Extermination 8.4

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I got my orders and left behind a bizarre scene where Armsmaster was working hand in hand with Kaiser, of all people.  Kaiser worked to build the same sort of trap that he’d imprisoned Lung in, some time ago, creating bars of metal between and around each of Leviathan’s limbs, a cage tight to the body.  Rune and another telekinetic were working to bend the metal from Kaiser’s shaken barrier around Leviathan’s limbs and face.

It wouldn’t last.  Leviathan was too big, his tail extended a long distance behind him, and it was thin and supple enough to slip through almost any barrier Kaiser could erect, strong enough that it could bend metal.  Leviathan would get free, there could be no illusions on that front.

While Kaiser worked, Armsmaster was simultaneously ensuring that he could maximize the damage delivered the second Leviathan moved again.  Gingerly, he worked with the grenades the Protectorate had liberated from Bakuda, the same explosives Miss Militia had been firing at Leviathan, and hooked them up as motion activated or proximity mines.  A complicated affair, I imagined, when your target could start moving any second, and when you couldn’t fully know or understand what the individual bombs did.

In the end, though, it was still our best bet to do one final measure of damage against Leviathan before he was free to wreak havoc once more.

There were a little more than fifty of us left.  Hookwolf, Fenja, Menja, Genesis, Aegis and Manpower were among the fifteen or so standing combatants that remained and were able to go toe to toe with Leviathan.  Parian, the girl in the doll costume, had formed some massive stuffed animals – a lion and a pig that stood as tall as Leviathan’s shoulder.  Tougher than they looked, according to her.  I had my doubts.  I mean, it wasn’t just that they were stuffed animals, but according to Parian, this was her first fight.

Too many others were capable of delivering the hurt, but were too fragile: Browbeat, Shadow Stalker, Lady Photon, Purity, Laserdream, Brandish and others I didn’t know.  The Ward with the crossbow, some guy with crimson skin.  There was a light show in the sky above as Kid Win teleported in pieces of the cannon he’d had at the bank robbery, manifesting them onto a hovering platform set directly in front of Leviathan.  He’d get anywhere from a few seconds to a minute’s worth of concentrated fire with the gun firing on the highest settings, directing a beam through a gap in the bars to where Narwhal’s razor sharp forcefield had opened a gap in Leviathan’s neck.

Beyond those first few moments after Leviathan woke up, it woul be anyone’s guess.

I hurried away from the site Armsmaster had indicated to me, my right hand on my left elbow, keeping my arm from moving too much.  Sector CC-7, a block and a half South, a block West.  So strange, to think that this was an area I’d walked through a dozen times, on my way to or from the Loft.  Now I was looking at it as a battlefield, trying to figure out what routes Leviathan would take.  What things I had to watch out for – the grates leading down to the storm sewers, the rain barrel on top of one of the buildings that might or might not be intact enough to retain any water in it.  Puddles.

Stuff I could use…  hardly.

It wasn’t like there was any weapon I could deploy, no feature of the terrain I could use to deliver the critical blow.  This was Leviathan.  A creature that had killed more people in the last 12 years than I had even seen in my entire life.  Seen in person, anyways.

I was scared.  A huge part of me wanted to just close my eyes and hope Leviathan didn’t come, that I wouldn’t have to deal with him.  It would be nice to join the three hundred and fifty thousand other Brockton Bay residents that were trusting the heroes to handle things, find a peace of sorts in surrender and helplessness.  Except I couldn’t.  I’d seen firsthand how Leviathan had taken down some of the strongest capes.  I couldn’t find refuge in that kind of trust anymore.  My mental and emotional resources were better spent on figuring out how to help than they were on hope.

I was hurting, too.  The only thing keeping the throb of my arm from consuming my attention was the fear.  It was a kind of grim cycle:  the pain reminded me of why I should be scared, but the emotion and the adrenaline kept the pain as this intensely unpleasant background chatter in my brain, where it might have crippled me otherwise.  It was a teetering balance that had me on edge in a way I’d never experienced to this degree.  There were probably people who lived for that hypervigilant, heart-racing, brain-going-in-overtime experience.  I wasn’t one of them.

Priorities.  Back to what I was thinking about – there obviously wasn’t anything to be found here that would win me a fight against Leviathan or even hurt him.  Ridiculous to think that way.  Any advantages to be gained would be ones that kept me alive.

I wiped the beads of water from my lenses with my glove, which only seemed to divide each of them into a mess of smaller droplets.  Leviathan was bigger than me, stronger, faster, tougher.  I had to think like a mouse who might run into a murderous cat at any moment.  Like prey.  Use my small size.  Hide.  I needed a position that kept me out of sight, gave me a good vantage point, but left me free to make a run for it.  A spot where I had an escape route if things got bad.  To top it off, in the event Eidolon couldn’t stop the wave, I could also do with cover.

It was the sort of street you saw often enough in the Docks.  Large buildings lined either side, like giant boxes made of concrete or brick.  I could have maybe found a fire escape to climb up, in the hopes that I’d be out of reach of the wave, but my experience with Lung back on day one had taught me better.  The higher ground was an advantage, sure, but if your opponent could get up or down from that location faster and more easily than you could, that stopped being an asset really damn quickly.  If there was anything that was going to be useful, it would be on ground level.  I saw a rusted van that had sat in front of an old workshop since I’d first passed through this area, all tires flat, windows broken, interior gutted.  A chain link fence stretched between two buildings, but someone had cut the wires that connected the fence to the frame, so half of it was curled back and waving slightly in the wind and rain.

No, those things weren’t useful.  Larger scale?  There was an old roof supported by two pillars, attached on one side to a building, a carport, perhaps.  The roof was mostly intact, corrugated steel with a smallish hole in one lower corner, which meant the area beneath it was largely dry, but for a small puddle.  It was also exposed on three sides, which meant I couldn’t stay there.  My bugs could.  It was a place they could keep dry until I needed them.

I’d been acutely aware of my bugs since the battle started, and for the second time I could remember, I found my power was responding far more effectively as I called for them.  My reach extended further, my bugs were fractionally more responsive.  The last time this had been the case, it had been when I teamed up with Bitch, Sundancer and Newter and wound up fighting Oni Lee and Lung.  I couldn’t explain it, but I wasn’t going to complain.  I needed every small advantage I could get.

As they began gathering under the carport, my mind returned to that notion of being successful ‘prey’.

When I’d originally designed my costume, I’d picked the darker colors, made sure that the varieties of chitin I used to make the armor were spaced out so the individual shading would retain some ‘speckling’ after being painted, all for a reason.  Camouflage.  I’d known I’d have my bugs all around me.  I’d known I would be standing in the midst of them while they gathered into swarms, would have them crawling on me from time to time.  So I’d picked darker colors and made my armor mottled to blend in with the bugs that were, obviously, specks.

Just hiding inside my swarm wouldn’t be enough.  Too easy for him to attack just the one cluster, tear through me.

So I gathered more than one smaller swarm, clustering them in areas where it was dry.  The interior of the rusted van, under eaves, in doorframes and on a roof, under a large rain barrel.

Then, struck by a little inspiration, I condensed the nine swarms into human-ish shapes.  Black silhouettes crouched, stood tall with arms akimbo, leaned against walls, leaned partially outside the driver’s side window of the van.  In the gloom, through the rain, it was deceptive.  Deceptive enough?  I couldn’t be sure.

I felt the bite of cold air.  A chill breeze, going straight through the soaked fabric of my costume.  When I looked down to where the long road sloped to the edge of the water, I saw the reason for the chill.  Eidolon was flying at the coast, focusing blue rays on the water around the shattered boardwalk and debris at the water’s edge, hardening the waves into irregular sheets and glacier-like formations of ice.

Dangerous.  I could remember seeing on TV that they’d tried something like this a few years ago.  A Tinker using an ice engine, I think.  I didn’t know exactly how or why, but judging by the fact that they hadn’t used the tactic again, I got the impression It had turned out really badly.

My guess was based on the notion that hydrokinesis was the movement of water, and ice was just water in another form.  It wasn’t that Leviathan would levitate the chunks of ice.  Nothing so blatant.  Rather, when a tidal wave did break through the ice, rolled up onto the battlefield with frozen shards and chunks caught up in the current, Leviathan might move those chunks a little faster in the wave’s passage, make them hit a little harder, and give them a tendency to strike where they could do the most damage.

That was my suspicion, anyways.  The heroes didn’t exactly dish out the full details at press conferences, afterward, so I could only make an educated guess.

Either way, it was a delaying tactic.  Holding off the damage, in the hopes that we could end this or get reinforcements before Brockton Bay became another Newfoundland.

We were hoping for Scion.  The first cape, the golden skinned man.  The guy that could go toe to toe with an Endbringer and win, if things hadn’t already gone too far south.  If Behemoth hadn’t already turned the area into a radioactive, magma-ridden wasteland.  If Leviathan hadn’t built up enough momentum with his waves.  If the Simurgh… Ok, the Simurgh was different, I had to admit.  The issue with her wasn’t so much winning the battle.  It was what came after.  Win every battle against her, lose the war, more or less.

The problem with waiting on Scion was that the guy wasn’t exactly in touch with the rest of us.  There was speculation he had at least one human contact – someone that had given him clothing and a costume, at least – but he never bothered to stop long enough for anyone to pass on any requests, to tell him to go to X place when we gave him Y signal.  He rescued people twenty-four-seven, three hundred and sixty five days a year, handling crises only as they came to his attention, which meant that sometimes an Endbringer came and Scion was wholly occupied with saving sinking ships, stopping landslides and putting out housefires.  I wondered what he was doing now.

My swarms were in place, which left me having to decide where to hide.  The carport was too in the open, none of the eaves left me a good enough escape route, and as for the space under the rain barrel on the roof, well, I wasn’t that stupid, and I’d already dismissed the roof as an option anyways.

I started toward the rusted van.  I was halfway there when I reconsidered.  As comforting as it might be to have the safety of metal around me and to be more or less concealed, it posed some of the same problems as the rooftops.  If things turned sour or if an unexpected situation arose, I’d be trapped.

After a moment of tense consideration, I reluctantly decided on the carport, hunkering down in the gloom and hoping the shadows there would help conceal me.  It offered me an escape route – around the back of the building, or through the side door, it gave me cover from the rain and any debris, and it gave me concealment.  I’d have to cope with the lack of cover from any incoming waves or Leviathan himself.

Secure in the amount of bugs around me, I collected the ones that could go out in the rain and manage reasonably well.  Primarily roaches.  I sent them out in the general direction of where Leviathan and the others were.  The better a sense I had of any imminent encounters, the better I could react.

Manpower deceased, CD-6.  Aegis deceased, CD-6, my armband spoke, at the same moment my bugs reached the area around where Leviathan had been.

He was awake again.

Aegis would have been covering an aerial route, keeping Leviathan from heading to the rooftops, which meant Leviathan went up.  I had the mass of roaches ascend, trying to get a sense of his location.  I tried to use my armband to help gauge the direction he was traveling, but since I couldn’t move my arm, it was difficult at best.

Fenja down, CC-6.  My head snapped up.

I found them.  Fenja and Menja were duking it out with Leviathan.  Both were nearly as big as he was, which was saying a fair bit.  I knew their power warped geometry to make them bigger, simultaneously reduced the effective size of incoming attacks by an inversely proportionate amount.  Six times as tall and a sixth of the hurt, on top of the benefits of being bigger.

Fenja deceased, CC-6.

It wasn’t doing them a lot of good.  Not Fenja, anyways.

I saw a light as Kid Win rose above the level of the buildings, fired a painfully bright beam down at the EndbringerAfter the laser petered out, he rose up higher again, to keep out of reach.  He was in the middle of firing another beam when the laser flicked around nearly three hundred and sixty degrees, spun by a massive impact.

Kid win down, CC-6.

And then Leviathan was in view, entering the same street I was on.  As if to herald his coming, a massive wave crashed hard against the barrier of ice Eidolon had erected around the wrecked Boardwalk, the spray seemingly reaching nearly to the stormclouds above.

One shoulder was bloated, five times the normal size, twisted, like it was covered in elephantine tumors, bleeding openly.  He was injured in other places, had a hole through the side of his stomach, a larger blackened wound at the base of his neck, and a fifth of his face was missing, torn off below the cheekbone.  He didn’t seem to be suffering much.  He held Kaiser’s upper torso in the one claw, tossed it casually to one side.  The man’s legs were nowhere to be seen.

Wait, what?  I hadn’t heard the report on Kaiser’s death.  I checked my armband, where my arm hung immobile at my side.

It was dead, offline.  Black screen.

I didn’t have another second to worry – Leviathan was extending one claw in my general direction.

The water that had pooled shallowly beneath the carport trickled his way, as if it were moving downhill, gathered in a rising bulge of water on the street in front of the carport, swelling to five feet in height, fifteen feet across.

Unsure what to do, I remained absolutely still.

A movement of his claw, and the bulge broke, spilled to one side as an onrushing wave.  It swept beneath the rusted van, suddenly rose to heave the vehicle in Leviathan’s direction.  The van rolled once, skidding toward the Endbringer, threatening to strike one leg out from under him.  He stopped it by punching it through the roof, into the front end of the van.  He stabbed the other claw through at the same point, tore the van into two halves that he tossed to either side of him.

A flick of his tail, and he sent a blade of water slashing through the air at the rain barrel, slicing through the swarm and stilts.  The barrel crashed to the rooftop, and water cascaded out.  A twisting movement of his claw, and that cascade of water flowed off the roof in a small, controlled wave, moving like a speeding car, straight towards the carport on the other side of the street, toward me.

I caught a glimpse of Leviathan rearing back in reaction to something as I legged it, left my swarm behind as I ran perpendicular to the wave’s direction, away from Leviathan.  I leaped as I felt it make contact with the swarm, felt it slam into my legs a fraction of a second after.

I’d cleared enough ground that the angle of the hit didn’t throw me straight into the side of the building.  I was thrown a distance, rolled on my side, on top of and over my probably-broken arm.

Pain consumed me.  I writhed, my good hand pressing on my bad arm.  I gagged, pulled my mask up to throw up, as if my body was trying to find some way to rebel against the pain.  I tried to climb to my feet, but I was too weak, dizzy, and my good arm gave out.  I landed face first in dirty water.

I had no idea how long it took me to pull myself together.  It could have been two minutes, it could have been ten seconds.  I managed to climb to my feet.  Stumble back toward the carport, staying to the shadows.

As I approached the corner of the building, I saw Armsmaster fighting toe to toe with Leviathan, a Halberd in each hand.  One was similar to the one he’d used the night we attacked the fundraiser, capable of unfolding into a grappling hook, the other was simpler, a dull stainless steel from tip to butt end, with no decoration or style to it.  The head was surrounded by a strange blur that seemed static, unmoving around the blade and point.

Leviathan slapped his tail at Armsmaster’s legs, and Armsmaster leaped over it, swiped out with the blurry Halberd.  It carved a chunk out of Leviathan, left a cloud of dust that the rain quickly drove down into the expanse of water beneath them.  The Endbringer reared back in pain, and Armsmaster stepped forward, leaped up higher than any normal human could, and caught Leviathan just above the knee with the Halberd, driving the blade nearly a third of the way to the bone.

Leviathan retaliated, swiping at Armsmaster, but the hero planted a foot on the uninjured part of the knee, and kicked himself back and out of the way.  The afterimage followed him, and he swiped at it with the other Halberd.  The blade erupted with a flame like a giant purple blowtorch, turning the worst of the afterimage into steam before it could crush him.  He turned his back so the steam didn’t billow against the exposed flesh of his face.  Some remains of the afterimage struck his armor, but he slid back and rolled with the impact, keeping his feet on the ground the entire time, enabling him to leap and roll to one side as Leviathan’s tail came down from behind and directly above him.

Leviathan was badly injured.  Ichor poured from six large wounds that hadn’t been there when he’d arrived on the street.

“You dumb brute,” Armsmaster growled.  He was panting for breath.  “Every fight you’ve done so far, that we’ve got on camera?  I’ve watched it, put it through programs.  I’ve got a computer on my back that’s relaying to a supernetwork, noting your every move, using subsonic pulses to read every aspect of the street, the surrounding buildings, every feature of the terrain.  I know exactly what you’re going to do next – you’re going to try to catch me from behind with a wave.”

Leviathan lunged, swiped with the oversized claw.  Armsmaster rolled to one side, then swung both Halberds behind him to intercept the wave that was coming from behind, vaporize it.

“You don’t even speak English, do you?  Or you’d know what I was saying, you’d know I already won.  The others helped, slowing you down, stopping the waves.  But this victory, this killing blow?  It’s going to be mine.”

Leviathan lunged, stopped, letting his water echo get ahead of him, then lunged again, a half second later.  Armsmaster leaped out of the way of the echo, drew his knees to his chest to avoid a claw swipe while he was still airborne, and sent his grappling hook between Leviathan’s feet to pull himself to the ground in a flash.  He skidded with the momentum, right between Leviathan’s legs, and raised the blurry Halberd to strike Leviathan between the legs, against the first ten feet of Leviathan’s tail.  The tail was turned to dust where the blade made contact, the plumes of it briefly obscuring Armsmaster.

“This cloud around my blade?  Nanotechnology.  Nano-structures engineered to slide between atoms, sever molecular bonds.  Cuts through anything.  Everything.  Like a sharp knife through air.”

Leviathan whipped his tail at Armsmaster.  Armsmaster stepped out of the way, slapped at the tail with the broad side of the blade.  More dust, another chunk of flesh gone, ichor pouring from the injury.  He ducked the echo as though it were an idle afterthought.

Leviathan turned to run.  Armsmaster sent out one blade like a grappling hook, circled the smaller of the Endbringer’s claws with the chain.  Leviathan moved, oblivious or uncaring, and Armsmaster waited until the slack was out of the chain, pressed a button.

The chain and Halberd ceased moving, and even Leviathan’s strength ceased to move it.  Rather than pull away, the Endbringer skidded, fell on his back, wrist still held by the chain.

A half second later, the chain went briefly slack, then rigid again as Armsmaster reeled himself in. He drove the blurry blade straight into Leviathan’s face with all the force of his forward momentum.  He pulled it free, slashed again, then freed the chain and used it to pull himself across the street, out of reach of Leviathan’s violent response.

Armsmaster called out, “Let’s see how quickly you respond to classical conditioning.  Every time you try to run, I’ll do something like that.”

Leviathan had no reply.  He simply climbed to his feet, swiped a claw through the air.  Armsmaster parried the afterimage that sailed through the air toward him, using the purple flame.

“For the record, that last trick was a temporal stasis trigger, with thanks owed to the cooperation of a subordinate of mine.  Drains my battery reserves, but you don’t understand that, do you?”

Leviathan lunged, and Armsmaster fired out the grappling hook, stopped it in mid air by freezing it in time.  Leviathan ran himself through on the chain, the thing spearing deep into his neck and out the back of his torso.  Uncaring, the Endbringer continued to charge at Armsmaster.

Armsmaster let the chain go slack, ducked a swipe of the tail, leaped forward and to one side to avoid the claw that followed.  Another small hop and roll ensured he moved right beneath the afterimage, and he made two swipes with the blurry Halberd at the back of Leviathan’s thighs as he passed behind the Endbringer.  His chain reeled in, pulled free of Leviathan’s neck wth a spray of blood, came down and across Leviathan’s hip to snap back to the top of the Halberd.  He fired it off again to get himself more distance, pulling himself across the street, spinning to face Leviathan once more as he stopped.

He passed one Halberd to the other hand, so he held two, wiped some frothing spittle from his mouth with his gauntlet.  “I am going to be the one to take your head, abomination.  I can only hope you know mortal terror in your last moments, know what you’ve inflicted on so many others.”

Leviathan stood, straighted itself, touched its claw to its ruined face, then its neck.  The amount of blood it was losing – it seemed somehow more than Leviathan should have been able to contain within himself.  I mean, he was big, but this was a lot of blood.

For several long seconds, Leviathan didn’t move.

“Delaying, buying time for a tsunami?” Armsmaster laughed, and Leviathan cocked his head at the display of emotion.  “No.  Three point four minutes before the next big wave breaks through the ice.  Dragon’s probes are giving me the data on that.  This will be over before then.”

He stepped forward, then stepped again, waiting for some cue from Leviathan.  On Armsmaster’s third step, Leviathan took a small step back, lashed his tail behind him.

“Finally scared?” Armsmaster taunted.  “Good.”

Nausea and pain was welling up in me again as I watched from the corner of the building, under the carport, threatening to override my sense of awe.  It was all I could do to keep quiet, keep from distracting Armsmaster, or distracting Leviathan and throwing some wrench in Armsmaster’s data.  The last thing I wanted was to become the hostage that made Armsmaster hesitate for the fraction of a second that cost him -cost us all-  the fight.

Armsmaster went on an all-out offensive, slashing as fast as his arm could move, cutting leg, knee, tail, leg again, moving out of the way of Leviathan’s attacks as though it were easy.  For ten seconds he continued, relentless.

“I should thank you, monster,” Armsmaster spoke, after he’d just finished a backflip that had carried him near enough to Leviathan’s torso to strike the creature across the lower belly.

Leviathan lunged, dropping to all fours, as if trying to swamp Armsmaster with a huge volume of water by way of his afterimage.  Armsmaster was already casting his grappling hook out, pulling himself out of the way.  In the final moment before he pulled away, his other Halberd swung up and into Leviathan’s neck, making a wound mirroring the spot where Narwhal’s forcefield had cleaved deep, the one Kid Win had undoubtedly opened wider with his laser turret.  Armsmaster reeled the hook back in.

The Endbringer turned, as if to run, only for the loop of the grappling hook’s chain to pass under his ‘chin’.  Armsmaster heaved himself up and onto the Endbringer’s back, drove the Halberd into one side of the neck, lengthening the cut he’d just made.  He stepped on the top of the Endbringer’s head, leaped down, catching the Endbringer across the face with the Halberd as he descended.  Leviathan collapsed, going spread-eagle.

Armsmaster slashed at Leviathan’s forearms as the Endbringer started to clmb to his feet.  More damage done, though it didn’t stop Leviathan from rising.  While Armsmaster pressed the attack, his armband hissed with a message I couldn’t make out.  I glanced at mine – still broken.

“This will be over before then,” Armsmaster echoed an eariler statement, speaking more to himself than to the armband or Leviathan.

Leviathan hopped backwards to create some distance, staggered a little as the more injured of his two legs failed to take his weight, used his smaller hand to stop from falling a second time, poising himself on three limbs.

Armsmaster used his grappling hook to haul himself close, readying to make another slash for the neck.  He changed his mind as the ground rumbled, pulled the hook free to latch it on a garage door.  Countering his forward momentum, he swung himself to one side of the road, staying out of Leviathan’s reach.

The ground rumbled again, brief, intense, stopped.

Armsmaster touched a hand to the side of his visor, and I thought I saw his lips crease in a frown before he turned his head away from me.

Another fierce rumble, and a crack appeared like a seam down the center of the street, a straight line as far as I could see in either direction.

Leviathan raised his claw, and the road suddenly split, heaving upward as a concrete pipe wide enough to fit a man crested from the pavement like a whale rising from the waves.  A second later, water gushed forth, veering toward Armsmaster.

The storm sewers.

Armsmaster hesitated, then threw his grappling-hook-Halberd forward into the onrushing waves like a javelin.  The gush of water froze in time, and he leapt forward, stepping on the furthermost extensions of the immobile spray in a parkour-style ascent over the water and the pipe.  The water resumed its regular motion as Armsmaster took his final leaping step off the top, heading straight for Leviathan.

Leviathan moved faster than he had in the last minute, caught the blade in his claw.

Dust rose from the claw as the blade sank deep, blood poured out, but the blade remained fixed in place.  Armsmaster tugged, failed to dislodge it.  He tried to pull away, but I could see Leviathan had caught onto his hand and wrist with his clawtips, while the Halberd sat embedded in his ‘palm’.

“How!?” Armsmaster roared.

I didn’t hesitate a moment in sending out my bugs.  Three swarms, shaped like people, more as a general cloud.  The bugs all sagged beneath the drenching rain, the ones on top taking the brunt of the downpour.

Leviathan planted one foot beside Armsmaster for balance, reached out with his free claw, and pressed the tips against the side of Armsmaster’s throat and torso.  Still holding on to Armsmaster’s hand and wrist, he pushed against the side of the man’s body.  Armsmaster screamed, a frantic noise that seemed to redouble in urgency with every breath.  He tipped over and fell with a splash.

The Endbringer stood, showing none of the frailty or pain it had been displaying seconds ago.  The injuries were there, to be sure, his head hung at an angle because of the way the weight of his head hung on the intact portions of his neck, but he wasn’t suffering, had no trouble putting his full weight on his more injured leg.  Had it been an act?

The Endbringer dropped Armsmaster’s arm and Halberd, where the weight of the metal armor and device pulled them beneath the water.  A lash of his tail dispatched two of my three swarms.  He watched, seeming not to care, as the third ran up to him, smashed against his leg.  The bugs spreading out, burying themselves deep into his injuries. I was hoping to find some weakness, devour him from the inside out, but the bugs might as well have been biting on steel.  Nothing budged beneath their jaws, their stings couldn’t penetrate.

He turned, crouched, bolted West, away from the coast, full speed.

I hurried to Armsmaster’s side.

“You,” he groaned.  His left arm was gone at the shoulder, torn out of the socket.  Blood poured from the wound.  “You’re dead.”

“Hey, you’re not making any sense.”

“He killed you.”

Had my armband announced my death when it glitched out and died?  Assumed total destruction of my unit, and me with it?

“I’m alive.  Listen, I’m going to try and find your arm, my armband got broken, maybe something got dislodged when Leviathan broke my arm.”

He only groaned unintelligbly in response.

I ran over to the general area where Leviathan had dropped Armsmaster’s arm.   I tripped over the crack that ran down the middle of the street, got my feet under me to keep running, and began feeling through the water.

I came within inches of touching the submerged blade, turning my hand to molecular dust.

Finding the arm, I picked it up.  Heavy, almost too much to hold in one hand.  It wasn’t just the weight of the armor or the fact that it was a muscular, full-grown-man’s limb – the gauntlet had been crushed around the pole of the Halberd, crumpled like tinfoil.  With the arm and weapon in a bricklayer’s grip that was painful to maintain, I hurried back to Armsmaster’s side, dropped them near him.  I shook him, hoping to get him alert, to no avail.

With my only working hand, I pried the Halberd free of his glove, rested his arm across his chest, and pressed the button.

“Armsmaster down!  CC-7!  Leviathan is heading West…”

I felt the bugs I’d clustered in Leviathan’s wounds change direction.  The compass point between West and Northwest was what?  More Wests than North.

“Cancel that!  He’s going West-North-West from my location!”

My voice echoed back to me in the Armband’s tinny voice a half-second after I’d finished.  Armsmaster’s armband changed to display a red dot, tracking Leviathan’s movements, or the closest approximation the system could guess.

“Roger, sounds like he might be heading for one of the shelters, lots of people packed into a space where they can’t run, vulnerable,” someone replied, “Medical help incoming.  Whoever this is, you can track Leviathan?”

“Yes, as long as I’m within a few blocks of him.”  Again, the system relayed my message. Affirmative.  Range restriction of ‘a few blocks’.

Did it really need to reword what I said?

“Can you fly?  Chase him?”

“No.”  Negative.

“Then I’m sending a flier your way, to ensure you stay close enough.  We need eyes on this bastard, and you’re them.”

“Got it!”

There was only silence after that.  Teeth clenched, shivering, I pressed my good hand as hard as I could manage against the ragged mess of Armsmaster’s shoulder, trying to slow the blood loss.

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159 thoughts on “Extermination 8.4

  1. Weird. Ran into a glitch where the update was scheduled to appear 1 minute after midnight, EST, and it took 15+ minutes to happen. I was a mite freaked.

    Point being – if you happened to be subscribed and you got some spam or glitches on your end, that’s probably related.

  2. I guess he needs to change his codename to Armmasternow. If any class of super is probably going to be able to bounce back from surviving the loss of an arm it would almost have to be a tinker. Assuming he lives I can’t even imagine the sheer amount of technology he is going to pack into the new arm he makes himself.

    • Wow, Armsmaster just one v. oned an Endbringer. Let’s give the man a hand; he certainly needs one. You could say Leviathan defeated him handily. However, any villain that thinks of him as h-armless now is going to be in for a surprise. Gotta hand it to the guy, that nanotech is effective, but Leviathan handled the situation better and ended up handing A. his ass (though Skitter handed him his hand). That said, I think the situation is now well and truly… out of hand.

      Thank you, thank you ladies and gentlemen. I’ll show myself out.

  3. “Kaiser worked to build the same sort of trap that he’d imprisoned Lung in, some time ago, creating bars of metal between and around each of Leviathan’s limbsLast Chapter Next Chapter, a cage tight to the body”

    Oughta be interesting to see if this might shape up the way I’m pondering it’ll shape up. Victory is still graspable, perhaps more graspable now than ever before. I’m not sure if there can even be another 4 chapters or however many are normal for each section, because this one looks like the Leviathan action’s coming to an end soon.

    We must know more! We must see the dramatic conclusion! And don’t you DBZ this on us by having the next year be nothing but talking while someone powers up a superweapon.

  4. Here we got a pretty good show of how the real problem is that supers are such dicks. We see a definitive demonstration that someone can make weapons that really hurt an Endbringer, so what do they do with them? Make a whole bunch so they can be distributed out when one surfaces and the threat can be ended? Noooh, they make just one and decide to solo the beast. Would be a real facepalm moment if it weren’t exactly the sort of BS real people pull all the time.

    Great update.

    • Glad you liked it.

      To be fair to the man, though, Armsmaster did only create the first iteration of the disintegration Halberd with Dragon that very morning.

      • Actually I think I read somwhere before that disadvantage of armmaster is that he can use the technology he creates only on himself or something to that account. So having this nanotechnology unique to him may be a better explanation

        • When that was mentioned it was Tattletale chucking lies and misdirections at him to give her power the chance to figure out how much he knew, how much he could figure out, and what his weaknesses (His massive ego) were.

          • I’m inclined to think she was describing his powers accurately for the benefit of her teamates – but as I understand it, his limitation was that his technology compression only works near him, so presumably he could make uncompressed versions for other people (or teach another tinker how to do so).

            • Such an uncompressed copy would be very, very unwieldy, as he stated that he had trouble with space if he wanted to incorporate it into his primary halberd, thus leading me to believe that this wouldn’t even be able to fit on a normal weapon without it.

    • It’s mentioned at some point, although I don’t remember when, that Tinker tech requires a lot of maintenance from tinkers. There are exceptions, but they tend to be less impressive devices specifically designed to be easily maintainable.

      • I imagine some tinkers are frustrated cause they can think up some inventions that require inventions not yet made, sure they could whip up a micro fission reactor but a fusion reactor would be out of the question and they would be limited energy wise. We discovered the higgs boson about a decade back, imagine what you could do what the knowledge it exists…

        • Inventions that require inventions not yet made is kind of a Tinker’s whole schtick, I don’t see why it would slow them down.

  5. Well, well well. The Heroes’ defence has been washed apart like wet paper, Fenja couldn’t fend him off, and Menja couldn’t Mend her. The villain with the metal blades got torn apart like a knife through butter, Armsmaster has been rendered ‘armless, and now Leviathan has been bugged. Will Skitter be able to move fast enough to keep up and keep out of Leviathan’s way? Only Tattletale knows, and she’s not talking.

    On a slightly more serious note, I’m assuming that people are thinking Skitter is dead because of the broken armband. Every writer’s instinct I have is telling me that this is a vital plot point. And in the unlikely circumstance that I’m right, I think I have a good idea as to how.

    • I’m with you, frozen chicken — it does feel important.

      My initial guess was that it might help Taylor retire the Skitter-as-supervillain identity later, but the fact that she is now obviously talking with Dispatch and going to be tracking Leviathan makes that feel less likely.

      My other guess is that it’s foreshadowing that someone else we “know” is dead might also have a broken/malfunctioning armband instead.

      (PS: Apropos of the conversation the other day — Wildbow, I *really* like the name Skitter. I thought it was an excellent and distinctive choice for a bug-themed superhuman.)

  6. A halberd like that would only work under specific circumstances;

    1) The atomic bonds in the halberd must be individually stronger than the atomic bonds in the material to be cut. Otherwise, when bond meets bond, the stronger bond will break the weaker and the halbert will disintegrate instead of the target. It’s the same as when a very finely honed edge cuts through softer materials but is blunted if you use it against tougher materials.
    Solution: use a material tougher than most things like carbon or boron nanotubes.

    2) Severing atomic and molecular bonds still requires the normal amount of energy. If you want to disintegrate a piece of iron, it would take about as much energy as needed to melt it. If the halbert uses up the kinetic energy of the swings, you’ll have it disintegrating a few millimeters and then stopping cold.
    Solution: make the halbert vibrate at very high frequencies, storing the energy needed in them.

    • it’s the old “what kind of flask do you store the universal solvent in” problem from basic chemistry. active, powered technology can solve it; you use force fields of whatever type to contain your cut-it-all unobtainium. then, of course, it probably won’t be able to cut through force fields, but that’s life.

      • You’re right, Nomen. I quote, from the Interlude: “Only problems are that it’s vulnerable to forcefields, fire, and other intense energy, …”

  7. Coincidence that this arc corresponds with the anniversary of the Japanese tsunami? It brings the horror to life, like Leviathan is the personification of what happened there…One year ago last Sunday.

    • Is it really? Geez, crap.

      Now I feel bad. 😦 Like I’m taking advantage of/being sensationalist with something terrible that’s happened. I mean, there’ve been cases where, to show respect, movies changed or delayed in regards to, say, 9/11. To show respect or avoid upsetting people.

      I think I mentioned before that I had this arc in mind for a while. Even a year ago today, I was pondering Worm’s storyline – I don’t like to plot things out, because I get bored with it, but I was excited about doing this one. When the Tsunami happened, I seriously reconsidered using a different Endbringer, but in test writes there was no way for it to come together. As I remarked to an online buddy; the Behemoth is the herokiller, the Leviathan levels, and the Simurgh derails storylines (This isn’t how they refer to her in-universe, but it’s true as far as how the story goes).

      And I just wasn’t prepared to kill off more than this in the way of pre-existing cast, nor do I want to throw the storyline to the wind. So I stuck with Leviathan – I just didn’t realize it’d be coming up at the same date.

      • No, don’t feel bad. Monsters are created out of what people fear, for good reason. Even a fantasy story, if it is good, can’t help being about life.

      • I’m reading through for the first time here (this series is gods damn amazing, by the way, so I fully expect to re-read once or twice.) and this message stunned me. Levi here isn’t the hero killer? With this kind of body count so far? Ye gods, Behemoth must be horrifying.

      • The date isn’t all that upsetting compared to how disturbingly, eerily reminiscent the damage being described here is to Katrina and Sandy etc. The context is different enough that it doesn’t seem offensive though.

  8. Simurgh sounds scary because of how little gets said while the hints are terrifying. I think Glory Girl and her sister said something about the only telepath? Freaky in a villain.

    Wonder what’s amping up Taylor’s power?

    Still think she has a low level telepathy especially since Pancea messed with her head through a bug. Their assumption that brains are too complicated to navigate isn’t totally relevant: if someone could concentrate on just the ear and speech centers they could communicate. Mind control, however, would be tough.

    • i’ve been wondering about the powerup effect too, as well as the one case of using a bug’s hearing while half unconscious and concussed. stress levels, adrenaline levels maybe? can’t think of too many external factors that might be common to both instances, unless it’s the physical presence of some other cape — in which case it’d likely be one of the empire’s bruisers. that’d be odd to say the least, but i guess it’s possible.

      and the notion that telepathy is “impossible” is blatant wishful thinking on the characters’ parts. the rest of the powers displayed make it fairly clear that anything is possible in this universe. Skitter pretty much has to be a telepath of some sort or other; how else is she relaying commands to her bugs?

      • I actually theorised that her powers are amplified by the presence of other people with powers. The more capes there are around, the stronger she gets. The difference isn’t noticeable if there’s only a few capes variation, and the theory relies on there being some times where she simply hasn’t noticed her powers are stonger (some of these being explainable, whilst others not), but it does fit vaguely. That said, she’s most likely to use her powers when there are other capes around, so I can’t really argue that strongly. There aren’t a lot of other connecting possibilities unless you count having lots of unconscious people around or being really terrified. And frankly, Skitter gets scared often enough that I don’t think that works as an effective explanation.

      • ^ Frozen Chicken’s reply there is Worm’s 1000th comment. Wooo. *confetti & noisemaker*

        In truth, when they’re quoting the scientists as saying “There’s no telepathy, it’s impossible.” they’re quoting something where the scientists theorized that thought-transference wouldn’t work. Which is similar but different.

        Yes, Taylor is telepathic – she transmits information via. yet-unknown channels to her bugs, who respond, and through these same channels, she gets very frequent (to the point that it feels real-time) updates on her bugs’ positions, biology/status, etc. in what’s sort of a very rapid, hyper-detailed echolocation.

        Meanwhile, thought-transference is more the ‘put thoughts in other people’s heads, or take thoughts out of other’s heads and understand them.’

        If I can find room for it, I think a chapter in the coming Interlude arc might explain this in more depth.

      • I suspect most of us who’ve been following the story are wondering about the ‘powerups’.

        I’ve been wondering if it’s not just the range & responsiveness that’s been amped up, but if it’s also the kind of things she can ‘interface’ with — we already know it’s not just bugs, it’s just that bugs are easiest because of how their brains and nervous systems work. I keep thinking she’s going to find that she can also start connecting to fish, or lizards, or something.

        Actually, in this storyline, I kept wondering if she was going to pick up on shrimp or lobsters or something in the water. It seemed like an obvious ‘extension’ of her abilities that might have been useful, considering the amount of water sloshing around the city.

        I expect we’ll just have to be patient. =)

      • Taylor seems to up her range when really bad stuff happens to her emotionally, or possibly when she loses connection to other people. Probably the former as it goes with the “when you get your powers is always a bad moment” mentioned when she tried to swap origin stories.

        • I agree, it seems that powers are activated by “fight or flight” desperate situations and after all difficult fights, specially when she is injured, Taylor notices an increase in her powers.

    • Re: the Simurgh, I’m sort of itching to explain this and a bunch of other stuff by showcasing one ongoing storyline… but covering or even touching on another Endbringer so soon after this arc would be redundant and offer less impact.

      Related: That’s really one aspect of an ongoing storyline I do want to tell, and I’m sorta considering amending my ‘bonus chapter’ offer to something like, “Crowdfund $75, I’ll do two/four updates for the side-story.”

      Such a story would have cliffhangers and stuff that people would want resolved, and I don’t know if I like that – it feels like a “You want to see how this ends? Crowdfund, crowdfund!” greedy manipulation – it’s not something I’d like as a reader. So having multiple updates as a reward would sort of amend that. Maybe.

      I mean, the reason the site’s URL is (at present) parahumans.wordpress.com and not worm.wordpress.com is because I originally considered having more than one story running in parallel. An assessment of my time management abilities a month or two in & a desire to keep updating religiously sort of derailed the idea of having multiple storylines, but I still really want to do something like that.

      Anyways, I ramble. Excuse me.

      • I think right now the way it’s formatted works quite well: Taylor gave the narrative heart and focus while introducing us to lots of characters. The interludes show that you can branch off that trunk so it would be easy to showcase another protagonist in a new story once you wrap up an arc.

        If you have momentum with worm keep it up until a reasonable break and then start a new arc with a new character.

  9. Empire Eighty-Eight is really getting shredded. Kaiser and Fenja dead, Night, Crusader and Victor “losses”, Alabaster frozen in time…

  10. I would miss Taylor if you started a long story ark with another main character.
    About atomic bonds: they have something around 4 angstrons (0.4 nm) of length, but a “blade” with a tip of 1 nm or something around this could do the job of breaking them. In real life, atomic force microscopes (AFM) have “needles” with extremes almost as small as this (or smaller, I can´t remember the exact value).
    The easier way of solving the energy problem would be chemical. When the “blade” interacts with a solid, preferably crystalline, object, some of its atoms form a chemical bond with the other material and, as a consequence, a new compound. This new compound would be the so called dust.
    OK, this means that the blade itself would loose material with use, but, stretching a bit the possibilities, a few atoms per touch would be enough.
    If the new chemical bonds are more stable (deeper potential well) than the old ones the formation of them will actually liberate energy that can be used to break other bonds.
    I am almost proposing a problem like this as a theoretical challenge to my students.
    Thanks for the nice work.

  11. Okay, so, real science-types correct me if I’m wrong, but couldn’t these nano-structures work by matching vibrational frequencies of the components of the molecules. Tune the edge structures correctly, and it would take far less energy to break those bonds.

    Also, I’m thinking Panacea is going to be awfully busy for the next while. Can she regrow limbs? If she gets to someone soon enough, can she revive the recently deceased? And here’s something else: it’s too bad no one thought to teleport her in while Leviathan was trapped by Clockblocker. Flesh is just so much matter for her to mangle, and presumably she could cause huge amounts of damage just by “stirring things up” deep inside the beast.

    One final thought: I was genuinely shocked by “Aegis deceased”. I thought for sure if anyone could survive an onslaught by Leviathan, it would be him. I guess I didn’t quite understand how his powers worked.


    Oh, wait. One more thought:

    Wildbow, you fucking rock. It’s not often I find myself spending large amounts of my spare brain power thinking about a story I’m reading. To put it into perspective, notable other stories that have caused the same effect include Heinlein’s “Stranger In A Strange Land” and “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”, Spider Robinson’s “Mindkiller”, and Burrough’s “A Princess of Mars”.

    • That’s really nice to hear, Hg. A great compliment.

      Re: Panacea, the problem with that is that Panacea couldn’t affect Leviathan while he’s under the effect of Clockblocker’s powers; nothing can. So she’d have to wait until Leviathan moved, and when you consider that knitting bones together and such took her a few minutes back in Interlude 2, and that Leviathan doesn’t have any major weaknesses or organs, there’s a limit to the amount of damage she could do.

      Re: Aegis – Many powers have their drawbacks. The drawback of being nearly impossible to put down/kill is that testing & therefore knowing the limits of such a power is rather difficult, because you don’t know that limit until you’ve surpassed it and died.

      • Yes, resonance (matching frequencies) can do the trick and it is easier to make a structure capable of vibrational motion in different frequencies than to make a structure that has chemical reactions with everything. Well thought.
        I wonder if my students are going to think in the same thing … this is really shaping up to be a question for my next test.

    • It is entirely possible that Aegis is harder to kill than the wristband on his arm is to destroy. Even if he regenerates he might have left arms behind.

  12. It took me long enough to realize this, but there’s a certain similarity between Leviathan and another unkillable monster that wants to destroy humanity named SCP-682. Here, have a read, http://scp-wiki.wikidot.com/scp-682

    In light of the thought that nukes should be used on Leviathan, I cite a sample of SCP-682’s termination log:

    “Item: 60 MT thermonuclear bomb

    Tissue Test Record:

    Termination Test Record:
    Testing denied by O5-█

    Notes: One would think that putting SCP-682 in the epicenter of an explosion that can cause third-degree burns at a distance of 300 km is a good idea, but as long as there are odds of survival we simply cannot go through with it. Yes, it’s a goddamn nuke, but if 682 survives and adapts we’d be boned beyond belief. O5-█ ”

    If you want to read how well a lack of knowledge can convey some scary/horrible stuff, I highly recommend looking through a few of those, especially SCP-231.

    It’s not an exact match, but some giant creature of unknown origin trying to destroy all life with strength, speed, reflexes, strange powers, seeming unkillability(to the extent of possibly not being alive in the normal sense), resilience, regeneration might be worthwhile to bring up here. If you want even more similarities, check out the status of the people who’ve had to help bring it back in every time it’s escaped.

    • I was just thinking about 682 compared to leviathan the other day! I think the big difference there though is that 682 simply isn’t as dangerous on its own as Leviathan seems to be. 682 needs something to adapt off of to really get his kill on against people prepared to hunt him. Most of the time he is stuck in a box of acid anyways, and I just can’t see that working against Leviathan.

  13. Absolutely riveting wildbow. I could not look away. When he was crowing I was sure Armsmaster was going to die. But he didn’t I was surprised. I like that I get surprised so seldom because I’ve read so much. It’s nice whenever I find an author whose work is not just enjoyable and absorbing but original as well.

  14. The problem with matching vibrational frequencies of the halberd to something else is that so many objects (not materials) simply don’t have a single one. Most modern objects are made up of multiple parts and multiple substances and matching frequencies to shatter a small part of them is nigh impossible in short spans of time. Case in point, Leviathan’s body.
    Besides, it isn’t as if armonics magically reduce the emount of energy needed for something. They reduce the energy wasted, allowing a small energy source to eventually add up enough energy within an object to break it apart but that takes time as the energy total is the same.

    Regarding Clockblocker, it is definitely not true that nothing can affect those under his stasis field. After all, at least three forces and two phenomena have been shown to affect them already; the Earth’s gravity, the sun’s gravity and the galaxy’s gravity have to continue to affect the objects under stasis – otherwise they’d stop following the trajectory dictated by those forces and suddenly fall into space at 17 kilometers per second or even worse plow into the Earth at the same speed (depending on where, exactly they are on the Earth’s surface at the moment). And they still got color so they still both reflect visible light and partially absorb it because that’s the mechanism that gives color to things in the first place – if light neither got reflected nor absorbed they should also be turning invisible as all light would pass through them. If it was only reflected, they should glow like perfect mirrors and if it was only absorbed, they’d be dark like black holes.
    (Time-freezing anything is alot more complicated than people think)

    • We are talking about the perfect sword here, and a blade so dangerous that even touching its sides would disintegrate your hand.
      Two reasonably low energy solutions were proposed for this problem: a kind of solid universal solvent and a system that somehow allowed it to change its vibrational frequency to match the ressonance frequencies of its target.
      Since most metals have energy absorption peaks in the region between 100 and 500 cm-1 (too lazy to convert this in hertz) while carbon rings can be broken at 1100 cm-1 I still think that a blade vibrating at a range of frequencies, changing from one to the other very fast while transmiting energy at the same time is less impossible (but still impossible) than an universal solid state solvent.
      But, I forgot that these wavenumbers are in the infrared region. I am basically proposing that something similar to a very hot very thin blade that somehow could keep its shape would cut trough most materials, which is a quite reasonable assumption.
      Really, I find myself having fun imagining science behind the devices described in the plot, which is unusual. Usually I just turn on my “lets suppose that I believe this” button and enjoy the plot. This proves how good the tale is, since I get so excited by its “realism” that I start to use my knowledge ( the little that I have) to try to “understand” this.
      And I produce nanoparticles (10 to 30 nm) for my research work and study them with infrared, so, this discussion hit a cord.
      But, if this kind of detail bother someone, please tell, and I beg the author to ignore these ramblings. I know how arrogant the above discussion may sound and I imagine how wrong I can be even in basic physics when engaging in a discussion about the impossible “for fun” without further study. Engaging in this discussion with assumptions taken from day to day experience and trusting my instincts. With the risk of making a big mistake, being corrected, and learning something new is part of the fun of it. But, if it bothers someone, I will stop.

      • Hey, it doesn’t bother me. Talking shop on a hypothetical problem of an imaginary world is definitely fun. You gotta see the discussions we do over at David Weber’s forums about his Honor Harrington space opera series.

        Quick question; is a railgun that fires missiles at 0.4 c with the missile drive being capable of 130.000 gravities acceleration for 60 seconds before burning out a viable weapon against a spaceship 65 million kilometers away capable of 700 gravities acceleration? 🙂

        • The missile will take 342.563633 seconds (a bit more than 5 minutes) to hit the ship. The ship can move 4.0250996.10^8 meters (around 0,4 million Km) parting from zero speed in this time.
          No, at this distance you can´t hit, unless you are very lucky.
          I used g= 9,8 m/s.

          • Too many other factors to consider. How big is the target ship? If we’re breaking rules with FTL travel, the ship could be sun-sized. What range is the shot at before their sensors can detect it? How fast can they give the order to move when they do notice? What’s the response time between giving the ship the command and the ship being able to carry it out?

            • How big is the target ship?
              I was thinking in Honor Harington universe, where the ships have at most 500 meters.
              What range is the shot at before their sensors can detect it?
              I supposed that they had light based detection systems. Here I made a mistake. Light would take 216 s to travel this distance. Before a signal could detect the missile and come back to the ship the missile would already have hit.
              BUT I also did not use relativistic corrections for the final speed of the missile. When it got close to the speed of light the newtonian equations that I used would not be valid, acceleration would demand more energy than I considered and its final velocity would be smaller than what I calculated. On the other hand, time dilatation might partially compensate this effect … I do not know, I was never good in relativity (failed this class in university. I prefer to work with nanomaterials for a reason).
              How fast can they give the order to move when they do notice? What’s the response time between giving the ship the command and the ship being able to carry it out?
              Here I agree, I do not remember what kind of drive they used in Honor Harrington series (a kind of gravitational drive that made the ships invulnerable in one side?). Depending on the engine, they would not be able to move before hit (they have only five minutes, with relativistic corrections I would give six to seven minutes at most).
              Well, it seems that I am not the only nerd around.

              • Also keep in mind that Weber’s missiles aren’t conventional explosive, they’re bomb-pumped X-ray lasers. The ship needs to get out of the “blast radius” of lasers.

                (And I’m 6 years late to the party)

              • > I do not remember what kind of drive they used in Honor Harrington series (a kind of gravitational drive that made the ships invulnerable in one side?)

                Yeah, a gravitational drive where the grav bands are “above” and “below”. Also has weaker “sidewalls” (not part of the drive system but generated by the same tech) analogous to skirt armor on tanks. Just Weber turning the whole thing into a naval battle simulation.

  15. Okay, so I was talking to an acquaintance the other day, and he mentioned that he was taking a Master Beekeeping course, thus making him a Bee Master. That, in turn, reminded me of a story I wrote a number of years ago that featured a villain named, you guessed it, The Bee Master. The Bee Master, of course, controlled bees, and used them rather effectively against a (relatively) much more powerful hero. This, quite naturally, reminded me of our friend Taylor (who I AM NOT suggesting should change her name to The Bug Mistress, or any such thing).

    Anyway, since it’s a fun little piece, also told in the first person by a self-doubting young hero-in-the-making, I thought I might share it. Wildbow, I apologise in advance for posting a link to my own meagre work in the comments of your exceedingly excellent epic, and you are welcome to remove it or leave it as you see fit. I will not be offended.



  16. @railgun;
    Yeah, that’s what the guys at the other forum said. What they missed is that the railgun fires missiles, not shells. And said missiles have an engine capable of a 60-second “burn” at 130.000 gravities. Thus in the final approach of the railgun-fired missile, the engine fires up and corrects the course, homing into the enemy ship. 60 secs at 130.000 gravities means roughly 2,3 million kilometers course correction. So the missile can hit the ship easily.
    The combination of missile+railgun I proposed because the missile alone can’t acheive high enough speeds to reach the enemy in reasonable times (and doesn’t have the burn time for it) and its payload would be a relatively small nuke while the railgun alone can give high speeds and the energy equivalent of a couple hundred megatons but can’t home in. The end result is a c-fractional attack that can course-correct, has practically unlimited range and hits hard enough to slag half a continent. 🙂

    The ships in question are both 9-megaton mile-long superdreadnoughts with antigravity drives, inertial compensators and hyperspace capability. If your fantasy world doesn’t have hyperspace and inertial compensators, they could have matter-antimatter annihilation drives, ramscoops to capture particles to feed their drives en-route, and compartments where electromagnetic fields are applied to their occupants to counter the effects of 700-g acceleration. They wouldn’t be hyperspace-capable though.

    • When I considered the final speed of the missile I used the 60 s acceleration in my Newtonian (and, logically, inacurate) calculations. IF it used the acceleration as a last minute resort to hit the ship it would take more time to get close to the ship`s original position, giving the ship more time to move before it got close. It would move more than the 0.4 milion Km that I calculated, probably more than the 2,3 million Km course correction.
      But, more important: Did you take in consideration that the ship would move in a direction perpendicular to the trajectory of the missile and that in this direction the missile has, initially, zero speed? If it starts from the same speed and has less acceleration, it will never reach the ship. Remember: velocity is a vector and the three directions of space are independent (even in relativity). Speed (modulus of velocity, I love the english language for this distinction) in one direction does not mean speed in another.

      • Ops, in relativity (dx)^2+(dy)^2+(dz)^2=c(dt)^2 or something like this. Nope, the directions are related but the relation includes time … forget it.

      • So, let’s just fire a missile armed, aimed, and course-corrected by what would probably be computers…out of a firing system that uses intense magnetic forces.

      • Coal, gas, oil, nuclear, wind, solar, jury-rigged bike machine…it’s all electricity when it goes into the computer. Maybe they will think up something different, but it’s a little difficult to imagine at the moment in a serious way. If you want unserious, then I’d suggest that it uses genetically modified ants that are forced to act out a certain program by moving and shifting various components inside the thing to achieve the desired results.

    • I have thoughts about Clockblocker. Time isn’t particularly well-defined unless you’re operating in a single non-inertial reference frame (actually, maybe that non-inertial part isn’t necessary). So freezing something in time requires that this something be affixed to a particular reference frame. Maybe this choice of reference frame is conscious, more likely not. Seems reasonable that the reference frame he defaults to is the one fixed to the earth’s surface.

      • With respect to visibility, I don’t think there’s any real inconsistency in the way his powers effects have been described. We already know there are some really odd phenomena at the boundary of whatever stasis field he sets up (sheets of paper slicing trucks in half and so on). The boundary conditions could impose some weird sort of equilibrium wherein the surface of the field continues to emit or absorb radiation at the same rate and with the same frequency distribution obtained at the moment the field went up.

        Then, you wouldn’t actually be seeing a physical object preserved in time, but rather an image preserved at the same time as the physical object due to the properties of whatever field he sets up. If a field is even the best way to describe it. This sort of property presents interesting options for illusion or camouflage if he could freeze sheets of air in this way without tethering his time-stopping effects to solid objects.

        Alternately, you could posit that the time-stopping has a “squishy” boundary with enough give in it to allow frozen things to exchange momentum with photons in the usual way. This would mean you could still burn frozen things with lasers, but if we’re going this far it doesn’t take much to posit either a) that you can in fact burn time-stopped things with lasers and we just haven’t seen this tested yet or b) that the squishiness in the boundary sets some sort of limit on the power input/output and doesn’t let energy be exchanged fast enough to do much more than preserve the image.

      • We do know that time can be affected by gravity and density some. I use those interchangeably because one does lead to the other and in this instance I don’t know which it truly is. They’ve observed that synchronized atomic clocks will tell different time the further you are up from Earth, to the extent that if you send one on a flight around the world, it’ll come back with different time than the one that stays put. It holds true even if you send one to space. So depending on how high up you live, you experience time differently.

        Then there’s speed, and not just near-light either. It’s small, but even something like driving to work everyday causes you to experience time slightly slower. Yeah, another thing with atomic clocks.

        I think they believe that something caught in the event horizon of a black hole would actually appear to stop in time to observers while appearing to move normally to the object in the event horizon. So if it was a person who was pulled out, it would have been a little time to them when it could have been years and years outside.

        And then the idea that time itself is finite, which is one thing that’s thought…talk about creepy. You know, that’s bringing up visions of “And in time, even death may die.” kinda stuff.

        I mean, dude, I don’t smoke, but time, something I kinda thought was some untouchable, out there “thing” separate from so much of reality’s effects is just another wierd thing like gravity and mass and space that can be affected by the rest.

      • Or it’s not really time-stopping, but something that is easy to think of as such for non-physicists

        Timey-wimey, spoilery-doilery.

  17. Oh man, to those who complained about updates being too long, hard on the eyes to read, I sincerely apologize for 8.5 (Saturday’s).

    8500 words.

    That might change with revisions, but I dunno. I -could- break it in two, but it loses so much impact, and I want to get on with the important stuff. Damn, though, that’s long. The longest chapter to date, previously, was the Birdcage interlude at 7500 or so. Average is 3k-4k.

    Either way, stay tuned!

    • 8500 words? Yeah! I’m really enjoying Worm, wildbow. Found it Octoberish last year, read all the chapters and just really enjoyed it. Got caught up again a few weeks ago and have been dying to each update since. This arc is really good.

      • Good to see you’ve joined us at the commenting section, Glimmervoid. Now, just sit still while we swallow your soul.

  18. I have to say, I really enjoyed Armsmaster’s fight scene there. He may be a douche, but it is nice to see that his hard work and training were actually useful. He may have been beaten in the end, but he surely did more damage than anyone previously did.

    • The whole point was that he didn’t. He got his butt kicked because he was an idiot and Leviathan let him do the damage, and I can’t imagine any reason why except that it was whatever passes for funny in an Endbringer’s inhuman mind. Hence, it wasn’t really as badly hurt as it pretended to be.

      • I read that as “he really did damage,but Leviathan being cunning,overstated the damage he got so he could survive and deliver a surprise hit,because due to Armaster’s calculations,he could only defeat him my destroying his expectations”

  19. Typo alert: “he sent a blade of water through the the air”. Yeah, I do that, too, I just only see it when other people do it. 😛

  20. Oh why the fuck does lung have to be in prison right now?

    Imagine how useful hed be with his “constantly stronger” shtick.

    • Because the people in charge of the Birdcage (at least, on the government level) are idiots. You can tell because they sent Canary there. (Note: I got into a long, angry rant here, but deleted it before posting. If you have a working brain and read Canary’s interlude, it’s redundant.) They are stupid, they are scared, their fear makes them more stupid and their stupidity makes them more afraid. In other words, they’re a lot like most modern governments.

        • hence the comment about how his deleted rant was redundant if you read the interlude. Its also worth noting that she was only actually guilty of reckless endangerment with a parahuman ability, and even that with major mitigating circumstances because she didn’t know her power was anything like that strong. You would think that if her power works by emotional manipulation it wouldn’t lead to destructive literalism from someone who couldn’t possibly know that trying to literally “go **** himself” wasn’t actually what she meant.

    • Implying he could last long enough.No,really,even if other heroes had faux battled him to power him up from the point Dragon got the warning,he would still be taken out by a cunning speedster like Leviathan too fast to be relevant.A slow starter,even with no upper cap,is kinda not optimal vs a speedster,nevermind a speedster the level of Leviathan.There is a reason Lung was street level.

  21. “This cloud around my blade? Nanotechnology. Nano-structures engineered to slide between atoms, sever molecular bonds. Cuts through anything. Everything. Like a sharp knife through air.”
    Atomic bonds do not work that way! -Morbo

    • Super science. C’mon, he was just giving the layman’s description, Leviathan has a hard enough time getting English without getting the full bore of all the technical jargon.

      • Besides, the author would need to come up with that jargon believably, when not only is is it absurdly complicated but inherently incomprehensible to anyone but him and power-copying tinkers.

  22. I should have waited til I got to the end of this page before commenting. ^

    The fact that Leviathan can impale itself on a fixed position grappling hook by lunging puts an upper bound on his durability that’s way way WAY lower than what he’s demonstrated previously (resisting the Dragon suit explosion and the Miss Militia rockets). That (combined with the things mentioned below) is a very frustrating inconsistency that smacks of Power of Plot/Dues Ex Machina intervention to allow Armsmaster to fight Leviathan solo.
    The fact Armsmaster can dodge attacks also puts an upper bound on Leviathan’s acceleration and water movement speed that doesn’t fit with what has happened previously in this battle.
    I’m also confused at how turning a wave to steam helped Armsmaster at all, that would just mean he would have created a large explosion of substantial mass next to himself (water vapour is a thousand times less dense than water liquid), likely killing him instantly.

    And to give a bit more substance to my earlier post: After a certain point blade tip width doesn’t matter, this point is quite a bit wider than a dozen atomic bond lengths (this is putting aside the hardness and multicomposition issues others have mentioned).
    Atoms aren’t billiard balls, atomic bonds aren’t ropes and thinking in metaphors instead of maths is just going to get you confused when thinking of things this far outside of the context we live in.
    It’s best not to try and explain supertech in terms of real world things, just say Magic, it helps suspension of disbelief more. 🙂

    • Yeah, I never really got why he could dodge anything at all. I pressed the “visor foresees”-button and suspended my disbelief a bit further. I had a harder time with the steam though… And also with understanding why the Leviathan had to play possum for that long. Seems like an awful lot of hits to take. I hope the next chapter will tell.

      • My guess? Leviathan realized his moves were being predicted, so he threw off the program by changing up his tactics to something he had never done before.

        I find it ironic that so short a time after Legend warned everyone not to get cocky and underestimate Leviathan’s cunning Armsmaster goes and does exactly that.

  23. “Beyond those first few moments after Leviathan woke up, it woul be anyone’s guess.”

    Missing a d on “would”

  24. @Daniel
    I essentially agree on the steam issue (unless he’s meant to be using the explosion to part the wave well ahead of him, he’s just making things worse), but the grappling hook is being timestopped, which in Wormverse means it’s the hypothetical immovable object. But not hypothetical. Leviathan impaling itself only tells us that, given a sufficiently durable object, Leviathan has the strength/speed/mass to overcome its own durability, impale itself, and keep moving. It actually makes Leviathan more dangerous, not less, implying unpleasant things about its ability to ignore damage and its ability to inflict damage.

    As for dodging: Leviathan is explicitly toying with Armsmaster, pretending to be weakened by its wound, and Armsmaster has a predictive program. Once Leviathan stops faking, welp, there goes Armsmaster’s arm.


    I kind of don’t like Armsmaster’s explanation. It’s half ‘nanites as magic’ and half ‘atomic bonds don’t work that way’, and more than that we only need to know its observable properties: that it turns anything it touches to dust, except those things it can’t affect. It’s in-character for Armsmaster to… gloat, basically, but the SCIENCE! behind his dusting technology is irrelevant and improbable. He could basically say “this will go through you like a hot knife through butter. But easier.”, take a swipe, tada! Levia-dust! And that’s all the audience needs to know.

    Among other points, shredding atomic bonds would convert everything it touched into bursts of radiation, not dust. Dust is molecules. Molecules are made of atoms. If anything, spoiler I’m not naming’s radiation bursts are more likely to work via this mechanism.

    • What you forget here is that what real science can do and what tinker science can do are two very different things. To a tinker of Armsmaster’s level, the laws of physics are frequently ignored suggestions at best.

    • It shreds molecular bonds, not atomic ones. You can do that quite easily with the only real problem being what to do with all the heat this generates.

  25. Forgotten word: “being in the midst” rather than “being the midst”
    “The onslaught of lasers interrupted, Leviathan shifted from a crouch on one side of the road to being the midst of the defending heroes in one fluid motion, resuming the carnage in the span of a heartbeat.”

    Lack of spacing: Should be “cost him – cost us all – the fight.”
    “The last thing I wanted was to become the hostage that made Armsmaster hesitate for the fraction of a second that cost him -cost us all- the fight.”

    Typo: “climb”, not “clmb”
    “Armsmaster slashed at Leviathan’s forearms as the Endbringer started to clmb to his feet.”

  26. Dunno if it is just my non-native take on the English language, but: ” the spray seemingly reaching nearly to the stormclouds above.” sounds a bit clumsy (and storm clouds > stormclouds, no?)
    shouldn’t it be: “seemingly nearly reaching the storm clouds above”?

  27. Why do they need Skitter to be a spotter? Couldn’t any flying cape hover a block or two from Leviathan, keeping the group updated while staying out of attack range? I mean, okay, narratively it’s good to have something for our protagonist to do, but in-universe it doesn’t make much sense to me.

    • Flying capes would be in jumping distance from the Leviathan most of the time plus they can’t see through walls (which he can wade through). Skitter can motion track him from a safe distance. Plus think in terms of alternative costs seen from the heroes’ perspective: with people drowning and buildings collapsing, don’t you want your fliers to save people and your useless bug-creep to bug the giant monster?

  28. Typo:
    “I hurried away from the site Armsmaster had indicated to me” – this can’t be right. Should be more like ‘to the site’

  29. Ignoring the bizarreness of a laser being spun by an impact, I suspect you meant it span around nearly one hundred and eighty degrees, not nearly three hundred and sixty.

    • The laser cannon was spun around. This caused the laser itself to appear to spin around a central point.

  30. Armsmaster needs to learn to shut up when fighting. Legend gave that big speech about how Leviathan isn’t a mindless brute like ten minutes ago.

    • And the narrative has given at least three or four speeches about how Armsmaster is and arrogant blowhard. Yes he does need to shut up, but no way is he actually going to.

  31. “You dumb brute,” Armsmaster growled. He was panting for breath. “Every fight you’ve done so far, that we’ve got on camera? I’ve watched it, put it through programs. I’ve got a computer on my back that’s relaying to a supernetwork, noting your every move, using subsonic pulses to read every aspect of the street, the surrounding buildings, every feature of the terrain. I know exactly what you’re going to do next – you’re going to try to catch me from behind with a wave.”

    This is the part where he dies, isn’t it.

  32. Leviathan lunged, and Armsmaster fired out the grappling hook, stopped it in mid air by freezing it in time.

    That’s… actually fucking genius, god damn. Bakuda could do it. Clockblocker can do it. And it’s the best forcefield anywhere in this setting. Any kind of matter you like, made completely invulnerable and impassable. Why haven’t we been piling that shit everywhere we can?

    • Crazy expensive. Dragon hasn’t copied time bomb design yet, so all that they have is the trick Armsmaster used, and that takes constant power to maintain, and might only be useable by tinkers.

    • In addition, it uses a LOT of battery juice to do it even for the brief amounts of time Armsmaster uses that trick.

  33. “when a tidal wave did break through the ice, rolled up onto the battlefield with frozen shards and chunks caught up in the current, Leviathan might move those chunks a little faster in the wave’s passage, make them hit a little harder, and give them a tendency to strike where they could do the most damage.”

    Rereading this again, and this passage really strongly reminds me of Pact. The style of powers you come up with are so fantastic!

  34. What I don’t get is why they tried to kill him after he got clockblocked. They should have just coated him is Kaiser’s metal and the time bombed it. Even if Clockblocker’s power stopped it from affecting Leviathan, how much damage can he do in an solid coating of metal that will be immovable and indestructible for the next hundred years? Maybe no a kill, but he wouldn’t even have room to regenerate, an besides Dragon could probably set up something to keep him trapped when it wears off long enough to bomb him again, if they haven’t figured out how to kill an Endbringer by then. Not quite a third of their power, but gone for good with basically no chance of failure. Also, if Armsmaster has reviewed footage of Leviathan’s behavior, why couldn’t he tell that the fight wasn’t over yet?

    • Easy answer,only Bakuda knows how to make time bombs,only Bakuda knows which of the bombs are time bombs (maybe not even he,considering he throws bombs willy nilly)so they could be out of bombs,or not use the correct bomb till the end of clockblocker’s ability….and,that is if they still had the bombs,miss Militia had them all and she lost them in the midle of the fight,after throwing the first and only timebomb.

    • Actually, they set several of Bakuda’s bombs around him to be set off by motion-detection or remote control. It didn’t help.

  35. >Beyond those first few moments after Leviathan woke up, it woul be anyone’s guess.


    >Armsmaster slashed at Leviathan’s forearms as the Endbringer started to clmb to his feet.


  36. Been loving this entire world you’ve been making. That being said, the existence of endbringers terrify the snot out of me.

  37. Not a grammar or spelling issue, but there are a couple of inconsistencies in whether you italicize the words coming from the armband, like when it declares Aegis deceased.

  38. “Beyond those first few moments after Leviathan woke up, it woul be anyone’s guess.”
    woul -> would
    “Armsmaster slashed at Leviathan’s forearms as the Endbringer started to clmb to his feet.”
    clmb -> climb

    Just spotting out errors as I see ’em.

  39. The thing that bothered me the most out of ANYTHING in this chapter was that Taylor seemed completely fine after her hand just got vaporized. Wouldn’t any person be freaked out if their hand turned to dust, or at least recall how it felt?

  40. What an amazing chapter, Wildbow!


    – «he rose up higher again» The h is italicized for some reason. (Might not apply to your source document, though…)
    – «the Armband’s tinny voice» Capitalization of armband seems out of place.

  41. Too bad Arms aster was too selfish. That could have been the one major Emdbringer victory pretty…You know.what. 🙂

    Still.he was.kinda badass.here.

  42. I’m actually kind of bummed Kaiser is dead. His interlude set him up perfectly to be a threatening antagonist that oozed with personality. The way his aggravating, infectious confidence shone through everything from his codename (easily my favorite. I’m a history buff) to his costume to his interations as a civilian was so fun to watch.

    Him and Coil are very different kinds of manipulators, and I would’ve loved to see them go head to head. Coil may have the power to alter realities, but his biggest weakenss is the unpredictability of those beneath him. Kaiser’s charm and way with words would’ve hit Coil where he hurts most.

  43. Typo: Beyond those first few moments after Leviathan woke up, it woul be anyone’s guess.

    should be would?

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