Venom 29.2

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Oh, how small we were, in the grand scheme of it all.

Our planet was but a speck in the midst of the milky way galaxy, which was a speck in the midst of the known universe.  We were fighting to save it, and yet it could disappear without anyone in the nearest solar system even noticing.

Small, insignificant.  Little more than ants before a giant.

A pencil-thin beam lanced out from his fingertips.  A sweep of his hand, waist-level, and it cut through the crowd.  Cut through thighs, knees, calves, feet.

Swept towards us.

No time to act, to save anyone.  Only to get out of the way.  I jumped, activating the flight pack.  I looked to my teammates, my breath trapped in my throat as I waited to see who was hit.

Parian still had the ‘stuffed’ arm connected to a nearby building.  A sweep of the arm caught a solid twenty people, catching them in the bend of the cloth and lifting them off the ground as the beam passed by.  Rachel, mounted, wasn’t so lucky.  The beam caught three of the dog’s legs.

Rachel fell, tumbling to the ground.  The people Parian had tossed aside, Parian included, fell in heaps, landing awkwardly.

But alive, all but one of them untouched.

In the chaos that followed, I could see the blood.  This wasn’t a beam that seared, like some lasers did, and it didn’t cauterize as it cut.  It disintegrated, leaving arteries free to pump blood out onto the grass and dirt.

A number were laying there in shock, but there were some who were fighting, even as they bled out.  Scion was momentarily caught up in a storm of shards that seemed to give him pause.

The Suits were among the injured, and King of Cups was patching up the damage.  Limbs were replaced with pitch black simulacrums that caught the light in odd ways that only highlighted the very edges.

I saw Lung among the artificial limb recipients.  He’d stayed in Brockton Bay in the company of Miss Militia while the rest of us had said goodbyes and made arrangements, so it wasn’t puzzling that he was here.  No, the confusing bit was that the fight had only been going for two or so minutes, and he was already transformed halfway to the state he’d been in when the Undersiders had first rescued me on the rooftop.  Transforming five or ten times as fast?

He’d been in the company of Panacea… had she done something?

Canary had said Lung had avoided picking fights during his stay in the Birdcage, relying only on his reputation.  Maybe this was a one-shot deal.

It didn’t take the capes King of Cups had healed very long to get their bearings, scrambling to get away, or backing away as they used their abilities.  A cape with deep black skin and an overly tall white helmet was sliding groups around like a chess player slid a piece into position.  Another cape, just beside him, was altering the battlefield, getting obstacles out of the way.  The ground swallowed walls, supplies and vehicles like it was suddenly water, rippling as they dropped beneath the surface, then changing, becoming solid once more.

Cover didn’t work as a concept, I supposed, when his attacks cut through it so easily.  Still, I wasn’t sure it was the brightest move.  There had to be a more optimal way of rearranging the battlefield.  Putting some people on higher ground and some on lower, without limiting their ability to dodge.

A glance over my shoulder showed the Simurgh standing by the portal, wings folded so the ends were aimed at Scion.  She had reconfigured her halo, and every single one of the guns were pointed in the same direction.

But she didn’t shoot.  She waited.

My swarm-decoys massed in the air around Scion, some dividing into further copies.  He continued to ignore them, targeting specific capes.  A sphere of light was tossed in Glaistig Uaine’s direction.  She didn’t move or fight back.  Instead, she was saved by the guy with the tall helmet, shifted out of the way.  Bishop, Chessmaster, Curling-guy?

Unruffled, she called three spirits forth, then took flight, positioning herself high in the sky, entirely out of the fight.

Running?

Scion attacked again, picking different targets.  King of Cups created more phantom limbs, an array of twelve or so arms of varying size that spread out from his shoulders, and caught a teammate’s hand.  He was pulled out of the way, but the sphere swerved in the air, drifting his way.  It crashed into one of his shoulders, and dashed the arms to smithereens.

King of Cups tumbled, then used his power to patch up the damage.

I wasn’t sure how that worked.  The lines of pain on his face seemed to ease as his power replaced the injured parts.  Was there some sort of interaction there?  A connection of nerves, arteries and veins?

Queen of Swords had a shortsword in hand, stepping forward as if to shield King of Cups with her own body.  Her sword seemed more ceremonial than useful.  I’d seen capes that used props to focus their powers, and she appeared to be one of them.  As she swung the sword, lines of light were cast out around her, connecting to various capes in the crowd.

Chaos, really.  So much going on, so many capes, all trying to focus on a single target.  A sphere of darkness made contact with series of ribbons that spiraled around one another, and they were both consumed in a spiral of intermingled effects well before reaching Scion.

Someone was taking my cue, filling the sky with what looked like stone statues of capes, stiff with arms at their sides.  The battlefield, the crowd, the sky, it was impossible to keep track of it all.  Even if I sacrificed decoys, I still had to think about what was going on.  I’d be able to sense that bugs were dying here, that something was moving from one point to the next, but I wouldn’t necessarily know who was doing what.  What did the ribbons do?  What was Queen of Swords doing with her power, connecting capes?

Worst of all, for everything we were doing, Scion wasn’t reacting.  He wasn’t getting seriously hurt, and he wasn’t taking any of the bait.

I dropped out of the sky, landing beside Rachel with a little more force than was maybe smart.  Conserved fuel, and got me out of Scion’s line of sight, but I felt a twang in my new right leg that suggested maybe it wasn’t as flexible as it should have been.

“He’s bleeding out,” Rachel said.

It was Bastard, wounded, three of his massive legs severed, blood forming a ridiculously large puddle beneath us.

“He’s safe inside, isn’t he?  The smaller, real version of Bastard?”

“Same blood in both of them.  The outside won’t fall apart before he loses too much blood,” she said.  “I think.”

“Then leave him,” I said.  “Go look for babytalk.  Get one of the Lab Rat doses, bring it back.”

I could see the stress on her expression.

“Go,” I said.  “I’ll look after him.”

Rachel bolted.  I turned, saw a cape lying on the ground with her eyes open, staring at the sky.

Paradoxical, stupid, selfish, arrogant, and short-sighted, to even think about giving my attention to a dog -to a wolf- before trying to revive the woman.  Still, I took my knife to her cloak and wadded it up to stop the blood loss.  When I couldn’t cover enough space with my hands, I used my body to press it against the site of the injury.

I told myself she was beyond saving, that other injured capes were being helped by King of Cups, and that Bastard wasn’t getting the same treatment, that he wouldn’t.

But the reality was that I’d cast aside the strict ideas of right and wrong, that I’d told myself I’d be Taylor instead of Weaver or Skitter, and this was what I wanted to do.

Because I was a hypocrite, I was selfish, arrogant, short-sighted and even stupid at times.  Because I could only face this situation with what I knew, and I knew that Bitch wouldn’t fight any further if we just let Bastard die, and if our team started falling apart, I wouldn’t know what to do at all.

Lung limped forward, not to fight Scion, but to shout something.  His voice was nearly drowned out in the noise.  Not entirely, it was too loud to be entirely masked, but nearly. “Remove it.”

I didn’t follow his meaning until bugs moved past his legs, touching the hard surface of the artificial leg.  Unchanged, unaltered by his power.  His regular leg was almost a foot longer.

The tall-helm cape slid some of the Suits out of the way.  They started shouting, asking to be moved back.  He responded in French.

Disorganization, a lack of coherency.  A lack of organization.  I clenched my jaw and did what I could to stop the blood from welling out of the stumps of Bastard’s legs.

This wasn’t a monster that was four or five stories tall.  It was a single individual in a crowd, with capes using powers that would inevitably cause more harm to any bystander they accidentally struck than they could possibly deal to the intended target.

Queen of Swords touched the tip of her sword to one of the main lines of the diagram she’d created.  A circular blob expanded from the point like blood welling from a prick from the blade, two-dimensional, dark blue and translucent.

She drew a gun from her hip with her free hand, aimed it at the blob and fired.

The bullet hit the blob and pushed against it, slowing down with every fraction of an inch it traveled.  It came to a complete stop, the previously flat surface of the blob-portal-thing now more of a cone, poked out of shape by the bullet’s movement.  For a half-second, I thought it would be like a trampoline, sending the bullet back to sender.

Then it punched through, and I could see ribbons, fire, darkness and innumerable other effects trailing behind it as it resumed normal speed.

It struck Scion as he started to fire another beam of light at the crowd opposite me and the Undersiders.  Scion stumbled, the aftermath of a dozen different powers rippling over, around and through him, and the beam was cut off by one of the powers.

She began changing the map, breaking some connections, expanding others.

Scion turned her way.

It was just the right moment for our first reinforcements to arrive.  Distorted terrain marked Vista’s arrival, as she folded the earth around Scion, surrounding him with walls of earth.

I looked to see, and saw her and Kid Win standing on a twelve-foot high bulge of earth.  Kid Win was getting himself set up, hunkering down, while Vista stood at a point slightly above him.

Tattletale was with them.  Hanging back, as if using Kid Win as a shield, her eyes on the battlefield, a phone in hand.  Most likely to relay information.

Others were filing between the Simurgh’s legs.  Gavel, now clean-cut, his once-shaggy beard now cut to a style that would have been ludicrous if he didn’t have the reputation to back it up; two perfectly straight lines that met at a sharp 90-degree point at the chin.  His hair had been buzzed, flat at the top.  His mask covered only his forehead, eyes and nose, his lips were set a firm line.  He wore a skintight black shirt without sleeves and heavy canvas pants, with boots that looked like they could be used to crush stone.

His hammer, by contrast, was solid steel, with sharp lines that seemed to parallel the clean lines of his hair and beard, a pole that seemed too big to wrap one’s hands around.  The entire thing was as big as he was, probably three or four times the weight.

And he was big.  Bodybuilder big, broad-shouldered in a way that you rarely saw, even in movies.

Crane the Harmonious was just behind Gavel, joined by three capes I assumed were her disciples.  Two of them looked like they were ready to enter a battle, ducking low, moving like trained soldiers entering a battlefield.  A third looked like a scared kid.  Reasonable, something to be expected from people who were walking into a situation like this.  Crane, for her part, walked with her hands clasped behind her back, chin up, like she was completely oblivious to what was going on.

Scion broke through the wall of hard rock, and it seemed to actually take a modicum of effort.  He directed an attack at Vista, Kid Win and Tattletale.  A sphere, just like the one that had totaled the Dragonfly.

Gavel threw the hammer into the air, and it blocked the shot.  The resulting explosion knocked a dozen capes off their feet, struck some of Kid Win’s airborne guns out of the air and very nearly knocked Tattletale from her perch.  Crane’s disciples were bowled over, but Crane managed to turn with the shockwave, only taking a step back, remaining upright.

The hammer descended, unaffected by the explosion, and Gavel caught the handle in his two hands.

Scion turned his attention to Gavel, throwing one more sphere.

Another detonation.  Capes in the area were scrambling to get away from Scion’s new designated target.

Gavel had stopped.  He swayed, then swung his hammer around, striking it against the ground before gripping the pole, as if he’d only needed something to lean against.  His skin was a little darker where it had been scorched, and golden light danced around the edges of the wounds like the orange at the edges of burned paper, where the paper had burned but not burned completely.

I could see the Simurgh move, putting one of her larger wings in front of Kid Win.  Stopping him from firing.

I really hoped she was on our side in all of this.  Letting Gavel handle this with only the support from the sidelines seemed feeble at best.

Scion suffered a continual onslaught of powers and projectiles from every direction, and the distraction these shots seemed to give Gavel the chance he needed to find his second wind.  The vigilante and ex-cell-block leader of the Birdcage advanced, picking up speed as he found his stride, dragging his hammer beside him.

Scion used a beam instead, directing it at Gavel.

Which was interesting.  Maybe.  A beam was what I would have used to deal with Gavel.  His power made it so he could only take so much damage at a time, and reduced the severity of any damage to a set amount.  Shooting him with a hail of bullets would be little different from shooting him with one or two bullets, and any given bullet would only gouge out a teaspoon of flesh.

Excalibur’s scabbard.  He could have done so much more with the concept, but he’d gone with a hammer instead of a sword.

I stared, watching as he blocked the worst of the beam with the hammer.   Scion stopped, interrupted as Queen of Swords shot him with another power-infused bullet, then resumed the assault.

A spray of bullets wouldn’t do much to Gavel, but a steady stream of them could whittle him down.  Blind in the face of the brilliant light, Gavel marched forward.  He moved his damaged hammer out of the way, taking the beam in the face and throat instead.

Amazing, perplexing… and I could only stare, watching Gavel’s inhuman tenacity, wondering if Scion was using the beam because it was one of the most convenient and effective tools available to him, or because he intuitively understood Gavel’s power.

He was supposed to be the source of powers.  It made sense that he’d know the particulars about them.

It was a scary thought.

Gavel got close enough to reach out and fumble, putting a hand on Scion’s face, two fingers finding Scion’s eye sockets.

Scion pulled back a little, maintaining the beam as it cut into Gavel.  I could smell something like burning hair.  Clouds of it, choking.

Gavel toppled.

No, he was leveraging his full weight, swinging his hammer like an Olympic hammer-thrower might swing theirs.  Not even a complete rotation, but he struck Scion dead-on.

Scion hit the dirt, was plowed into a furrow fifteen feet long.  He half-climbed to his feet, half-floated, and was struck again.  Another swing of the hammer.

It wasn’t hurting him, but it was an inconvenience, and that was something good in my books.

I could feel the hot blood seeping through my costume, running over my shoulders and down my front.  My back was already sticky with it.  Probably not good for my flight pack.  Rachel was running through the crowd, shoving anyone that wasn’t actively fighting to get them out of her way.

Gavel hit Scion a third time, and the hammer, damaged earlier by the beam, fell to pieces.

For the fourth hit, Gavel used the toe of his boot.

But each hit was dramatically less effective than the last.  Scion reacted to the kick, floating back a little, but it wasn’t much at all.

Gavel had once been judge, jury and executioner to criminals in Australia.  He’d announce his intentions publicly, swearing vengeance and listing their crimes, and then he’d go after them.

Generally speaking, he transferred his power from himself to his hammer and from his hammer to his target, conducting invincibility.  His target would fly through the air until they hit something, at which point they would be pulverized.

If he was feeling merciful, or if he didn’t want to give them a chance, he simply pulverized them with the swing.

But Scion wasn’t pulverized.  The golden man reached out and jammed a hand in the largest wound the beam had created.  A golden light flared, and Gavel disintegrated on the inside.  Flakes of burned flesh traced with bits of golden light flew into the air as either half of Gavel’s body hit the ground.

Lung, on the sidelines, was as monstrous as he’d been when he fought Kaiser, Sundancer and I.  But he waited.

We needed time.  Time for Lung.  Time for the Simurgh to find her window of opportunity, time for reinforcements…

Gavel, ruthless vigilante, monster, had bought us a good minute.  Maybe two.

Scion targeted Vista, Kid Win and the others.  His target before Gavel had grabbed his attention.

Very formulaic, very steady, picking out targets based on who was posing the biggest threat… or the biggest potential inconvenience, and then eliminating them.  Gavel was out of the picture, so he moved back down to the next on his list.

Vista folded more space, then changed the shape of the hill she’d created.  It wasn’t fast enough to get her, Kid Win or Tattletale out of the way of Scion’s shot.

The Simurgh protected them with her wing.

Get out of there, I thought.

Then I did one better.  I broke up one swarm decoy and moved the bugs in their direction.

The bugs flew too slow.  They couldn’t cover that much ground in a matter of seconds.

Get out of there.  He’s going to come after you, and people aren’t going to be able to save you every time.

Scion rose into the air, floating.

Get out of there.

Queen of Swords shot him again.

Scion turned, slow, his eyes falling on her.  Ribbons, perhaps the most identifiable projectile, sailed through the air, snagging on him and then fixing in the air, as if the other ends were attached to some invisible tether.  It was one of the Swords doing it.

He floated a bit forward, and the tethers broke, falling apart.

Two projectiles, again.

Softballing us so hard he was almost taking pity.

Rachel approached.  She had a device in hand.  One of the matchboxes, Lab Rat juice on demand.  I shifted position as she leaned over Bastard.

“How?” she asked.  There was a look in her eyes that suggested she was upset, concerned, worried.  She looked at me, at the amount of blood on and around me, and I could even see a note of anguish, hidden behind stern eyes and a mouth that was pressed into a lipless line.

“Turn it around,” I said.  I couldn’t reach it without pulling away from where I was applying pressure.

King of Cups blocked the shots using some of the largest arms.  Gorilla arms with massive clawed hands, fanning out from his shoulders, blocking the shot and serving as walls to shield the teammates beside and behind him.

Scion closed the distance, swept a hand to one side, and dashed all but one or two of the artificial arms to pieces.  He caught King of Cups by the jaw.

But he didn’t hurt the man.

Instead, taking advantage of the pause where capes with ranged attacks weren’t firing into the midst of the Suits, Scion held King of Cups in the air, and extended a hand.

Not attacking, but indicating.

The hand swept over the capes in question.

How?” Rachel said, with a bit more emotion.

I reached up, took her hand and pushed it, with the device, down on Bastard’s shoulder.  I turned back to Scion as the high-pitched beeping started.

He watched King of Cups as he moved his hand.  The man’s expression, which I couldn’t make out, seemed to give Scion the answer he wanted.

With his free hand, Scion flew forward, seizing the Queen of Swords before she could get out of the way.

He bent over, and he pushed the pair to the ground.

When they were pinned, he kept pushing one of them.  I could hear a strangled scream.  He had a grip on Queen of Sword’s face, and he was simply pushing her head into the ground.  King of Cup’s screams were a different sort; not of pain, but horror.

Capes pelted Scion, grabbed hold of his neck, arms and legs with chains, but failed to affect him.  Vista’s power made the earth rise around Scion, but when he didn’t react, she returned it to normal, leaving room for others to try.

It wasn’t just offensive attempts at rescue, either.

“…can’t teleport them, blocking my power…”

“…make him stop, make him stop…”

“…someone?  Anyone!…”

I craned my head, looking.  The Simurgh was still blocking Kid Win, and she wasn’t shooting.  Glaistig Uaine was in the sky above, orbited by three spirits I couldn’t quite make out.

Foil, still gone.

It might as well have been him, the King and the Queen, all alone, for all it mattered.

He jolted a bit, his shoulders and back dropping an inch or two, as something gave way.

The lines and diagrams Queen of Swords had created disappeared, thinning out, then fading away entirely.

I saw King’s legs kick, heard his screams intensify.  There was a new kind of horror in the sound.  He manifested new arms, monstrous ones, insectile ones, bird talons and tentacles, even the occasional indistinct head of an animal, grabbing Scion, trying to tear him away, tear him apart.  Futile, just like all the other measures.  Scion wasn’t even visible beneath the effects that surrounded him.

Pulling the wings off fliesKicking over anthills.  As evils went, Scion wasn’t much more than a child in maturity.

We weren’t much more than bugs to him.

“It’s not working,” Rachel said.

“I- what?” I asked.

“The dose.”

I tore my eyes away from the scene.  The matchbox was beeping, but it wasn’t quite the frantic beep I’d heard when mine was going off.

“The dog’s physiology, it might read as too healthy,” I said.

“He’s lost half his blood,” she said, her expression grim.  “He’s not even moving now.”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “If we get the vials from inside, maybe we can manually apply it?”

“Mm,” Rachel grunted.

King of Cup’s screams reached a fever pitch.  I turned to look, wincing.

“Hurry,” I said.  “I need to get in there.”

“And do what?”

Do what?  I didn’t know.

“S-”

All at once, the chaos was replaced by stillness.

It wasn’t a typical silence.  Typical silence would have left my ears ringing with the sudden shift from noise to an utter lack thereof.

Wasn’t a typical stillness.  If it was, I would have felt my heartbeat.

My senses had been replaced.

I watched as two massive beings made their way through the void.

One was familiar to me, in a dim way I couldn’t articulate.

Not that I could think, really.  I experienced, I took things in, and I understood it.

They were flesh and they weren’t flesh.  Something I couldn’t parse, given my frame of reference.  I could understand how they moved, and I knew it was because of the senses I was using, senses that allowed me to be aware of these things, to grasp them in terms of how they slid between realities.

I focused on the familiar one, and compared it to its kin.

It was shucking away fragments of itself, discarding them.  It kept select ones.  Abilities focused on violence, on defense.  On mobility and battle and any number of other things.

It exercised a variety of the fragments.  It was taking over for another role, a role that the partner wasn’t fulfilling.

The partner was busy, I noted, sending broadcasts.  Messages, to something distant.

But I couldn’t interpret the partner in the same kind of depth I could interpret the more familiar one.

I turned my attention to it.  Saw what it saw.  Images of the future.  I was connected somehow to every part of the being, and I was aware of everything they were aware of.  I had only to look.

It looked for a world.

It found the world it was looking for.

It looked for a particular variation of that world, and it found it.

And it looked further.  It viewed itself and its partner on that world.  The possible forms they could take, the end results.

It looked beyond that, to possible rebellions.

In the midst of that, in the middle of a trillion images that passed through my awareness in a single instant, over an indeterminate span of travel and viewing, one scene was acutely familiar.

The entity as a golden man.

Capes littering the surface around him, every single one of them unconscious, dead, bleeding, crushed, or burned.  He was untouched, coated only in their remains, thick blood and other, pulpier substances dripping and dropping from his fingers in strings.

He viewed the scene, as he viewed all of the scenes, through the senses of the fragments that had gone ahead, of fragments that had arrived after he had.  They were embedded in hosts, which meant he viewed things through the eyes of the host, and through the abilities the hosts expressed.

I willed for it to continue, to go deeper, to provide more details.  But things moved along.  If anything, my efforts dashed the scene from the ongoing stream of sensory inputs.  Instead, I got a glimpse the futures one step further.  Variations.

Every one of them, futures where the entity had survived.  Futures where the hosts hadn’t fought back.  Futures where they had fought back and inevitably lost.  He was plotting a course to a particular destination in time and causality, just as he’d plotted a course to Earth.  There were criteria, and in each of the visions, things occurred.

These visions were blocked from any particular attention.  Hidden away by some treatment of the fragments, treatment of the entity’s own recollections, so the visions couldn’t be used against it.

But I could see the essential elements.

He would live, because he’d given himself enough power.  With the criteria he had set, there was no way for the hosts to win, unless he deviated.  With the granted powers, there was no way for them to do any meaningful harm to him.  The entity could see the permutations, the ways they moved and interacted.  He called on a particular fragment, yet to be released in search of a host, and-

Familiar.  A familiar presence.

-he could get an understanding of the hosts, filling in blanks that the future-sight and his own mind couldn’t.  See how they moved, how they cooperated, how they didn’t cooperate.  He could see the strategies they could possibly employ, the strategies they couldn’t.

Again, these were censored, blocked in this three-dimensional, xenosensory, interactive memory.

But he could see, and he knew they would fail, as much by their own hand as by his.  He could see how all paths he had considered led to a fulfillment of his mission, his eventual meeting with his partner, in their other forms.  He could see how he wins in every circumstance where he has to fight.  Countless paths to victory.  He would spend the rest of the journey to this planet in picking one, was already setting things up so that paths to defeat would no longer be possible.

We lose.

It was my thought, not the entity’s.

The thought stuttered, distorted.  Repeated over and over so fast it seemed to become only a jumble of sounds.

Another repetition, where each syllable seemed to take days to form.

I opened my eyes, and I saw the scene from the vision.  Scion standing in the middle of the settlement, blood and brains dripping from his hand.

The two words continued, as if in the background, distorted as I turned my head.

It was one of the capes that had arrived with Crane.  He was doing it, distorting the memory.

Making it so the memory wouldn’t fade.

Let me forget, I thought.  I don’t want to know this.  Let me be ignorant, fight to the end.

Scion stood, waiting patiently.  No point tearing us to pieces when we weren’t aware enough for it to matter.

I looked at him, and I saw the entity from my memory.  I saw the vast thing he was, and I knew that we were specks to him.  He’d held back when he’d used the beam to slice through legs, when he used mere physical force to crush Queen of Sword’s skull.  He’d held back, in a fashion, when he’d obliterated the United Kingdom of Earth Bet.

King of Cups howled wordlessly, using his power, and the phantom limbs started emerging from every surface around us.

My back arched as one thrust itself free from my chest.  A tentacle.

A claw emerged from the ground by my neck.

Every surface in sight, marked with the ebon-black limbs, faces, even the upper bodies of indistinct lifeforms.  Some humanoid, some very not.  From horizon to horizon, the landscape turned dark as phantom images peppered it, growing denser with every passing second.

With none of the care of the time that he’d taken with Queen of Swords, Scion crushed King of Cup’s skull.

The phantom images crumbled into black ash.

“No,” Rachel said.  “Fuck it.  Fuck him.”

“Rachel?” I mumbled.

I turned my head, felt my head swim with the aftermath of the vision, or the memory-retention power, and I saw the matchbox, the contents spilled.  The ground beneath was darker.  Dirt soaked with the fluid.

“Was trying to open it when the vision hit,” Rachel said.

The Simurgh screamed.  Scion gave her his full attention.

She used her power, parting the sea of fallen, reeling capes with her telekinesis.  Capes between her and Scion were tossed aside, and capes behind Scion were dismissed in the same way.  I could see people bounce off the ground, limbs bending in awkward, painful ways as they landed.

Bugs, to be swatted aside when they got in the way.

Then she fired the guns.  Hers and Kid Win’s.

The shotgun approach.  Cover as wide an area as possible, cover as many bases as possible, in the hopes that something hits.

I covered my eyes, turning my head.  When that wasn’t enough, I covered my eyes with my arm.

There was little sound, but there was a horrific vibration, something that made me worry my insides were turning to jelly.

When I could see again, Scion was gone.

But he wasn’t defeated.  I knew that much.

The Simurgh, moving with a deliberate assurance, began reloading each of the guns.  Extraneous pieces of the halo served as battery packs, as ammunition.

Scion passed through the portal behind her.  As if in slow motion, I could see her folding herself forward, her wings wrapping around her body.  Preparing for the attack that was about to come.

He hit her, and he sent her flying through the crowd.  Capes were turned into bloody smears as she collided with them, and the Simurgh was driven to the very far edge of the settlement, to the beaches at the edge of the bay.  The countless guns were pulverized.

Almost casually, Scion created a beam that speared through the center of the hill Vista had made, and the hill crumbled, the effect collapsing inconsistently, the hill and everyone on it falling violently to the ground below.

“Tattletale,” I said.

“Go,” Rachel said.

I looked at her, at Bastard, who barely seemed to be breathing anymore.  In the distance, Scion followed up his attack on the Simurgh.  She continued to focus on defending herself, raising sand in false Simurgh decoys, manipulating water, all to misdirect, as she kept her wings folded around her like a shell.

“Go,” she said.  “Help Tattletale.”

There was something in her voice.  Something that suggested she did care after all.  Imp’s ribbing aside, Rachel did value Tattletale on some level.

I tried to stand, and felt the strength of the congealed blood that bound me to the cloth, which was in turn bound to Bastard’s foreleg stumps.  My swarm and a bit of pulling on my part broke the connection.  I stood, and my leg throbbed where I’d dropped a little too quickly to the ground, earlier.  Flight was easier and faster.

I was halfway to Tattletale when I sensed Rachel moving.  Clawing at the dirt with her fingers, cramming it into Bastard’s mouth, almost climbing into his mouth as she shoved dirt down his throat.

I sensed him react, choking, making noises far too feeble for such a great beast.  Rachel had to heave herself free to avoid being in the way as he reflexively slammed his jaws shut, coughing and hacking.

She grabbed handfuls of the dirt and smeared it on the stumps of his wounds, instead.

Glaistig Uaine deemed it her moment to descend.  I moved bugs to her so I’d know what was going on as I landed, gently, near the ones who’d been on the hill.

Kid Win held Vista, and Tattletale had landed on her back near the portal’s base.  Crane and her cronies stood by, impassive.

“My guns didn’t do anything,” Kid Win said.

“You okay?” I asked Tattletale.

“Mostly.  Soil was soft as I landed, but… still a drop,” she said.

“You’re fine,” Crane said.  Her tone made it sound like something that would be true if she said it with enough conviction.

“That vision…”  Tattletale said.

“Anything useful?” I asked.

“If it was useful, he would have censored it,” she said.

I looked at Crane.  “Did you plan that?  Why bring that guy?”

“Teacher asked me to bring him,” she said.  “That is not one of mine.”

Teacher.

So many plays.  So many big players.

I felt a welling anger, frustration, a note of hopelessness I hadn’t felt before.

Glaistig Uaine had Gavel as a spirit, and was pounding at Scion, with little effect.

“He adapts,” Tattletale said.  “I was saying it on the phone.  He just needs a reminder about which passenger we’ve got, and then he adjusts some internal frequency, and he adapts.  Anything we can throw at him, he knows how to cancel out.”

Glaistig Uaine changed up.  Three spirits.

Eidolon was one of them.

“So we need to beat him with one shot,” I said.

“Not doable,” she said.

“Because we aren’t hurting him,” I spoke my thoughts aloud.  We haven’t touched him.

“We’re hurting him,” she said.  “Kind of like how people hurt Gavel.  He’s… he’s got a defense, not making him invincible, but making him a living portal.  So you hurt him, and faster than you can do anything, he just swaps out the damaged material for material from… this bottomless well.”

A well?

I could see Lung finding his feet.  As large as Leviathan, four wings, four hands, two digitigrade feet.  King of Cup’s power had faded, but regeneration had made up for it.  Lung was intact, naked, massive, monstrous and bristling with layers upon layers of silver scales.

He joined the fray, supporting Glaistig Uaine as she took to the air, flying through the crowd to access the wounded and dying.

I could see Eidolon’s shadow briefly take hold of the injured, then toss them aside.  Glaistig Uaine, for her part, accessed the dead.

The other two spirits attacked Scion.  Here and there, attacks made him react.

But, as Tattletale had said, no attack was as effective on subsequent iterations.

“We could change it up,” Tattletale said.  “hit him with enough effects in a way he can’t predict.”

“So why don’t we?” I asked.

“Just look,” Tattletale said.

Two hundred capes, still recovering.  Some, I suspected, playing dead, morale crushed.

They’d seen Scion’s true body.  They’d seen what I’d suspected, that we were truly dwarfed in scale.  Their morale was crushed.

The ones who still fought were the monsters, the lunatics.

King of Cup’s power began to recur, massive arms from ten different species, some not from Earth, lunged out of the ground, holding Scion.

Glaistig Uaine.  She had Queen of Swords too, was drawing diagrams between capes on the ground and Eidolon, a narrow, tall image of glowing lines, like a steeple.

The Faerie Queen looked at the Simurgh, and her spirits turned their heads at the same time.  Watching, wanting some kind of action or follow-through.  Expectant.

The Simurgh held one gun.  A single weapon she’d salvaged and sheltered with her body and wings in the instants before Scion had attacked her.

“Silver bullet?” Tattletale asked.

“It’s an air gun,” Kid Win said.  “Useless.”

“Maybe there’s another use for it,” Tattletale said.  “The Simurgh’s smart.”

The Simurgh fired the gun.

Scion’s hair blew in the resulting gust of wind.

He blasted the Simurgh, sending her into the bay.

While Scion’s back was turned, Lung struck.  Brute force coupled with more brute force.  Strength, size, and flames that melted the sand on contact.  Scion was plunged into the molten morass, was subsequently doused in water that steamed in the heat of Lung’s flame.

More like plasma than flame, something else entirely.  Heat, distilled.  The result was more like Sundancer’s power than anything.

Golden light seared Lung’s claws, but regeneration and a raw durability that exceeded all reasonable limits gave him the ability to hold on, to keep Scion beneath the growing pool of molten sand.

The light intensified, and Lung’s flames swelled at the same time, as if reactive.

The Endbringer-esque Lung fell, as if he had been pulled down, and Scion rose from beneath.

Capes who had recovered opened fire.  Glaistig Uaine used Queen of Sword’s abilities, created more bindings with the King of Cups.

Crane the Harmonious, as if she’d been waiting for a moment, used her own power.  A sphere, like Sundancer’s, only it was a distortion, like a glass bead that made things look upside down when you looked through it.

It moved forward until it was between the defending capes and Scion.

Once the bead was in place, every bullet hit.  Every power.

Scion hit the ground, and Lung was on him in an instant, like a cat on a mouse.  It took Scion seconds to fight his way free, to strike Lung aside.

The bead moved, and more shots struck their target.

I watched, very still, as the guns that had been torn to smithereens were reassembled.  The Simurgh was prone, but she used her telekinesis, reaching a distance away.

Scion’s beam lanced through Crane.  Too fast to dodge.  It passed within ten feet of me, hit Kid Win, hit the portal.

I could hear a structure collapsing on the far end of the portal.

Crane dropped like a puppet with the strings cut.  Something in Kid Win’s suit detonated, and he tipped over, landing hard.

Vista rushed to his side, her expression hard.  No anguish, no tears, none of the emotion I’d have expected her to show.

It was almost scary.

Bastard, in the distance, rose to his feet.

He’d swelled in size.  Was still growing.  Rachel remained where she’d been, kneeling in a pile of his blood, as he tore forwards.

Crashed into Lung, making a sound more like an extended grunt than a growl or a roar.

Lung practically picked up the dog, throwing it at Scion.

It wasn’t additive growth.  I could see how the dog swelled.  Lab Rat’s power had to tap into something to create the flesh.  Had used my blood and bone.  Except it was tapping into the same things that Rachel’s power provided.  Mass.

It was like a limiter had been removed altogether.  The can of worms cracked open.  Muscle, rippling.  Claw.  Horn and bone.  Calcified flesh.  Like water from a waterfall, tendrils and body parts raining down from the lump that clung, snarling from many different mouths, to Scion.  All one connected mass, incoherent.

Scion began burning through the flesh, making headway against the growing monstrosity.  Glaistig Uaine shot him with Queen of Sword’s ability yet again.

They were driving him away from the settlement, and that allowed some capes to use powers they’d been unable to.  Miss Militia stepped up to the plate, a cape flanking her.

Her power, to create the bomb.  Ten and a half feet long.

Without even being asked, the Simurgh caught it with her telekinesis and flung it.  Scion dodged, and the Simurgh moved the bomb to ensure it hit the target.

The cape beside her used his power to contain the damage, to direct it outward, skyward, to shield us from sound, light and shockwave.

The clouds had been struck from the sky.

What remained of Bastard, cut free where the flesh dangled below the erected barrier, fell into the water.   It continued to spread over the Bay’s surface and creep towards the beach.

That effect would end before it became a problem, I suspected.

Yet Scion appeared untouched.  He was cleaner, even.  Scoured of the blood and dirt.  Pristine.

“A bottomless well,” I said.

“Bottomless enough to matter,” Tattletale said.  “We take out pounds of flesh, but it’s really only removing a drop from the bucket at a time.  Then the ‘water’ flows out, high pressure, filling the gaps.”

“And morale plunges,” I said, staring out at the capes who were hanging back, staring at the scene rather than participating.

“Psychological,” Tattletale said.  “Just like Endbringers.  He crafted that body for a reason.”

I nodded.

“We understand him more with every passing moment,” she said.  “It doesn’t help.  Just the opposite, really.”

I couldn’t bring myself to answer.

I heard voices behind us, the noise of thrumming engines.

Reinforcements had arrived.  Chevalier, members of the Protectorate, Leviathan.

And at that same moment, Scion was gone.

I’d grasped, some time ago, that flight added a whole new dimension of possibilities to battle.  Scion brought a fourth dimension, capable of stepping out of the fight any time he wanted.

“Running?” I said.

“No.  Moving on to the next target.  He’s going to do a rotation,” Tattletale said.  “Hit each area in turn, then go.”

I nodded slowly.  “Going to do better next time.”

“You didn’t do anything this time,” Tattletale said.

She was right.  I was… what, supposed to coordinate powers?  Pull something?

I’d been on my heels the entire time.  Not scared…

Well, yes, scared.

But more in awe, out of my depth, remembering the last fight and seeing this fight, knowing how small I was…  This wasn’t a fight that would be won with some gimmicks.  It wasn’t a fight that would be won with a lot of gimmicks.  I could see it in the trigger-event vision I’d glimpsed, in the way things were playing out, the costs, the lack of any concrete gains…

I shook my head.

“I‘m not going to be on the battlefield the next time.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

290 thoughts on “Venom 29.2

  1. Shit. I think I was a few seconds late in hitting the submit button. I’m hoping a bunch of readers didn’t get the incomplete (autosaved) version of the update by email. That’d suck. If you don’t have the finished version here, refresh. It should appear.

    Battling a bad cough and headaches, was a little slow to the punch in the final minutes. Didn’t get a great chance to proofread, so my apologies for any typos. Am fixing them as I reread now.

    Thanks for reading.

        • I nodded slowly. “Going to do better next time.”

          “You didn’t do anything this time,” Tattletale said.

          She was right. I was… what, supposed to coordinate powers? Pull something?

          I’d been on my heels the entire time. Not scared…

          Well, yes, scared.

          But more in awe, out of my depth, remembering the last fight and seeing this fight, knowing how small I was…

          I shook my head.

          “I’m not going to be on the battlefield the next time.”

              • Neat, I get a cookie!

                Can it be used to save or kill a minor character I like/hate?

                Being serious, this is an incredible accomplishment. One that very few writers I know have even come close to. Thank you very much for Worm.

    • In the section where Gavel attacks, there is a paragraph that starts with “Excaliber’s sheath” and that sentence seems to be missing some context.

      • It’s a reference to Arthurian lore. While Arthur could get wounded, the sheath made it so he’d never bleed to the point of dying. A perfect analogy to Gavel’s power.

    • Scion suffered a continual onslaught of powers and projectiles from every direction, and the distraction these shots seemed to give Gavel the chance he needed to find his second wind.
      –> the distraction of these shots

      as he tore forwards.

      Crashed into Lung, making
      –> combine both sentences with a comma?

    • Probably not a typo, but a grammar error:
      Gavel, now clean-cut, his once-shaggy beard now cut to a style that would have been ludicrous if he didn’t have the reputation to back it up; two perfectly straight lines that met at a sharp 90-degree point at the chin.

      “Two perfectly straight lines that met at a sharp 90 degree point at the chin.”
      Thath’s a dependant clause. Semi-colons are for independant clauses. The semicolon has to be changed to a colon “:” for it to be correct.

    • “The Suits were among the injured, and King of Cups was patching up the damage”

      It’s repeated several times so I’m not sure but isn’t that supposed to be King of Clubs?

    • “King of Cup’s”
      “Queen of Sword’s”

      Those appear a few times, and in all those cases, the apostrophe should be after the S, since they’re not named King of Cup or Queen of Sword.

    • Probably because the Endbringers are smart. If Gavel showed up to an Endbringer fight he either forced a retreat, didn’t win the fight, or it was Simurgh and he couldn’t make contact.

      • Gavel has no defense against the Simurgh’s scream, Leviathan is so fast he could avoid him and simply have the force of the waves push him away/drown him, Behemoth is BEHEMOTH, one of the twins would copy his power, and the Evil teletubby would cause him to age into dust.

        • Though from what I recall, Gavel was one of the guys who was cooped up in the Birdcage, so wouldn’t have participated in as many fights against the Endbringers.

    • Because they are ginormous, literally tougher than planets, have superior mobility, and you don’t want to get too close to any of them.

      • They aren’t tougher than planets. Half of the energy of the attack that nearly took out Behemoth went into the planet to negligible effect and Chevalier managed to get a hit at the core with what’s basically fifty tons of metal moving at a few dozen metres per second.

        • The center of the Endbringers are comparable in structure to neutron stars. Chevalier did not penetrate the core. Scion is extremely powerful. Finally: Remember the nano-thorns? A needle which was for some reason Tinkered to have them could easily penetrate the core of the earth, and with a long enough bit of nanothorn razor wire you could cut Earth in half. Armsmaster’s nanothorn-enhanced halberd couldn’t cut much of Leviathan.

  2. So we have an echidna situation, where they her “well” causes her to regenerate faster than they can damage her. I suspect Taylor is going to try something stupid again. Find out where this entity is projecting Scion as it’s avatar and try to stop him at the source. Find the source, find his dead partner, maybe the third entity, and maybe we’ll finally get some answers. So Bastard died, and I guess the Kings/Queens of the Suits are the heavy hitters. We now know what Rachel would be like if Scion didn’t put a limit on her power. She can turn a dog into a pseudo creature similar to Echinda without her limits. More sadness for Vista with the death of Kid Win, she doesn’t even appear shocked. She is the only remaining original member of the Brockton Bay Wards.

      • I think she’d be on the battlefield if she’d given up. It might be a long shot plan, but in my judgment nothing but a plan would stop her from taking the fight straight to her enemy.

        • Well they have to find the source of Scion to shut him off. That means she needs:
          A. A means of traveling dimensions. The only other way without the door maker is with Labyrinth/Scrub.
          B. A means of tracking down the source. The only way I can conceive of this is with the Fairy Queen, Tattletale, or her own status as a queen administrator of shards apparently.
          C. ALOT of luck.

          • That memorary that they had all seen had provided vital clues, maybe they could get Labrinth to flip through universes and get Scrub to use his powers at the same time on the portal to access the space between universes Zion seems to be located.

              • I forgot about her. The fact that she is with Faultline means that Taylor will meet her if her plan does indeed involve Scrub/Labyrinth. It’s about time for a reunion, and the end of the world already happened so it shouldn’t matter if they meet again.

              • She has the same ability to see worlds as Scion. Perhaps something where the all-seeing Cauldron cape, if still alive, teams up with her and Contessa, if still alive?

              • A contessa team up would be cool. The number one and number three precogs in the world teaming up would be very helpful. Contessa might be able to use her power to find his home dimension if she defines victory as finding it instead of beating Scion.

              • BUT, and this is only conjecture, he lacks imagination with his powers. See my post below but its stated that he one of the reasons passengers bond with hosts is so he can gain all the experience of using powers to their full potential. Tattletale was the only one who thought of using Scrub/Labyrinth’s power that way and Myrrdin was also mentioned as a possible candidate. The doormaker was not in Scion’s plan, I think any dimensionally hopping ability was a big no no for being a possible threat. So he might not have thought to create a defense against it.

    • I suspect she’s going to do the same thing the Undersiders did against Siberian, ignore/distract Zion completely while searching for the real body to strike.

          • I reckon she’s going to go and retrieve Foil first. Then pull an SG1 where she does something so dumb not Scion could see it coming…

            Is now wondering if foil could impart her power to many many bugs… many swarm clones later….

  3. “Gavel had once been judge, jury and executioner to criminals in Australia. He’d announce his intentions publicly, swearing vengeance and listing their crimes, and then he’d go after them.”

    First confirmed Australian cape and he’s a badass. Nice.

      • I have to say that Australia must have some pretty bad cape problems for there to be an insane vigilante who causes enough problems to be sent to the birdcage.

        • I read this as the Australian government not having the authority/force to control their capes. Remember, it was mentioned that Canberra (the captial of Australia, btw) was attacked by Simurgh before the start of the story. Given the federal system and the autonomy of the states, the attack probably didn’t cause the country to collapse, but I’ll bet it took out a decent portion of the government and the public service.
          Who knows, maybe the Gavel got sent to the birdcage because none of the local organisations had the resources necessary to deal with him.

          • As an Australian, the fact that he rubs the Australian national zeitgeist the wrong way probably didn’t help. We Australians are descendants of convicts, and that anti-authoritarian streak has formed a large part of Australian society, to the point where our unofficial national anthem is about a hobo who stole a sheep and then killed himself to avoid being captured by the police (seriously, look up Waltzing Matilda on Youtube), and a bank robber who died in a gunbattle with police (Ned Kelly) is a national hero. Australians don’t like it when people carry themselves as though they’re better than the rest of us, and I’d say that “Tall Poppy Syndrome” played a large part in his fall from grace, especially if he killed a well-loved super-villain.

            • Hum, his fall from grace came because he thought that a super villain was bluffing when he threatened to blow up a stadium if Gavel didn’t stop going for his family. Lots of people died and [insert sarcasm] suddenly [/sarcasm] the public realised that he was a madman who killed innocent people because of their relation to villains.

          • If I remember correctly Simurgh attacked in late 2010/ early 2011. It was a very recent attack before the start of this story. I got the impression that Gavel had already been in the birdcage for a few years once he was released. Whilst it is possible that he was arrested post Simurgh attack I find it difficult to believe considering the probable disarray of the Australian government. Additionally I find it easy to believe that it would have been listed as a Gavel instead of Eidolon victory if he was still free.

            I also think it would take a lot of time to create enough of a powerbase in the birdcage to become a cell block leader, especially if you were a crazy vigilante.

            • Heh, I believe that in Chevalier’s list of Endbribngers attacks Naples was said to have been targeted by Leviathan.

              Oh and the possibility of the Pope being a cape brought me back to a VERY silly fanfiction I had in mind where the Vatican publicly condemned parahumans but had a secret blacks op made of parahuman Swiss Guards. As I said, a silly idea :) .

              • > Naples, September 16th, 2000. Leviathan.
                Which I did find weird when it was posted btw. Behemoth would have made more damage to a city built near the very same volcano that buried Pompeii. Guess it was one other indication they were playing softball.

                As for italian capes… we have Peter Petrelli, I mean, Eidolon. Does he count? :P

              • Naples is one of Italy’s biggest and most important ports second only to Genoa and MAYBE Venice. I can see Leviathan attacking it.

                Behemoth would probably come out of the Aetna. Just so people can starts creaming that Typhon freed himself at last.

              • Additionally Behemoth is the Cape Killer. He seems to mostly target flammable areas such as power factories and oil fields. Leviathan seems to be the endbringer who can deal real damage to structures. Hasn’t Leviathan sunk several coastal areas?

              • Or what if capes in the employ of the Catholic Church end up getting sainted (since a big requirement for sainthood is having associated miracles) so you end up with a small army of parahuman “saints” in the service of the Pope.

                Clearly there would be seven, each based on one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues, and would have great powers with huge drawbacks.

                Castitas: a breaker who cannot be interacted with by a human or a weapon or tool used by a human.
                Temperantia: a thinker who sees all of the negative consequences of any decision they consider.
                Caritas: a shaker who prevents all injury within their range, instead feeling the pain of those who would be injured.
                Industria: a tinker who can build almost any construct out of tiny super-specialized components the size of grains of sand, each of which must be custom made.
                Patientia: a master/striker who dulls aggression in anyone they touch, at the cost of slightly tranquilizing themselves as well.
                Benevolentia: a trump who grants defensive and regenerative powers to everyone in their range but themselves.
                Humilitas: a stranger whose actions are attributed to someone else, and is seen as being irrelevant.

    • Gavel was a vigilante in a land settled by criminals. Just going into the Outback gives you an estimated 30% chance of triggering, or much higher if you only count the survivors. Any supervillains there are insane or desperate. Truly, his work was cut out for him.

      • I think he means Sundancer makes an orb and Dragon makes a containment structure for the orb that soaks up its energy and converts it to a usable form. Not for fighting, but for energy generation.

        It’s an interesting thought, although I think there are easier ways to break thermodynamics in this universe.

        • Oh…so not a literal Dyson sphere.

          Yeah, there are easier ways to break thermodynamics. One possibility that I was considering for a while was using the residue from when Bitch’s dogs return to normal as fertilizer. Or have Alexandria turn a wheel really, really fast. Or use Eidolon. Or…

  4. Excellent chapter (as always).

    Interesting structure to the plot where knowledge is something they’ve been critically lacking and as they get it, it makes things just seem bleaker. On the other hand though, the ones who can keep going have the best chance now that they’ve ever had in that they know more about Scion and the other Worm and can finally start putting together plans that account for the real issue they’re facing.

  5. Alright, for epic tunes to battle with, I’m going with Travel Demon, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUCW-7h27u0

    Though it ends more triumphant than this one.

    My props to the capes who kept fighting after the vision, especially some of the cooperation that happened. The cooperation helps. Fight like lunatics. It sounds like the best option at this point. What, you want to fight like a sane, easy to pick off person?

    At least they finally picked up on Scion’s goal, too. That whole “path to victory” shit where he was manipulating the battle in order to manipulate morale. That means it’s better for him if fewer capes coordinate and fight against him. Which means that it’s better for the humans to coordinate and fight.

    Also, Simurgh didn’t do much, but at least she used her scream mindfuckery to wake people up from the mindfuckery of Scion. Those brains are only big enough to be fucked by one creature made of nonliving material replenishing it from a bottomless well and basing their form on mythology.

    • As for the Smurf, her path to victory is always to “not do much” and reap rewards down the road. The one gun she clutched to her chest and saved was obviously the one with the glass cylinder inside it. The gun was apparently an air gun, and she deliberately shot him with a blast of air that seemed to do nothing. The attacks that seem to do nothing are the ones you really have to worry about from Simurgh. The contents of the glass cylinder must have been visually indistinguishable from air. A virus? A poison? Nanites? There’s no telling, but I’m sure it’ll do something to the Golden Fool.

        • It’s a trap! By forcing Scion to contemplate what the attack really did (it’s the Simurgh, it had to do something), she tricks him into an endless loop of attempting to discern something that does not exist.

          Or she’s a massive troll and thought it’d be funny to shoot a pop gun at Scion, ‘cuz you know.. pop guns are about our speed against him.

  6. I cannot predict whatever you’re going to do. There is nothing in any hypothesis space I can imagine. I like it.

    I hope I haven’t misinterpreted this: the only clue I can really think about is that every power is a test, every shard began an infant and the reason they were given out was for them to mature in combat against each other. I guess that implies that whatever Scion is holding onto is less developed in comparison to some of the Cape passengers/agents. The problem is he’s holding onto several of the most overpowered stuff.

    Noelle’s smell description, GU’s given title and Scion’s POV on Taylor are hints but I don’t know what for. Hhhhnnnnnggh.

    • It’s also stated that Scion lacks imagination with his powers. He sends them out to see what the passengers hosts can do with it and then takes that experience for himself at the end of the cycle. Since most people will think outside the box and put their powers to use in unusual ways similar to Taylor did. I think the only times he has been inconvenienced was when someone did something with a power he didn’t predict similar to the G driver which is just Technology and Scion doesn’t seem to care about using Tinker abilities, Eidolon whose creation was a product of Cauldron and thus not part of the plan, and just the fact that the Fairy queen had so many powerful powers that were probably not intended to all belong to a single person for it’s danger.

    • I thought Noelle’s scent thing was referring to Taylor’s passenger’s maturity, GU’s title was referring to its original role, and… Not quite sure what you’re referring to when you cite “Scion’s POV on Taylor.”

      Regardless, I thought they were referring to separate, yet related things that have already been elucidated.

      • I believed all three were comments on Taylor’s passenger’s growth. Noelle, yeah that, GU has more respect for Taylor than others and Scion directly commented on the maturity of her shard.

        • Their problem was that they were being brainwashed into being selfless – to the Yangban/to China. Everyone else can soar into the sun on a flying f**k.

        • There’s nothing selfless in the Yangban; it’s a collection of people who have been brainwashed and beaten into the semblance of a military unit, used by the Chinese government to kill their enemies and secure territory. Now that their xenophobia bit them in the ass (refused portal access) they’re murdering the people who tried to plan ahead to take their territory.

          This is pretty much in accordance with how China rolls in our world, we shouldn’t be surprised.

    • Which reminds me.

      I looked up the meaning of Yangban a while back. It means either “Prototype,” “Model,” “Templet,” or “Sample Plate”. Three out of four of those imply that the Yangban are merely precursors to something greater. So, are the Yangban a prototype or a sample plate?

  7. For a second there I thought Taylor was getting a second trigger event.

    I like the idea of Taylor realizing her limits, knowing she can’t actually doing anything against Scion on the battlefield and instead of being trapped in the ‘I gotta be on the front lines’ mindset is going to gtfo and do something else. It’d be cool if she found Cauldron’s HQ and we finally learned how Cauldron does what it does.

          • Can Cauldron Capes have 2nd triggers? I am fairly confident that Grey, if he survived, would have have jumped at the chance to drink one of the free formula’s offered based on his personality.

            • I don’t see why they can’t. It’s mentioned in Scion’s interlude that they still collect information so they can still become matured enough to split off.

              It’d be pretty rad to see Greg come out nowhere again, doing something completely unexpected.

              • I thought that Eidolon being the “High Priest of the stillborn faerie” meant that the Thinker entity was D-E-D dead when the story began. Also, if the shards could mature and split off, why hasn’t Keith (Legend’s adopted son) become a cape yet? God knows his dad’s logged enough combat hours for him to qualify.

              • To answer the second question, because Keith hasn’t had a trigger event or a Cauldron formula or anything like that.

              • If Legend’s shard could mature, then Keith would have had a trigger by now. Remember Glory Girl’s trigger (during a basketball foul), and Aidan’s trigger (woke up after sleepwalking).

        • Arrgh, more answers that raise more questions. Who counts as prominent? I guess all the Undersiders are out but possibly anyone else i fair game. It’s still not clear why some capes have 2nd triggers and others do no.

          • I think it has something to do with the mechanic that allows a shard to split itself once it has enough knowledge. That or it happens when a shard decides that it failed to give a person the right/enough power to allow for adequate conflict and readjusts to correct the failure.

          • My theory of how second triggers work is that at the moment where the shard is ready to splinter, if there are no non-capes around, it bonds the newly splintered shard with the host. When Grue had his 2nd trigger, there were only capes around IIRC.

            • That is pretty much what I thought too. So to have a 2nd trigger you need to:
              1. Have a “mature” passenger that after a lot of stress/conflict is about to split off/reproduce.
              2. Have a extremely traumatic event similar to your trigger event.
              3. This event can only happen if there are no non-parahumans around for the passenger to split off into.
              4. Then the shard stays/joins with the original greatly enhancing your powers.

              • And hasn’t had one already. The TA explained that it is possible that many parahumans could have had a 2nd trigger immediately after the first without realizing it. If Taylor hadn’t had a 2nd trigger in her locker at the start, it might be too late to have another since Aiden was created. If Echidna had happened several weeks later, she might have had a 2nd trigger. Though I suppose it is also possible that a passenger can reproduce multiple times with enough stress/conflict.

              • It may be that a second trigger requires inheriting a power from a *different* cape. It’s not your own power doubling up, it’s a second one joining the mix. We know Taylor’s shard had already replicated. We have no reason to believe it only happened once.

                Grue went from merely damping power, to collecting and controlling it. Possible sources- we can dismiss Bonesaw or Imp. But Taylor and Siberian’s powers… either one, modified and re-expressed to partially replicate or control another’s powers, could explain his new ability.

              • That idea makes sense. We just need to look for all the second trigger events and compare them. Which means…um…well, there’s Grue’s….

        • I’ve always wondered something. Did Taylor trigger twice in a row in the locker or not? It makes sense to think that the trauma of the locker gave her the ability to sense bugs, and then the sensory overload enabled her to command them.

          • I’ve heard that theory, but it never really clicked. It also doesn’t fit with any theory of what second trigger events are.

      • Yeah i remembered that so when we started seeing the entities I thought wildbow had trolled us again. Instead it was just one of Teacher’s thralls doing…something. Forgive e, o mighty wild bow!

  8. Theory: Zion is falling prey to the Power Gamer’s Curse, and he hasn’t even realized it yet.

    He built himself the ultimate character, covered all the flaws with over-compensating merits, and has forgotten that at best he’s the GM in this setting but inserted himself as his own character. He thinks he can see everything and has everything covered, but if that were true, he would have been done with his ‘cleansing’ experiment a bit back.

    Siberian ^n?

    • You know, I think I “like” this Scion more. Standing there, no selling everything they throw at him, burning handpicked capes with his golden light or pushing their heads through the ground, makes him more scary than when he was destroying landmasses and simply blasting away armies of capes.

    • The problem with that analogy is that if your GM is that much of a douche it’s a lot easier to leave the game, punch him, or both.

      • Yeah, if your GM is that much a munchikin you either got to have a good sense of humor, and troll the hell out of him, or not let him DM anymore. Once he starts killing your characters just to show he can, it’s definitly time to do something.

    • Well, you know what the best solution to a GM’s god-NPC?

      A creative party. And who do we know that’s good at coming up with brilliantly stupid* plans?

      *Or is it stupidly brilliant? I suppose it depends on if the plan falls more on the “David Xanatos” or “Mr. Welch” end of the scale.

  9. The first part of this chapter felt strange to me. It sounded…remote? As if it wasn’t taylor narrating anymore. It may have to do with the whole “Earth is insignificant in the great scheme of things” spiel, which sort of clashes with our knowledge that all possible Earths are more numerous than the atoms of the universe and that Scion is going to destroy them all. However, I think it picks up once Queen of Swords and King of Cups (and their powers) are introduced.

    Speaking of which it’s always nice to see new powers and I’m amazed how even this late in your story you can still come up with inventive abilities. For example I had surmised that Gavel was a Brute (with him walking away from a bomb) but I was thinking something like standard invulnerability, not “can only take tot amount of damage”.

    THe vision was weird. One of Teacher’s students shared Scion’s memories with everyone? But wouldn’t that require telepathy, which only Simurgh possesses? And I thought Teacher could only give “minor” Thinker’s abilities?

    And I think that Taylor is plotting an attack on Scion’s real body.

    • It seems likely that Scion selected a shard who was near to splitting (Cups), then proceeded to psychologically torture the shardbearer to induce a second trigger event. Teacher’s cape let everyone remember what happened.

    • There may be more Earths than atoms in the universe, but there are also more Jupiters, Marses, Suns, Alpha Centauri B’s, 55 Cancri B’s, Andromeda galaxies, etc, than there are atoms in the universe. It’s not special if it’s true of everything.

      And the inventiveness of superpowers is neat, but something about it has bugged me. Part of it’s probably how wildbow “used up” stock super powers in the early bits of the story and doesn’t want to reuse them. Aegis and Glory Girl were minor modifications on the Alexandria Package, and we haven’t really seen any since. Velocity is really the only pure speedster we’ve seen, while Kid Win and Armsmaster are easily the most generic tinkers whose names don’t start with a D. We haven’t seen a lot of flying artillery lately, either, nor any folks except Lung, Fenja, and Menja who can make themselves really big. These basic, and in a few cases common-enough-to-be-named-in-universe, powers or power sets haven’t been seen much since Brockton Bay. Where are all the Alexandria-packaged capes that should exist, since they have their own name? The speedsters, the flying artillery? The neater, more original capes are great, but why have we not seen evidence of these commoner types being…common?

  10. So the pre-Scion Entity used Tattletale’s shard to try and determine all kinds of possible attacks, even those future-sight couldn’t predict, then implement blocks. And I think Simurgh’s been borrowing Tattletale’s shard to work around blocks in her omniscience.

    • … and borrowing Imp’s power to keep me from noticing it! She was standing right over Lisa when the comments or the narrative (I hate it when I lose track of which “facts” come from where) were talking about how she borrows tinker AND THINKER powers, and it never crossed my mind that pericognition would be obscenely useful to someone who can see everything around the present. She has ALL the surrounding data, and Lisa’s power should be able to perfectly fill in that blank, as well as many of the precog blind spots.

    • Huh, didn’t realize it was Tattletale’s shard he was using but it makes sense, especially since Taylor describes it as a familiar presence.

      Guess that means Tattletale got front row seat to Scion using her power to make sure humanity was thoroughly fucked.

  11. Well, time to go back to Shadow Stalker’s “run the fuck away” plan I guess. Scion ain’t going anywhere unless Simurgh can get her hands on some really good tech.

    I’m almost happy that Taylor seems to be calling it quits, because watching her grind herself into the ground fighting this freak would be heartrenching. Wonder what she’s going to do now. Go on an adventure to find a way to cut Scion off from the multiverse, or just find somewhere where she can gather a bunch of people who aren’t assholes and put her feet up until Golden Man get’s bored.

    The bet the Smurf feels pretty dumb being knocked around like that, thought not as dumb as Chevalier feels showing up when everything’s wrapping up.

  12. They truly have to hit the Entitys real body. Scoin is just a projection, an image created to study and intimidate humanity.
    What about all the other big players? Isn’t there a cape with reality-shifting powers out there anymore? And Doctor Mother didn’t die yet, so they could use couldrons information and tech to access the Entity.
    I really liked the interaction between the cape’s powers, and all the possibilitys they create.

    Btw.: What does Tecton see when Vista uses her power?

    Thanks for this great chapter Wildbow!

        • I thought he needed to concentrate on a specific structure in order to make that work. Unless there’s textual evidence saying it’s on all the time?

    • I’d imagine Tecton sees a dartboard with Vista’s face on it. Headaches are annoying, and if you can get them from the spatial warping of 3D glasses…

      Of course, I’d imagine that this happens with most senses.

  13. Okay so it looks like Scion killed Bastard. Now he’s got to be going down.

    The Smurf did something. I just don’t know what. The question was, did she do it to Scion, or to the capes fighting him?

    • No, Bastard lived – he was chopped up by the bomb but fell in the water and kept growing, so he wasn’t dead.

      However getting him out of the mass of flesh that grew around him is going to be one hell of a mess, from the descriptions, it sounds like his flesh mass was on par with a large building and growing. It might not degrade like Taylor’s mass did either, considering that the mass came from Rachael’s power, not from the actual body of Bastard. Potentially a bay-sized corpse with a wolf in the middle of it.

      If Bastard doesn’t suffer any adverse physical or mental effects from this, I’d be willing to bet that Rachael will try very hard to collect a few more of those lab rat injectors.

      • On the other hand, the extra mass given to Bitch’s dogs also sort of breaks down…so it’s disintegrating no matter what.

        • Aye but it seemed as if the redistributed mass from Taylor’s transformation was re-integrated into her body? That wouldn’t be possible for Bastard, or it would hopefully not be the case anyhow. If it IS the case, we either get monsterwolf, or we get a wolf with a body density that’s in Endbringer ranges.

          The mechanism for breakdown at the end of the Lab Rat chemical’s effect is a bit unclear (to me anyhow)

              • I remember her noting that she was weaker than before, due to the loss of muscle and bone, so a fair amount was not resorbed.

  14. Well, we have seen the Smurf’s super weapon. She has also been exposed to Foil. Well.

    Almost as if everyone there had a second trigger. With a new vision.

    Taylor opts out.

    Meh, he took her.

    But with Cauldron down, can the Fairie Queen talk freely?

    • After a re-read, this is how I understand the vision. Scion picks a cape (King of Cups) and finds someone he’s particularly attached to (Queen of Swords). He then proceeds to kill Swords in a slow and excruciating way so that Cups freaks out and has a second trigger event. Then, as always with trigger events, all the nearby capes get the usual vision of the entities spiraling in the void or whatever. This time, however, Teacher’s minion makes sure the memory of the vision remains, presumably to glean some information or weaknesses on Scion.

      What I don’t understand is why Scion went all this way to cause a second trigger. I would say it’s so people see what he truly is and come to the realisation, like Taylor, that they really are just specks compared to him. But usually the vision would be forgotten, unless…he does have Contessa’s power. It may have told him that Teacher’s memory-preserving cape would be present and people would remember their glimpse of the true Scion. Hmmm.

      • I think this chapter made it explicit that Scion does has the “Path to Victory” power that Countessa has. On the other hand last chapter made it clear that nothing’s perfect and even someone who’s apparently infallible can still make mistakes (re: Countessa getting taken out by the Irregulars).

        • The main difference between Contessa and Scion being that one is a baseline human and the other is the Humanoid Avatar of an Eldritch Abomination that could probably make the Irregulars combust with a glance.

  15. This update was extremely trippy. You should do drugs more because once in a while it’s really nice to have a pseudomystical update.
    It also almost-answered some stuff, which is an added bonus.

    It is now clear that Taylor has unconscious long range precognition, otherwise she would have joined the BB wards.

    Current status of the BB wards (roster from Taylor’s trigger to present)

    – Guys that got the hell out of the wards in time:
    - Fechette: alive and with girlfriend
    - Weld: alive and with girlfriend, however he’s in a weird dimension, surrounded by angry monsters
    - Shadow Stalker: alive after body-hijacking and years in the slammer, no girlfriend that we know of, might have had one in prison.

    – Guys that remained in the wards:
    - Vista: alive
    - everyone else: DED

    The Simurgh points a weapon at Scion! It’s a… an hairdrier?
    Scion: NOOOOOOOOO, my hairdo!
    Scion retreats to fix his ‘do

  16. - lol Teacher saves the world
    - lol Simurgh air-gun did something. Maybe multiversal tracer so the capes can follow it to Scion’s world-body
    - the rational actors all gave up. What’s that Hemingway quote about all progress being owed to unreasonable people?
    - Lung is blowing his 2-year wad and it seems to helping
    - ok, Taylor, time for one of your patented Crazy Plans(TM)

    • I wonder how long Lung will keep going. I suppose it depends in large part on if Scion returns before Lung goes back to normal. If he did, and didn’t leave, how long do you think it would take before the Square/Cube Law or lack of oxygen did Lung in for Scion?

      • Well, considering the strength and speed Lung displayed in this chapter, his mass isn’t slowing him down.

        As for oxygen issues, with the temperatures he’s generating while transformed, I don’t think he’s even using oxygen for energy transport any longer, he’s probably using some sort of plasma reaction or possibly fusion. Or he’s just pulling energy and mass out of another dimension like Rachael pulls mass out from somewhere to grow her dogs.

  17. What about teachers ability to lock out a dimension?
    Maybe he could lock in Scion/ break the connection to his source.
    (But the way these things go the cape that can lock a dimension has to stay in the dimension, or teacher never had the ability to lock dimensions but made everyone believe that he could)

    mmh if I were Taylor I would start doing several things
    -start cloning Flechette
    -get Ballistic & Sundancer (I swear ballistic suns, pew pew, ok it wouldn’t help much against Scion, but I wanted to see that soo much in the Echidna arc) or just Ballistic & Flechette
    -get Panacea & Bonesaw to mix up something that allows Taylor to directly interface with humans (a brain parasite, or just a chameleon like semi transparent bug sitting inside an eyeball )
    -get every Tinker to hug the Simurgh
    -let Teacher do his thing on Tattletale (& Taylor?)
    -can Miss Milita copy the G-Driver (and is String Theory still alive) ?

    • Smurf with a Foil-like G-Driver (about the Z-Driver stage) …

      But it is obvious that absent a great deal more, you are not going to actually hit Scion with anything Foil’s power has altered.

      If Cauldron is mining the dead entity’s shards, and if the entities are on the same reality. then they have an access to Scion’s real body. And it is not larger than an Earth since it can be sealed away on one level of reality, on one earth.

      Wish I remembered how much anti-matter is required to get 90% plasma state of an earth mass.

    • @OP:
      I’d imagine that shutting Scion off from his source would do about as much as ripping out one of Crawler’s teeth or Lung’s scales.
      Ballistic can’t get close enough to the suns to launch it. Besides, why would you want to?
      I can’t imagine that Riley or Panacea would want to make something like that…
      Getting as many Tinkers to Smiurgh as possible would be a good idea. Hm, maybe bring Bonesaw along.
      Which thing? The “give addictive and enslaving power” thing?
      I doubt it and I hope so.

      • Because shooting bullets that are suns is cool! (ok it was cool till everyone could shoot energy beams).

        Currently Taylor uses bugs to talk, give directions and sense where other capes are, I am thinking of creating a bug that directly skips the sensorics and directly interfaces with the brain. Sure the mindcontrol/Regent bug is also possible but no need to go that far.

        Teacher can shift power & control, right? so maybe he can supercharge Tattletale, also doesn’t he have some kinda “groupthink” going (can’t quite remember).

        • What would interfacing with the brain do, then?

          He could, but I don’t think that the base abilities he gives are really comparable to Tattletale’s, and there is probably a bit of a diminishing returns thing with Thinkering..

          • Like you know how bent your arm is you could know where everyone else is relative to your body. Or the time spent talking can be skipped by communicating the intention directly.

            ..Think like google glass without voice commands ^^.

      • We saw what the Smurf did to Leviathan. Do they really want the kind of help they are likely to get if she gets access to Bonesaw’s power? If so, why not just cut out the middleman and have Bonesaw work on people directly?

        • At this point, it’s less “what they want” as it is “what would be cool”.

          Besides, Smiurgh can work on a bunch of bugs at once, more precisely, and incorporating other tinkers’ work at the same time.

  18. Scion has looked to the future and found the path to victory. Yet the characters know that everything hasn’t gone right for him (specifically the death of his partner). This indicates he has some blind spots, most like relating to entities like himself. The second entity disintegrated and dropped probably un-vetted shards and chunks of shards. There’s also the third entity. I’m not sure how much of this the characters know, but through tattletale and the visions they probably have a decent idea. Therefore they should try to find shards from the second entity, or even the third (possible endbringer candidates). Those would be the only ones possibly capable of occluding his future sight.

    • Scion has also intentionally chosen to try to engage with the mental processes of his human construct body, so he can display emotion. He’s managed that to some degree and has become a monster. Will that same connection to humanity cause him to become careless, or overconfident? Will he start taking risks for an even greater emotional rush? Are we looking at Scion eventually connecting enough with his human side that he then becomes defeatable?

  19. “The partner was busy, I noted, sending broadcasts. Messages, to something distant.”

    Again, that reference.

    “all paths he had considered led to a fulfillment of his mission, his eventual meeting with his partner,” — except, of course, she is dead now, which means there are holes in his vision.

    “Glaistig Uaine deemed it her moment to descend” — and working with the Smurf.

    Fascinating.

    Still can not predict where things are going. And that air gun. I’ve got to know, not to mention, wondering about Dr. Mother and the rest.

    • Worth a repeat for everyone who puts Scion with a path to victory power:

      “all paths he had considered led to a fulfillment of his mission, his eventual meeting with his partner,” — except, of course, she is dead now, which means there are holes in his vision.

      Not to mention, when he used it with Eidelon he was concerned about how much energy he was consuming — and he needed it with Eidelon, which also got my attention.

  20. My eye was drawn to this line when I read through Scion’s psychological warfare mental attack:

    “It exercised a variety of the fragments. It was taking over for another role, a role that the partner wasn’t fulfilling.

    The partner was busy, I noted, sending broadcasts. Messages, to something distant.”

    How much of this does Taylor remember afterwards, and is any of it relevant?

    I’d be willing to bet that the next thing that Taylor wants to do is go pay a visit to the Cauldron, because even if she can’t hurt Scion, she can try to figure out what happened with Cauldron. From that point forward all sorts of interesting things might happen. Taylor exploring a Cauldron HQ damaged by Case 53′s fighting each other and the Number Man and perhaps some other Cauldron capes. Bugs finding their way into parts of the facility nobody has seen except a select few. Hmm.

  21. Hrm, had an odd thought. Take a bunch of stinging insects and replace their stingers with little injectors that inject Lab Rat chemicals. Use the insects on Scion.

    Lab Rat chemicals, fed by Rachael’s power of mass building, was able to make bastard capable of standing up to Scion at least briefly.

    What would happen to Scion if his body chemistry were interfered with by Lab Rat chemicals? He also has some sort of mass transfer ability, which is so powerful that only Eidolon was able to cause enough damage to allow damage to become visible, and even then Eidolon thought he might have imagined it.

    How much energy might be wasted before Scion determined how to counteract the tinker chemicals created by a dead cape, administered by tinkered injectors in insects controlled by Taylor. It takes him time to sort out combined effects coming from active shards, how will he react to powers from inactive shards?

    And finally, will we see Foil’s power used in conjunction with Glaistig-controlled Crane? After seeing what Crane was capable of doing, I was a bit upset that she wasn’t around when Foil and Cuff attacked him.

    Willing to bet that Simurgh’s air-weapon was something designed to somehow mark or track Scion in a way that either she or one of the other Endbringers might be able to follow him. She considered it important enough to protect it from him when the rest of her weapons were destroyed. One thing we know that Simurg isn’t, is dumb. That device had a purpose – an important one.

    It’s *possible* that Simurgh was actually attempting psychological warfare on Scion, but hitting him with something that she pretended was an important effect, but that he can’t figure out…

    • Assuming of course that a) such hornets could be induced to attack Scion (i.e. they can be controlled by Weaver), b) such hornets would penetrate the puppet’s golden hide, and c) such interference would do anything to the entity itself. Also d) that such stinging insects could be tampered with in such a way without killing them.

      • Eh, no, the only real question is whether or not the drugs would actually have an effect. Weaver controls the hornets, and Scion, with very few exceptions just lets capes hit him with their power. There are plenty of tinkers in the world who can make little injectors. Between Bonesaw and Panacea they could certainly modify the bugs to carry the injectors. Scion isn’t invulnerable, he just regenerates absurdly fast and will adapt to counter threats if he is exposed to them repeatedly.

        Since Scion has some sort of hyper-fast mass creation or regeneration, Lab Rat’s chemicals might latch onto that power and force the expenditure of a huge amount of power very rapidly. If Scion grows to the size of Rhode Island in a second or two before he can cleanse his system of the drug, that’s going to be a huge waste of power – especially if he can’t easily reduce his size again.

        Definitely a pie-in-the-sky longshot though, I agree.

        • Yeah, the viability of the chemical was my main doubt regarding your plan.Personally, I don’t think the formula would work against Scion. Lab rat is one of those apparently rare biological tinkers, like Bonesaw and Blasto. Scion is not a biological creature (ok that sounds strange and wrong but you know what I mean). Lab Rat’s concoctions would fail just as Blasto’s attempt to clone the Simurgh failed.

          • It does make sense to say he doesn’t fit our definition of biological. No blood, tissue, no organs, anything like that. No cells even.

            Given the time of morning it is with no sleep, I’m iffy on if Scion even counts as live. I figure the iffy parts are reproduction and waste production. Apparently some people add being made out of cells onto that list as well

            If he does produce waste, that’s a possible means of going after him.

            Still, being iffy doesn’t stop viruses, who have affected the evolution of other species. You humans are at least 8% virus, in fact.

        • But Scion IS a biological construct. That’s why he’s doing what he is doing. During his interlude, he was actually experimenting to see if he could feel emotions like humans do, and he found something when he blew up the UK, which convinced him to continue experimenting in destruction since it gave him emotional feedback, where doing good apparently never did.

          Now, it is definitely possible that he’s not made of biological materials, that he’s some sort of near perfect synthetic human, but it’s not required. There are plenty of very human capes in the world whose bodies are nearly invulnerable. Alexandria springs to mind. Gavel is actually described as being similar to Scion in how he mitigates damage, just much weaker.

          Then there are capes like Weld. Scion might be closer to Weld than Alexandria, but I don’t get that impression. I think he’s biological, just with more cape powers than one can shake a stick at, none of them with artificial limits.

        • The fact that Legend’s lasers left little scratches indicates that the healing is not instantaneous or unconscious. I think it’s fair to say that he is more durable than any other cape, except maybe one of the tougher Endbringers, even without regenerating any. Besides, the bugs would need to get to Scion.

          We could probably take a Blasto-made clone of Hatchet Face, Foil, and maybe Alexandria, take relevant samples of tissue, and have Panacea and/or Bonesaw add them to some bugs (or maybe larger animals controlled by bugs), then add an injector, but by that point it’s less and less like the original plan–not to mention more and more like the premise of a bad fanfic. “What if Bonesaw, Panacea, and Cauldron collaborated to create something that would make the SCP Foundation’s Olympians envious?”

    • Unfortunately, the dog (hereby dubbed newdog) wasn’t very well taken care of prior to finding its way to me, which was a bad sign from the outset. The coat wasn’t well groomed, the ears were filthy inside (I’ve had two Brittanys and they’re prone to this, requiring regular cleaning). It wasn’t very responsive to any commands (only really sitting if it didn’t see something better to do). Ok for a puppy, not good for a six year old dog.

      If newdog hadn’t been tattooed/registered with the breed association, I would have assumed she was a mutt; the dog had a small stature (18ish pounds for a breed that’s 25-35) and very odd, watery bug eyes. Since it was registered, I’m suspicious that it had maybe been malnourished in puppyhood or that it was ill/ill as a puppy (which, in turn, would mean the owner was lying to me, a bad sign). As an aside, newdog was kind of like the Seinfeld girlfriend that looked beautiful in one kind of lighting or light direction and ‘omg wtf’ in a different one.
      (link to a compilation of clips from the episode in question: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFeUrC2gR30)

      That wasn’t a factor choicewise, but it was odd and rather peculiar.

      I didn’t feel a particular affection for the dog at the outset (again, nothing to do with appearance), but the idea was to give her a trial and see if my current dog took a liking to her. Part of the reason for this investigation into a second dog was that my brother came to stay earlier in the summer and he brought his dog; and it did a world of good for my current dog (A 2 year old Brittany). She was less skittish, more social with other dogs, more confident, more playful, even in the weeks after my brother left. My sixteen year old Brittany died in late 2012, so the working theory was that my current dog was just lonely on that front.

      If I’d fallen in love with this new dog, then my dog could’ve coped. If my dog had taken a liking to her, then I would’ve adapted. But I didn’t take to her, and my dog didn’t take to her, and newdog was six years old and far less trained than my current dog (four years her junior). Having seen newdog’s responses when the owner introduced me to her (and the immense difficulty the owner had in getting her to come after the dog had gone offleash), I had suspicions about her behavior. I had a lungeline that’s meant for horse training and used it to see if she’d run, and she bolted the first chance she got. Faster than I thought she would; like greased lightning, forcing her way between my leg and the door to get outside and dash for the horizon. Escaping when I was actively trying to block the door. I experimented, tried everything; no response to calls to come, no response to treats, no response to toys, balls or any of that. No response to a neighbor (very helpful neighbor) who opened her car door and tried to coax her inside.

      Maybe some of that was her wanting to find her owner, but the owner had a hell of a time getting her to come in circumstances where most dogs are inclined to listen/obey (at a park). The fact that I couldn’t was the critical issue; if I’d kept her, I would have had to be exceedingly careful every, every, every, every single time I opened the door to my place, and if she ever escaped without a lunge line attached (which would have eventually occurred), I suspect I’d probably never be able to catch her. That isn’t hyperbole; Brittanies are bred to go out and hunt birds all day, running in alternating horizontal and vertical figure eights around the hunter to find/point/flush birds; this isn’t a dog that would have gotten tired and come to me eventually.

      I felt shitty about it, but I gave her back to the owner so she can continue to look for other adoptive/foster owners. I love dogs, and I’d love to say I’m a hero who’ll help a lost soul, but I can’t take a dog I don’t care for, and I can’t take a dog that would be a nightmare to train/very high maintenance. She wasn’t aggressive, was housetrained and relatively well mannered, but she was borderline feral in the sense that I don’t think she’s had much attention paid to her and she didn’t seem to know how to learn to receive attention (or she was just a dog with minimal personality and her owner had treated her like ‘generic dog’ instead of tailoring her ownership to the dog as needed). It’s something that would be more effort to fix/reverse than I can afford/manage. Maybe I’m justifying it, but it would have been just as unhappy and unhealthy to keep her in the long run, as far as the stress it would have meant for me and the lack of needed attention and dedication I’d be able to give her.

      • Sounds like you did the responsible and adult thing. There are relationships that can work for us and ones that can’t. Clinging to the ones that can’t are a recipe for disaster for everyone involved. I can see how giving newdog back wouldn’t feel like a happy ending to the story, but given that it’s the best chance for both her and you to be happy, I’d call it the more heroic of the two options.

      • This overly long (and OT) post is brought to you by Earth Gimel’s Bitch fanclub.

        A brittany is a pointer right? Some of them do like to… well, run around till they can run no more.
        I have an english setter, and the few times he had managed to jump and/or find a gap in the fences he was gone gallivanting for a couple of days. He -did- return when he had enough running around and/or he was hungry, but he just likes to run around too much. Even if he’s too old for that, he does not really get the message to stop running when his paws hurt.

        The only way to keep him still is to pet him, and as soon as you stop, no matter for how long you petted him, he slobbers all over you as thanks and then starts running around again. He just likes it.
        Some times he just would not come when called, no matter what, and I have to resort telling my other dog (a pinscher mutt) to go fetch him. (He does it, he would be good as a sheepdog had I any cattle to gather. It helps pinschers are brave, and setters scaredycats I guess :) )

        Mind you, I’m not saying only pointers are prone to that kind of thing, just that the few I’ve run into displaying that kind of behaviour are.

        tl;dr: if you do not have a big yard with a fence around it, a dog wih such an inclination is very difficult for you. (and you’re difficult for him)

        OOC, are you set on a hunting dog as a companion for yours or are you just taking in whatever dog needs a new home? A brave breed could help a lot with a shy dog if they take to eachother. I guess it’s a pack thing, having a brave one take point makes shy ones bolder.

        • I’ve owned Brittanies for almost two thirds of my life. I’m pretty aware of the ins and outs of the breed. They’re intelligent, athletic and very active, they’re also sensitive. As bird dogs (who point, as you said, flush and retrieve) there are some definite traits you have to pay attention to. A big issue with newdog was that I got the distinct impression the owner hadn’t met the needs and perhaps got the dog because the breed was pretty (or very not, see above), rather than because she wanted a dog in this particular vein.

          Currently I’m renting a basement apartment with a rather large yard. I also take the dog for extended walks (having a dog that needs the walks gets me out) and on days I’m writing, my mom picks the dog up after work to take her to an off-leash dog park where she can go and run for 1-2 hours. (My mom, for the record, is awesome). In a similar vein, my dog gets to go to the family cabin and run around for 2-4 days, most weekends between June and October. I’d love to be going with her, but I sort of made sacrifices this year (and a bit last year) to write and for the sake of saving money. Lonely for me, but the dog gets what she craves.

          The breed, I feel, isn’t a problem. My previous Brittany reached the ripe age of sixteen (and two months)- a pretty healthy age considering the median lifespan of 12.5 years (with 20% reaching 14-15).

          With newdog not having had enough of what she needs, I think the desire to escape was just her trying to meet that natural instinct to get exercise, to be active, to be athletic. My dog gets that with walks and with the dog park, but newdog’s learned, over the past six years, that she has to escape to get it.

          So it becomes a thing where newdog would have to be retaught. I’d have to show her, maybe over months or years (she did not seem to be a fast learner) that I could give her that exercise she needs and that she doesn’t need to run as she’s learned. Tricky, because I’d have to give her that exercise (ie. by taking her to dog parks) while having a dog that doesn’t listen and is very hard to train; she wasn’t receptive to rewards and she didn’t learn simple commands after an entire weekend. Innumerable trips to the dog park, ending with a dog that doesn’t come, or trips to the dog park with her dog leashed to my dog (so my dog can drag newdog back to me), clotheslining bystanders and getting tangled in trees. To add to that, I’d have to deal with the coping behaviors she’s learned in the meantime (ie. escaping, very possibly nervous chewing).

          My current dog is, in many ways, my writing buddy. She (by needing to go out, wanting the ball thrown for her) gets me up and moving every half hour to an hour, so I don’t write for hours straight and miss meals or get stiff. She keeps me company (writing is a lonely profession) and she takes me out on walks to stay active and healthy. To take on a dog that’s a chore isn’t fair to the dog and it won’t jibe with me or what I need.

      • I think you made the right choice. You didn’t take a liking to the dog, your other dog didn’t take a liking to…I’ll go with him, and you can’t provide him with the care he needs. Granted, the old owner can’t either, but there’s only so much you can do…and the old owner has evidently figured out how to make it work over the past six years.

        The only person I can think of who might disagree with your decision is Bitch, and she is too fictional to care.

        • Yeah, you got to get a dog that you, and the dog you have can deal with. My mom used to have Border Collies. But we sold the cows in 96, and our Border Collie was older and slowing down at time. But a younger Collie would have needed something to herd to keep her occupied. So no more Border Collies. And my mom is getting too old to try and deal with a dog that’s going to need a lot of work.

          Course there are a lot of fools that just pick the dog for looks, and don’t realize that the Breeds weren’t bred for looks. They were bred for jobs. Like Poodles are hunting dogs. The poodle haircut was done so as to keep the joints warm while keeping the dog from getting tangled in brush.

          • I seem to recall Bitch saying something along those lines…

            Whatever else you say about her, she is good at taking care of dogs.

  22. I’ve been thinking about Worm movies for some reason, so here’s a trailer I’ve been working on in my head:

    Taylor is eating lunch in a bathroom stall.
    Voiceover: Meet Taylor Herbert…
    Juice gets dumped on Taylor
    Voiceover: …an average high schooler. She goes to school…
    Shot of Taylor leaving school after getting juiced
    Voiceover: …does her homework…
    Shot of Taylor researching the ABB
    Voiceover: …worries about her clothes…
    Shot of Taylor brushing spiders off of her essentially completed costume
    Voiceover: …likes to hang out with her friends…
    Shot of Taylor, beaten up, meeting with the Undersiders after beating Lung the first time
    Voiceover: …and sometimes tells little lies to her dad.
    Shot of Taylor and Danny in the kitchen
    Danny: I heard you come in late last night.
    Taylor: …Like I said, I just couldn’t sleep.
    Voicover: She has had some problems in the past…
    Shot of Taylor’s trigger event
    Voicover …but with her newfound friends…
    Shot of Taylor being attacked by Brutus, Judus, and Angelica
    Shot of Taylor attacking Bitch

    …And that’s as far as I’ve been able to get. Suggestions on how to finish?
    (P.S: I’m working on the assumption that Worm would be divided into multiple movies, the first ending around the time that Lung is caged.)

    • -Voiceover: …she tries to do the right thing.
      Shot of the heroes in dramatic poses outside the bank.
      Expletives.
      (I’d end the movie with a newspaper of Dinah’s kidnapping on page one)

      • A while back, I divided up Worm into five “movies” of six or so arcs each. Hence the division choice.

        But that ending isn’t bad, either.

    • I think it’s possible to do a book into a movie, but a serial story is probably best translated into a television series.

      The trick is translating prose into visuals, making things clear without a constant voiceover.

      To illustrate, a take on Episode one, opening 5-15 minutes:
      Open with 1.1, an acceleration of 1.2. Go high on the visuals to ‘grab’ the audience, get some key imagery in there.

      Imagine Taylor, having just kicked the bucket and thrown her bag, contents spilled out over the bathroom floor, standing beside the sink, gripping one edge with one hand, her knuckles white. The lights are off in the bathroom, and the light from the window creates glare in her glasses, making it so you can’t see her eyes (and, with the round frames of her spectacles, echoing the general shape of her lenses in costume). There’s a sort of low, buzzing music with building intensity (like the first 45 seconds of this with more distortion, buildup and ratcheting volume). Taylor slowly curls her hand into a fist, her hand shaking as she finishes, as if she keeps on trying to clench it further.

      The buildup stops. She relaxes, slumps a little. A pause, silence.

      And the bugs start flowing in. Music builds up, swelling as the swarm does. We see Taylor from behind, still soaked, dripping, a little Sadako-like with her hair hanging down, wet. The camera pans, and we see her face, eyes included, almost more sad than angry, but her body is rigid.

      She turns towards the door, her hands at her sides, tendons in her forearms standing out, and the swarm moves with her. A movement of one hand, almost unconscious, and we see a reorganization of the swarm, hornets and bees brought to the forefront, centipedes with pincers lunging around, over and through one another. A mustering of her forces, violence implicit. It’s clear she’s familiar with how they function. They even give her a wide berth, a space 2-3 feet around her that they don’t enter (because at this point, she doesn’t like bugs being on or near her).

      And then she stops. She sees the cover of the book she was reading. The Triumvirate.

      Someone starts to open the door, and she stops it from moving. Props her body up against it.

      Random High School Girl: “Hey!”

      Taylor flinches, almost angry.

      Random High School Girl: “I need to go!”

      Taylor doesn’t move. Neither does the swarm.

      Random High School Girl: “Please!”

      Taylor relaxes. The swarm leaves with surprising speed.

      Random High School Girl forces her way in, sees Taylor, sees the mess. “I don’t even want to know.”

      Random High School Girl enters a stall. Taylor grabs her things and hurries out of the school. She passes by vandalized posters warning students about the ABB; ‘What do you do if the ABB targets you?’, with an Asian student sort of cowering beneath a shadow. Ignores staring students.

      Segue to the basement. Taylor recently showered, wearing a towel. The costume comes out. We don’t see Taylor, but we see the pages of her notebook as she tears out the ones she deems worth saving, most stained in grape juice, staking them to the bulletin board behind the workbench.

      ‘Superhero names.’ She places the novel below that one, almost casually.

      Measurements for the costume with a basic sketch.

      Another page, notes along the lines of ‘synthetic spider silk used for protection vs. bears, real spider silk for my costume? Tensile strength like steel, flexible, lightweight.’

      A timeline. Calendar. Though the ink bleeds into the damp paper, she uses a marker to scratch out a whole section. Writes ‘tomorrow night’ instead. Underlines it so forcefully it threatens to rip the page.

      Cut to black.

      —–

      I’d love it, also, if the series had an opening sequence that evolves as the story does. As the destruction and whatnot increases, buildings in the background are shown to be on fire, ruined, destroyed or (eventually) gone entirely. Wanted posters or whatever else have faces crossed out as people are killed. Something in that vein.

      Interludes could be the pre-credits sequences, 5-15 minutes long at the opening or ends of episodes.

      • Huh. I didn’t expect wildbow to take notice of this.

        Anyways, onto the ideas.

        Yeah, that sounds pretty neat. Depending on how the chapters and arcs were divided up (is an arc an episode? a season? half a season? Would one chapter be one episode, and we fit a season together from those?), the interludes could be either opening/closing credits or special standalone episodes (especially the bonus interludes).

        • Depends on the arc.

          Arcs 1-8 could be season one.
          Arcs 9-14 could be season two.
          Arcs 15-19 could be season three.

          I dunno. Something along those lines. Maybe expand or adapt as needed.

      • How would you communicate the original trigger event? It seems like something execs would insist be put into the pilot as an inciting action.

        • Execs can get real. Changes things too much if you put the trigger into the pilot. Rushes Taylor’s progression, removes her planning/costume creation, makes her more hasty than cautious in the opening installments.

          • Hell Arrow didn’t even show Ollie’s whole time on the island during the first season. We can wait a few episodes to do the flashback to her trigger event. Maybe a nightmare scene with a few flashes to tease the viewers. I mean you can go a few episodes before doing all the origin.

            I can see the Parahuman Studies class bieng a great way to give exposistion on the setting. Make sure you have a lecture about Trigger Events before revealing Taylor so viewers will start wondering what the fuck happened to give her bug powers.

            • Yeah, a summary’s one thing, but some of us keep the extensive information of our origins under wraps. Seriously, it’s all angsty and horrifying and that’s just not going to make everything happy. You have to find a good time to drop that on someone. Still, you’ll find that people want to talk about themselves and tell their stories. Thing about origin stories is it seems people don’t quite like the people more when they learn what they had to go through as the hero or victim of their own story to get to where they are. Some of that I suspect is because there’s the disconnect between who the person was and who they are known to become.

              As for executive stuff, we need to avoid executive meddling. Worm doesn’t need to be canceled after one season or have the season reordered. Or, the horror, canceled and the final episode not shown or only shown online. I still remember, The Cape. I still remember. And Fear Itself, I remember you too.

          • Not necessarily. If it was a 5 minute clip intended to be played before the theme tune (e.g. the Fringe pilot) the remainder of the pilot can be kept to a similar pace, with very little deviation from what I believe is your intended plan. Regardless, even if it was in a flashback or something (I believe Taylor describes it out loud to someone in an early chapter?), what visuals would you use to communicate it? I keep coming back to the idea of “darkness of locker turns into a blipverted Scion Interlude.”

            • I mean it changes things if you put it into the scene.

              Even if you put it in the flashback, you’re removing that unanswered question of “where did her (or any) powers come from” that provides some tension in early-ish entries.

              • Okay. By that logic Miss Militia’s interlude completely gives the game away, as does Grue’s second trigger. (Those might be late enough in the story that it doesn’t matter, but the point stands) And even if the scene where she relays her trigger is unchanged from canon (“canon” here meaning “As written in Shell 4.3″), there would be the perfect opportunity to do a flashback at that point, with the canon description present as voiceover (I suppose that if something is overly revealing about the trigger vision, it can be suppressed by some excuse to cut back to reality mid-description. Might also give the actress a break in the middle of a multi-paragraph monologue). If done well, nothing untoward about the mythos of the setting would be revealed (Besides, the focus of the description is more on the before and after, than the during, if that makes any sense). Also, I would argue that more tension is derived from the misadventures of the girl who can control bugs, than from the question of “Where do powers come from?”

                However, I feel that my actual question is getting lost here. How would you translate a trigger event to a visual medium?

  23. Anyone else remember the first time we saw the Worms or the Entities or whatever you want to call Scion’s species?
    http://parahumans.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/interlude-7/
    Excellent foreshadowing and such, wildbow. I find it interesting how many of Ms. Militia’s greatest worries on the subject turned out to be true…

    …Still, [Miss Militia] preferred her faith to uncertainty. The notion that this thing she had seen was something other than a benign entity watching over humanity, that it might be malign, or even worse, that it existed with no conception of the effect it had on mankind? An elephant among gnats? It wasn’t a comfortable thought.

    Also, she thought that the being was “she’d seen God, or one of His warrior angels.” Wasn’t Scion the more militant of the pair?

  24. “But the reality was that I’d cast aside the strict ideas of right and wrong, that I’d told myself I’d be Taylor instead of Weaver or Skitter, and this was what I wanted to do.

    Because I was a hypocrite, I was selfish, arrogant, short-sighted and even stupid at times.”
    Yeah, there’s a reason I don’t particularly care about what happens to Taylor any more, especially as her-friends-of-three-months-whose-dogs-she-cares-about-more-than-people are mostly not particularly sympathetic or interesting (Regent and Bitch were/are interesting but the others not so much).
    But I’ve invested a lot of time in this, am curious as to how it ends and there are still a couple of other characters I enjoy (the Eight Deadly Words don’t yet apply), so I’ll probably follow it anyway.

    • Why do you not care about Taylor, or find Tattletale, Imp, or Grue interesting?

      And there was something she could do to maybe save Bastard. Not so for the person.

      • I do not emphasize/sympathize with Taylor for exactly the reasons Taylor says. She is hypocritical, selfish, arrogant, short-sighted and even stupid at times. Her thought processes are not sufficiently interesting to stand alone without the reader empathy.
        I cannot properly explain why I find some characters interesting and some not. It’s very much a black box, but I will try anyway.
        Bitch and Regent both have unusual patterns of behaviour and thought, so that may be why they held my interest.
        Imp is two dimensional. Grue is broken and boring now and hasn’t been around for a while anyway. I’m not even sure Tattletale [i]has[/i] a personality!
        I care(d) about Eidolon, Alexandria and the Simurgh a lot more than those Undersiders.

        In contrast I very much like(d) Clockblocker and Weld.

        Re Bastard: Taylor admitted herself that she was making an excuse and rationalizing when she spent her energy on Bastard and that the reality is she is not a hero and simply doesn’t care very much about the women.

        • On the other hand, Taylor’s still a heck of a lot better than nearly everyone else in the setting because she tries to be good, she tries to help. She has good intentions–it’s just that she is an imperfect human being. And if not being perfect makes someone’s internal monologues unpleasant, don’t read first-person fiction.

          Imp…well, she may have started out that way, but A. she never had the spotlight much and B. she’s been showing more dimension lately. Besides, Regent was pretty one-dimensional for a while, too–and pretty much the only additional dimensions given later were hating his family and loving Imp.
          “Broken and boring?” Does not compute. Yeah, if Grue was going through some wangst it would be boring, but he’s trying to live with being broken. You have a point about his absence, though.
          Tattletale definitely has a personality. Have you read the whole story?

          Just because she made an excuse doesn’t mean it isn’t true. And caring about someone you know more than someone you don’t doesn’t make you cruel–it makes you human. We like to think that we can care about everyone equaly, but our imperfect minds don’t do well when we try to do stuff like that. Insufficient ability to empathize with total strangers is one of the reasons the world today is so screwed up. And, anyways, what would Skitter have done? She doesn’t have healing powers, a medical degree, or even a first-aid kit.

          • I don’t think Taylor really is any better than average.
            There are people who are obviously better than her like Chevalier or Weld, many who as far as we know are better people than her like most of the Wards or Protectorate and many who are worse like Shadow Stalker. She cares about her friends and those she knows, but so does every other non-sociopath in the story. Her attempt to play out the role of a hero failed because she really isn’t one.
            Don’t strawman. I don’t demand perfection or anything close, but a certain ratio of redeeming/interesting to annoying/unpleasant/boring qualities is required for me to care about the protagonist. For instance Kvothe from Name of the Wind has flaws, but I still emphasize with him.

            Regent had a fair bit more depth than that, his attempt to play the role of the friend and his musing during his intermission helped kept me interested in him.
            I simply didn’t find Grue post-torture interesting, I do not know why.
            Yes, I’ve read the whole story, I even left comments on many chapters.

            You have to have reading comprehension twisted to the level of a biblical literalist to really think that Taylor tended to Bastard rather than the women because she didn’t think there was anything she could do.

            • Okay, wait a minute. You tryin’ to tell me that friggin’ Kvothe is a better realized character? I mean, this isn’t me saying the characterization in Worm is the high tier for literature (but it’s somewhere up there” and I don’t mean to step on the toes of anyone who likes Rothfuss’s books, but the only way I can see Kvothe being a well written character is if he was all along supposed to be the fantasy version of Ignatius J. Reilly.

            • How are Chevalier and Weld better than Skitter? They’re on about the same level in my mind; the only difference is that Skitter started her career as a villain…and a rather nice villain, at that. And why do you not value her redeeming

              I’m referring to how, for much of the story, his main character trait can be best described as “apathy”.
              Fair enough.
              Then how did you not notice that Tattletale does, in fact, have a personality, backstory, the whole nine yards, in fact being one of the more characterized Undersiders?

              I’m reading that from what I understand of the situation…but if you think there was something Taylor could and should have done, do share. What should Taylor have done? Prayed? They’re battling God*, he’s not going to answer.

              *Figuratively.

              • Taylor does not make choices based on morality. She very particularly does not make sacrifices based on morality. That’s not to say that she’s immoral, but she is very definitely amoral.

                Taylor’s motivations are always based around trying to make something happen that she wants to happen. The ends always justify the means. That leads her to making choices like shooting a small child to death. She doesn’t hold anything up as more intrinsically valuable than her desires about the future.

                Personally I don’t think it’s fair to say a character isn’t well-fleshed out just because she can’t comprehend altruism. Skitter is a very well-developed character, imo. But in terms of good and evil, there ARE characters who are motivated by altruism, like Chev, and Weld, and Glenn, even.

              • Taylor’s goals are moral, however. Saving Dinah, stopping the end of the world, stuff like that. And things like shooting Aster are pretty well justified (the lesser of two evils–in this case, a quick death or eternal torture). She’s made unpleasant decisions, but I’d say that on average she’s on the whiter side of gray…especially compared to most “heroes” in this world.

                Given that Taylor’s goals have pretty much always been about helping people past herself, I’d call her altruistic. Even when pursuing these goals is inconvenient or dangerous for her (*cough* Dinah *cough*), she still does them. Isn’t doing things and making sacrifices for other people more or less the definition of altruism?

              • Now, I think some of Daniel’s arguments are preposterous but saying Taylor is as good a person as Chevalier is equally absurd. From what we’ve seen of the guy I doubt he’d do to an enemy what Taylor did to Triumph (I have always been a bit disturbed how many people here seem to gloss over what, to me, is her most heinous action). When Eidolon asked to help, Taylor threatened to kill him, when Legend does the same, Chevalier promotes him. I’m pretty confident that if someone with Ingenue’s power set (I’m assuming Ingenue herself doesn’t work on women), that is a particularly nice form of Mind Rape, approached Taylor, she wouldn’t try to reason with him/her at length,give him/her a warning shot and then talk with him/her some more and trying to help him/her.

              • Do you really think that Taylor intended to nearly kill Triumph? She might have delayed in saving her, but considering the presence of highly dangerous individuals who wanted to kill her or send her to the Birdcage, I at least can focus on her intent and eventual actions.

                And yes, Taylor is a bit more brutal, a bit more willing to kill who she thinks needs to be killed…a bit less willing to trust. I chalk this up to her background more than failings of Taylor. Besides, sometimes the best thing really is to be ruthless and a bit paranoid.

              • Taylor did more than delay help to Triumph. She dangled the only thing that could save him in front of his father and used his life for currency. All to enter back in Coil’s grace so that they could successfully overthrow him later. It sorts of make you go meh when she is outraged that Tagg put her father into the line of fire.

              • I do not see why.
                Number one: Taylor did, in fact, help Triumph in the end. Did Tagg or his successor even try to undo the harm they did to Danny? And taking away a father’s daughter (by revealing her identity as a supervillain) is worse than what Taylor did, especially as it was more permanent. Danny never got his daughter back.
                Number two: Tagg violated the truce. You know, that informal agreement that stops villains from attacking or holding hostage heroes’ families, and brings some of the biggest guns that happen to be on the wrong side of the law to fight the Endbringers without fear of arrest? Yeah, Tagg risked all that just to screw with Taylor.
                Number three: The goals. Taylor wanted to save Dinah; Tagg wanted to bring down Taylor/the Undersiders and/or preserve the PRT’s reputation.
                Number four: Taylor’s life or liberty was potentially at stake, If she stopped to help Triumph, she could get killed or worse. If Tagg didn’t take Danny into custody…what would happen? Taylor would have probably been less belligerent and such if he hadn’t (again, contributing to his own death and Alexandria’s), and in return the PRT gets…nothing? What was Tagg trying to do there, anyways?
                Number five: The Triumph thing was an isolated instance. Taylor didn’t toy with other capes’ lives before or again, at least not to that extent. Tagg, on the other hand, violated not only Taylor’s rights but the law repeatedly while in custody, and who knows what he did before or what he would have done after?

              • Hmm, all other capes were already incapacitated and reinforcements were still some tome away. Taylor was under no risk of being killed or Birdcsged.

                And since you mentioned Alexandria, Taylor did the same thing she did: gambling that the mayor would break woth a loved one at risk. What if instead the mayor, like Taylor with Alexandria, made the ” stupid”, emotional, irrational thing and acted Taylor? The mayor would have been hurt or dead, Triumph would hsve certainly died and the Protectorate would have decided that enough is enough snd gone after Taylor in force. Oh and Dinah would have been deprived of a cousin and maybe an uncle

                And you misunderstood ime with my comment on Danny. I agree that Tagg was a psychotic bully and an idiot to booth, it’s just the hypocrisy ( see also Taylor vs Eidolon) that rubs me off a little.

              • I have vague recollections of this event, but I will drop the point for the present and let the others stand.

                We don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor decided to give the mayor the epipen anyways, or inject him herself.

                Again, it’s more the scale, repetitiveness, and the fact that Tagg risked the truce for selfish reasons that makes him such an unlikeable character. Has Taylor done horrible things? Yes…but so has everyone else. Taylor has done less, and has her heart in the right place; that puts her head and shoulders above most.

              • We’re kind of forgetting the context around the shit with Triumph. At the time she had a reasonable suspicion that Coil would try to assassinate her, and she needed to make sure that the future she isn’t killed in is better for him than the one where she is. Unless we wanna say that her taking a sniper’s bullet to the head is better than what she did to Triumph. The mayor had a shotgun pointed at her too, and I read the situation as Taylor making absolutely sure he wouldn’t let her give Triumph the medicine and then shoot her anyway.

                And it’s not like she went remorselessly skipping on her merry way after this. The entire situation kind of broke her and made her try to reconnect with her father.

        • … I’m not sure how you see Tattletale has no personality? I mean, it’s cool if you don’t like Tattletale very much because she’s arrogant and cocky but I’ve always thought that as far as Undersiders go, she’s one of the more developed among them.

    • Frankly, I’d totally save a dog over some jackbooting, blood-sucking, ignorant superhero pig-dog, with some exceptions for heroes who aren’t shit.

      Besides, atleast one of those adjectives can be used to describe literally everyone in the setting.

        • Most of Cauldron. Armsmaster. Gavel. Shadow Stalker. Most of the Irregulars. Worm is full of “heroes” who are actually rather selfish, immoral, or otherwise unpleasant people…and not everyone fighting is a hero. The villains are worse.

          And, again, Skitter didn’t think she could do anything for the dying cape. Considering that they’re fighting Scion…

          • And 90% of the other heroes we’ve seen are cogs in a corrupt, fucked up institution that was one bad day away from either going out and out totalitarian or collapsing entirely.

            When a relatively non-shitty hero like Miss Militia was willing to allow people like Piggot and Tagg go hog-wild with their powers I can’t really take for granted that most superheroes are “the good ones”.

            Shit, I’d say the same about heroes in the Marvel and DC universe. Fuck superheroes.

            • I can’t say that. When people want to make a difference but can’t because they’re trapped in some sort of machine or another (remember, Ms. Militia was brought into the first Wards team due to her power being discovered when she was trying to fly to America), I count their intent in their favor.

              Partly because that alone puts them above most characters in this screwed-up world.

              • I think it says something, though, when an organization supposedly meant to help the world gets in the way of actually helping the world.

                And I think Taylor gets some leeway to go after what she wants now. She’s spent so long putting it off, she might as well.

              • It says more about the organization and/or the world than the individual, however.

                And yes, I agree.

              • I’d say the superheroes have a lot more potential to change things than anyone else; all that needed to happen was someone trying to reach out to Rachel, or Armsmaster trying to pull Taylor back from a villain career. The heroes not doing these kinds of things things is a breach in their duties as far as I’m concerned. Superheroes are supposed to be inspirations, not just door-kicking cops dressed in tights.

                Sure, the system is 90% victims and 10% evil bastards. But there are probably a lot more victims outside the system than within it.

              • @Reveen:
                So because the heroes try to hold themselves to an impossibly higher standard than the villains, they are worth less than dogs?

              • No, because they fail at basic standards, and because Taylor did all she could, there is nothing wrong with what Skitter did.

                Again, what was Skitter to do?

            • The Protectorate is not particularly fucked up or corrupt (except with regards to Taylor, she should have gone to the Birdcage for her many crimes).
              It was rather good as far as human institutions go. Compare it to our modern day police force. Would you really save a dog over a (extremely effective) policeman?

              The heroes are spending their time trying to save people and enforce the rules of society like don’t attack people, kidnap them, threaten to kill them or steal their shit (when this does not happen you get warlordism, which is really bad). Piggot and Tagg (especially the former) never did anything that was worth starting a revolt about. Revolts are very costly. Tagg just attempted to capture a dangerous criminal who as far as most knew was quite willing to murder people to stay in control (Triumph) and who was setting a precedent that could cost millions of lives (the “don’t mess with unmasked capes” rule is less important than the “don’t take over cities” rule). Piggot just did her job.

              • Seriously? That’s some serious whitewashing right there.

                I mean, Jesus Christ let’s look at the track records of the people we’re dealing with shall we?

                Piggot:
                - Failed or even refused to curb the psychotic behavior of Shadow Stalker which ending in Taylor triggering and starting this whole mess in the first place.
                -Failed to provide the Wards with adequate therapy after Leviathan slaughtered several of their teammates, they only got it because Weld lobbied for it.
                -Tried to maneuver the Travelsiders to be killed in the blast zone of the airstrikes she ordered against the Slaughterhouse Nine, also acting as an obstacle to cooperation against the squad of superpowered serial killers.
                -Sent Dragon suits to attack the Undersiders while tons of civilians were in the line of fire and escalating the situation in a battered city that needed recovery time.
                -Was a bigot who used her position to pursue her vendetta against parahumans in general.

                Tagg:
                -Sent a pair of giant fuck-off cyborgs to bust into a school and publicly out a supervillain, putting hundreds of teenagers at risk and causing more fighting in the recovering disaster zone, while also sending a goon squad to accost Taylor’s dad and set up an ambush, another big no-no with the truce.
                -Abused police procedures to psychologically pressure a surrendering supervillain. Including oredering an invasive body cavity search without probable cause.
                -Actively tried to prevent compromise that would have benefited the Protectorate and put hundreds of people in danger of an Undersider retaliation.
                -Helped Alexandria pull a fucked up gambit to mentally break Taylor so they’d have an excuse to either kill her, or toss her in the birdcage without being questioned.
                -Was obviously psychotic, like, seriously psychotic. The guy was a violent thug who goes on deranged rants about how much he wants to shoot teenagers in the head.

                I mean, holy shit, the PRT being a complete fucking disaster of an organization is one of the biggest themes hanging over half the serial. This is not subtext!

              • “(except with regards to Taylor, she should have gone to the Birdcage for her many crimes)” Wait, what? The bank robbery, the attack on the fundraiser, the fight with Triumph, probably should have gotten her arrested. However, let’s take a look at her other crimes:

                Warlordism: A direct reaction to the lack of protection anyone could afford anyone after Leviathan, after the Slaughterhouse 9. Remember that everyone wanted Brockton Bay to be condemned after that last. Besides, what exactly did Skitter do to her subjects that would be worthy of such rabid persecution? And who exactly did the people trust at the high school?

                Assault: I’m specifically thinking of Valefor here, but I’m not sure how you could argue that the Undersiders should have stood by and let the PRT/Wards/Protectorate take care of it.

                Murder: Thomas Calvert’s death was specifically to rescue Dinah. Tagg’s and Alexandria’s deaths were in direct response to the faked deaths of her friends, which were the capstone on a weekend-long session of mental torture, at best. (And Tagg did not “attempt to capture” Taylor, unless you’re talking about outing her at the high school, which backfired badly to say the least. Taylor gave herself up willingly, at which point he chucked her in a cramped cell, subjected her to a highly invasive cavity search, and specifically moved to isolate her from the support of her father. And when she blew his scheme to wear her down wide open, he pulled a gun on her – a restrained teenage girl – and would have shot her if Taylor hadn’t moved her bugs to defend herself)

                [sarcasm] I can’t imagine why there are so many American villains around[/sarcasm].

              • Remember what Taylor said about the sliding scale of good and evil bieng an illusion?

                The PRT was always pretty fucked. Remember Cauldron was manipulating it from day one. It started to get better once it was under new managment, namely Chevalier.

                And lets face it, the wormverse had problems. Taylor had reason to always be suspicious of the system. Because when a girl undergoes a bullying campaign so severe it ends up with her having to be sent to the hospital and institunilized and nobody actually comes forward about it, nobody does anything about it, then yeah the system failed.

                That isn’t to say there are no good heroes. Chevalier and Dragon sure seem to be. Legend really wasn’t that bad, he just didn’t want to face that Cauldron and his friends were monsters. Basiclly if there is one thing you can say for sure in Worm, things are not black and white.

              • “Would you really save a dog over a (extremely effective) policeman?”
                If I had a chance to save the dog and knew that the policeman was not just a dangerous parahuman criminal broken out of the Birdcage by Cauldron or something (yeah, I threw out the metaphor), yes.

                “The heroes are spending their time trying to save people and enforce the rules of society like don’t attack people, kidnap them, threaten to kill them or steal their shit…”
                Except when they did things like getting various people killed (Armsmaster), killing people (Shadow Stalker), trying to provoke surrendering villains so they have an excuse to kill them (Tagg), or steal the things that matter most to a person like their life and family (Tagg, when he revealed Taylor’s secret identity…which also violated the truce, endangering the world’s future ability to deal with the Endbringers).

                “Piggot and Tagg (especially the former) never did anything that was worth starting a revolt about. Revolts are very costly. Tagg just attempted to capture a dangerous criminal who as far as most knew was quite willing to murder people to stay in control (Triumph) and who was setting a precedent that could cost millions of lives (the “don’t mess with unmasked capes” rule is less important than the “don’t take over cities” rule).”
                In order:
                1. Skitter turned herself in. Tagg then proceeded to violate her rights in several ways, from the completely needless restraints to the cavity search. And this isn’t a one-time thing–similar issues with restraints were noted in Canary’s interlude, and she was about as strong as Skitter (ie not very).
                2. Tagg was the one setting precedent, and incidentally violating the truce by unmasking Skitter and messing with her. Oh, and he also tried to make Skitter go into a psychotic rage, which was intended to set up a scenario where Skitter could be killed or Bidcaged without a trial. It also succeeded in causing the death of Alexandria, head of the PRT and among the most powerful heroes in the world (as well as his own), which would never have happened if he had decided to stick with the law and not try to screw with Skitter.

                In short, while the PRT and Protectorate isn’t as screwed up as (say) the S9, they’re still not the shining paragons of good that the Wormverse media wants them to be.

              • All the points raised above are very good, I’ll just add another one: the Triumvirate who is closely affiliated to a clearly shady and illegal organisation. Two of them even know of the numerous crimes against humanity committed by said organisation. At least one of them (Alexandria) acts as an enforcer for said organization on a semi-regular basis, helping them kidnap people to torture. All of them, included the mostly innocent Legend, aided, abetted and protected the Cauldron capes inside the Protectorate, all of whom, as we know, owe several favours to Cauldron, favours that can , usually are, go against the Protectorate directives (and let’s face not many will do what Battery did and try to do the right thing in the end). This practice ended only after the Triumvirate was ousted and Chevalier decided to expose Cauldron capes and at least one of them (Pretender) murdered a PRT agent to try and cover his tracks.

                Oh and there’s the whole Costa-Brown=Alexandria, which is a direct mockery of the entire raison d’être of the PRT.

              • And let’s not forget these incidents:

                The PRT/Protectorate allowed Armsmaster to come back as Defiant after he flagrantly violated the truce and went to great lengths to hide it during the Leviathan attack. Every single person in the room knew that Defiant was Armsmaster, yet they chose to say nothing.

                Coil was presumably in a high-ranking position in the PRT before being named the Director in Brockton Bay, meaning he was actively working to corrupt the system and was using their resources as part of his rise to power.

                They railroaded and condemned Canary in a kangaroo court over what was essentially an accident.

                They turned a blind eye to Madcap having prevented numerous dangerous parahumans from being sent to the Birdcage, all so they could bolster their own numbers.

                And they also actively tried to undermine Taylor when she joined the Wards. Remember the talk show and the absurd stakeout requirements? Was there any positive gain to be had from these? No, they were all done out of hurt pride.

                They threatened to blackmail Dragon by handing over control over the Birdcage to Saint, a known villain.

              • @Scolopendra: and let’s not forget that while they didn’t know that Calvert was Coil, they DID know he shot his own commanding officer to save his skin…

    • As of this time there are too many comments to reply to in a reasonable time frame.
      I will simply state that with two irrelevant exceptions (I had forgotten about Piggot’s attempt to lure the Undersiders into the bombing area and the petty treatment of Taylor after joining the Wards) none of the replies so far have contained facts that are both true and not something I was aware of at the time I wrote my replies. Additionally, none contain any lines of reasoning I had not already considered.
      My views have not changed significantly.

      I lost sympathy for Taylor in chapter 15.9:
      “Was trying to figure out when it was I lost sympathy for Taylor and stopped cheering her on.
      I think it was this chapter where she essentially raped Triumph in front of his dad to get the latter to argue for a different policy.

      Let’s remove the bugs and imagine someone else doing this:

      You’re eating dinner with your family and someone barges in and threatens you and your family.
      When you try and defend your family you are rendered helpless and spiny things covered in liquid fire are shoved into your mouth, penis and anus. Small pins are stuck in your skin in every part of your body, your eyelids and nose have small spines put in them. You are being choked to death. Your father is then threatened with your death. Your rapist is not caught and can rape you again from anywhere. As a side note, your dad will not recover from this, nor will his career.
      The trauma of that is IMMENSE! Worse than all but the most violent rapes (and every bug you see will be a trigger).
      They say rape can never be justified, but Taylor seems to have managed pretty well.”

  25. Long conversation above where a whole lot of people seem to be missing the point that Scion put a lot of emphasis for shards finding their way into younger, immature humans, with correspondingly less developed personalities. And the shards seek conflict.

    Worm capes are almost universally rather violent in the way they interact with the world, *especially* the natural capes. There are exceptions, but Taylor is not one of them.

    Scion did this to humanity. His mate would have helped him do it if she hadn’t died. They introduced this plague of super powered beings with preprogrammed violent tendencies to our world. Some readers though, they are upset when a teenager with a superpower gravitates to violence or threats of violence to solve problems? Some readers are upset when such an unbalanced teen chooses paths of action based on preserving future power and combat capability rather than compassion?

    Need to look a bit deeper into the story folks, if you want to see who is at fault for most of the misery, even before Scion went nutters.

    • Yes, shards feast on conflict and manipulate their hosts to create it and cause it. Yes, the younger the trigger event and the longer people have powers the more easier it is for the shards to manipulate their hosts. This dordn’t mean that you can blame eveything on them. Chevalier and Militia were orignal Wards which means they triggered young and have been parahumans for a long time and yet they are some of the more balanced and well-adjusted people in the series (MM’s trigger also makes Taylor’s look trivial by comparison). The reverse is also true for Jack Slash, arguably the worst individual in the story, who had a non-violent shard and committed atrocity because it was in his ( human ) nature.

      Are the shards also to blame for the violence in Worm? Yes. Is saying ” she’s a teenager who got powers from a warmongering space parasite, of course she ‘s going to be violent ” a bit naïve? Also yes.

    • I think it’s been stated many times in the story and outside of it too that superpowers brings out the best and worst of humanity. Sure, some of the blame lies on the shards and their tendency for violence but for the most part it’s because of the people the shards are attached to.

      • The people that the shards are attached to certainly matter. Most US teens with a superpower and an itch to use it violently would not have been able to avoid using it on Emma in the scenarios that Emma forced on her.

        Comparing MM to Taylor in anything other than the fact that they got powers is laughable. MM grew up in a third world country, and was probably more of an adult mentally at 10 than Taylor was at 16. In the third world, if you are not rich, you grow up fast, or not at all. In the US, I know people who are middle aged, who did not come from wealthy families, that still act like kids.

        But back to your point, yes, the personality matters. That’s not all though. Think about alcohol. Some very nice people use alcohol, and become mean or obnoxious drunks, because alcohol weakens their inhibitions. I see the shards working in much the same way. They weaken inhibitions against violence, and the less adult you are when you are introduced to the inhibition weakening, the greater the effect will be on development.

  26. I’m thinking this may have already been touched on… but I haven’t seen it, and it’d be a really, really good time for Weaver to gain a second ability (or more than one), so I’ll state it outright:

    If Weaver had a second trigger event, what kind of powers might we see?

    So far, the data on STE is fairly limited, but it seems pretty clear that it builds on previous powers, mainly. Grue, for example- his powers remained essentially the same, but altered in effect. New abilities added atop what was already there.

    In that vein, it seems unlikely that a STE would give a completely unrelated power- the possable exception being ‘Grab-bag’ and ‘Variable’ sets. Those, by their very nature, are likely unpredicable…. or, more unpredictable anyway.

    That said, some powers that would be logical extendions of existing powers:

    1. Chemical/toxin/venom control. The ability to alter the chemical loadout in her insects. Cyanide hornets, anyone? This would not only make less-deadly insects more useful in direct confrontation, but also grant significant support applications. Medicinal uses, for example. Painkillers, ect. She can already do this, to an extent, but the ability to alter the physiology of her insects had dozens of interesting possabilities. furthermore, if her control is fine enough, we could be looking at modifying existing chemical and toxic effects for greater yeild. For example- Brown Recluse venom modified to not attack the flesh where injected, but the heart instead, ect, ect.

    2. Chemical effect similar to option number one- but tied to Taylor personally, as opposed to her insects. Might be useful, especially in the support role. Still not effective against Scion, but more useful than option one when deprived of insects.

    1-2 Of no effect on Scion… Might be useful in a medicinal suppot role, though.

    3. Hive-mind shared with allies? I can see all kinds of useful applications. Varying, of course, depending on how it is implimented and its limitations. For example, if it requires time to establish, like Regent’s power, it might not be practical for use on entire armies. But might also make an exceptional tool for coordinateing unit comanders. If it requires voluntary surrender to Weaver there are a number of other potential limitations. It might be more like impressions or vague directives then telepathy, or vice-versa. Might require proximety to insects, might be tied to insect phermones, like queen ants and waps, ect. If she can extent her range useing her ‘subbordinates’, or use them like ‘hot spots’ from which she can control insects, this ability would be even more useful.

    3- VERY useful against Scion, or useless, depending on what the ‘rules’ are.

    4. Many insects have regenerative properties. And everyone can benefit from a healing factor. Since it’s an insect theme, the ability to regen using insects assimilated into her injuries might be suitably creepy, and fit with her general theme. Alternatively, should she be ‘killed’ the ability to regenerate fully useing the vistigial compulsion, meaning- being to regen even after receiving fatal injuries, even while unconsious, would be AWESOME.

    4- Everyone can use a healing factor. And it woud fit her theme.

    5. Some combination thereof. All of them?

    5- this would actually make a lot of sense. In fact, Weaver/Skitter/Taylor has already been established as a solid class-A threat even when equipped with a ‘weak’ power, and has taken out class-S threats and survived incredible odds before. A combination, or all of these, would make her a class-S, easy.

    It has been… I don’t think implied is the right word, but I get the feeling that the stronger the connection to the Passanger when hitting the STE, the larger the boost. I can’t really provide evidence supporting this, as we only have Grue, and a handful of others whoes characters are less developed. None of which were what I’d call closely attuned to their passanger. Weaver, on the other hand, is extreamly attuned. It would make sense, however, as the logical leap.

    I think… I’d honestly vote for the full package… number 5, all of the above.

    Thoughts?

  27. First time posting here.

    Love Worm, I’ve been binge archiving it all week.

    I have a question though. Wildbow was Winter one of Crane the Harmonious’s child soldiers going by their respective back-stories?

    • Nope. That’d be a cool connection, but it’s not one I put in my notes.

      If you hop on over to IRC (I think there’s a link somewhere), I dished some backstory on Crane there, for one of the people who’re writing fanfiction. Long story short, she’s a martial artist who uses her keen awareness of movements to craft martial arts perfectly suited to a given power, body type, personality and so on. In attempting to perfect her art, she kidnapped children with powers. They weren’t soldiers, but students.

      Writing tonight’s chapter, so I can’t take the time to find and post the actual notes, but maybe a kind person from IRC can comment with the expanded notes I offered up (or, as I said, you could head over there and ask for Miss Panda).

  28. “Once the bead was in place, every bullet hit. Every power.”

    “Once the bead was in place, every” is all italicized. I think only “every” is meant to be italicized.

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