Extermination 8.7

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Sophia Hess was Shadow Stalker. 

I tried to pull all the individual pieces and clues together, fill in the blanks.  Did this mean Emma was a cape, too?  No – I’d seen Emma in the presence of other capes.  At those times, I knew, she’d have reason to be in costume if she had powers.

But those times I was thinking of, when my cape and civilian lives had crossed?  Emma had been at the mall, where Shadow Stalker had been on duty.  She’d been at the fundraiser, too.  As Shadow Stalker’s plus one?  Emma’s dad had been there as well.  Was that a clue?

A sick feeling in my gut told me that Emma knew about Sophia and Shadow Stalker.

I could even guess that Emma had found out sometime before high school started, while I was at nature camp.  It would have been an exciting revelation, a juicy secret, being a part of the cape community.  Seduced by that drama, Emma would have turned her back on me, became Sophia’s best friend.  The civilian sidekick and confidante to the young heroine; it was cliche, but cliches had their basis in something.

I was probably wrong on some level, but it gave answer to questions I’d assumed I’d never get an answer to.

A  hand seized me by the back of the neck, hauled me to my feet.

Numb, I wobbled, relying heavily on the painfully hard grip to stay balanced.  He turned me around, and I saw Armsmaster, his lips curled in a silent snarl of anger.   A glance at his shoulder showed no sign of the ragged mess from when I’d last seen him, but there was no arm either.  I thought I saw a glimpse of a flat expanse of skin.  Panacea’s work?

What are you doing here?!” he roared the words to my face.

When I couldn’t formulate an answer for him, he marched me out of the curtained enclosure, kicking the curtain so it slid shut, moved me towards the nurse’s station where Miss Militia and Legend were talking.

I apparently didn’t move fast enough for him, because he swung his arm forward, forcing me to stumble forward to keep my feet under me.

It was looking increasingly likely that I would get arrested, but my thoughts turned to the trio, and their crime and punishment.  Had Sophia, Emma and Madison had gotten off easy because Sophia was a superhero?  I had my suspicions that the schools worked alongside the Wards, things wouldn’t work if they didn’t, and the schools were a government institution just like the Wards were.  Did Sophia get easier treatment?  Two weeks suspension when she deserved expulsion?

Had my teachers been looking me in the eye while calculating ways to make things easier on their resident superhero?

Maybe.  More likely that it was some combination of ineptitude, laziness and ignorance, on top of being influenced by the school’s link to the Wards program.

Armsmaster slammed my upper body down against the counter of the nurse’s station, hard.  I grunted, as much in reaction to being brought back to reality as in reaction to the blow.

“Armsmaster!” Legend’s tone was a rebuke to Armsmaster for the show of force.

More able to take it in stride than the leader of the Protectorate, Miss Militia asked, “What happened?”

“Escaped her cautionary restraints, caught her peeping on one of the blue tags.”

“Damn it,” Legend muttered.

“Who?” Miss Militia asked, “And how bad?”

“Shadow Stalker.  Saw her unmasked.”

“I see,” Miss Militia spoke, “Nurse?  Would you see that everyone without clearance is put to work elsewhere, while we resolve this?”

“Yes ma’am,” the reply came from a man I couldn’t see.

I struggled to turn over, failed.  When I found I couldn’t budge Armsmaster’s grip, I gave up, slumped onto the counter.

“Who is she?” Legend asked.

“Skitter, member of the Undersiders, a group of teenage villains,” Miss Militia replied.  “Master-5, bugs only.”

“This situation is serious,” Legend spoke, walking around the counter until I could see him.  I saw nurses and others behind him staring, some of them being ushered away by an older nurse in scrubs.  “Do you understand?”

He nodded at Armsmaster, and Armsmaster eased his grip some, as if it would make it easier to talk.

I was opening my mouth to speak when the thought struck me – If Sophia was Shadow Stalker, did she know who I was?  She’d heard me talk in costume, hadn’t she?  I knew from the time the trio had overheard me in the bathroom and doused me in juice, that at least one of the girls could recognize my voice.

I shook my head a little, as if it could get my thoughts back on track.  “Nobody explained anything.  You guys were going to arrest me, so I thought I’d leave.”

“Hospital personnel aren’t permitted to talk to patients, liability reasons,” Miss Militia told me, echoing what I’d heard earlier.

“Figured as much when the nurse didn’t answer my questions,” I muttered.  No use dragging that nurse-in-training down with me.  She’d been nice.  “But Panacea did have words with me when she was putting me back together, and-”

“Panacea is a member of New Wave,” Armsmaster spoke, and I got the impression the explanation or excuse was meant more for Legend than it was for me, “She’s not official.”

“She’s the only person who would talk to me!” I raised my voice.

“I would ask you to keep your voice down,” Legend spoke, his voice hard, “There’s very few ways a situation like this can go, with a cape’s civilian identity at stake.  If you start shouting, specifically shouting what you know, it would severely curtail what options you have left to you.  Understand?”

When I didn’t come up with a response right away, he added, “If the tables were turned, if it was you who had your identity uncovered, you would want us taking the same firm hand, giving you that same respect.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle silently for a second there.  The armor of my mask clacked against the countertop as I let my head rest there.  Respect?  For Sophia?

Besides, I had suspicions that if the tables were turned, Shadow Stalker wouldn’t be pinned against the counter of the nurse’s station.

Taking a deep breath – no use digging myself in deeper – I asked, “You were talking options.  What are they?”

“If you were judged to have used an Endbringer situation to your advantage, you would meet the most serious penalty we can offer.  Those who violate the Endbringer truce are almost always sent to the Birdcage,” he let that last word hang in the air.

I had to keep myself from laughing again.  This shit was too ridiculous.  This was Sophia.  She was five times the villain I was.  The only difference between us were the labels that we stuck on ourselves.  I told him, “It was an accident.”

“Okay,” Legend told me.

Armsmaster told him, “Skitter here has been building a fairly strong reputation as an adept liar, so be cautious.”


“She’s fooled my instincts and my hardware on more than one occasion.”

“Well, I suppose I’ll have to keep that in mind.”  When Legend returned his attention to me, his lips were creased in a frown.

What could I say to defend myself now?  Anything I said would be colored by Armsmaster’s undeserved comment on my personality.

“Another option would be for you to join the Wards.  We were willing to offer you this when we got around to talking to you, before seeing you on your way.  You would be placed under varying degrees of probation based on your past crimes, but you would earn a paycheck, you’d have a career-”

“No.” The word left my mouth before I even thought about it.

And when I did think about it?  No.  Not with Sophia there.  No way, no how.  If I stepped on her turf, I suspected one of us would kill the other.  Besides, there wasn’t one thing about joining the Wards that was even remotely redeeming.

“No?” he sounded surprised.

“Just… no.  I’d sooner go to the Birdcage.”  I was surprised that I actually meant it.  My contempt for the heroes was growing.  Armsmaster had refused to cooperate with me on any level.  Glory Girl and Panacea hadn’t done anything to earn my respect when I ran into them.  Topping it off, they had a personality like Sophia’s on their team?  I couldn’t even imagine joining them, now.

“I don’t think you understand what you’re saying,” Legend spoke as if choosing his words carefully.

I took a deep breath.  “Is there a third option?”

“You do not get to negotiate!” Armsmaster roared.  Heads turned.

Feeling a flare of anger, I retorted, “So he gets to yell, but I don’t?”

We have the authority here!” Armsmaster shouted.

“The only authority you have is the authority people give you.”  It wasn’t me who responded.  The voice was male, familiar.

“Grue!” I called out.

“You’re alive,” Grue responded.  “We thought-”

“Is she okay?  Tattletale!?”

“I’m at about ninety percent,” Tattletale’s voice informed me.  “You’re the one that gave us a scare.”

I sagged in relief.

“I would ask you to step back and let us handle this,” Miss Militia told him.  “If any of you do decide to stay, and Skitter divulges the confidential information she’s happened upon, you could be just as culpable, face the same restrictions and penalties.”

Grue replied, “So you want us to leave a teammate in your custody, here?  No.  That’s ridiculous.  I can’t speak for the others, but I’m staying.”

Teammate.  He’d said I was his teammate.

There was a pause.

“All four of you, then,” Miss Militia replied, sighing, “I expected as much.  I simply thought you should be informed.”

“Skitter,” she went on, “Just to be clear, you would be well advised to keep your mouth shut, until we’ve come to a consensus here.  Or you could get your team in trouble.”

“Noted,” I replied.

Armsmaster let me stand, but he settled his one hand on my shoulder, held on with an steel grip that left me no illusions about my ability to walk over and join my friends.  Ex-friends?  I wasn’t sure where we stood.  I hadn’t expected them to come to my defense.

Grue looked much as he ever did, a human shape wreathed in smoky darkness.  His skull mask showed through, when he was still like this, but his face was impossible to make out, let alone his facial expressions.  Even his body language was masked beneath the layer of darkness, when it was billowing around him like it was, making him seem larger.  I thought maybe he had his arms folded, but I couldn’t be sure, and he had his feet planted shoulder width apart.

Regent looked a little worse for wear.  He was wet, dirty, spattered in blood, and he had a long cut running from the side of his neck to his shoulder, down to his elbow, all neatly stitched up.  I hadn’t heard any alerts about him being taken out of action, so I assumed it wasn’t that serious.  That, or it was serious, and my broken armband hadn’t caught the message.

Bitch, by contrast, looked to be in better shape than anyone present, physically.  She stared at the ground, hands jammed in the pockets of mud-caked, soaking wet jeans.  Her hair was wet, pulled straight back and away from her face.  A hard plastic dog mask was raised so it sat on top of her head, cord dangling.  She was intact.  Physically.

Mentally?  Emotionally?  Her dogs were the closest thing she had to family, and she had watched seven or eight of them die.  She was rigid with tension and repressed anger, but she didn’t have anyone to direct it at, so it broiled inside her, just waiting for the slightest of excuses to be released and vented.  I wondered if Grue had told her to keep her hands in her pockets to keep her from lashing out and hitting someone.

Tattletale was on crutches with one leg bent to keep it away from the ground, had a bad bruise on her face, but was otherwise in one piece.  Her eyes darted to watch the three heroes and myself.

“Skitter escaped her restraints and uncovered another cape’s secret identity, and we can’t say for sure whether it was intentional or not,” Miss Militia explained to the rest of the group.  “In the interest of protecting that cape, who I assume isn’t well enough to join the discussion…?”

She looked at Armsmaster, who shook his head.

“…We’re left with three options,” she finished her thought.  “Jail time, especially if it’s discovered that this was intentional.  Joining the Wards under a probationary program-”

Regent snorted.

“Or, as a final option, some sort of collateral.”

“That option is generally reserved for capes we can trust,” Armsmaster spoke, his voice low.

My pulse picked up as I heard Armsmaster’s words.  This was a dangerous situation, all of a sudden.

“Collateral?  Explain?” Grue asked Miss Militia, apparently not gathering the deeper meaning of Armsmaster’s statement.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve run into a situation like this, though this is a first for an Endbringer event that wasn’t a blatantly intentional attempt to gather information on a rival.  In the previous case, the villain couldn’t be detained conventionally, and the Birdcage wasn’t yet running.  To top it off, he… wasn’t Protectorate material.  For reasons I won’t explain.  Yet every individual involved was concerned that if we didn’t resolve the case, it would be a costly loss of resources on both sides with an ongoing pursuit by the heroes, and there would be potential escalation leading to serious harm or death on one side or the other.”

Grue nodded, “So?”

“So he agreed to reveal his real face to the other cape, so that any abuse of the knowledge on his part could or would be just as damaging to him.”

Reveal myself to Sophia?  No.  On so many levels, no.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, “That doesn’t work either.”

Armsmaster tightened his grip on the armor of my shoulder until I could feel the pinch.  Miss Militia leveled a very cold look at me.  I saw Tattletale staring at me.  I met her eyes.  She was easiest to look at.

“You’re making a difficult situation even more difficult for you, by being stubborn,” Legend spoke.

“Knowing Skitter, I’m sure she has her reasons,” Grue replied.

“She always does,” Armsmaster replied.

Grue turned his head sharply to look at the hero.

No.  He wouldn’t.

“Well, you’ve made a good case,” Tattletale spoke, “Let me make mine?”

“One second,” Legend spoke.  He turned to Armsmaster, “I need more details on this group.”

“The one that is speaking is Tattletale, member of the Undersiders,” Armsmaster spoke, his voice a hair away from being a growl, “A master manipulator, penchant for head games, likes to pretend she’s psychic but she isn’t.  We don’t know her power, possibly clairvoyance, psychometry, or some combination thereof, but we’ve got her pegged as a Thinker 7.”

“Seven?  I’m flattered,” Tattletale replied, grinning.

“It’s reason enough to end this conversation here and now,” Armsmaster spoke, “Before you find some angle.”

“Fine,” Legend nodded, “That’s all I need.  Miss Militia?  Escort them away?”

Green-black energy leapt to Miss Militia’s hand, materialized into the shape of a gun.  She didn’t raise it, and she kept her finger off the trigger, but the threat was implicit.

“You start a fight here,” Grue spoke, “You better pray to some higher power that you can fucking spin this well enough with all those others looking, because it’s an end to the truce if you don’t, too many eyes on this.”

Grue turned his head, and I leaned forward a little to see what he was looking at.  There were capes at the far end of the hallway, staring at the scene, kept out of the main triage area by a set of PRT officers.  Trickster leaned against a wall with a cell phone raised, recording video.

“It’s not a concern,” Legend spoke.  “Miss Militia?”

“Come on, let’s walk,” she told the others.

“No,” Grue replied, his chin raising an inch, challenging, defiant.

Tattletale raised one hand, “If  could just say my piece, I-”

“Quiet,” Armsmaster interrupted her.

“Nobody ever lets me talk!” she spoke, turning on her heel to walk away, flouncing, almost.  It was a bit theatrical, overacting.  I wondered if someone that didn’t know her would catch it.  “Whatever.  Grue, let’s go.”

Grue looked at her.

“It’s cool,” she gave him a little smile, then she offered me one, “Hey Skitter, don’t sweat it.  We’ll handle this, kay?”

“Kay,” I muttered.  In a way, I was relieved at the idea of them leaving.  I had no idea what I’d do, but it was a relief anyways.

Miss Militia raised her gun a fraction, waved it toward the others to prod them onward.  One by one, they turned.  Tattletale led the herd in walking away, followed my Regent and Bitch.  Grue was the last to turn away, with Miss Militia following him.

When they were out of earshot, Legend floated over the counter to land in front of me.

“We’ve given you three options.  Pick one or I’ll choose for you.”

I opened my mouth, closed it.  The only things I could think of to say would only get me in more trouble.

This working?  This on?  Good.  The tinny female voice rang out from the armbands of the two heroes.

Armsmaster snapped his head around.  I followed his line of sight to where Grue, Regent and Bitch were standing in between Tattletale and Miss Militia.

For those of you who don’t have a front row seat, the very well armed Miss Militia is currently doing her best to point a Beretta 92fs at my head.  If this broadcast ends prematurely, you can all rest assured that the Protectorate is willing to kill and break the truce if it means censoring its dark, dirty little secrets.

Legend grabbed me, hauling me into the air as he crossed the length of the room, Armsmaster hurrying behind as we raced towards the scene.

“Free speech is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?” I saw Tattletale’s lips moving as she broadcast the message.  She wasn’t holding any buttons down on her armband, but it was going through with no difficulty.  Miss Militia held a handgun pointed at Grue’s heart.

Other capes were in the vicinity, some of the Travelers, New Wave, out of towners.  Not quite in earshot, maybe, but close enough to see everything unfold.

The heroine looked at Armsmaster as we arrived, “She said something about deep access, offered your name, then the armband asked her for your password.  She knew your password.”

“Armband, pause announcement,” Tattletale spoke.

Acknowledged.  Her armband replied.

With his one arm, Armsmaster reached for his shoulder, but his Halberd wasn’t there.  Photon Mom had apparently decided not to bring it when she’d carried him here.  No EMP burst possible.

“Let’s negotiate,” Tattletale spoke, taking a step to one side, ducking a little to ensure that someone else was always in between herself and Miss Militia.  Bitch scowled as the gun moved to point toward her head, with Tattletale roughly on the other side.

“Negotiate?” Legend asked.

“Sure.  Let’s turn things around.  You gave Skitter your three options.  Here’s my three.  Number one: Shoot us now, and confirm to everyone in this room, civilian and cape alike, hero and villain, that you’ve got something to hide.  It doesn’t even have to be lethal, people will still have their concerns if you knock us out rather than let us talk.”

Legend nodded, “Okay.”

“Two: I do my little announcement, and the truce ends.  I really don’t want to do that.  I recognize how necessary it is.  But if you decide that one cape’s identity maybe getting publically revealed is worth the truce, well, that’s on you, not me.”

“And the third option is that we release the girl,” Legend guessed.

“You got it,” Tattletale spoke.

“Except that you could be bluffing,” Legend frowned.  “You’re a master manipulator, according to Armsmaster.”

“True enough.  You know, Alexandria was giving me a recap on what I missed, in exchange for my intel on the Endbringer.  Let’s see… Armband, find me the largest break in casualties from the earlier Leviathan encounter.”


“Mark this time period.”


“The notifications in the minute before the mark?”

Sundancer down, ED-6.  Eschutcheon deceased, CD-6.  Herald deceased, CD-6.

“What is the point of this?” Legend asked.

“Please replay us the notifications following the mark, until I tell you to stop.”

Manpower deceased, CD-6.  Aegis deceased, CD-6.  Fenja down, CC-6.  Fenja deceased, CC-6.  Kid Win down, CC-6.  Skitter deceased, CC-6. Kaiser deceased, CC-6.


“What is the point of this?”  Legend folded his arms.

“Skitter’s right here, she’s not dead.”

“My armband broke,” I replied.

“Did it?  Or did someone break it?”  Tattletale’s gaze went to Armsmaster, her voice dropping in volume to ensure that our ‘audience’ didn’t hear.

“What are you implying?”  Armsmaster growled.

“I’m implying that you set things up to guarantee yourself a one-on-one fight with Leviathan.  Who cares, after all, if some villains get murdered in the process, if it means stopping an Endbringer?”

Armsmaster raised his voice, “This is exactly the sort of manipulation-”

“Elaborate,” the one spoken word from Legend was sufficient to cut Armsmaster off.

“Armsmaster has a fancy computer system in his suit, set it up to predict Leviathan’s movements and actions.  Clockblocker tagged the Endbringer, put him on pause long enough for Armsmaster to set up the playing field the way he wanted it, with that predictive program.  Leviathan’s going after the people who can make forcefields, and Armsmaster uses this, dangles Kaiser like bait, puts more villains – Fenja and Menja- in the way to Kaiser.  Sure enough, Leviathan marks Kaiser as a target, charges through the conveniently arranged villains, and goes straight to the spot where Skitter is.”

“Oh no,” I heard Miss Militia mutter under her breath.

“This is nonsense,” Armsmaster spoke, stabbing his index finger towards her, “Heroes died too.”

Tattletale didn’t hesitate a second in replying, “To your credit, if any credit is due, that was an accident.  Your program can’t account for that many variables, probably, in the chaos of a bunch of capes trying to keep Leviathan pinned down.  Either way, Leviathan did as you wanted, followed the path you plotted.  You used a directed EMP blast to nuke Skitter’s armband, ensuring that she couldn’t report Leviathan’s position and call in reinforcements, buying you time to take on Leviathan one on one.  Who cares if she dies, after all?  She’s a villain, and you’re positive you’ll win, that it’ll be worth the body count you just allowed Leviathan to rack up.  Except you lost.”

Armsmaster scowled at her.

“This is a serious set of accusations,” Legend spoke.


“But it’s speculation.”

Tattletale shrugged, “Take Skitter’s armband.  It’ll have damage from the EMP hit.”

“You bitch,” Armsmaster snarled, “This is a lie.”

“Check the armband,” Tattletale repeated, “And you’ll see the truth.”

“Convenient that this would take days or weeks to check,” Armsmaster spoke.

“True, so how about I just do another announcement?  Tell everyone that’s still wearing an armband an abbreviated version of the same story I just told you?  How do you think they’d react?  If you’re really innocent, I’m sure your name would be cleared eventually, after the test results came back from the armband.  If it’s wrong, we get get in everyone‘s bad books for fucking around with an Endbringer situation.  Hell, I’ll even submit to being detained while you get things checked out.  You can take me from there to jail if I’m wrong.  Either way, you get some jerk in custody.”

Legend frowned.

Armsmaster lunged forward, swatting Grue aside with his armored hand.  He shoved Regent aside, reached for Tattletale.

A laser to the right shoulder spun him around, sent him sprawling to the ground.  His armor smoked where the laser had made contact.

“Who!?  Why!?”  Armsmaster flopped over, saw Legend with one open hand aimed at him.  “Legend?”

Miss Militia pointed her handgun at his lower face.

“So, I’m guessing you don’t want this getting out,” Tattletale spoke, looking at the heroine, “Let us walk away, I keep my lips sealed.”

“I know you were tired, that you hadn’t slept all last night,” Miss Militia told Armsmaster, ignoring Tattletale, “Frustrated, your dream taken from you.  But to go this far?”

“It was for the greater good,” Armsmaster replied, without a trace of shame or humility, “If it had worked, Leviathan would be dead, the man holding Empire Eighty-Eight together dead.  All of us survivors would have been legends, and this city could have risen from the ashes, become something truly great.”

“It didn’t work,” Tattletale spoke, “Couldn’t.”

“Shut up.  You’ve said enough,” Armsmaster spat the words, looked away from her, breathing hard.

“The way the Endbringer’s physiology works?  You could detonate a small atom bomb in his face, he’d probably survive.  Take him two or three years to recover, but he’d survive.”

“Shut up!” Armsmaster raised his head to shout at her.  He stopped, eyes flickering to me.  When he spoke again, his voice was almost calm.  “You don’t know everything.”


“Her,” he pointed a hand at me, “She’s not who you think she is.”

I spoke quickly, “Grue, shut him up.”

Grue raised his hand.  But he didn’t blanket Armsmaster in his darkness.

“She’s a wannabe hero.  Has been from the start, since the night Lung was first brought into custody.”

Grue’s hand dropped to his side.

“I met her that night.  She said she was a hero, that you Undersiders mistook her for a villain.  I didn’t think twice about it until she arranged a meeting with me, the night before the bank robbery.  Told me she had joined your group as an undercover agent, getting the dirt on you so she could hand that group over to us.  Talked to me again the night you raided the fundraiser, out there on the balcony.  Told me if I let her go, she’d get the details on your boss to me.  Guess she hasn’t gotten around to figuring that little detail out, yet.”

I tried to speak, to say something, even ‘I changed my mind’.  My throat was too dry to form the words.

Armsmaster turned, shouted at the capes who stood watching, “You want to look down on me!?  I tried to save this city, I got closer to killing the fucking Endbringer than Scion!  That girl is the person you should be mocking, spitting on!  A wannabe hero without the balls to do anything heroic!  Planning from the start to betray teammates for fame!”

I stepped back, swallowed hard.

“Is this true?”

I turned to look at Grue, but he wasn’t asking me.  The question was for Tattletale.

“Yeah,” Tattletale confirmed, sighing.

Bitch stared at me wide eyed, teeth bared, as if all basic human expression had left her as she regarded me.  Regent looked me up and down, turned away, as if in disgust, one fist clenched hard enough to make the area around the long stitched up cut on his arm stand out in white.

I couldn’t see Grue’s face, could barely make out his body language, but I knew that it would have stung ten times worse than anything else if I could see his expression in that moment.

Tattletale was the only one who didn’t look surprised.

I backed away a step, and nobody moved to stop me.  The heroes were preoccupied with Armsmaster, the Undersiders couldn’t or wouldn’t go around the gathered heroes to follow me.

Some of the capes that were in the vicinity were staring at me.  Murmuring.  Panacea was among them, looking at me as though I were from another planet.

I turned and ran out of the hospital, out the door and into the street, kept running.

Except I had no place to run to.

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119 thoughts on “Extermination 8.7

    • It happens. Nobody likes to put that kind of effort into someone just to watch them turn out bad. Still, this is darn thing is riveting.

      I find myself wanting to buy a whole nother chapter just to see what happens next already.

  1. Dammit. Every time, I think there can’t possibly be a chapter ending that would make me want to see what comes next any MORE, and then I get proven wrong.

    In other news, I did find it very weird that she hadn’t hit her arm or anything between the last time she got a message from her armband and the moment she realized it was dead. But then I dismissed it as unimportant. Guess I should trust myself more. Or trust that the author knows what s/he’s doing, rather.

  2. Taylor is completely unable to defend herself with words when needed.
    And, Armsmaster is in serious danger of ending in the birdcage.

  3. It seems slightly fishy that they assume seeing Shadow Stalker without her mask is the same as knowing who she is, even given the similarity in their apparent ages.

    • Your comment puts me in mind of the ‘Lex Luthor as Flash‘ bit from Justice League.

      Funny as it is, the notion that Lex Luthor couldn’t come up with a way to employ that tidbit of information does bug me.

      In any case, with the face seen, general age known, it could be assumed that Skitter could stake out high schools or other places teenagers frequent to, er, stalk Shadow Stalker. When they speak about Skitter knowing her identity, it’s more of a generalization or broad concern than stating Skitter knows that Shadow Stalker is Sophia Hess, specifically.

    • It’s certainly enough to give the possibility that Skitter could find out. Skitter is pretty obviously a high schooler, which gives a good chance that she could recognize Shadow Stalker as someone from school. Run into her, causally ask her name, bam.

  4. Armsmaster, I proudly present you with my “Evil Will Always Triumph Because Good is Stupid!” award, a silver grate. The grate symbolizes where Dark Helmet through the ring, and the silver is because good is coming in second.

    So, let’s see…you arrange for the deaths of several people in order to attempt to kill something that, as far as anyone knows, is unkillable all for your own personal glory. When arrested, you turned on the girl who got you one of your biggest busts, Lung, who was acting as an undercover agent for you while attempting to figure out the identity of an as yet unknown shadowy figure with enough influence and cash to bring together the Undersiders, who have routinely humiliated the heroes. You outed her status to all villains within earshot, as well as heroes within earshot, but lets focus on the villains as they are the type to take “snitching” very personally, especially as her only confirmed allies in the superpowered community are now likely to be against her.

    So you’ve basically arranged for her to die as well, or live her life on the run if she ever uses her powers again, which did away with any possibility that she might turn over the potentially valuable information she has to the good guys, or join up with y’all. Thanks to the Endbringer mess, you don’t even know if she has a family to go back to in all of this.

    For your troubles, you’re looking at a problematic situation regarding the Endbringer truce, as you’ve now shown that at least one hero is willing to sacrifice supervillains for his own vanity, including willing to turn on villains with potentially damaging information you find out right after said truce.

    If only there were some way this could be worse for you…oh wait, there is.

    You exposed two secret identities in the process. With Skitter fleeing after all this, she has no reason to protect Shadow Stalker’s ID. No incentive at all. And, since she was part of a team that would likely have learned her identity, you’ve just made potentially outed her civilian ID to the supervillain community as well.

    You, my asshole friend, deserve to get locked away in a birdcage with a lot of very angry people you helped put there.

    And so now you see that Evil will always win because Good is stupid!

      • At times like this I like to point to Dr.Horrible’s Sing Along Blog.

        Hammerman was good, wasn’t he? Good can be just as much an ass as badguys.

        Most often more because they are so righteous about it. While the badguys are badguys because they aren’t hiding their intentions or hiding behind anything.

        I could go into utilitarian concepts but I don’t know if anyone would be interested in that.

        • From what we saw of Captain Hammer, I don’t think we have any reason to believe he’s good. (Which does not imply that Dr. Horrible is, either.)

          This line of thought caused me to generate the phrase “superhero Nazi”, as part of an analogy/argument that I didn’t fully think out and probably won’t be developing further.

      • Just because someone is an ass doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the abstract concept of “Good.”

        The Idea of good and evil is quite chaotic as imaginable and quite frankly I think Armsmaster falls into the category “Utilitarian Good Intentions Jerk.” In otherwords, The ends justify the means, and if I can’t have my way no one can.

        And of Course Armsmaster is good. If Hammerman from Dr.Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog was good, then Armsmaster can be good.

      • If all goes as planned, maybe Armsmaster will get to see Captain Hammer’s Hammer in the showers later in prison.

        And by his hammer, I mean his penis.

  5. So it looks seems that to some extent at least, Armmaster and Taylor got what they had coming.

    “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
    –Thomas Jefferson

    • “Justice, like lightning, ever should appear to few men’s ruin, but to all men’s fear.”
      – Milo Sweetman, allegedly

      “Because in every Animal that walks upright, the Deficiency of the Fluids that fill the Muscles appears first in the highest Part: The Face first grows lank and wrinkled; then the Neck; then the Breast and Arms; the lower Parts continuing to the last as plump as ever: So that covering all above with a Basket, and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.”
      -Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress (1745)

  6. And the next damning thing about Armsmaster?

    He responded to being caught by screwing over a wannabe heroine. His “accusation” only works if Taylor honestly represented herself to him from the start. He had to know this. He threw someone he knew wanted to be a good guy under the bus for petty revenge.

  7. So Tattletale did know Taylor was a hero. And yet, she still treated her as a friend – a real friend – and helped her more than once. One of the most decent persons in the series. I wonder if it is because she can afford to be – she has access to knowledge others don’t and thus won’t be surprised by all the bullshit others pull in social situations, the secrets they hide or the flaws they conceal.

    Also, Armmaster is now known to have attempted to profit from an Endbringer attack. And said attempt to have led to the deaths of many villains and some heroes. Now that both villains and heroes have learned of it, how long do you think he’ll survive if he doesn’t get sent to the Birdcage?🙂

    And Panacea? Heh. Gotta love her reaction to Taylor being revealed as a hero.

    • Taylor intended to be a hero. She may have thought of herself a hero. Was she a hero? Not by most standards. She was doing more backsliding than the Canadian national luge team and I guess this was one big reason why Tattletale didn’t do anything about it. Taylor would have settled in as a career criminal if not for Coil trying her morals too much too soon.

      • Well, it is very open to interpretation for the bystanders whether Skitter was backsliding or simply deeply undercover, if all you have to go on is what you see right there with Armsmaster’s speech.

        Also, I love how Armsmaster proclaimed that she did it ‘for fame’ right in the same breath as admitting that what he did was for fame.

      • With the knowledge that Tattletale was sure to have picked up it was obviously backsliding. From anyone else’s perspective it could go either way.

    • I like Panacea’s reaction too and really wish her thought process about Taylor from that moment got elaborated on a lot more.

  8. Oh, and another thing. Wildbow has absoluely no compunction about changing the premise of the story. Here, the status quo has just been decapitated and is lying in two body bags at the morgue.

    • I prefer my phrase from some segments back… “If status quo is god, then they’ve just gone Nietschean on its ass.” but that’s mainly because I made it and it sounds cooler. Maybe we can compromise with something that involves more Xs.

      You have to remember, too, that this is all supposed to be Book 1 so far, and I think she mentioned 10 parts to it, so we’re coming up on the ending chapters.

      Now, to use the Scream rules, that means anyone who has sex or does drug or alcohol is a potential casualty, it’s the sin factor, and never, EVER go somewhere saying you’ll be right back.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get more lube for my one-man donkey show. I’ll be right back.

  9. Wow. I knew Taylor’s original plan had to come out at some point, but this was definitely a great spot for it–for the story anyhow. Not for Taylor.

  10. I repeat, when confronted, Taylor is not good at defending herself. One sentence:
    Yes, I thought about doing this, but they were nice while you were a jackass and, in the end, I would not betray friends.
    This single sentence would improve her situation a bit.
    But, Taylor was feeling guilty, she wanted to be punished.
    The interesting part is that I see no way out for her, except if she gets help from some authority figure (perhaps Tatletale) or discover new powers.
    It is quite likely that the villains will try to kill her.
    Armsmaster just violated the truce by exposing the secret of a “person” involved in dealing with an endbringer. What will the heroes do? He certainly can´t be trusted anymore.

      • and the heroes will respond by demoting him and moving him out of town, just as they were already planning to. except they’ll make it public that they’re doing it as a punishment for this fuckup, and it might be a more arduous demotion to a less important location than Chicago. otherwise, no change, he’ll be back on the job soon as he whips himself up a cybernetic arm, business as usual.

        they will do this not because good is stupid and the heroes are assholes; they will do this because the side of “good” here is a bureaucracy full of people covering their own behinds and watching out for their own side. which is how the real world gets stuck with police departments that everybody knows are wholly corrupt, yet remain wholly corrupt for years or decades.

        • “they will do this not because good is stupid and the heroes are assholes;”
          “they will do this because the side of “good” here is a bureaucracy full of people covering their own behinds and watching out for their own side”

          I don’t see the difference. They’re two parts of the same cycle, in my mind. One feeds the other.

      • From what we’ve seen and heard of how the society works in the story, I’ll frankly be quite surprised if we learn Armmaster got off with a demotion and stationing in Godthåb. He really screwed the pooch here.

        My guesstimate would be jail time, but perhaps in a regular prison rather than the Birdcage as the nature of his powers can be sold to a jury as a non-issue if he’s given nothing to work with.

      • Mazzon, to keep Armsmaster from being a threat while incarcerated, they’d have to give him the full Hannibal Lecter treatment, and that was reserved for someone classified as insane.

        Granted, the way some of the judges are here, they might still do that to him, but even then Mr. Compressed Technology could have all kinds of things smuggled up his butt. I already suspect he’s got a stick of some kind up there.

      • Hey I just said it could be sold to a jury, not that it were a good idea. He might even behave himself to avoid being transferred to Birdcage, and cheating just little could preserve his life and rectal sanctity while in jail.

        That is of course all assuming he doesn’t choose to go full-blown villain.

      • I honestly don’t think he is going to get any jailtime for this. Primarily because the news about what Armsmaster did wasn’t actually spread. I doubt he will ever be a career hero anymore though. He will probably end up producing equipment for other heroes for the rest of his life and pretty closely monitored. They just can’t afford to let out what he did, too many lives are at stake, and without telling people why he deserves jail time he won’t get it.

        • You mean the government and their corporate/private allies are deciding that Armsmaster/The Protectorate’s image is Too Big To Fail?

          That’s so unrealistic. I’m dropping this series.

          • LOL’d rather heartily at this comment.

            Admittedly, was surprised our pro Taylor hadn’t thought up a possible response to this eventuality, perhaps to the point of self-deluded justification.

            “Of course I wanted to be a hero, or at least a good vigilante. No one goes out and decides to be a bad person. And with you standing over me, having just curb-stomped Lung like you did…. what, you think I was going to say ‘Sorry, I’m on Team Evil’? I didn’t even know my friends then–I was all about the options. And since then, they’ve proven themselves to be the better option.”

            Hell, with enough repetition, I might have believed it myself… And who would have believed him about Lung, then? To top it off, Tt would take that lie to her grave; we all know it.

            But all that aside, I ALSO really like the way it turns out, and since this is my second time reading it in a row, you can safely assume that I know I couldn’t have written a story half as excellent. This is just my own projections of the characters. Wildbow is par excellence.

  11. So far, we haven’t had an awful lot of examples of good-hearted capes, either hero of villain, outside of the Undersiders. I hope that will change. Not everybody needs to be a jerk.

    • Miss Militia is looking real lonely there. Dragon might be ok, except it feels like we should never take a hero being good for granted unless we get enough of a look at them to say they definitely are.

      Who knows? Maybe this whole Armsmaster Endbringer mess will start off something where heroes have to take a good, long look at themselves to see if they’re part of the problem.

      The only problem is that some of them just wouldn’t get that they’d been the problem. Like Shadowbully. Even if she knew she’d created a villain, she probably would find some excuse to why it’s not her fault or it was really ok anyway, or something like that. You can put the answer right in front of some people and they just won’t get it.

      • Random thought. Dragon’s quirk or specialty as a Tinker hasn’t yet been revealed, has it? I had a thought that her specialty must be in creating artificial intelligences. Specifically, AI’s with Tinker-level intellect and ingenuity. She’s a one-woman Singularity.

        This may make her inhuman more than it makes her evil.

        • Wait. Waitwaitwaitwaitwait. If you have a Tinker who can create Tinker-level AIs…

          …then what’s to stop the Tinker-level AIs from creating more Tinker-level AIs?

          Why do you need a non-AI tinker in the equation at all?


            • Wildbow hasn’t explained how she survived a fall from a 5th story rooftop yet. Did she play Lois Lane and get Superman to catch her? I always wondered about the physics of that, how he could match speeds with her and slow her down fast enough to keep her off the pavement but slow enough not to crush her.

              Maybe Parian inflated a giant stuffed animal underneath her.

      • RE: I had a thought that her specialty must be in creating artificial intelligences

        I like that people are thinking about this, and as you tend to be, Catastronaut, you’re uncannily on the nose and/or damn close.

        RE: Specifically, AI’s with Tinker-level intellect and ingenuity.
        And: This may make her inhuman more than it makes her evil.

        This, though, I have to wonder. What makes you think this?

      • From the way she handles a prison, suits of power armor, and all the other stuff she must be doing all the time, I figured she was just extremely good at multi-tasking with technology, perhaps like Pilot’s species in Farscape where they are capable of being integrated into Leviathan vessels (organic ships) to handle all the various minor tasks while also piloting the ship, providing a middleman between ship and crew, and being somewhat of a companion to the ship his- or herself. The multi-tasking ability is what Pilot’s species is all about, and he described it as something all in the mind where you isolate each separate action and kinda keep it going in the back of your mind.

        I also slightly hope the biological integration, or what I call tactile technopathy, isn’t a part of her, just the wierd multitasky thing, because of Psycho Gecko (the character) utilizing that part in a few hijacked commentaries over at Legion of Nothing.

      • if Dragon’s specialty is creating tinker-level AIs… based on what we’ve seen of her so far, we’d never be able to be sure we were talking to Dragon, rather than to one of her creations. indeed, we’d never be able to be sure Dragon “herself” was still alive, or even whether that question makes any sense. inhuman, although i don’t buy the “AIs are all evil” trope.

      • “You can put the answer right in front of some people and they just won’t get it.”

        You can put the answer right in front of -most- people and they just won’t get it.


      • Oh yeah, that one’s easy: See Sophia didn’t *make* Taylor turn villain. Taylor was always a villain but fortunately Sophia was clever enough to sense that and bold enough to address the situation by pouring drinks on her and keeping her in her place.

        She deserves a medal or something for her prescience, really…

    • Right, so other people have already echoed my thoughts about why she must have a bunch of AI’s running around for her. She’s just doing too much to be doing it all manually, and the number of remote interactions she’s having make me suspect automation.

      As to why I think they’d have to be Tinker-level “minds”, well. Part of it is that it’s been implied here and there that Tinker-tech is, for whatever reason, not easy to just mass-produce and hand out for people to use. There’s no indication that there’s a chemist-tinker out there who has rendered every household cleaning product or antibiotic soap obsolete or what have you. Maybe this sort of wide-scale Tinker-izing of society has happened, but thus far, it seems their impact on global tech-level seems to be narrow in scope (or at least not great in magnitude). There are some exceptions (the PRT’s goo-guns and so on) but this indicates to me that beyond a certain point, the processes required to reproduce Tinker artifacts and/or the knowledge required to use them competently are hard (or exceedingly expensive?) to transfer, except among Tinkers. Bakuda was able to muck about with her Dragon-made collar, but I doubt any normal bomb-crazy nutter would have been able to (unless said nutter was also a sufficiently powerful Tinker).

      That said, Dragon’s AI’s seem to have no trouble at all operating the things she’s built, even things as fragile/dynamically balanced/complicated as the Birdcage. Moreover, the Birdcage-administrator AI offered incredibly precise predictions for the incarcerated villains’ chances of escape. Reminds me a bit of Dinah, there. More than a bit. And more recently, the various time-warping bombs suggested more or less explicitly that the ability to reproduce or mimic another parahuman ability with a machine is a fairly Tinker-ish thing to do.

      Anyway, maybe her AI’s aren’t Tinkers themselves, though I continue to suspect that they are. But at the very least she has some version of strong AI. For a lot of the things her AI’s are doing, they’d have to be at least as smart as a normal human being. Hell, you’d probably have needed a whole command center full of people to monitor and interpret all the armband data coming through during the Leviathan fight.

      But I think the ability to create strong AI would raise a lot of questions re: humanity. The ability to create a functioning, sentient mind in a machine of your own design suggests an implicit or explicit understanding of what consciousness is, a knowledge not possessed by any other living human. The ability to create “free-standing” consciousnesses seems quite literally to be playing God.

      My guess is that Dragon is scared by the possibilities offered by strong AI. Maybe through bad personal experience, maybe just by the abstraction of it. There are so many ways for it to go poorly. This may be why she models all of her programs’ personality on herself. She’s worried what might happen if she creates another “living” mind, or she doesn’t feel she has the right to create what would functionally be a slave.

      She’s stuck in something of a bind here. She needs to build these machines and the minds inside them if she’s going to change the world for the better (which she clearly has some ambition to do). But she also runs the risk of destroying the world she wants to protect. It wouldn’t be difficult for her to become Big Brother or Friend Computer or something similar given her power. I think it’s this fear, as much as anything else, that keeps her from taking a more active stance in the world. She doesn’t want to command a robot army to conquer the evils of the world (even if she probably could). It’s assuming too much power, and moreover, usurping the position of people (powered or not) to determine their own lives. So she takes care not to impose her will on others through her position of power. She accepts the rulings of the courts when placing convicts in the Birdcage, even if she disagrees with the verdict.

      The name the she (presumably) chose for herself also suggests this fear to me. Dragon, not a Tinkerish name, really. But mythical dragons have always represented both danger and wisdom; the volatility that results when human strengths and human weaknesses rule a being possessing earth-shattering power. The safest dragons are the dragons asleep at the bottoms of rivers, or lounging on their hoards at some safe remove from society. It’s a name chosen to remind others (and herself) that she is dangerous whether she means to be or not.

      • Also, sorry for the wall of text. I have trouble writing concisely without revisions and editing, and if I start letting myself write drafts of comments, I’ll drive myself crazy in a matter of days.

      • That was majorly fun to read, gotta say. Very smart analysis & rundown.

        Won’t confirm/deny, but I have to say I’m that much more interested in getting around to writing an interlude from Dragon’s perspective, either when we hit a donation benchmark or in a few months. Show you how close you were, or how far, as well as the full extent of her responsiblities/abilities.

      • You call that a wall of text? Bah! You can still see the other side using a ladder!

        Where her name comes from is an interesting thing to think on, though. From the sound of the feedback from our esteemed author, sounds like your guess about her creating AIs is closer than mine about multi-tasking, unless it’s the compromise position of being able to create a copy of her mind to act as AI or put fragments of her mind into various stuff, or even just have her mind work as some sort of network to control all these things. A dragon that’s up in the Cloud, if you will. Streaming brain.

        Normally I’d say we can rule out Eastern intepretations of dragons as well, but Wildbow is a sneaky sneaky one, we’ve all come to find out. The fact that this could be any interpretation of a dragon is going to make it harder, because dragons are all over the placed. Wingless dragons, legless dragons, dragons on the ground, dragons in the water, dragons with feathers, dragons facing off against saints (Saints 27, Dragons 17, go New Orleans).

        The bible has a dragon supposedly being the devil, there’s a type of dragon out there called an ouroboros that is the symbol for infinity that is Greek, the Norse have Jormungandr the Midgard Serpent, a giant dragon big enough to stretch across the entire world unerwater, the greeks got their term for dragon from “that which sees” or “that which flashes and gleams”, Chinese dragons are all about power and associations with the emperor, Japanese dragons are associated with water, Indian dragons are associated with drought, Russian dragons have heads in threes, and so on and so forth.

        If anything, with all the various mythologies to dig through, it’s entirely possible that one reason for using the name is because, like Dragon herself, mythological dragons were apparently all over the world performing various, sometimes contradictory, things at the same time.

      • It is gratifying to see that my comments can get a creator like wildbow more excited about his work. Hurrah.

        Also, Mr. Gecko, I really like that thought about Dragon’s name. I hadn’t thought to look at it that way, but my own (limited) experience with the comparative mythology of dragons leads me to think more of their similarities than their differences. I appreciate the perspective.

        Also, the “streaming brain” and “digital selves” ideas are both possible given what we know so far, I think. But I think they’d still raise similar questions about Dragon’s humanity or humanity in general, since I think they’d still qualify as instances of strong AI.

      • I don’t think her AI’s can be actual tinker-level. Or at least not nearly the level that Dragon is. My evidence for this is the fact that only one war machine was fielded against Leviathan. If her AIs were really powerful tinkers Dragon would have flooded the field with machines.

        I don’t think fear of what she could do to the world would be enough to stop Dragon from trying her best to stop the Endbringers. Dragon is clearly one of the most in the know heroes in the series, she must realise just how big of a threat to humanity’s continued existence the endbringers are. If they ever decided to just perform attacks as quickly as possible, or god forbid at the same time, then the super community is going to be wiped out pretty fast. Once the supers are gone there don’t seem to be any forces capable of pinning them down long enough to try nuking them. It would be pretty awful to not put everything you could into the Endbringer war.

  12. Oh my. Was Panacea surprised when Skitter’s true colours were revealed, or was she [i]shocked[/i]? It was made explicit that if she decided to do something harmful to her it would take a while to take effect.

    On a completely unrelated note, I can see at least 3 possible avenues for Skitter to have a long-term future. Now reaching any of them, that’d be the rub.

    Also, was it only after the EMP went off that Skitter’s ability powered up? Because if so, then we have another possible explanation for it.

    • Nope.

      That’s speculation, by and large, on the part of the public (it’s the nicest public school, and the one closest to Wards headquarters). Largely correct but not an absolute.

      Even Tattletale notes in 3.3 that they’re “hitting a location just a mile away from Arcadia High, where most of the Wards go to school”. Most.

      Recall also that Shadow Stalker didn’t participate in the bank robbery defense because she was too far away.

  13. At three different points in reading this, I thought to myself, “This is better than the fighting parts.”

    I mean, you could seriously chop this chapter up into three sections, and each would have served to satisfy me as a scheduled post. The mundaneish sort of dealing with her situation, the emotional jarring of grasping the facts about SS, and the climax with detainment and revelations all were homeruns. The writing is closer to what I have hoped for here and there throughout the other parts (previous and later) in the story – closer to a realistic Taylor’s psyche and reactions. Her mental quickness (that often comes off like Plot-Powered Brain) doesn’t show up, her emotions aren’t as dulled, and she seems to have a relatively normal mental life.

    I’m ok with Taylor becoming more self-controlled, high-powered, and amazing for battle scenes in order to move them along and produce conclusions, but it’s like that’s a different character. Something that could perhaps be explained away by conflict driving her passenger to have greater influence over her, or for her to utilize the passenger’s abilities to kick feelings and thoughts into a subconscious space. But I want to see more of a real person when things are calmer.

    I have been looking for the moments when SS’s identity was revealed and when Taylor identified Armsmaster’s betrayal of her and putting her in harm’s way, and they didn’t play out anything like what I had expected. I don’t know how, but I got the impression that SS was revealed while Taylor was out with the Undersiders, and that Taylor somehow was up in Leviathan’s face when Armsmaster used her as a means to try to strike the final blows – and that he might have tried to intentionally kill her in the process. He’d have done so either to permanently shut her up with regard to what happened with Lung, or as part of some other plan to get more glory or a better shot – like having her live would have forced him to share credit (because of what she was doing to harm or hinder Leviathan), or at least wouldn’t have made him the sole survivor. That it was more happenstance – that she wouldn’t have been in the line of fire if she had been in a different position on the battlefield when he set his plan into motion – came out of left field. I got the impression that it was more personal/directed than that.

    • You are correct, but it’s a Cape name and they’re often spelt creatively – possibly for trademark purposes. (Bloodwulf, Striker, Stryfe and Maggott wave hello. Can’t think of any DC examples off the top of my head unless you count the aliens like Boodika).

  14. Two spaces after “A”:
    “A hand seized me by the back of the neck, hauled me to my feet.”

    Three spaces between these sentences:
    He turned me around, and I saw Armsmaster, his lips curled in a silent snarl of anger. A glance at his shoulder showed no sign of the ragged mess from when I’d last seen him, but there was no arm either.

    Missing an “I”; should be “If I could”
    Tattletale raised one hand, “If could just say my piece, I-”

  15. Oh, my. I just noticed. On the bus, before Taylor told Brian about how she felt, when Sophie(I think it was Sophie) was looking at Brian apparently liking what she saw, their alter-egos hated each other. What fun!

  16. Oh, Taylor. Your world would be rather different if you could learn not to run away so much.
    Admittedly sucker-punching people in the face isn’t *much* better…

  17. Ah, this chapter. I love her instant reaction to the idea of joining the Wards. This isn’t timid Taylor – this is Taylor who’s faced death and tough choices, and has a better idea of who she is and what she’s worth. And she has no interest in being on any team that would accept Shadow Psycho. She knows she’s better than that.

    So, the heroes get a little lesson on the price of backing people into corners, and Armsmaster reveals his pettiness. A sad day for the good guys, to be sure, but at least Miss Militia and Legend show that they won’t tolerate Armsmaster’s BS.

    I dearly wish I could see into Panacea’s head at this point, or perhaps those of the Wards if they’re present. Glory Girl might be fun as well. Although I imagine Panacea just wants to vomit out of guilt, shock, and shame, most likely, so that might not be fun after all. I do wonder if she thinks back to the bank robbery and remembers that Taylor had to work to avoid cutting her throat at one point.

  18. “If you’re really innocent, I’m sure your name would be cleared eventually, after the test results came back from the armband. If it’s wrong, we get get in everyone‘s bad books for fucking around with an Endbringer situation. Hell, I’ll even submit to being detained while you get things checked out.”

    In “If it’s wrong, we get get in” there are two “get”.

  19. Fun. I thought this would happen eventually where Armsmaster reveals the deal Taylor attempted to make with him. I’d have loved to see what Panacea/Amy thought about the situation as well.

    I can get why Armsmaster may have been against he idea of Talyor as an undercover agent, kids are often impressionable and some of the stuff she would have to do in that situation isn’t exactly good. On the flip side though a lot of law enforcement agencies would probably be happy to take advantage of having an informant within a gang like that. Might have gone better if he had offered reasons like what I suggested to dissuade her rather than so jerkish about it.

  20. This had to be coming, Taylor should have confessed to the Undersiders the very moment she decided to stay. Not doing it was just ridiculously stupid. I’m glad she didn’t get away with it.

    I also like the lack of clearly cut lines between black and white, one of the reasons I enjoy this story so much.

    • Yeah I expected something like this too sadly. I wish she had confessed as soon as her decision was made. Unfortunately, she was probably too worried about losing her friends after she finally decided she wanted to keep them. It would’ve been so much easier to come back though coming from her instead of Armsmaster.

  21. Just to put the cherry on top of what a complete fucker Armsmaster has been … did everyone remember that, when his glory-seeking plot to get Leviathan by himself failed and he got his arm ripped off, it was SKITTER who saved his damn life?!?!?!?

      • He did know actually, because he kept telling her that she was supposed to be dead while she did it.

        Which is interesting if you think about it, he took out her armband to get her announced dead so why did he think she was actually dead?

        I think the answer lies in those bug decoys she made, looks like she fooled more than just Leviathan.

        • Possibly because he sort of sent Levy in her direction on purpose and had no reason to think that she survived. Underestimating Skitter is kind of a thing in this series, if you hadn’t noticed.

  22. Okay so maybe I’m missing something here but I have a big question: why didn’t Skitter offer a better solution before things blew up in everybody’s faces? All they wanted was collateral in form of unmasking herself, Taylor isn’t willing to do that to Sophia’s face but why couldn’t she offer to tell Miss Militia/Legend who she was? It’s a middle ground and would’ve quickly deescalated the situation. Why didn’t Tattletale suggest something like that?

    And Armsmaster…it’s been said above so I won’t rehash but…wow…the dude seriously needs to get his ass kicked three ways to Sunday. Acting like a petulant child when he got smacked for being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I honestly can’t fault him over much for the duel thing because from a certain point of view (a pragmatic cold-hearted bastard one) he has a point. Less villains is good, his program doesn’t work well with multiple variables, etc. though I’m sure he thought more of glory rather than the practicals but still the point stands he did do extreme damage. But I CAN fault him for calling out Skitter afterwards. It is just so far beyond stupid and childish that…wow. He risked an entire system simply because he was pissed her friends were actually loyal…wow.

    • Nope, *especially* from a pragmatic, cold-hearted point of view it does not make sense to violate the Endbringer truce — the point is to have the massed firepower of both heroes and villains, because otherwise they *all* die.

  23. Hey there, not being rude, but I noticed a spelling error🙂

    Tattletale led the herd in walking away, followed my Regent and Bitch. Grue was the last to turn away, with Miss Militia following him.

    I think my should be by.
    cheers, ps. loving this series🙂

  24. “I’m at about ninety percent,” Tattletale’s voice informed me. “You’re the one that gave us a scare.”

    I sagged in relief.

    Having the information from the interlude (and the format, you evil bastard) was bad enough. All these chapters afterward, Taylor’s terror on top of that… honestly, I can see the value in telling that story, but fuck it was harrowing.

  25. Wow.
    On the one hand, that is going to sting Taylor, internally and externally, and badly.
    On the other hand, yelling and pointing fingers and talking about the greater good when cornered is like the single best indicator of guilt I can think of. Even when Armsmaster was defending himself, he admitted to using an Endbringer attack to kill Kaiser, on purpose. And then his best defense aside from “it was the right thing to do and that’s why I had to lie about it to everyone” was a deflection, and the best deflection he could manage was outing someone for attempting a sting operation.
    In essence, ratting someone out for secretly trying to be a good guy. And calling them despicable in the bargain.
    Gee. I wonder what his coworkers and colleagues in the MASKED HERO COMMUNITY are going to think of that.
    So as bad as this hurts Taylor… for once I actually believe the worst person in the room is going to be recognized as such. Whatever happens next, Armsmaster’s approval rating is going to crash and fucking burn over this shit.

  26. I always HATED Sophia, and hated Shadow Stalker just a bit less. Kinda disappointed w/ myself that I never thought they could be the same person, even with the clues. But strangely, now that I DO know, I don’t feel as strongly about her. Although in hindsight I can see that Taylor’s refusal to use her powers on the trio was a good call, since Sophia probably wouldn’ve gone Super-mode on her and… who needs that?

    So much drama, so much action. This is like, the best book ever.

  27. >held on with an steel grip that left me no illusions about my ability to walk over and join my friends.

    An steel grip?

    >Tattletale raised one hand, “If could just say my piece, I-“

    Missing an I.

    >Tattletale led the herd in walking away, followed my Regent and Bitch.

    by* Regent and Bitch.

  28. When Tattletale talks through the armbands, some quotation marks are missing. I don’t know of this is intentional or not, but then she has marks around a bit later.

  29. Damn, I did not expect armsmaster to sacrifice villains like that. It also sounds to me like Lisa knew the truth on some level beforehand.

  30. Grammar Point

    “Had Sophia, Emma and Madison had gotten off easy because…”

    Extra “had” in context.


  31. I’m a little confused here. Didn’t Armsmaster think Skitter was dead, too, when she saved him after he lost his arm? He kept mumbling that she was dead, that Leviathan had killed her. That doesn’t seem to jive with this “he disabled her armband” thing here.

    Loving the story, though, just wanted to chime in years after the fact!

  32. I’m late to the party.
    What was the original reason Armsmaster wanted to visit Skitter in her curtained confinement?

  33. I was wondering, why didn’t she just :
    – Asked to talk to Legend alone, somewhere without any of the biased Brockton Bay Protectorate guys ;
    – Told him her true identity ;
    – Told him she has problems with Sophia ;
    – Get into the wards of another city … far from Sophia

    => Be a Hero, don’t be bothered by her ties to Brockton Bay.

  34. *forehead smack* THAT’S it! THAT’S why Sofia Hess’s name seemed so familiar! Like Rudolf Hess (from a certain point of view), she’s an unbalanced psychotic who doesn’t really care about winning as long as they don’t lose (pumping money into the Emma v. Taylor case until an out-of-court settlement was reached, trying to the cute black boy away from the undeserving, nerdy omega even when she’d clearly ruined any chance she had with him/singlehandedly flying a plane to Scotland to negotiate a no-lose end to the war, trying to kill himself instead of letting The Conspiracy poison him). The kicker is that given how many years it’s probably been since I happened across him in random research, I probably wouldn’t have even thought of this if not for looking up what the significance of E88’s name might be.

    Either I’m overthinking this or you, Wildbow, have one more reason for me to respect your magnificent bastardry as an author.

    Oh, um, on the current chapter… So, that Emma, didn’t really think of her as the follower type before Skitter’s little paradigm shift as she looked back on the torment, which would explain a lot. As for Armsmaster, it’s a good thing he outed Skitter as a deep-cover agent while in full view and hearing range of the other supers, since otherwise there’d be no way for her to salvage breaking off from Coil’s Undersiders and trying to convince someone other than Armsmaster that she’s what they could consider a good guy.

  35. Just realized how the reveal of Shadow Stalker’s identity recolors the scene of her rather aggressively cuffing Taylor when she decked Emma.

  36. Editorial:

    – «almost always sent to the Birdcage,” he let that last word hang in the air» — Should be a period instead of a comma between those clauses.
    – There are two places here where you do not use an Oxford comma. Is that generally your style? I feel like I would have noticed it before if so. If this is a style consistency error, the two locations are “Sophia, Emma and Madison” and “ineptitude, laziness and ignorance”.

    Wow, what a chapter! I love how Armsmaster gives her a backhanded unintentional assist — she might manage now to patch things up with the superhero community *and* the Undersiders, although not to the same degree with the latter. (That is, they might just stay out of each other’s way.)

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