Sentinel 9.6

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Shadow Stalker paused in her patrol when she arrived at the roof of the Hillside Mall, downtown.  She’d hoped to run into some looters, had had some luck earlier in the week at this spot, but it seemed that police forces were stationed at the entrances, now.  Annoyed, she walked over to the corner of the roof, so the toes of her boots were just at the brink.

She got her smartphone and dialed Emma.  The phone automatically made the wireless connection to her earbud.

“Hey, superhero,” Emma answered.

“How’s Portland?”

“Good food, good shopping, boring as hell.  I wish I could come back, hang out.”

“I wish you to come back, too,” Shadow Stalker admitted, “These morons are fucking pissing me off, and I’m not getting enough breaks from it.  I don’t have the patience for this.”

“Which morons?  The Wards?”

“The Wards,” Shadow Stalker confirmed.  She sat down on the ledge.  “They’re children.”

“Yeah,” Emma replied.  She didn’t prod for more information or clarification.  Shadow Stalker had gone over this before enough times, in one variation or another.

That didn’t stop her from returning to the subject, “Sure, some of them are older.  Some have more time in the field than me.  Maybe.  But they’re still children, living in their comfortable, cozy little worlds.  I dunno if you’ve seen what the city’s like now-”

“-I saw some on the news.” Emma interjected.

“Right.  Damaged, destroyed, fucked up.  This is a place those kids visit, and they’re still convinced they can fix it.  I’ve lived with this all my life.  Waded through this shit from the beginning.  I know they’re deluding themselves.  So yeah, they’re immature, new to this, and I don’t know how long I can fucking put up with them.”

“Two and a half more years, right?”  Emma asked, “Then you’re off probation, free to do your thing.”

“God, don’t remind me.  Makes me realize I’m not even halfway through it.  I can’t believe it’s already been this long, constantly hearing them bitch about dating, or clothes, or allowances, and every time I hear it it’s like, I want to scream in their face, fuck you, you little shit, shut the fuck up.  I’ve killed people, and then I washed the blood off my hands and went to school and acted normal the next day!”

Silence hung on the line for a few long moments.

“I remember,” Emma spoke, a touch subdued.

Shadow Stalker chewed on her lower lip, watched a butch policewoman pull into the parking lot, then hand out coffees to the others on duty.

“If it weren’t for all the crying and the complaining, I would almost be glad Leviathan had attacked the city.  Tear away that fucking ridiculous veneer that covers everything.  Get rid of those fucking fake smiles and social niceties and daily routines that everyone hides behind.”


“Yeah.”  Shadow Stalker didn’t elaborate too much further on the subject.  Leviathan had revealed the desperate, needy animal at the core of everyone in this city.  He’d made things honest.

Most were victims, sheep huddling together for security in numbers, or rats hiding in the shadows, avoiding attention.  Others were predators, going on the offensive, taking what they needed through violence or manipulation.

She didn’t care what category people fell into, so long as they didn’t get in her way, like Grue had a habit of doing.  Worse yet were those who seemed intent on irritating her by being lame and depressing, like Taylor or like Vista had been this past week.

They weren’t all bad.  The victim personality did have a habit of pissing her off, but she could let them be so long as the person or people in question stayed out of sight and out of mind, accepting their place without fight or fanfare.  There were some ‘predators’, she could admit, that were even useful.  Emma came to mind, the girl went a long way towards making life out of costume tolerable, and there was Director Piggot, who had kept her out of jail thus far, because she fit into the woman’s overarching agenda of PR and the illusion of a working system.

There was a need for that kind of person in society, someone willing to step on others to get to the top, do what was necessary, so they could keep the wheels spinning.  Not all of them were so useful or tolerable, of course, but there were enough out there that she couldn’t say everyone with that kind of aggressive, manipulative psychology was a blight on society.  She could respect the Piggots and Emmas of the world, if only because they served as facilitators that allowed her to do what she did best, in costume and out, respectively.

She was a ‘predator’, whether she was Shadow Stalker or Sophia.  Few would deny that, even among her own teammates.

A convoy of trucks on the road below caught her attention.  Each vehicle was painted dark, and two had the look of army vehicles, with gray-black mottled cloth or canvas covering the cargo or personnel at the rear.  They had their headlights off to avoid drawing attention.  There were two good possibilities for who they might be.  The first was that it was a shipment of supplies.  Food, water, first aid and tools, which would mean there was a small contingent of capes inside one of the trucks or in the immediate area.  The second option was that it was Coil and his troops.

She realized she was still holding the phone, and the noise of a television or music told her Emma was still on the other line.  “Something’s going on.  Going to see if it leads to anything interesting.”

“Call back when you’re done, give me the recap.”

“Right.”  She hung up.

Leaping into the air, she entered her shadow state, every part of her body shifting gears in the span of a half-second.  Her lungs automatically stopped taking in air and her heart stopped beating.  She was suddenly hyperaware of changes in the atmosphere, movements of air as it passed through her body.  She had enough solidity for her body to seize the air molecules as they passed through her, and in this manner, each of her cells nourished itself.

It was strange, to feel so still.  She lacked even the most basic processes and routines that normally kept the body going, things people rarely gave a second thought to.  There was no near-silent roar of blood in her ears, no need to blink, no production of saliva in her mouth or movement of food and water in her gut.  She just existed.

But the movement of air through her body made her feel just as alive, more alive, in a very different way.  The material and gravel of the rooftop were still warm from the day’s sunlight, even submerged beneath a thin layer of water from the rain.  This rising, heated air from this surface offered her an almost imperceptible added buoyance.  The rest of her ascent was carried out by the momentum from her leap and the fact that she was nearly weightless.  Jumping fifteen feet in the air to a rooftop one story above her was almost effortless.

She turned solid long enough to land.  Changing back brought a sudden, thunderous restarting of her heart, a shudder running through her entire body as her bloodstream jerked back into motion.  It only lasted the briefest of moments as she bent her knees and threw herself forward.  The moment her feet left the ground, she entered the shadow state once again, sailing across the rooftop.  She used one wispy foot to push herself out further as she reached the roof’s edge, so she could glide just above one rooftop without even touching ground.

In this fashion, she kept pace with the trucks, which weren’t moving slowly but weren’t going full-bore either, likely because of the condition of the roads.

It was five minutes before trouble arrived.

It was Menja that made the first move, stampeding out of a nearby alleyway, standing at a height of twenty feet tall.  She drove her spear into the engine block of the lead truck, stepped in front of the vehicle and wrenched her weapon to tip the truck over and arrest its forward momentum.

The truck immediately behind tried to stop, but the flooded pavement made it impossible to get enough traction.  It skidded and collided into the back of the foremost truck.

Miss Militia was climbing up out of the lead truck’s passenger door in an instant, hefting a grenade launcher to blast Menja three times in quick succession.  The giantess stumbled back, raised her shield – her sister’s shield – to block a fourth shot.  Hookwolf, Stormtiger, and Cricket all joined the fray, followed by their foot soldiers.  On the PRT’s side, the trucks emptied of PRT troops and one more cape, Assault.  They mobilized to defend, and the noise of gunfire rang through the night air.

Shadow Stalker crouched at the corner of the roof, loaded her crossbow and fired a shot at Cricket.  It passed a half-foot behind the woman.  Her second shot was on target, and Cricket dropped a few seconds later, tranquilized.  Good – The woman’s radar might find Shadow Stalker if she wasn’t in her shadow state, and Shadow Stalker could be far more effective if the enemy didn’t see where she was attacking from.

Who else?  Menja was classified as a breaker, the spatial-warping effect that surrounded her made incoming attacks smaller even as she simultaneously made herself bigger.  The darts wouldn’t even be noticeable to her.  Stormtiger could deflect projectiles by sensing and adjusting air currents.  With the right timing, so her shots came out of the shadow state as they arrived to make contact with him?  Maybe.  But he was engaged in a fist fight with Assault, and she’d be risking tagging the hero.  Hookwolf?  No point.  He was currently in the shape of a gigantic wolf made of whirring metal blades.  Even if the dart did penetrate something approximating flesh, which it wouldn’t, his entire biology was so different that she doubted he would be affected.

Instead, she settled for targeting the clusters of Hookwolf’s troops.  ‘Fenrir’s Chosen’.  Each of the thugs had white face-paint extending from forehead to cheekbone to chin, in a crude approximation of a wolf’s face.  She began dropping them at a steady rate, aiming for the biggest, the most aggressive and the ones who looked like they were in charge of lesser troops, the captains.  As the troops began falling, Hookwolf’s forces became unsettled, hesitating to advance.  Hookwolf reared up on two legs, pointing and howling orders, likely demanding they attack.  His words were incomprehensible from the rooftop where Shadow Stalker crouched, but the tone left no mistake that he was threatening them to drive them back into the fight.

The distraction afforded Miss Militia time to prepare and fire a mortar straight into Hookwolf’s chest.  As he collapsed backward, his chest cavity gaping open, her gun shimmered, split and transformed into a pair of assault rifles.  She unloaded clip after clip into the enemy ranks; rubber bullets, most likely.  The innate issues of the nonlethal ammunition were almost negligible in Miss Militia’s case.  She could reform the gun in a second if a gun jammed.

Shadow Stalker watched a crowd of Hookwolf’s Chosen move to flank, moving along the sidewalk, where the crashed truck blocked the view of the PRT forces.  Shadow Stalker raised her crossbow, hesitated.  She could jump down, take them down in close quarters combat.  It had been her entire reason for going out, after having to deal with the irritation of Vista.  She craved that catharsis.

She holstered her crossbow, prepared to dive into their midst, and then paused as she saw the Chosen stagger back, lashing out with their hands.  One shouted something, which was odd given how they had been trying to be stealthy only a moment ago.


Then another figure stepped out of the alleyway closest to them.  A girl, skinny, but not in the attractive way you saw in magazines.  Spindly.  Was that the right word?  The girl was hard to make out in the gloom – there were no lights on the street, and the only light was what filtered from the moon and through the rain clouds.  The girl glanced left, around the back of the truck, then glanced right, where she might have seen Shadow Stalker if she looked up just a little.  The lenses of her mask caught the moonlight, flashing a pale yellow.


A feral smile spread across Shadow Stalker’s face, beneath her mask.

Shadow Stalker resisted the urge to jump down, watched as the shadow of the bug girl’s swarm moved over the Chosen, almost obscuring them from view.  The bug girl drew her combat stick, whipped it out to full length, and dispatched the Chosen one by one.  Shadow Stalker couldn’t see the hits, between the darkness and the obscuring mass of the swarm, but she saw the splashes and movements of the Chosen as they fell to the ground, clutching their faces, knees, and hands.

Some of the bugs flowed out to pass over the PRT forces and the Chosen.  The thugs started recoiling and slapping at themselves, but Shadow Stalker couldn’t see much reaction from the PRT forces.  They were made of sterner stuff, in a way, and their uniforms covered them thoroughly enough that the bugs wouldn’t do nearly as much damage, if they were even attacking.

Skitter emerged from the center mass of the swarm, carrying a bag of supplies from the truck.  It was green canvas, large, not dissimilar to a gym bag.  Pulling the strap over one shoulder, she briskly retreated back into the alley, the bugs trailing after her like the tail of a slow moving comet, or the steady trail of smoke from a candle.

“Hungry, are you?” Shadow Stalker murmured to herself.  She shifted into her shadow state, moved along the rooftop to follow the girl.  Shadow Stalker was almost entirely silent in this state, virtually impossible to see, especially in this light, unless someone was actively looking for her.  She was a gray shadow against a background of black and shades of gray.

You saw my face.  Shadow Stalker thought, Records say you’ve got no team, now.  Operating alone between the old Boardwalk and the east end of Downtown.

She leaped to the next rooftop, and the movement carried her a little ahead of her target, helped by the fact that the bug girl was moving a little slower with her burden.  Shadow Stalker paused and reached up beneath her cloak and between her shoulder blades.  She withdrew a cartridge for her crossbow, each bolt loaded in at a slight angle, so the aluminum ‘feathers’ at the tail of each bolt stuck out.  She popped out one bolt to examine it, then turned it around so the barbed, razor sharp arrowhead caught the moonlight.  As Skitter passed beneath her, she turned the bolt’s point so her perspective made it appear to be at the girl’s throat.

Operating solo means there’s nobody to miss you.

She entered her shadow state and moved further along the rooftop, only to feel a group of flying insects pass through her body.  A fraction of a second later, Skitter was running, abandoning the bag, disappearing around a corner, not even turning to look Shadow Stalker’s way.

“You want to run?  I don’t mind a bit of a chase,” Shadow Stalker smiled behind her mask, loading the cartridge into her right-hand crossbow.  She leaped after the girl, gliding down to street level, rebounding off a wall to turn the corner and give pursuit.

Skitter had turned around, was waiting as she rounded the corner.  The bug girl sent a mass of insects out to attack.

The bugs passed through Shadow Stalker’s body, slowing her momentum.  She suspected that if there were enough of them, they could even carry her aloft, push her back.  But there weren’t – the swarm wasn’t quite big enough.  As the stream of insects passed through her, reoriented in preparation to flow through her again, she pounced.

The residual bugs threw her off, slowing down her power.  Her body had to push them out of the space it wanted to occupy, delayed the change back to her normal self by a half-second.  Her hand passed through Skitter’s throat, but she caught her balance, drew her rearmost foot up and back in a half-spin.  Her heel collided with Skitter’s mask.

Skitter went down, and Shadow Stalker turned her crossbow on her fallen opponent.  She was about to fire when the combat stick lashed out.  She lifted the crossbow up just in time –  had she been a second slower, the stick might have broken her weapon.  Acutely aware of the bugs clustering on her, she dropped into her shadow state before they could crawl beneath her mask.

The stick passed through her head, once.  She resisted the urge to snap back to her normal form and retaliate.  The girl was powerless here.  Shadow Stalker could afford to hound her, drive her to the brink of desperation, wear her down.

The bug girl switched to a one-handed grip on her baton, flying insects clustering around her to mask her movements as she backed away a step.  She used her free hand to push the wet hair out of her face.  Then she adjusted her costume, reaching to tug her shoulderpad forward a bit, then reached behind her back to do much the same with the armor there.

“You really want to fight me?” Shadow Stalker asked her opponent, a note of incredulity in her voice.  She raised her right crossbow.  The one with the lethal ammunition.

Skitter didn’t reply.

Whatever else Shadow Stalker might think of the bug girl, how the girl was creepy, a freak, she had to admit Skitter had demonstrated enough viciousness to date that she could almost respect the girl as a fellow predator.  An idiot, for wanting to fight her, but kindred, in a fashion.  “Alright, fine.”

Skitter gripped her weapon two-handed again.  The grip was strange.  Something in her left hand?

Shadow Stalker realized what it was.  She simultaneously moved back, gripped her cloak with her left hand and shifted to her solid state to raise the fabric as a barrier.  The pepper spray spattered her cloak.

When she was sure the spray had dissipated, she threw her cloak back over one shoulder and shifted to her shadow state to escape the bugs that were crawling on her, taking advantage of her solidity.   She lunged after Skitter, who was running, already turning a corner at the other side of the alley.

Good runner, but I’m faster.

Shadow Stalker didn’t need to slosh through the water, but she knew she would be faster than the other girl even if she did.  It wasn’t just her shadow state eliminating wind resistance, or the lightness of her body.  She was a trained runner.

She bounded from one wall of the alley to the one opposite, staying above the water, pursuing her target.

Skitter was going up the steps of a fire escape.  Shadow Stalker aimed and fired a bolt – the girl ducked, and the shot clipped a railing instead.

Good reflexes.  Shadow Stalker brushed away at the bugs massing around her.  Or do your bugs help you watch what I’m doing?  Disturbing little freak.

Apparently deciding the fire escape wasn’t a great option, Skitter climbed over the railing and leaped a half-story down to the pavement, putting a chain link fence and some accumulated trash bags between herself and Shadow Stalker.

MoronI can walk through that fence.  She loaded her crossbow, aimed, and fired through the fence at the girl.

A flash and spray of sparks erupted as the shot made contact with the fence.  Skitter stumbled as the bolt hit her, but Shadow Stalker couldn’t see if it had done any damage.

No, what concerned her was the flash.  She ignored the fact that Skitter was disappearing, entered her solid state and touched the side of her mask.

Lenses snapped into place, showing a blurry image of the alley in shades of dark green and black.  The chain link fence, however, was lit up in a very light gray.  Similarly glowing, a wire was stapled to the brick of the building next to the fence, leading to a large, pale blob inside the building.  A generator.

The fence was electrified.

Shadow Stalker snarled at what had almost been a grave mistake, entered her shadow state and leaped up and over the fence, being careful not to touch it.

One of the reasons she couldn’t move through walls at will, beyond the huge break in her forward momentum and the excruciating pain that came with stalling in the midst of a wall, was wiring.  She remained just as vulnerable, maybe even more vulnerable, to electrocution.  The people in the PRT labs couldn’t tell her if she could be killed by electrocution – traditional organs were barely present in her shadow state – but it was one of those things that couldn’t be properly tested without risking killing the subject.

End result?  She had to be careful where she went, had received tinker-made lenses to help her spot such threats.

Skitter had known the fence was electrified, judging by the route she’d taken through the fire escape.  The area here didn’t have any power, so the question was whether it something this area’s inhabitants had set up to protect themselves… or was it a trap Skitter had put in place well in advance?  No.  More likely the girl had studied this area before carrying out any crimes.

Still, it troubled her that the girl had thought to use the fence like she had.  She really didn’t like the idea that the villain had not only seen her face, but that she might have figured out one of her weaknesses.  Two, if she counted the pepper spray.  Being permeable was a problem when she absorbed gases, vapors and aerosols directly into her body.  It wouldn’t affect her if she was in her shadow state, and it would eventually filter out, but if she were forced to change back, she’d suffer as badly as anyone, if not worse.

Shadow Stalker caught up to the girl yet again, saw Skitter running with her swarm clustered tightly around her.  Was the girl wanting to make herself a harder target?

Hardly mattered – Shadow Stalker loaded and fired another bolt.

At the same instant the bolt fired, the swarm parted in two.  Two swarm-wreathed figures covered in bugs, each turning at a right angle to round a corner.  The bolt sailed between them.  One was a decoy, just a swarm in a vaguely human shape.

She checked the sides of the alley and the recessed doors.  Could they both be decoys?  She couldn’t see any obvious hiding spots that Skitter could have used at a moment’s notice.

Shadow Stalker closed the distance, placing herself at the intersection between the two bug-shrouded figures.  Holding each crossbow out in an opposite direction, she fired at both targets at once, snapping her attention from one to the next in an attempt to see which reacted to the hit.

One slowed, began to topple.  She lunged after, in pursuit, loaded her crossbow and fired two more shots into the center mass of Skitter’s body while airborne, then kicked downward with both feet as she landed, to shove the girl into the ground.

Her body weight dissolved the blurry silhouette into a mess of bugs.  A trick.

Snarling, Shadow Stalker wheeled around, ran in the direction the other half of the swarm had gone  Had the girl’s armor taken the bolt?  Had the crossbow shot missed?

More bugs were flowing from the area to join the swarm, bolstering its number enough for it to split again.  She wasn’t close enough to be sure of a hit, and she didn’t want to waste her good arrows, so she delayed, leaped forward to close the gap.

The swarm split once more, making for four vaguely human figures in total, each cloaked in a cloud of flying insects.

Shadow Stalker snarled a curse word.

One figure turned on the spot, moved as if to slide past Shadow Stalker.  She lashed out, striking it in the throat, failed to hit anything solid.

She loaded her crossbows, fired at the figure on the far left and the far right of the trio.  No reaction.  She dove after the remaining one.

She made contact, drove the bug girl’s face down into the water.  She shifted into her shadow state, straddling Skitter.   The girl turned over of her own volition – easy enough, as Shadow Stalker was barely solid, but when Skitter tried to stand, Shadow Stalker resumed her normal form for a second – just long enough to force the girl back down.

Picking one of her non-tranquilizer bolts from the cartridge, she held the point of the ammunition to Skitter’s throat like a knife, “Game over, you little freak.”

Skitter cocked her head a little, as if analyzing Shadow Stalker from a different perspective.

“What are you looking at?” Shadow Stalker spat the word, “Nothing to say?  No last words?  No begging?  No fucking apologies?”

Skitter went limp, letting her head rest against the ground, the water lapping over most of her mask.  Dark curls fanned out in the water around her, swaying as the water rippled.

“Guess I don’t need to worry about the villain who saw my face, now.”  Shadow Stalker went solid and drew the razor-sharp tip of her bolt across Skitter’s throat.

The fabric didn’t cut.

Skitter struggled to get free, but Shadow Stalker’s body weight was too much for her to slide free.  She gripped the girl’s wrists with her hands, pinned them to the ground.

“Irritating,” she spat the word.  She could always go into her shadow state, stick the arrow inside the girl and then return to normal.  The problem with going that route was that it left a very characteristic imprint in the victim.  She would need a way of covering up the evidence.  Something she could hit Skitter with afterward that would make the wound too messy to analyze for evidence.

While she craned her head to one side to the next to search for something useful, her surroundings were plunged into darkness.

It took her only a moment to realize what that meant.  She climbed off Skitter, moved to run.  The darkness was oppressive, sluggish in moving through her, unlike ordinary air.  She was slower, wasn’t taking in enough oxygen.  Against her will, her power instinctively adjusted, shifted her into a middle ground between her regular self and her shadow state.  It left her slower, heavier.

She baited me.

A massive shape tore through her, dissipated her entire body.  She pulled back together, but it was hard, painful and uncomfortable on an unspecific, fundamental level.  It left her breathing hard, feeling like she’d just put her body through five hours of the hardest exercise of her life.  Enervating, was that the right word?  Bugs were gathering inside and around her body, making it a little harder and a little more time-consuming to pull together.

Then, before she had succeeded in pulling herself all the way together, it happened again, another large form striking from another direction, passing through her lower body.

She sagged.  Gasped out in pain as another shape passed through her head and shoulders.  The darkness absorbed her cry so it barely reached her own ears.

It was only seconds later that the darkness dissipated.  She was on her hands and knees, barely had the strength to move, let alone fight.  She tried to raise her right crossbow, but her hand seized up, no longer under her own control as it bent to a pain like a bad Charlie horse.  Her fingers curled back, and the crossbow tumbled from her fingers.  She still had one in her left hand, but she was using the heel of that hand to prop herself up.

Her opponents were revealed as the shadows passed, arranged in a rough ring around her.  Hellhound and her dogs took up half the clearing, in front of Shadow Stalker.  She held a metal ring in each hand, with two chains extending out from each ring.   The chains, in turn, were connected to harnesses around the heads and snouts of the ‘dogs’, each animal only a little smaller than a refrigerator.  They were monstrous, with scaly, horned exteriors and exposed muscle.  Not as big or ugly as they could get, Shadow Stalker knew.  The smallest one was barking incessantly.  Three of the four were pulling on the chains, hungry to get at Shadow Stalker, clearly intent on tearing her apart.  Hellhound’s sharp pulls on the chains contracted the bindings around their snouts, which made them stop before they could get too close.

Grue stood to her left, arms folded, almost indistinguishable from the darkness behind him.  After her first humiliating loss to him, she’d made it a mission to drive him out of this city.  He’d stubbornly refused.  A girl Shadow Stalker didn’t recognize stood just behind him, wearing a black scarf and a pale gray mask with pointed horns arching over the top of her head.  The eyes of the mask had lenses that were black from corner to corner, stylized to look fierce, more animal than human.

Rounding out the group were Tattletale, Regent and Skitter.  Tattletale smiled, her hands clasped behind her back, while Regent twirled his scepter in his fingers.  Skitter stood between the two of them.  The bug girl bent, then crouched until she was almost at eye level with Shadow Stalker.

A laugh escaped Shadow Stalker’s lips, building until she couldn’t balance her upper body on her weakened arm.  She bent so one shoulder hit the ground, rolled onto her back, arms at her sides.  She looked up at Skitter, “All that drama, all that fucking nonsense about allegiances, betraying your team, was it a trick, some joke?”

Skitter shook her head slowly.

Shadow Stalker tried to rise, but the growling of one of the dogs intensified.  It was the only one that wasn’t pulling on its chain – the largest and most monstrous of the four, with one empty eye socket.  Between the threat of the dog and the lack of strength in the arm that Regent wasn’t fucking up, Shadow Stalker gave up and let herself slump down.

“Well,” she spoke, her tone sarcastic, “How wonderfully fucking nice for you, that you guys patched things up.  You even have a new member, congratulations.  I guess everything’s back to normal for you freaks.”

“No…”  Skitter spoke, and the bugs around her chirped, buzzed and droned to match the pitch and tone of her words.  The villain hadn’t done that when the Undersiders attacked the fundraiser, she remembered.   Her voice was quiet, which only made it more eerie.  The girl held out her hand, and Regent passed his scepter to her.

“…Things are different now,” Skitter finished.

Skitter drove the scepter into Shadow Stalker’s body.  It was everything Shadow Stalker could do to stay solid as she felt the tines of the crowned stick biting through the fabric of her costume and into her stomach.  She resisted the instincts that two and a half years of exercising her powers had lent her, because she knew what came next.  It’ll be worse if I’m in my shadow state, maybe lethal.

Being tased didn’t hurt as much as she’d expected.  It was like being doused in ice water, her entire body seizing, straining, and refusing to cooperate, the pain almost secondary.  What hurt most was the way she involuntarily clenched of her jaw.  The strength with which her teeth pressed together made her worry she might crack a tooth.

It only lasted a moment, but her body wasn’t any more cooperative after the current subsided.  She lay there, huffing small breaths, every limb unresponsive.  A deep, furious rage grew inside her chest, but she was impotent to do anything to release it.

A pair of hands seized her, sat her up.  Her arm dangled limp to her side.

Grue spoke from behind her.  “Skitter, lift her legs.  Regent, support her midsection.  Imp?  Give me a hand with her upper body, take the other shoulder.  We lift on three, alright?”

“Right,” someone said.

“One, two, three!”

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104 thoughts on “Sentinel 9.6

  1. Ok I was going to go to my bed then i realize that a new worm post was gonna drop at midnight and had to fight the alcohol and sleep in order to read this. I am so hooked on this serial.

    • Haha. I appreciate your staving off sleep.

      It’s often the case for me that there’s something I’m looking forward to/refreshing for when the update is due, so it strikes a chord for me when you say something like that. Thanks.

      • did the same thing only it is 5 AM in UK when the new chapter comes out and I have to know so I tend to get up early on a Saturday. I just have to know. This week was amazing. There was no one in the house to here my cheering when you first mentioned skitter!

  2. Amazing. We were hoping to see what happened to Skitter and now we do this from the perspective of Shadow Stalker.
    Unexpected and fun. Thank you.
    One thing we expected, though, Shadow Stalker is a sociopath incapable of any kind of sympathy. Perhaps even a psychopath.
    I really, really hope that skitter filmed Shadow Stalker trying to kill her.
    Actually, I keep wondering if this “super hero” has not killed more than once in those lone patrols of hers.

    • she did mention earlier how she ‘stained her hands with blood’..wouldn’t be surprised but then again it could be a trick…one we would not, but would not, but would see coming

      • I’d assumed that was a reference to before the Wards adopted her. But it’s not inconceivable she’s killed since…

  3. Oh yes, Sophia, she really does want to fight you. Or kidnap you at least.

    And it looks like Skitter’s working with the Undersiders again. All of them, including this new Imp person. Don’t know who that one is.

    Bah, little miss sociopath deserves this. What she’s kind of forgotten is that humans are powerful precisely because they aren’t predators. They’re mid-level on the food chain. Not particularly fast, not able to climb trees the best, not capable of flying, no fangs, claws, or venom. But they turn out to be very smart, especially when working in groups. Individually, a human could do a very good job of getting torn apart by an actual predator. In groups, they’ve split the atom and landed on the moon. Thanks to those lack of defenses, they had to come together as a group.

    You know, groups. Like a pride of lions. A pack of wolves. An unkindness of ravens. A murder of crows. A parliament of rooks. A rabble of butterflies. An army of caterpillars. A scourge of mosquitoes. A clutter of spiders. A swarm of ants. A cloud of grasshoppers.

    Also, a draught of butlers, a blush of boys, a glaring of cats, a drunkenship of cobblers, a hastiness of cooks, a sore of ducks, a bed of eels, and a business of ferrets. But those ones just sound silly.

    • I agree. I love people who say things like “humans are the dominant species on the planet”
      Three words. Man Versus Lion.

      Also a Paliament of crows? Seriously?

      • A murder of crows and a parliament of rooks.

        And man can beat lion. With a group of people and the proper application of technology. Like a spear you trust and a group of friends with similar spears that you trust too. Fire would be preferable. Best of all would be heavy firepower. If you want to do some overkill, you could always go for a minigun on a hummer. Or a tank. Drone maybe. ICBMs would handle a lot at once.

        But all of those aren’t about one person stepping on someone else. They’re about groups of people. In some cases, groups of people with very noble intentions, like Alfred Nobel and his dynamite. That stuff was built purely for peaceful purposes. Or the inventor of the Gatling gun, a Dr. Gatling (oooh, makes a cool super name too), who figured it would make war so horrific that people would stop fighting. Or Orville Wright, who thought that planes used for recon would make war too expensive and drawn out (I think by maneuverings and counter-maneuverings), and would thus put an end to war. He died in 1948. Think of anything planes did in the meantime to dispel that notion? Good night and good luck, Britain. Hey, what’s this big hole where Dresden used to be? By the way, Japan’s glowing!

        But still, no single one person has ever designed a jet all by themselves based only on their own scientific research with no foundation on the work of previous scientists using only their own money, labor, and equipment. Instead, you get enough people to build one, other people to provide fuel (including finding it, pumping it up, refining, transporting it), someone else to build the weapons, someone else to program the thing, someone else to maintain it, someone else to direct the take off and landing, someone else to direct the targetting, and before you know it we’ve launched a missile at Shadow Stalker.

        …predators aren’t what you aspire to be. They’re what we shoot with our predator drones. And that’s only because they’re collateral damage when we’re trying to kill each other.

      • I bet a good tinker in this setting is designing something as advanced as a jet in a totally new field with very little outside help. 🙂

      • With ore and fuel they surveyed, dug up, refined, and shaped themselves, using electronics based on no existing designs or theories from other people…?

      • IIRC, the Maasai people had/have a coming of age tradition involving killing a lion. Solo. Without tools. I understand that a favoured method involves goading a lion into charging at you and as it pounces you reach inside its mouth and pull out its tongue, causing exsanguination.

        This is an illustration of how awesome we can be when we leverage relative advantage. In this case we have an advantage in intellect, strategy, reach, and dexterity, while avoiding the lion’s advantages of speed, strength, mass, agility, and natural weaponry. And the thing is, this isn’t even efficient, because this is supposed to be a challenge. We have other advantages, lots of them, ones unique to us, that synergize. We have the technology to exterminate every species on the planet and we don’t because we don’t want to.

        We have won.

      • I agree. I love people who say things like “humans are the dominant species on the planet”
        Three words. Man Versus Lion.

        Only one of those is an endangered species.

    • I pity the fool who conflates an occasionally useful strategy (i.e., “predation”), biological adaptations that make one better able to use said strategy (e.g., “predatory species”), and a personal identity (e.g., “I’m a predator! I’m so badass!”).

      Humans are, indeed, a predatory species; apex predators, in fact. We may be soft, weak, and slow (over short distances) compared to some species; but we also have binocular vision, giving up ability to see incoming threats behind or to the side in favor of being able to tell how far prey is; prehensile forelimbs and opposable thumbs, giving up four-legged speed in favor of being able to use rocks and sharp sticks; no fur, meaning that we can have sweat glands all over our bodies, which is one of the things that gives us ridiculously high endurance, which isn’t great for escaping a cheetah, but allowed prehistoric humans to literally run prey to death; and, of course, that 3 pound top-heavy lump of nerves that consumes a fifth of our energy, which isn’t that useful for running away, but is really, really useful for planning and coordinating a hunt, using one rock to sharpen another rock, attaching said rock to a long stick, thus improving on the sharp stick technology, etc.. So, yes, indeed we are built for predation.

      As for human vs. lion, behold. Seriously, defining food chain by having adults of each species fight is misleading at best. Does it matter that a typical lion can kill an unarmed solitary typical human, if lions don’t generally attack humans, unless sick or starving, and if humans are typically armed and not solitary?

      I think the problem is that we only call a human a “predator” when a) he or she predates on other humans and b) he or she goes at it alone, as opposed to in a group (gang, militia, army, etc.). (Contrast that with nonhuman animals, where wolves are considered no less predatory for being pack hunters.)

      I guess the moral here is that if you want to predate on other humans, don’t take up the “predator” identity: it’s bad PR, and it puts you in a solitary mindset, when you could be so much more effective at it if you practiced teamwork in your villainy. Yeah, that was Sophia’s mistake…

      • Although, I would like to point out that humans are not predators. You’ll note the presence of omnivorous characteristics instead of purely carniverous, which is what you’d see in predators. Such as teeth and the ability to walk long distances. Not run long distances (not without training), not run really really fast for a short amount of time. As for teeth, they give archeologists an idea of what various animals eat, along with some help from skull structure. Other animals don’t get canines, incisors, premolars, and molars in our ratios. If they eat grasses, it’s the molars (possibly premolars, it has been a little bit since I learned this). If it’s meat, canines and incisors.

        As for being the best or the fightingest, or just the best at killing? That’s not the definition of a predator or apex predator. Nah, it’s just about being an animal that survives by hunting and devouring its prey. If you want dangerous, you don’t actually have to go with predators. In fact, of the Big Five most dangerous game to hunt in Africa, three of them are herbivores. Elephants, rhinos, and Cape Buffalo. Aside from that, you have lions and leopards. Off the list, another of Africa’s most dangerous is: the Hippo. In fact, the Zulu warriors are said to wish to be as brave as the Hippopotamus, since they are much braver than lions. Hippos will straight up kill your ass.

        And now, forget 3 men against 15 lions. You screw with a Cape Buffalo, you don’t get such good odds. Or off without a fight.

      • It’s so fun to toss out a bullshit comment and watch people use their brains to prove my bullshit wrong ^^

        Just FYI, i agree with all of you, we’re the apex predators because we grew and developed into it.

        Buuuuuut i just had to put that comment out and watch the madness of PG run rampant

      • bleachfreak, thank you for admitting to trolling. Saves me from reading your self-identified “bullshit [comments]” in the future.

        PG, thank you for replying. I think that we basically agree as to the problems of defining a “predatoriness” by having a member of each species fight it out: it’s misleading at best. That video was excellent, by the way. It was, like, looking at the lions, and thinking, “Nah, they wouldn’t…” And then they do! And the buffalo run! And the lions grab a calf! And they tumble into the lake! AND THERE’S A MOTHER#%^&ING CROCODILE IN THAT MOTHER#%^&ING LAKE! HOLY S&#T, A CROCODILE AND THREE LIONS ARE PLAYING TUG OF WAR OVER A BUFFALO CALF! AND IT’S STILL ALIVE!!! And then the buffalo come back in force, and the lions start scampering off one by THAT GORED LION JUST FLEW, LIKE, 5 METERS!

        I am not sure about the rest of your argument. Yes, humans are omnivores. So are bears; and wolves can subsist on plant matter, though they prefer not to. (Big cats are obligate carnivores, on the other hand.)

        As for other adaptations, predation is a behavior, and a predator is one who predates. Different predators predate differently: some run their prey to death, others ambush it; some overpower it, others have a poisonous bite. Humans do it using tools and organization. So, when assessing whether some species is predatory, the traits that matter are those that affect its ability to predate in the way in which it prefers. For example, if the rest of you is well-suited to use tools to predate, long claws are probably a disadvantage, since they get in the way. Similarly, if opposable thumbs and big brains make teeth obsolete as a weapon, omnivorous teeth and small jaws do not diminish the ability to predate.

        Actually, to amend something I wrote earlier, I think I stretched the definition a bit when I gave gangs and armies as examples: those might be called predatory only if “predation” includes deriving non-gastronomical benefits from catching and killing, such as resources and territory, and I don’t think it does for other species. Either way, when humans do it in a socially legitimated context (e.g., against other species), we call it “hunting”. (Oddly enough, in developed countries, hunting is often a very social activity, not in the teamwork sense, but in the hanging out with friends sense.)

        Anyway, none of this means that every human has to engage in exclusively predatory behavior all the time or even self-identify as a “predator” which, to reiterate, is a bad idea in polite society, at least the way English language works at the moment.

      • There might be a point to saying we’ve grown into being apex predators, as opposed to where we started when we bunch of bipedal monkeys were middle of the foodchain. Thanks to technology and the ability to work together, we eventually became dominant over almost all animals (rats, roaches, and mosquitoes are such holdouts and I say kill em all!)

        And it’s true that in practice you can’t take it as one human versus whatever because animals’ behaviors also adapt to the food chain. That’s why even as tough an animal as a Cape Buffalo goes and gets 300 of its closest friends to get back its baby. I guess in that situation, it was the lions going “Tonight we dine in hell.” As for their body parts, well then you can see how they’ve physically adapted to their role. Which is a tricky thing in itself to say thanks to common confusion over evolution. It makes it sound more directed or purpose driven when it’s a matter of certain traits surviving that help the lion to survive.

        Shadowstalker’s just a human like the rest of us (and your average person in the U.S. definitely aren’t predators) who got powers. In her power trip, she’s decided that she’s better than other humans. That she’s a predator and they’re prey. This makes her ‘right’ by her way of thinking, which then means that if anyone has the power to come in, kill her family, rape her, and then murder her, they’d be just as right as she is because they had the power to do so.

        Besides, being a predator ain’t a big deal. Danny Glover even killed one of them back when he was too old for that shit.

        Also, I’m concerned about trolling being used to provoke my craziness. For one thing, I got that tendency to go all over the place, and in some cases too far (and then needing to walk it back a bit, always a blow to one’s pride). This place isn’t my personal blog to go spouting off in contradictory ways. For all I know, I could be hurting the readership.

  4. I’ve figured out Shadow Stalker’s big problem. Someone else is the protagonist. It seems to me that she has all the character traits needed to be the main character in a much darker story. It still leaves her to be the most interesting antagonist in the story by far imo.

      • I’ve often heard it put as the best villains think they’re the good guy and have it all reasoned out in their head to prove it. If seen through their own viewpoint enough, with their own reasoning tossed into things, it can seem like they really are one even if they’re really really bad. Ozymandias, Lex Luthor, Dr. Doom, Loki from the movie Thor, the wrestling stable ‘Right to Censor’ from the WWE. I could even go Godwin’s law on this if I wanted to be tasteless.

        • Skitter could easily be an antagonist in another work, where she would be the antagonist that could be the protagonist. Or something, my head hurts.

        • Hey now, Doctor Doom actually is right. The Panther God of Wakanda actually looked through all the possible futures of the 616 Marvel universe and found that the only one where humanity is truly happy and free of want is one where Doom reigns. Stan Lee even said in an interview about the good Doctor, that “wanting to rule the world isn’t a crime.”

    • I don’t really think Shadow Stalker would make a good protagonist. Why? Because while it’s perfectly okay for a protagonist to be a murderer, they should still have some moral connection to it, either realizing it’s bad or justifying it as necessary or something. Sophia lacks this, as she kills because it’s fun and convenient and she can get away with it.
      Most people, even very bad people, have morals of some kind even if they don’t follow them. This makes psychopaths too hard to relate to for protagonist purposes. At least I think so and haven’t heard of examples to the contrary.

        • Dexter has morals. Even as early as the second season (I think, it was a long time ago…) he utterly freaked out over the father who was abusing the young girl. Dexter likes to believe he doesn’t have morals and since we hear his narration and see through his head we generally get fooled by that but the times he utterly freaks out or doesn’t recognize why he is doing what he’s doing the audience tends to get the motivations. It’s part of what makes him so interesting and why I was screaming at the stupid doctor the entire final season when she kept insisting he was a psychopath and basically trying to turn him evil despite him continually insisting by this point that he didn’t want to be that way and really wasn’t anymore.

          But I digress, great chapter! It’s fun to see how this confrontation turned out from Shadow’s viewpoint. She seemed so utterly outclassed the entire time yet she never even noticed it. Though granted had Skitter’s costume not been so strong or had Shadow actually decided right away to just shift…well I imagine our story would’ve gotten a lot shorter so…yeah. The backup sure took their sweet time showing up.

          And as a final parting comment, if the crazy stuff that she did to Taylor wasn’t already enough to condemn her then what she said to Vista last chapter certainly is enough. Bitch deserves all the pain that I hope they inflict on her. She should end up in the Birdcage. Somebody in there will certainly teach her her place if the Undersiders aren’t up for that amount of pain.

      • Ah, but Dexter does have a moral connection/ruleset that we can empathize with. Evil people are evil, and we hate evil people. Dexter kills evil people. We like this.

        He would be a much different person if he was murdering, say, kindergarten teachers instead.

      • Indeed. I mean Sophia is just essentially a sociopath who doesn’t even try to die that she’s an amoral monster. If it wasn’t for the Wards, we all know she’d be in the Birdcage making special friends with the villains she helped put in there

        • I wonder if SS ever put anyone in the birdcage before she got probation? Did she even think of herself as a hero at that point, or just an asskicking vigilante rogue? Why didn’t she go straight-up supervillain?

      • True enough about Dexter vs. Shadow Stalker. Poor Shadow Stalker, always picking fights with people more sympathetic than herself (e.g., Skitter and Grue). 😉

  5. Okay, taking bets on who Imp is. Some new cape who was activated by Leviathan’s aftermath? Somebody Coil supplied them with? A person we’ve met before? Personally, I’m laying money on Grue’s sister. Not because it’s necessarily a likely theory, but because I have an overactive plot sense.

      • Maybe a Night & Fog thing, except without the Nazis? Grue provides cover, Imp goes all death-ninja and murderizes the shit out of people? It might just be the small reference pools (or just me being out of my mind), but she reminds me of Hit-Girl from the Kick-Ass comic.

  6. taking bets, rather, on just what Skitter’s connection with the undersiders currently is. i don’t want her to have taken Tattle’s offer and gone along to get along, i’d prefer if she had more pride than that.

    possibility i’m not really betting on, but i don’t think it’s ruled out either: she went rogue, and the rest of the team showing up to save her was a genuine surprise to her that Tattle engineered for some purpose of either her own or Coil’s.

    • I assume you mean with the money she’s earned from Coil’s jobs. The problem I see is that the other Undersiders have all been working with Coil far longer, and most likely have more money to their names. One could argue that Skitter is wealthier than some of them as she hasn’t spent as much, but money can’t be the only reason she has a team at her back.

      It seems more likely that Skitter pitched her plan to Tattletale, who liked what she heard. Together, the two of them convinced the rest of the team to sign on. Maybe they’re truly going solo, but as villains with a conscience, trying to–as Taylor said–“make Brockton Bay work,” while scoring a heck of a lot of cash/resources on the side.

      (A nice touch on Wildbow’s part: the way the team’s arranged, Skitter is in front, flanked by the rest of the Undersiders, team power walk style)

      • I was in a hurry to get out the door, so I didn’t elaborate on my guess. But I wasn’t implying that Taylor hired the Undersiders in quite the way that an employer might hire subordinates. I meant to imply that this is contract work.

        Skitter has hired the Undersiders for this single (and singular) task, abducting Shadow Stalker (though to what end I canonly wonder). It’s my assumption that the Undersiders are still working for Coil, though who knows what the details of that agreement are. I’d guess, though, that Coil hasn’t explicitly prohibited the Undersiders from being active on other projects or even taking other jobs, so long as they don’t interfere with his standing orders and his agenda.

        Also note, Lisa and Taylor both know how Coil’s power works now. I can imagine occasionally taking on “extracurricular” projects could be a pretty decent way to keep themselves from being too hemmed in by Coil.

      • As to payment, well, there’s a lot of things that you can get by kidnapping a notable/important person (like Shadow Stalker) that you can’t get with money. Likely the Undersiders will be getting a share of whatever accrues from this caper. Hell, maybe Coil even wants them to do this as a part of his ongoing campaign to weaken the Protectorate.

      • What I am trying to figure out is, now that they’ve captured her, what are they going to do with her? Obviously, they want her out of the picture, but they are almost certainly not going to kill her, and while it’s possible to hold her without Grue’s constant presence using an electrified cage, it doesn’t seem like a good idea except for the very short term. Turning her is even less feasible, although Tattletale could probably push her buttons enough to make her spill some interesting things, like Piggott knowing about Coil’s spies. If they simply wanted to provoke her into violating the terms of her parole by unjustified use of lethal force (mission accomplished, but unless they had the camera angle just right, there is no proof), there are far more reliable and less risky ways of doing it.

        My guess is that they are trying to pull a Xanatos Gambit of some sort on the Protectorate and the Wards. For one thing, they are moving her without bothering to search her for any tracking or communication devices she might have. Considering that she is on probation, there is a fair chance that her location is being logged, so that seems like a bad idea, unless they are actually trying to lead the superheros to wherever they are taking her. Hmmm…

        On the other hand, it could be that I am overthinking things: for all we know, the Regent’s scepter had fried all of that, and Tattletale can tell.

  7. Excellent chapter. It was very interesting to read how Sophia relates to Emma, in particular. That, and “I’ve killed people, and then I washed the blood off my hands and went to school and acted normal the next day!” seems to be evidence in favor of the psychopathy hypothesis.

    I’ll hazard a guess, based on all this, that Sophia started out as a vigilante with no compunctions against killing.

    The confrontation with Skitter is a good way to segue back to Taylor’s narrative. Kudos! It’s interesting that Skitter now seems to do the buzzing vocal modulation as a matter of course; or is she doing this just to intimidate Shadow Stalker?

    Chronologically, will Taylor’s story pick up where it left off at the end of Extermination, or will it pick up after the capture of Shadow Stalker? I guess we’ll find out Tuesday.

    Typos and edit suggestions:

    “Shadow Stalker smiled behind her mask, loading the cartridge into her rightmost crossbow.” — If she only has two crossbows, “rightmost” seems like the wrong word to use here. Maybe “right-hand crossbow” or “the crossbow in her right hand”?

    “if she were forced to changed back” — “changed” should be “change”.

    “Hookwolf, Stormtiger, and Cricket” vs. “Tattletale, Regent and Skitter” and “clutching their faces, knees and hands” — Sometimes, you use the serial comma, (the comma before the “and” when listing three or more items), and sometimes you don’t. (Personally, I am in favor of using it.)

    “One. two, three!” — Either replace the period with a comma, or make “Two.” and “Three!” their own sentences. (I like the latter fix better.)

    • Thank you, sir. Edits made. I debated rightmost for a while, it was awkward no matter how I wrote it, went with your suggestion for right-hand; changed changed; added serial comma (I prefer it too, but am still getting in the habit of using it); fixed genuine typo with one. two, three.

    • Just reread an earlier chapter… Shadow Stalker was stated to have been a vigilante, so that’s no longer a guess. On the other hand, Tattletale said that Shadow Stalker almost killed someone, while Sophia told Emma that she has killed people. Unsolved victims or braggadocio?

      • Possibly Sophia thought she killed them, but they actually survived to tell the tale and went into witness protection, which is how she got caught. 😛

    • Skitter doesn’t want Shadow Stalker to recognize her voice. Actually, the voice modulation is a nice psych warfare touch, it’s got to be intimidating. It stretches credulity a bit, got to be difficult to pull off. Actually, many of Skitter’s new bug tricks seem kind of impossible. Cockroach pickpockets? Still, it makes a great story, so “Disbelief! You’re suspended! Without pay!”

  8. “My guess is that they are trying to pull a Xanatos Gambit of some sort on the Protectorate and the Wards.”

    And Coil’s power, very conveniently, allows him to create something very similar to a Xanatos Gambit. If he is in on this, they could well have gotten permission to try the capture with the promise that they can try to benefit him.

  9. Random powers question: can Regent’s power be used to induce an epileptic seizure or cardiac arrhythmia? If so, he could take down pretty much any opponent with normal biology that he can see, with an attack that cannot be dodged, and ignores armor and natural toughness, albeit with some risk of causing the target unpredictable permanent damage. (I suspect that there are other clever neural targets that are even more effective, versatile, and/or safe, but I don’t feel like doing the research at the moment.)

    • Perhaps, with a little help from Professor Farnsworth, he can target the pelvic splanknic ganglia.

      “This is going to be one hell of a bowel movement. When he gets done, he’ll be lucky if he has any bones left.” -Prof. Farnsworth

      • Take note of the time he made Miss MIlitia’s gag reflex go into overdrive, though he needed an external physical trigger to help kick it into action. Make of that what you will.

      • That’s an interesting data point, Wildbow, but the reason I suggested epilepsy and cardiac arrhythmia is that those conditions, once initiated, can be self-sustaining. To give an example parallel to Miss Militia’s, if Regent were to make someone extremely prone to epilepsy and flash them with a camera flash, would he need to continue acting on the victim in order for the seizure to continue? On the heart side, if he keeps the victim’s heart from beating (or beating arrhythmically, if that’s easier) for a few seconds, and then stops, with the heartbeat restart without the equivalent of a defibrillator? (If this were the TV Tropes forum, I’d link HighOctaneNightmareFuel here.)

        Actually, now that I think about it, Regents power could be used for defibrillation or even to perform the cardio- part of CPR for certain types of injuries.

  10. Wow Sophia, just wow.

    I am thinking that Sophia may have killed some one during her trigger event. That to me would explain a lot of her behaviors. If she caused some one’s death during such a life changing event, she could have decided that from then on she was killer. Perception is reality after all! Maybe a little PTSD related to a young person experiencing such a horrible thing and now you have your perfect crazy bully/vigilante.

    Also, if it is true, that means that her trigger event was caused by people she didn’t know very well. Because, otherwise, she would have been a murder suspect right away and never would have gone on to become a vigilante since she would be all locked up and whatnot.

    Just my thoughts, will be fun to see if I am right!


  11. Working my way through, but I just had to comment, even if I’m months late.

    It pains me when I see someone develop a personal philosophy that a) reinforces their bad treatment of other people and b) is difficult or impossible to disprove due to the strength of their conviction. Sophia reminds me in some respects of Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender; she was a ‘predator’ too.

  12. I started reading this last fryday night…..i think i have read more than 24 hours in the last 2 days…..damn this series is good

  13. Hahaha, fantastic use of the final interlude chapter. The most anti of the anti-heroes against the most anti of the anti-villains.
    We get to confirm that yes, Shadow Stalker is just as sociopathic as she seems; get a great action scene where Taylor shows off the versatility and subtle potency to her power; get to see Skitter back together with the Undersiders, in an unspecified “different” way.

    One subtle point not mentioned in the comments as far as I saw: when Sophia mentions having killed and come back to school, Emma quietly goes “Yeah, I remember…” There seems to be some backstory there.

    Typo, I think: “Hookwolf’s Chosen” isn’t what the group are normally called.

  14. This is a great way to end the Wards section, I think. I like this part of the story, and putting our view of the group here, in the aftermath of Leviathan’s attack but before the next major arc really gets going, is a nice way to close that gap in time while letting us see some of the good guys. They’re reeling from their losses, but not to the point of losing their focus. I think this is also important just to show that the Wormverse isn’t completely filled with heroes-in-name-only. We haven’t gotten a look at many of them as people up until now, and Armsmaster and Shadow Stalker aren’t good representatives of their peers in that regard.

    As for this chapter itself, it definitely got me fired up for what comes next, and I didn’t mind the break from Taylor’s perspective, under the circumstances.

  15. Administrations suck everywhere, and the Wards for the most part seem to be good people. Sophia is a sociopath, possibly borderline psychopath and it says a lot about Emma that she is able to maintain being friends with such a person, though she’s probably a sociopath as well. I’m glad that SS got her ass kicked, finally Skitter gets to dish some payback, I wonder what she’s been doing the whole time and whether her plan the whole time was capturing SS or the kidnapping is part of the larger plan. We shall see.

  16. When reading this series I often dislike a character, then I get to read things from their POV and I feel sympathy for them… NOT WITH SOPHIA.

    Congratulations and many thanks for your awesome writing!!! I love this series and have been reading for a month now, only I had not rescued my WordPress account to comment :-p

    • I think it’s been discussed before, but isn’t Cricket’s echolocation skill more “sonar” than “radar”? Maybe just “echolocation” is clearest?

      You’ve probably already done more research than I, but this is cool:

      ” … swarm had gone Had the girl’s …” Missing period.

      As for the (year+ ago) comments on trolling to provoke PG’s ‘wall of text’ craziness, and his concern that it might effect readership … NOT. A. CHANCE.

      Those of us who love Worm ain’t going NOWHERE.
      All Hail Wildbow!

      If we find PG entertaining, fine. If we find PG a bit much some days, well, that’s what scroll buttons are for! And some readers do just skip the comments, or come back when the mood strikes them.

      As for me, I have to keep reminding myself I’m way too late to retort to PG now … I do like a good shit-stir now and then! Especially by an apparently under-medicated logoleptic!

      PG — Are you writing on your own forum yet? I’m actually new to this online serial/ fan fic reading game, so haven’t wandered to other mentioned material yet. I actually read HP and Dune in original hardback printings. (Just outted myself as old fart, right?)

  17. just re-reading this, as Imp’s first mission with the Undersiders.

    it really feels like it needs an Imp centric interlude at some point, a flashback to her trigger event and joining of the undersiders, something like that.

    so yeah, in your afterword, you mentioned that you are considering changing things when you prepare to get this published. this would be my advice, Imp randomly showing up without warning fits her character and her power really well, but she needs a better introduction somewhere down the line, show her first meeting with Alec, show Brian not being a huge fan of her signing up with the team, but realizing that her going it alone is worse. show her mocking Taylor for trying to hide it the last time they talked. or clashing with bitch over her sarcasm.

    something, anything.

    she doesn’t really get an introduction as it is, she triggered and joined the team off-screen, and never really explained how or why.

    again, randomly popping up fits her theme, but it still feels kinda like a cop-out.

  18. “Shadow Stalker resumed her normal form for a second – just long enough to force the girl back down.

    Picking one of her non-tranquilizer bolts from the cartridge, she held the point of the ammunition to Skitter’s throat like a knife, “Game over, you little freak.”

    Skitter cocked her head a little, as if analyzing Shadow Stalker from a different perspective.

    “What are you looking at?” Shadow Stalker spat the word, “Nothing to say? No last words? No begging? No fucking apologies?”

    Skitter went limp, letting her head rest against the ground, the water lapping over most of her mask. Dark curls fanned out in the water around her, swaying as the water rippled.

    “Guess I don’t need to worry about the villain who saw my face, now.” Shadow Stalker went solid and drew the razor-sharp tip of her bolt across Skitter’s throat.”

    i feel there’s something weird with her solid/nonsolid forms. she’s threatening skitter with a physical weapon while being a cloud. i didn’t even think she could talk like that. then again, if she were solid, the bugs would get her.

  19. I couldn’t help but have some physics WTFs reading this chapter, because I don’t understand how Sophia’s power works. She becomes less massive and permeable to everything, yet she is bothered by electricity. My guess is this means she can somehow temporarily banish the nuclei of her atoms and maintain herself as a coherent electron field (except for the soles of her feet which she maintains as-is to avoid sinking into the earth).

    But if it were just this, she would want to shadow-shift /before/ she jumped in order to maximize her momentum, assuming she could deliver the same impulse in either state, because same momentum divided by lower mass equals higher velocity. Yet, she doesn’t do that, and is consistently described as shifting immediately after jumping. Which means she gets herself going at the lower velocity a higher mass entails /before/ she banishes the excess mass. Yet somehow, she is still able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. So clearly, she is doing something that conserves momentum.

    Perhaps she transforms the excess mass into additional velocity? Yet, that would imply she turns velocity back into mass upon unshifting, but then what advantage would she get from building up speed as a shadow and unshifting just before the moment of impact, plus we don’t see her taking advantage of the shifting-based speed boost to overtake people and so on.

    Is it just that I am expecting way too much scientific accuracy from the magic that makes her tick? Everyone else’s powers are described in ways that make perfect physical sense once you accept just one impossible thing to be true. I really want that to work for Sophia too. What is the one little thing I need to believe in order for the rest of her to make sense?

    • My interpretation was always that her change conserves momentum but reduces mass. If she’s moving when she goes from solid to shadow, she gets a geometric boost to velocity when most of her mass goes away. (I’m pretty sure we do see her use this for forward velocity as well as upward, though I can’t currently think of where.)
      In shadow form, though, she has less muscle mass with which to push herself, which translates to less initial velocity (and no way to multiply it). So it makes more sense for her to be solid while she pushes off the ground and go to shadow once she’s in motion.
      As for using shadow form to build up speed before impact- it’s possible that she does lose all that speed when she becomes solid again, and she keeps doing it because she simply hasn’t noticed. I would even say it’s likely, considering how rarely those “enhanced impacts” shatter the bones of the body part she’s swinging.

      • From what I can tell, she doesn’t change her mass or her kinetic energy. Rather, she causes a large portion of her mass to stop interacting with the rest of the world. That way she can reduce her weight without reducing her mass for a big increase in mobility. It also explains how she’s able to move through objects, less interaction. As for why she jumps before shifting, I think it’s because even the soles of her feet don’t interact well with solid objects, she’d just push her foot into the ground.

    • The point about mass being converted into speed is an interesting one, since if conservation of momentum is applied this is exactly what would happen. I assumed she waited until after jumping to shift because jumping/exerting force is more difficult while insubstantial.

  20. >“I wish you to come back, too,” Shadow Stalker admitted

    Wish you to come back? Could, surely?

    I don’t like Sophia. But that’s what she’s for, right? Hating? So, to specify: I don’t like Sophia as a character. No redeeming features, just a flat-out awful bitch. Boring, uninteresting. I guess it might just be that we only get one chapter from her PoV, maybe she has a good backstory, but this was really a drag with how edgy she is.

  21. This is my first comment on Worm. I just want to say that I LOVE Worm so far. I have not read a book in ages but I have stopped watching Game of Thrones to read this book! Amazing characters and amazing powers and amazing everything! Taylor working with the Undersiders again was unexpected and a nice curve ball thrown our way.

  22. Grammar issue:

    “Was the girl wanting to make herself a harder target?”

    Is awkward. Should be “Did the girl want to make herself…” most likely.

  23. One thing. “What hurt most was the way she involuntarily clenched of her jaw.” The ‘of’ could be taken out there.

    I’m so fucking hyped to see Skitter again. Looks like the US got their answer, and a new member to boot. One advantage of reading this years late is I don’t have to wait a long time after a cliffhanger like this. I’ve been doing almost nothing else but read for days 🙂

  24. Just a note for the author, it is highly unlikely that Miss Militia is firing “clips.” This is a very common firearm terminology error, that a quick google for “clip vs magazine” will clarify for you. Loving what I’ve been reading so far, can’t wait to get back to Taylor thought.

  25. This isn’t far enough inside Shadow Stalker’s head for me to sympathize with her, unfortunately. I still don’t get why she acts such a jerk. But that’s not really a bad thing, I think.

  26. Very disappointed that she’s with her old team… When are things going to change sufficiently for her to be able to make a positive difference in the world? But, then again, things are supposedly different, so maybe she’s convinced them to rescue Dinah or something.

  27. I’m calling it: Imp is someone we’ve seen before. I don’t know who…

    Aisha? Maybe. She could have triggered in the Leviathan attack.

    And that’s really all I can think of for girls. Most likely someone new, but…

    (Also…Imp. I wonder what her powers are? Okay, time to research what imps actually are…)

    • That’s a terrible description!

      Don’t call her a quim, that’s uncouth. Call her a bastard or an attempted-murderer or something. (And she technically does practice what she preaches, just not as well as she thinks.)

  28. I just wanted to say I’ve been reading this for the past few weeks and have been quite hooked but I think this is the chapter where I found myself thinking, “Now this is good storytelling.”

    We learn so much from this chapter about what has been going on with Taylor but are still left with some nice mysteries.

    Oh and the sweet pay off of seeing Shadow Stalker get some hurtin’. Bitch was mean to Vista!

  29. While I did feel like this arc moved really slow at times, I liked that it focused mostly on the Wards. Honestly it’s making Vista become one of my favorite characters, but the measure of focus on each member of the group was a breath of fresh air in comparison to how much time we’ve spent with the undersiders by now.

    I still really despire Sophia though. I don’t care what kind of sad backstory she may get in the end, I think she’s an awful person who deserves everything coming to her.

  30. Hey, Sophia, you’ve got a call from Reaper. He says you should tone down the edgelord.
    Seriously. “I’m the only one who saw this city for what it really is before Leviathan came, including the heroes with more experience (one of who grew up with capes)”? “People are either predators or their victims, and nobody can deny that I’m a predator”? I didn’t remember Sophia’s internal monologue being this amusing.

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