.

    Doctor Mother was the recipient of the unedited thinker core of Scion’s mate. Unlike most other shards, this isn’t just a broken fragment of a shard, or a whole, but relatively weak shard. Doctor Mother has intelligence that probably comes close to matching Scion, maybe even goes beyond him. Planning. Coordination. Organization. Analysys. All of those things which Scion indicated his mate was missing were actually sent to Doctor Mother.

    This intelligence allowed her to rapidly generate a power base, then find, capture, and/or kill Scion’s mate when it was in it’s weakest state, shortly after it arrived. Doctor Mother doesn’t have the racial memories and understanding of shard functions that the outsiders do (if she had gotten those abilities, scion’s mate could have never continued to disperse