Interlude 10

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“I’m letting you go,” Regent lied.

He made Shadow Stalker drop to all fours on the ground and forced a grunt from her mouth.  With the same ease as he moved his own body, he made her load her bolt and spin to point her crossbow at him.  There was no danger of her shooting him; he was fully in control from start to finish.

He could feel her striving and straining to move her finger, to pull the trigger and plant an arrow just above his collarbone.  Every iota of her willpower must have been focused on the task.

“There’s a catch,” he spoke. “My power?  Once I’ve figured someone out?  It’s a lot easier to control them, after.  Any time you come near me, I can do this.  I can use my power and retake control in the blink of an eye.”

He had her raise her crossbow and point it at her temple.

“Next time I get control?  I’m keeping you for a full day.  Maybe two, if I feel like pulling an all-nighter.  And here’s the funny part,” there was no humor in his voice, “I’m going to do it even if I’m in civilian clothes, if my power tells me you’re in range.  You won’t even know when it’s coming.  You’re now a liability to the Wards, and you won’t ever know when or where I’m going to get control again…

“Unless you leave.  Skip town.  Join another team.”

He had her nod, stiffly, awkwardly.  He felt her rising heartbeat, the slight increase in her breathing, which he managed, controlled.  Her muscles clenched, an involuntary reaction just beyond the scope of his control.  She’d realized what he was doing.  Rather, she knew what he wasn’t doing.

He wasn’t letting her go.

“Now let’s walk you off to the other end of the city before I release you.  I don’t think you’re quite stupid enough to try and follow us, but I think my teammates would be more comfortable if they were sure.”  He rolled his eyes.

That said, he turned her around, activated her power and walked her through the door.

Regent looked at the others, shrugged.  “Good enough?”

Using the shadow form, she could cover a lot of ground very quickly.  For long minutes, he exercised her power, the ability to be as light as a feather, enjoyed it.  He even liked the running, too, when he turned off her power and just legged it.  This girl was in good shape.  He could tell she exercised regularly, that she ran on a regular basis.  Running was almost effortless, and it felt good, even with the aches and pains of the recent brawl. Months or years of practice had fine tuned her body.

Fighting had been much the same way, but it had been even better.  Her muscle memory had been so primed for punching, kicking, takedowns and evading that he’d almost been able to let her go on autopilot, let her body handle things on its own.

Not that he could, really.  But it had been easy.  He loved that sort of thing.  Maximum reward for minimum effort.

That same philosophy of minimizing the work he had to put in, sticking to what he enjoyed and the things that interested him, it was an advantage here.  Brian, Lisa and Taylor had their own dynamic.  They were friends.  He considered Brian a friend, but it was more along the lines of someone he could play video games with, talk about movies.  It wasn’t much different from if they were coworkers or roommates.  He smiled at the thought.  They kind of were, when it came down to it.

Regent knew he was a background character, for the most part.  He played along, he didn’t make waves, he didn’t stand out.  He wasn’t close to any of the others.

He was cool with that.  In fact, it suited him perfectly.

He was cool with it because it meant that when they were all heading out to meet Coil, nobody noticed that he was distracted, or that he wasn’t joining in the conversation.  His control got worse as the distance between himself and his puppets widened, which meant he had to devote more focus to Shadow Stalker and the act of keeping her movements fluid.  He ran into the same issues when he controlled more people, and there was the irritating side effect that his own coordination, speech and fluidity of movement all suffered to the same extent that his ‘puppets’ did.  Were he to open his own mouth now and speak to Brian or Taylor, he might stutter or slur his words.  It was almost more trouble than it was worth.

Almost.  He was surprised to realize how much he’d missed this.  It was like a high, a whole other set of emotions, of physical sensations.  Real life, just being Alec, only Alec?  It paled in comparison.  It was dull.

He wondered sometimes if dealing with his father had messed up something inside him.

He could remember being young, maybe eight or so, fighting with two of his sisters over the fact that he’d wanted to watch the music channel and they wanted to watch some craptastic stop motion cartoon.  They’d outnumbered him two to one, and he’d known he would lose the argument.  So he’d thrown a tantrum, started screaming.

The entire atmosphere in the house had changed in a second.  His sisters went from argumentative to conciliatory in an instant, changed the channel to the music, tried to give him the remote.  One of father’s ‘girls’ came in and tried to quiet him down.  When he hadn’t, she’d clamped a hand over his mouth.

It hadn’t been enough.  Dear Old Dad had come marching out of the master bedroom.  Nikos Vasil.  Heartbreaker.  Tall, wearing only boxer briefs, with a muscled, lanky physique, long hair plastered to his head with sweat.  Father had taken two or three seconds to assess the situation before using his power on Alec, his two sisters and the ‘girl’ with a hand over Alec’s mouth.  He hit each of them with stark terror.  The kind of fear you experienced when you were claustrophobic and you woke up in a coffin six feet underground.

Then father had gone back into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him.

It had been around summer when that happened, Alec mused.  He didn’t have many ways to tell time, back then, since he hadn’t gone to school, and the days kind of passed.  Still, it had been hot, he remembered.  Between that summer and Christmas, Alec hadn’t opened his mouth to speak once.

That was only one of a dozen or so experiences that came to mind.  So yeah, maybe father had broken something in the process.  Maybe it had been the emotional equivalent of staring into the sun for far too long, too many times, being left almost half blind.

Or maybe it was his own power.  He could be two, three or four people at the same time, feeling what they felt.  By the time he was a teenager, he’d experienced every kind of drug, in someone else’s body, had slept with himself as various boys and girls.  How was being just ordinary Alec supposed to compare?

Shadow Stalker wasn’t emotionally dulled.  Her emotions were rich, uninhibited.  She was  passionate in her emotions: angry, judgemental.  Even the negative feelings were something he could savor in their own way.  He wasn’t really experiencing them – it was more of a very involved spectator role.  Her fear was thrilling in the same way a fantastic scary movie was, with the detail and the immersion cranked up to eleven.

He leaped straight up into the air, then activated the shadow state.  When she was as high as she would get, he had her grip her cloak in her hands and use it to guide her descent so she could land atop the roof of the gas station.  He stopped, stretched her arms.  She was breathing hard, but not as much as his Alec-self would be after even half as much running.  He could feel the endorphins being pumped into her body from the hard exercise, and he was all the more aware of it because he had his other body to compare to.  She was an athlete.

He ran her hands down her chest, felt her breasts, the muscles of her stomach.  Stretching once more, he clenched her hands, felt the muscles in her arms flex.  He felt her shudder in revulsion.

“Almost forgot you were in there,” he murmured, barely loud enough for her to catch.  Not that it mattered.  She was as aware of the movements of her mouth as he was.  He could mouth the words and she would probably understand.  He smirked for her benefit as much as his own.

“So.  Bet you’re wondering what’s up,” he commented.  “Funny thing about having this control over you, I can feel your emotions, your body’s reactions.  Like a really, really good polygraph test.  I wasn’t even half done saying my piece back there when I caught on to the fact that you were too pissed and too angry to back down and walk away.  There’s no way you’re going to leave town if I let you go, right?”

He felt her struggle to open her mouth and respond.  He could have let her, by giving her some limited control over her own movements, but he didn’t.

“Right.  So I’m taking it upon myself to ensure this all goes smoothly.  My teammates have other shit to worry about, and I’m kind of enjoying flexing my powers.  So I’m dealing with this situation myself.  You and I?  We’re going to go another route.”

He fished in her belt and pockets and began withdrawing the contents.  He tossed the things he couldn’t use over the edge of the roof.  Billfold, spare cartridges for the crossbow, a small knife, spare strings for the crossbows, bandages, keys and a Wards ID card fell to the ground by the side of the gas station, in and near an overflowing dumpster.  There were plastic cuffs in the belt, but he couldn’t be bothered to fish out every last one and throw them all away.  At the right hip, he found two cell phones.  Success.

One of the phones looked years out of date.  The screen was scuffed so badly it was barely readable, and the plastic cover for the plug slot at the bottom was missing.  The other was a touch screen smart phone.  He didn’t recognize the make or the model, and the interface when he turned it on and touched the screen was unfamiliar.  Special issue from the Wards?  Whatever.  Not important.

The smart phone was password protected.  That was more Lisa’s thing, but he did have one trick up his sleeve.  Holding her fingers above the keypad, he let them follow through with the most natural feeling sequence of numbers, ingrained into the mind-body connection through the habitual repetition of a sequence of movements over weeks or months.  Muscle memory.

It took two tries.  The first felt slightly off at the end.  The second was spot on, and was rewarded with a vibration of the phone and a menu.

“Contacts,” he murmured, pressing a button, “Weld, Clockblocker, Vista, Flechette, Kid Win… boring.  Nothing I can work with, here.”  Director Piggot?  No.  Some potential there, maybe, but she was probably on top of this body-snatching situation.  Fully informed.

He scrolled down.  Beyond the contacts that had been pinned to the top of the list, there was a short list of contacts that were sorted in order of who had been contacted most recently.  At the top of the list was an ‘Emma Barnes’.

He checked the other, older phone.  No password.  A quick examination showed it was her civilian phone.

“Taking this out on patrol?  Is that stupidity or arrogance?  What if you lost it?”  He shook his head, then offered her a dramatic gasp, “What if it got into the wrong hands?”  Her voice was far better for the gasp than his own was.  He couldn’t help but chuckle after hearing it.

This Emma girl was listed in both of the phones.  Now he had a strong suspicion as to who it was.  A quick read of the received texts gave away Shadow Stalker’s name, but he already knew that.  Taylor had let it slip, before.

Her pulse was pounding now, and he could feel a growing sense of… what was that?  Outrage?  She was pissed at the invasion of privacy.

He tried a giggle on for size, to see if he could, and to see if it irritated her.  It worked on both counts.

No text messages had been exchanged on the smart phone, so he dug through the archive of old texts on the crummy old phone.  Lots sent to Emma.  Some sent to a Madison.  Others, relatively few, to a mom, a Terry and an Alan.

When he’d gotten sick of paging through the texts in the order that they’d been sent, he went looking for the saved texts, the messages Sophia had deemed important or noteworthy enough to save from being deleted.  What he uncovered was telling.  He had to do more digging to find the rest of the discussions for each message Sophia had saved, in order to get as much a sense of things as he could.  It was hard, when each series of texts was in response to some event he hadn’t participated in.

Some were inane, others he just didn’t understand.  Then he found one that gave him pause, that confirmed his suspicions about who Emma was.

Emma: what r u doing with her bag?

Sophia:  am in art class atm.  was thinking i can fill it with paint when teach leaves room.  put it in lost&found.  her art midterm is inside so she might look for it and find it and

Sophia: be all yay i found it and then she looks inside and sees its fucked

Emma: lol.

Sophia: what did you say to make her cry?  that was awesome.  blew my mind.

Emma: (SAVED MESSAGE) crying hrself to sleep for a week?  she told me she did after her mommy died

Sophia:  you r so evil

Emma: ya ya

Sophia: can i use that one on her?  saving that one for posterity btw

Emma: won’t have same bite to it.  brilliant bit was the suprise.  that slow realization abt what i meant.

Sophia: teach me o master

Emma: lol

Emma: wont be as good but i was thinking of that day.  think i remember musc we were listening to when she got the phone call abt her mom.

Emma: we shld wait a while and then see if she cries agn if we play it in hallways or b4 class.

Sophia:  and we cant get in trouble for just listening to music

Emma: ya

Sophia: cant believe you were her friend.

Emma: she was lame but not depressing and lame @ same time.

Regent closed the phone, threw it casually into the air, and then caught it on the way down.  He did that a few more times, thinking.

“Huh,” he said.

Long seconds passed.  He knew he should feel bad for the dork, but he only felt annoyed.  He felt worse about the fact that he didn’t feel bad than he did about what he’d just read.

Something to thank father for, maybe.

“You are not a nice person,” he spoke to Sophia with a note of irony in his voice.  He could feel her try to respond.

He smiled slowly, “Let’s see…”

He thumbed through the phone’s menus until he found an email option.  He verified it could send attachments.

The smart phone in his other hand, he found the web browser and did a search for local high schools.

“Hmmm.  What school do you go to?  Arcadia?  No.  Immaculata?  No.  Clarendon?  Nope.  Winslow?”

He felt the slightest of reactions from her.  A hitching of breath, maybe.  And there was nothing she could do to stop it, because the reactions were hers only because they were involuntary.

“Awesome.”  He searched for the web site for Winslow High School, and whistled tunelessly to annoy Shadow Stalker as he found the teacher’s emails.  He began painstakingly entering them into the recipient field.

When he’d done that, he began the process of attaching the texts to the email.  It would have been mind-numbingly dull if it wasn’t for that gradually building sense of trepidation he was experiencing from his gracious host.

He typed out a message for the email itself:

found phone.  stuff inside is concerning.  thought u should see what ur students r doing.

Her thumb hovered over the button that would send the email.

“Nah,” he decided.  He felt a wave of relief from his host.

That relief swiftly faded as he turned her eyes to the smart phone and searched for Brockton Bay’s police force.

When he’d added that email to the list, he added another line:

contacting police to make sure something is done

He sent the email.

He felt an explosion of rage from within Shadow Stalker’s body.  Her hands even shook with it.  He laughed, and her anger mixed with his amusement to create something that sounded unhinged.

Probably was, when he thought about it.  She had multiple personalities, in a way.

He stepped from the roof, and waited until the last second to use her power.  Her body exploded into a cloud of shadows.  As she pulled back together, he felt a strong discomfort.  Not quite pain.  In seconds, she had condensed back to her normal form.  The pain his hosts felt was something distant.  It didn’t bother him half as much. He couldn’t be sure if it was because he instinctually prevented it or if it was something else.

He resumed his whistling as he hopped up onto the railing of a bridge and walked atop it.  He dialed Emma, felt a mild reaction from his host: Annoyance with a note of anxiety.

Emma picked up on the fourth ring.  “What the fuck soph… what the fuck!?  It’s three AM!”

“Terribly sorry,” Regent tried to sound convincing, but it came out sounding sarcastic.

“You said you’d call me hours ago, to give me a recap.”

“I’m sorry,” Regent didn’t trust himself to pull off a sincere apology, so he lowered her voice to a hush instead.

“What’s going on?”

“I needed to talk to someone,” he spoke.

“…Are you hurt?  What happened?”

“Nothing.  There was this brawl at the headquarters, Dragon showed up, but that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.”

Regent held his breath, waited.

“Seriously, you’ve got me worried.  You’re making it sound like this important thing, and you woke me up at ten past three in the morning, so it had better be important.  Dish.  Explain.”

“I’m lonely.”

Emma’s voice rose in pitch, irritated, “SeriouslyThat‘s your issue!?”

“I miss you.”  He knew she wasn’t in town from the most recent texts he’d read on the phone.

“This doesn’t sound like you.  Are you high, or did you get poisoned or something?”

“I really miss you,” Regent breathed into the phone.


“I’ve been in love with you from the beginning.”

“Sophia, stop.  If this is a prank-”

“Why do you think I pushed you to turn on that depressing little shit of a friend, way back then?  I was jealous of her.”

“This is retarded.  Don’t fucking call me again until you’re ready to grow up,” Emma growled.

“Please,” Regent managed to pull off a pleading tone, but Emma was already hanging up.  He heard the dial tone and swore, “Fuck.”

He hopped down from the railing as he reached the end of the bridge.  He commented,  “Don’t think she bought it.”

Sophia tried to respond, and for the first time, she almost succeeded.  The distance between Alec and Shadow Stalker was too wide, now.  It would only get worse.  He could feel it in his other body, too.

“Let’s see,” he grinned, raising the smart phone.  Her hand shook as she held it.  “Ooh, maps.”

The map application still showed the last route Shadow Stalker had requested from it, detailing directions from a point in the south end of the Docks to a place downtown.

“Thirty-three Stonemast avenue.”

Again, that slight reaction from her that told him he’d found something.

“That got your attention.  Let’s go pay a visit.”

He set the phone to display directions from their current location to Stonemast avenue, and then he ran once more.

Her movements were more awkward, now.  Her reflexes were slower, her balance worse.  Activating her power was becoming a chore, a slower, harder process.  Above all, it required more of his attention.  He had his Regent-self put his headphones in and turn on some music.  It was an excuse to ignore the others, and to have his attention elsewhere.  They weren’t at their destination yet.

Shadow Stalker reached Stonemast avenue before Regent, Tattletale, Skitter, Imp and Grue got to Coil.  It was funny, but with the route they were taking, if the timing was a little different, the group could have theoretically crossed paths with Shadow Stalker.  At least his control was improving as the gap between them closed.

Thirty-five, thirty-four, thirty-three.  It was a residential area.  The houses here weren’t in the best shape, and a lot of houses had trash or belongings in the yard.  Thirty-three Stonemast avenue had a toddler’s toys sitting on the front lawn.  The hedges between the property and the neighbors was overgrown, and the tree at the front of the property looked dead.  It might have seemed deserted, but someone had taken up the effort of picking up the detritus the tidal wave had brought in and piling it at the front corner of the lawn, by the driveway.

He walked her through the front door, felt rising anger and worry from his host.

That anger and worry peaked when a young man, nineteen or twenty, stepped from the living room to the front hall, heading towards the kitchen, and saw her.  The man stopped and stared.

“Mom!”  He shouted.

A tired looking middle-aged woman entered from the kitchen, holding a four-year old girl in her arms.  Regent had grown up around lots of kids.  He liked to think he was a good judge of ages.

The woman stared at Shadow Stalker, then turned, “Terry, take your sister upstairs.”


“Now!” the woman barked.

Terry moved to pick up the child, who was looking increasingly concerned over the raised emotions and the strange person in their hallway.  Regent reached out and grabbed Terry’s arm.

“Chill, bro,”  Regent was making a guess here.  From the way the boy stared at Shadow Stalker, he knew he’d hit the mark.


“Yeah,” Regent grinned behind her mask.  “Duh, moron.”

The woman stepped between Shadow Stalker and Terry, a look of fury on her face, “Sophia!  Kitchen.  Now!”

With a swagger, Regent walked Shadow Stalker into the kitchen.  There was a flurry of hissed words between Terry and Shadow Stalker’s mother.  Among them was a surprised, hurt, “You knew!?”

Regent sat down at the kitchen table and put her feet up.  Dirty water pooled on the table’s surface.

It was nearly a minute before the mother came storming into the kitchen.  She pushed Shadow Stalker’s feet off the table.

“Explain!” she demanded.

“What?” Regent lifted one shoulder in a shrug.

“We had a deal.  You could do this thing of yours, but your siblings were not to know!”

“It’s a pain in the ass,” Regent said.  He pulled off Shadow Stalker’s mask and started tapping the edge against the table, idly.

“It’s the rules in my house!  If it’s going to keep you out of prison and on the straight and narrow, fine.  But I will not have you glorifying violence-”

The mother stopped mid-sentence as Regent opened Shadow Stalker’s mouth in a very real yawn.  Funny that his other self yawned as well, in that sympathetic reaction to someone else yawning.  The mother slapped the mask from Sophia’s hand.  It clattered to the ground.  “Listen to me!”

“Whatever,” Regent drew a crossbow and turned it over in his hands.

The mother stared at it.  Her voice was hushed as she spoke, “That doesn’t look like the tranquilizer dart the Director showed me.”

Regent quirked an eyebrow, “Oops.”

“What are you doing, Sophia?  Do you want to go to jail?”

“I’m bored,” Regent replied.

“You do not have the right to complain about something like being bored!  I work two jobs for you three!  I put in overtime, I attend every school function, I come into the office every time you get reprimanded because you’ve got anger issues!  You aren’t even taking care of your sister, or helping out around this house!  What do you think-”

“And now you’re making me even more bored,” Regent cut her off.

The mother slapped Sophia so hard that her head turned to one side.  Her cheek burned.

“Don’t you dare,” the mother intoned.

Shadow Stalker stood at Regent’s directions, then pointed the crossbow at the mother.  The woman’s eyes widened, and she hurried to back away as Shadow Stalker advanced.  They stopped when the mother’s back was to the wall by the kitchen door, with Shadow Stalker’s crossbow bolt pressed against her throat.

“I think I’m done with listening to you whinge,” Regent whispered.

“What are you doing?  What’s wrong with you?”

“Like you said,” Regent shrugged, “Anger problems.  I promise you, you don’t have the slightest idea of what I go through.”

When in doubt, be vague.

“If you’re talking about Steven…”

Steven.  Regent could feel a reaction from Shadow Stalker at the name.  “I’m not talking about Steven.”  He put some inflection in the name.  He dropped the crossbow to one side, stepped away and stretched.  The mother didn’t budge from where she was pressed up against the wall.  “I’m going to my room.  Don’t disturb me.”

He bent down and grabbed the mask, but he didn’t put it back on.  He stepped out into the hallway, and saw a vacuum cleaner parked in the corner.  An extension cord trailed from it to a neighboring room.  An office?  He unplugged the cord from the wall and the vacuum, and then headed upstairs, winding the cord into a simple coil.

Shadow Stalker’s body was a cocktail of emotion.  Fear, anger, anxiety, worry, panic and sheer fury.  Regent staved off the worst of the physical reactions, the trembling and the heavy breathing, and managed to make Shadow Stalker seem calm as she reached the top of the stairs.  Terry was up there in the hallway, staring, uncomprehending.

Regent found her room, then shut the door.  It was small, old-fashioned, with wood paneling on the walls.  The furniture was limited to a twin-sized bed, a vanity with a mirror, candles and cosmetics littering the top, a bookshelf and a combination computer desk and dresser with a computer and a printer perched on top.  The wall behind the pictures showed Shadow Stalker with a redheaded girl.  There were a lot of photos with them laughing.  Emma?

“Emma?” he asked.  That slight alteration in her heartbeat and her breathing told him he was right.

He found a picture of Shadow Stalker – Sophia – with her family.  Her mom looked younger and far less tired there, and was pregnant.  Shadow Stalker looked twelve or so, and her brother looked sixteen or seventeen, sporting a fantastic looking afro and a less fantastic attempt at a moustache.  They were clustered around one another, but only the mom was smiling.

Regent’s eyes fell on the man who was cut out of the photo, only his hand on the mom’s shoulder, and a sliver of his torso and leg were visible at the edge of the picture.

“Steven?” he asked.  Raw hatred boiled up inside Shadow Stalker, for both Regent and the man that couldn’t be seen in the picture.  “Steven.  So what did he do do you?  Believe me, I’ve seen it all.  Hit you?  Touch you?”

No reaction from either of those.  Verbal abuse?  Emotional?  Something else?  He didn’t care enough to quiz her more.

He grabbed the lighter from beside the scented candles and began pulling the photos off of the wall.  Using the lighter, he burned a hole in the photograph where Emma’s face was.

“Well,” he said, his tone dry.  He had to cough to keep himself from letting her anger turn his voice into a growl.  “You sure rose above that shit, treating your classmates like you do, getting in fights, not helping out dear old mom.”

Again, he had to struggle to maintain control as she exploded with emotion.  It didn’t help that his other self was trying to listen to what Coil was saying.  Better to avoid testing her.

“You and I are more alike than you’d suspect, I think,” he said. “We’re both arrogant assholes, yeah?  Difference is, I admit it, I don’t dress it up and tell myself that I’m a bitch and that that’s a good thing.”  He burned Emma’s face out of another photo.

“So, let’s tie all this shit together.  I have been working with a goal in mind, believe me.”

He got a piece of paper out of the printer, then found a pen in one of the drawers.  He was careful to rely on her muscle memory when it came to the handwriting.

I thought I could manage.

I’m too angry.  Too lonely.  I hate myself for what I’m doing.  Hurting people.

I hurt my mom.  I hurt my classmates as Sophia.  I hurt people as Shadow Stalker, and I hate myself for enjoying it.

I thought I could manage it.  I had Emma.  She had my back.

Except she turned me down.  I loved her, really loved her, and when I confessed she turned me away.  Acted like it was a joke.

This is the right thing to do.  I won’t be able to hurt anyone anymore.

Terror surged through her body like ice water.  When he laughed in reaction, it came out shaky.  He littered the burned photographs around the piece of paper, with Emma’s face missing from each, then drew an arrow from the crossbow’s cartridge and laid it across the bottom edge of the paper.  It was overdramatic enough to work.

He stood on the chair and began wrapping the extension cord around the base of the light fixture.  He grabbed the cord and hung off it for a few seconds to verify it could hold her weight.  The light fixture itself was flimsy , but the frame it was attached to was bolted securely into the wooden beams of the ceiling.

He found moisturizers and soaps on top of the vanity.  Using them, he rubbed the end of the extension cord, making it slick.  Holding the end, he began tying it into a crude hangman’s knot.  When he failed to do it right, he used the smart phone to find a video of how to tie one, then turned the volume all the way down.

“Here’s the thousand dollar question,” he mused, as he began following the steps outlined in the video, putting the knot together, “Will your boss tell your mom what happened with me controlling you?  If she keeps her mouth shut, well, this paints a pretty ugly picture, doesn’t it?”

A tear rolled down his cheek.  He scoffed a little, blinked the tears out of her eyes.

“But if she does tell, if she lets mommy know, then shit hits the fan.  It looks pretty fucking bad for her, and if word gets out, it’s as bad as it gets for public relations.  Scary, dangerous parahumans.  Not just lives at risk, but you could be controlled.  Ooooh, scary.  Nobody would ever be able to trust their coworkers or neighbors.  It’s the kind of stuff they want to keep quiet.”

“Looks bad for me, sure, but you saw the fight earlier.  It’s not like you guys are that big a threat.  Like I said, I’m arrogant that way.”

He reached to plug the extension cord into the wall, but found it too short.  He sighed and went to unplug everything from the computer’s power bar and use that to extend the length of the cord so he could plug it in.  He grabbed her alarm clock, stood on the chair, and plugged it into the noose.  He put her hood down, and then set the alarm clock inside her hood, blinking 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.

“Any last words?”  He slid the noose around her neck.  It was slimy with the soaps and other shit he’d poured on it.

He gave her enough control to speak, but retained control of her arms, legs so she couldn’t escape, and held her diaphragm so she couldn’t draw in enough air to scream for help.

“Why?” she breathed.

“You fucked with my teammate,” he shrugged her shoulder.

“Grue?  I-”

He didn’t let her finish.  “I dunno if I care all that much, but it’s the sort of thing I’ll do because it feels like I should.  Dunno.  There’s also the fact that you’re dangerous, and you’ve outlived your usefulness, so… unless you can give me a convincing reason.”


“Not that convincing.”  He raised one foot, then kicked the chair, hard.

It rocked, but didn’t tip over.

He chuckled lightly, feeling the confusion and the relief from his host.  It was a thrill unlike any other.  “I think I made my point.”

She wanted to respond, but he didn’t let her.  She was bewildered, just as scared as she had been before.

“I’d like to think that you have much less reason to hang around this city than you did an hour ago.  Even if she hears how you were controlled by yours truly, mom’s not going to be so comfortable having you around in the future, given the dim possibility of a repeat performance.  Things are going to be awkward with Emma there, too.  Your career as a hero here isn’t looking good, either.  Eff why eye, I was telling the truth about my ability to assume total control faster, easier, if I’ve controlled someone before.”

He fished out a set of the plastic cuffs and put them around her wrists, then worked her fingers to pull the end and cinch the cuffs tight, behind her back.

“I can feel your emotions.  I know I’ve convinced you.  You leave town, and if you don’t want me paying a visit, wherever you wind up, you keep your mouth closed about tonight.  They don’t need to know this was all my doing.  Things get messy that way, yeah?”

He gave her limited control, and she nodded, fractionally, as if afraid to move.

“If I do get control again?  I won’t pull my punches.  Or my kicks.”  He tapped her foot against the back of the chair.  Her heart leaped in her chest.  “You can’t feel my emotions, so you’ll have to trust that I’m capable of it.  You know I’m Heartbreaker’s kid.  You know I’ve killed before.”

Again, she offered a slight nod.  She tried to speak, but he didn’t let her.  No need, he could guess, from what she was feeling.  The anger was gone now.  There was only fear.

He glanced out the window.  There were flashing lights.  A PRT van?  Or maybe a police car.

A chuckle escaped her lips.  “Well, I’ll leave it to you to get out of this situation.  When you do?  Get the fuck out of my city.”

He let out a breath, and then relinquished control of her body back to its owner.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

188 thoughts on “Interlude 10

    • Oh, yes. Awesome payback, saddling her with 18 different forms of PTSD, cutting every safety net she has, and dooming her to either homelessness or becoming a pariah if she ever comes forward, because we KNOW there’s no chance anyone will believe her when she says she was coerced into all that. She’ll probably kill herself for real before too long, since she has literally NO ONE she can turn to for help. Yes, that’s awesome payback. Regent is in no way a monster and this isn’t fucked up at ALL.

      • Chill out. First of all, you must not have been paying attention to the story up to now because you seem to have missed the fact that SS is a horrible cunt who deserves (almost) everything she got. Secondly, everyone will believe her about being “coerced” (you’re an SJW aren’t you..) at least within the context of her secret identity because EVERYONE (within the PRT at least) knows what Regent can do and that he was controlling her. Same goes for her turning to people for help (not that Sophia would ever do that in the first place. again, you haven’t been paying attention). Thirdly, if your comment was a troll i commend you because it worked!!

      • Did you forget about her being a murderer? Or the fact that she put Taylor through a living hell for years on end to the point where she probably would have killed herself if she hadn’t gained powers? This is nothing in comparison.

        • That’s never a valid argument – wrong is wrong.

          Them doing something horrible to you then you doing something (arguably) less horrible to them doesn’t make you right – it just means two people are being horrible rather than one.

          Now if you have to engage in a lesser horror to prevent a greater one, that’s defensible. But as far as I can tell that never even entered Regent’s thinking here. It was payback, pure and simple.

          Trying to be the lesser evil is a losing game – you’re still being evil.

          • A) “wrong is wrong” not really. The entire point of worm is about perspectives. And that is not even mentioning moral relativity.
            B) Most people are not arguing that what regent did is “right” (morally and legally), merely that it is permissible in that his victim is not an innocent. Again, perspectives. I shed no tears when murderers and rapists are tortured or killed; I have a limited number of fucks I can give and i choose to spend them on people who are innocent. Your opinions and moral values may differ from mine on that account.
            C) I don’t think anyone debates that regent is a very fucked up individual. He is no better than SS (in my eyes) but i don’t think that has anything to do with whether or not we should feel sorry for SS.

            • The two people above me seem to be trying to excuse Regent’s actions by arguing that SS deserved what she got.

              I don’t believe his actions were excusable.

              Worm is about perspectives but I don’t believe that even at its worst it intended to imply that morality is entirely relative.

              • Morality IS entirely relative (unless you believe that there is a being in the sky that decides right and wrong; if you do then this argument will go nowhere)
                The interesting thing about most people who are saying SS deserved it is that they are not trying to justify Regents actions (they might think they are) but rather their feelings about his actions. i.e. they were happy to see SS get tortured, so they have to justify it – not for regent but for themselves, by telling themselves that she deserved it.

                Regent doesn’t need his actions excused. He is a villain who has been doing horrible and fucked up thing most of his life. At this point in the story the readers have two perspectives towards Regent: either they accept what he has done, who he is and what he will continue to do and like him despite that (or because of that) or they reject him and decide that they cannot handle what he has done and will continue to do. Either way no excuses need to be made since he is a villain; he doesn’t wear a white hat and pretend to be the good guy (unlike SS i might add) so you needn’t make excuses to go on thinking he is the good guy. Although again, good and bad are matters of perspective.

              • No, I don’t believe that there is a being in the sky that decides right and wrong (and if there was I’m not convinced that being God automatically gives them moral authority).

                What I *do* believe is that, as human beings we have a common mental biology. We have commonalities and two of those shared commonalities are empathy and compassion. These act as a universal basis for morality amongst human beings (there’s a reason so many different cultures have come up with some variant of the Golden Rule).

                If we ever have to deal with non-human intelligences (be they alien, AI or something else) we may have to re-evaluate the objectiveness of morality, but amongst human beings morality is clearly not purely relative.

              • I agree with you about the god thing, although if you believe that it created right and wrong as well then I suppose it would have moral authority. But I digress.

                I’m not sure that i agree with you. Yes humans have a common mental Biology, but compassion and empathy are (partially at least) learned traits. Children generally have to be taught that hurting others is wrong, rather than being aware of that by instinct. As for morality being decided by a collective, shouldn’t that mean that things like homosexuality are morally wrong, seeing as the majority of people believe that? I think you are confusing things. Yes lots of people have similar moral codes, but that is because they are influenced by society similarly ( .i.e their parents and their religion believe that being homosexual is morally wrong and so they think so too) it does nothing to prove that morality is somehow objective.

                And if it is, then whose sense of morality should we be going by? The once who believe that eating meat is murder? The ones who believe that stoning people to death for adultery is acceptable? (just to name a few) Human being disagree over everything, especially the subject of right and wrong.How can one person say that their moral code is somehow better or more moral than another persons? No; the only thing that makes sense is to accept that everyone has their own code of conduct, and that their morality/immorality are decide by how well they keep to it.

                That being said, one can still be determined as good or bad according to the Law; but laws exist to ensure that we act in ways that are conducive to consolidating a functioning society. And many lawmaking parties agree that certain actions are NOT conducive to that end; murder for example. (this last part is in response to the golden rule comment)

              • Neurobiology shows that we (and other primates at least – not sure about other species of mammals) have mirror neurons. These are what enable us to ‘put ourselves in the shoes of” another person. It’s why when guys see another guy take a blow to a *cough* sensitive region, we instantly wince as though we ourselves have been hit. How this correlates to “having to” teach kids empathy I don’t know. It’s possible such teaching isn’t as necessary as we assume, or its possible that it’s a feature of more fully developed brains (in which case teaching may or may not help children reach that stage faster). Personally I suspect the latter.

                You’ll note that I said that morality is not *purely* relative. There are core human values which are objective, or close enough to. Basically all societies consider human life is valuable and should be respected. Ditto property, freedom and so on. We’re also a very tribal species though, and many cultures throughout history consider morals to apply to full citizens, not to outsiders – which could include everything from slaves to foreigners to women.

                The further you get away from universal human experience and values the more subjective morals become. Homosexuality is an example of this – most people can’t envision wanting to sleep with someone of the same sex. It seems icky and wrong. In some ways morality against homosexuality is actually a misapplication of the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you – and I would *not* have others do that unto me”. Of course the other way of looking at that is to realise that under the Golden Rule I would want others to let me live my life any way that makes me happy and doesn’t harm anyone.

                What rights animals should have is also comparatively subjective and comes down to how tribal our outlook is – are animals outsiders not deserving of rights like us? Or are they living beings just like we are who we should grant the same rights to life and happiness that we apply to ourselves? (I sit at the morally undefensible “probably, but they’re yummy!” position. >_>)

                In summary I would say that human morality varies from a firm objective core where shared human experience and perspective overlaps, out to entirely subjective at the edges where situations are so unusual or complex that people are having to essentially invent the morality to cope with it on the fly. Most issues fall somewhere in-between – there are universal or general moral principles which serve as guidance in decision-making but how strongly a given principle should be weighted in a particular situation involves personal interpretation (especially if there are multiple principles involved – is it reasonable to kill someone who’s trying to steal your property, for example).

              • I feel that we have strayed far from the original topic; not that I mind, the discussion has still been engaging.

                While mirror neurons may enable us to put ourselves in the shoes of another person, they exist alongside our aggressive and destructive tendencies. The fact is that both are needed (or rather, were needed) in order for a society to function. Case and point: Chimpanzees (our closest relatives and therefore the best example of what early human behavior would have been like) are regularly see displaying compassion and empathy to each other; whether it be consoling an injured troop mate or what have you. But this does not stop them from regularly beating each other to death, and yes, in some cases, even raping each other (and no, not just the members of other troops). The point of what I’m saying is that having empathy does not negate or automatically make violence wrong; apes apparently do both and have no real sense of right and wrong. In essence, because of social evolution, humans no longer need to struggle as much (for food, dominance, or mates; there are places where this is not true and we generally tend to find that the people who live there are far more comfortable with violence) and as such we have discarded those violent acts and thoughts as being of no real use. Instead we now prize empathy and compassion, but this does not indicate that either side is inherently right; merely that one side is more useful and constructive to the way our society currently works.

                “The further you get away from universal human experience and values the more subjective morals become.” This is excellently put, but, unlike you, I feel that rather than this causing some group of morals to become objective, it simply makes certain moral codes more common. Gravity is objective. It acts according to a set number of observable rules that remain constant; that is what it means to be objective. Morality on the other hand, shifts constantly; you put this down to people “othering” those who are different to them, but does that truly matter? If 2000 years ago the vast majority of people on earth believed there was nothing morally reprehensible about slavery and nowadays nearly everyone believes otherwise, does that not show a shift in moral reasoning? The fact that moral codes have changed in regards to slavery, homosexuality, rape, and murder over the years. Proves that even the so called “core” of moral believes is subject to altercations and subtle influences; the reason why this moral shift occurred is inconsequential.

                But this is all irrelevant because even if every single person in the world agrees that something is right, it does not make that thing right. Even if a large group of persons have a similar “core set of morals” what makes said set right? The problem with morals is that they are leftovers from religion: a being writes an indomitable law into the universe that says certain actions are good while others are bad. That being then backs said moral code with cause and effect: An action that is good sends you to a happy place when you die, while and action that is bad sends you elsewhere (you can substitute this with “causes you to be judged” in any way you like). But without this being there is nothing to hold the belief in place. Why is killing someone bad? Because it hurts other people. But what if I refute the belief that hurting others is bad? The point is that moral right and wrong are like god; one cannot prove their existence. One also cannot prove that their version is the correct version.

                I feel like this last post of mine does a very poor job of eloquently explaining my point but alas, I find the abstract to be difficult to explain in general. That being said I agree with you on most things, especially your degrees of variance view on moral subjectivity/relativity. The farther one gets from commonly shared human experiences the greater number of opinions on what is right and wrong there are. I simply don’t follow it to the same conclusion as you, as I simply do not believe that there is any moral beliefs that can be truly absolute.

  1. Damm she got her comeuppance in spades and it could not have gone to a more deserving person. To say that I was not totally drawn in by this chapter was an understatement.

  2. I kind of sort of DON’T want her to leave town because of all the potential she has to mix things up, and absolutely want to read about her trying to explain what happened to see how she deals.

  3. Well, so much for the Undersiders not getting on the heroes bad side if this gets out. I think this sort of behaviour is exactly the sort of thing that will prevent Taylor from ever being on friendly terms with any hero if the need arises, it is taking Glory Girl’s sister hostage magnified a lot. And some people might skip this whole not using lethal force even if it means the villains get away the next time it comes up.

    I guess it is a good thing that there are no threats on the horizon that will require cooperation or at least that the heroes trust the villains enough to take them seriously when they talk about the end of the world. Chances of this not coming out and coming back to bite anyone are practically zero.


  4. Hmm. I hadn’t realised Regent knew all about Taylor. Tattletale? General deduction?
    Now, I…kind of don’t really like this ending. There’s no closure for Taylor. Yes, she’s rid of one of her primary antagonists, but she had nothing to do with it, and it happened in a way that she likely wouldn’t be comfortable with. That’s not really the best resolution.

    • *necrocomment!*

      Taylor told the entire crew about the bullying at Fugly Bob’s when she told them about her trigger event. Shell 4.3. Not much deduction required — although there may be a bit of “so *that’s* why she was okay with kidnapping Shadow Stalker!” going on.

  5. ‘Were he to open his own mouth now and speak to Brian or Alec’, possible mistake there. did you mean lisa or taylor? anyway interesting chapter as he is a character that stands around in the background, so much more depth give to his character in this chapter and also it was nice to see shadow stalker squirm some more.

      • Regent the Mindcrusher

        I like throwing mind in there and going for something fearsome. That’s why I’m not saying something like “Regent the Bodyjacker.” That, and Bodyjacker just doesn’t sound right, even if it sounds like he’s done dirty deeds dirt cheap with those other bodies.

          • Hilariously, “Regent” is a pretty solid title for a master like this, the person who controls a kingdom on behalf of another?

            • Quite. His name seemed… odd to start with. Why would someone whose power is to make someone twitch called Regent rather than Cramp? And then we see what his power can really do…

              (It’s appropriate for another reason, too. A regent can’t just waltz in from outside and take a kingdom over — he has to plan and prepare. Regent’s power is just the same, though it only takes an hour or so rather than years.)

  6. I had to stop reading halfway through. Simply because of how horrific Regent’s power is. The nightmarish possibilities of what he could do were too much.

    • Oh, I kept reading. I wasn’t too sure about what he did to her at the time, but I’ve come around to it as I wrote this.

      I mean, here we have her get her comeuppance, and then some. So the scales are somewhat balanced when it comes to her, Emma, and Taylor, as well as her and Grue.

      Her time as a hero is over, though. I’d like to say that means she stops completely, but she’s going to keep on doing stuff whether she’s got approval or not. Ignoring that she was controlled at the time, there’s finally proof implicating her and Emma with the bullying. That’s not going to do much yet, since the school is sleeping with the fishes, but it keeps Emma’s dad from weasaling her out of it and it’s troublesome for Stalker’s probation. This is someone who doesn’t need to be in power. Neither does Regent, but at least he’s somewhat capable of doing the right thing despite his psychopathy (and I might be using the term accurately there).

      Of course, all this was secondary to the real purpose. He wanted to make sure she was absolutely convinced that leaving the city was in her best interests.

      Because the fact that someone randomly could take control of her at potentially any time wasn’t enough of a reason. I guess we know why he had to be so blatant about it.

      So, from deep down in the bottom of my heart, I would just like to say about Sophia: “…and the horse you rode in on!”

      Crap, now who are we going to have fun hating on in the story?

      Oooh, I know, y’all can all hate on me for being the annoying guy who talks about himself a lot and fails miserably at being funny!

      • I dunno, throughout the whole thing I was cheering for regent. At the end I was so annoyed that he didn’t have her suicide, because it would have been hilarious seeing Piggott and Taylor’s reactions. I might be a bit messed up, but I always fantasized about doing this my bullies. Preferably with a flourine capsule with argon to keep it from burning through down their stomach… ah their insides would literally be on fire, and in the end they’d have a cauterized hole through there stomach and anus, if I added phosphates. No, I’m perfectly sane, why do you ask?

        • I think theres two ways how bully victims feel about death; wanting to kill the bully (to end the bullying and hurt them how they hurt you) or wanting to kill yourself (to cause them horrific guilt and end the bullying). Honestly, I was the latter when I was bullied, and I still think this way because fucking someone over psychologically about death means they have to live with that, whereas death just ends it for them.

  7. Can’t really blame Regent for abusing his power like this. Especially since in his place I’d abuse it more.

    Though is this thing he did here doesn’t backfire I’ll eat my ham sandwich.

    • Considering that they now have solid evidence about Sophia’s and Emma’s bullying, the police are going to want to get in contact with the girl they bullied and who tried to bring it up, Taylor, to build a case. That will lead them to her tendency to skip school and eventually leaving it altogether. With her in the system as a troubled girl with a traumatic experience (mental institution records) she might set off some warnings set up by Dragon that are used to investigate if someone’s had an experience that causes superpowers, prompting them to look more into those absences if they can. Also, as a missing teen, they’ll want photographs of her which might wind up matched by advanced programs with clear photos of Skitter.

      Mainly, the police will be looking for her as a civilian, but not in a hostile manner considering that her absences were, as far as they’d know, the result of that bullying behavior. She would be low priority right now.

      • Brockton Bay is in ruins, and Taylor’s Dad doesn’t know where to find her. Cops won’t spend much effort there. Things will not be quite so comfortable for Emma and Madison after this, though.

      • It is funny reading this comment when reading the second time through. I wonder what your reaction was during that chapter.

  8. FYI, gang, I’ve updated the cast page to reflect the new status quo.

    I urge you guys to point out anyone I’m missing, and to feel free to poke me to add details on any newly introduced character (or details about a character as of yet undescribed). Too easy to slack on that front, in any case.

      • Had the voting turned out differently, Arc 9 might have featured Faultline’s crew and the recruitment, and many more details would have been revealed about the Case 53s. Sophia’s interlude chapter would have been the interlude between arc 9 and arc 10.

        As is, all that same stuff happened in the background.

  9. I usually try not to swear on the internet,but holy fuck, I think that was one of the scariest things I’ve ever read.

  10. Oh, hey. This happens to be the 100th chapter of Worm. Woohoo.

    Let’s see:
    100 chapters.
    125 tags (I tag recurring characters so their names appear at the bottom of the posts, so ~125 characters)
    Somewhere between 375,000-400,000 words written.

    Amusing search terms people have used that led them to Worm:
    (AKA, people don’t know how to search, or they do and they’re looking for porn)
    “had the toe rings”
    wear we can find wildbaw meet in dandenong
    rock staddy grue
    “full body pantyhose” “performed ” -porn -sexy
    wall worm physique file missing
    faultline – describe the movement of dance cigarette
    weight stability mouse leviathan
    the undersiders book flake (hope that’s not someone implying I’m a flake. ;))
    “muscles began to” “teenager” superheroine
    grue stomach growls
    grue moon cartoon
    giantess shrink machine beat father pantyhose (I don’t even know)
    man makes howling sound after concussion
    lifts superheroine over his head crotch
    a folded ink blot. rigid transformation? yes no if yes, which type of
    i think a worm fell from my ceiling vent
    long white spear shaped worm in cats poo
    dreams stainless mesh and worms in wrist
    he believed he had a different type of world and couldn’t understand why god put him in grue
    who was the leader of tattletales in seven spiders spinning
    tied lisa arms and legs to her body with metal wirs, pointed her from head to feet
    parasites on face a worm climbed out of my mouth (There’s a lot of these)

    • hehe, weird searched…awsome novel.

      To the page archivement i will add a TvTroope page and a Wiki (work in progress). I can see a Wikipedia page in the future once you began publishing in dead-trees.

      By the way: 125 characters, Wow, in the wiki we only have a page for 13 of them so far. We have a lot of work ahead…i like it.

      • Same deal as I made with Valran for the chapter summaries/entries. If you’ll put together the character pages, I’ll see about adding tidbits of information & trivia for the ones you get done. Won’t do them all, but I’ll see what I can offer.

        Not sure about the wikipedia page. Worm isn’t that high on the Notability count.

    • Noticed a link to it from Legion of Nothing. Felt like bringing the sheer terror of Psycho Gecko commentary down upon another great story. Read my works, ye mighty, and despair.

      …nothing beside remains.

      Happy 100th.

      • A surprising number of people have searched for Psycho Gecko, interestingly. Someone trying to track you down? Or just a fan, wanting to follow your mad ramblings?

      • I have no clue. I’ve searched maybe three times to see if people have been saying things. It feels good to have people say good things about me here and at Jim’s site, but I also worry if someone just sees me as trying to hijack the stuff(Quoth the Robot Devil: “You can’t have your characters just say how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”). Instead, I’ve seen an increase in people talking about pet geckos and using the term psycho. There’s also some spamming there from this one website thing that manages guilds, including a Supergroup I’m in on City of Heroes (Now free to play!). Since my Global in the game is @Psycho Gecko, it pops up a little. Unfortunately, someone else seems to have grabbed that with DC Universe online, but I don’t play that anyway.

        I don’t have any kind of blog or site of my own. I briefly did try to blog about whatever came to my mind under a different name, but I got about three posts off and haven’t been back to it since. My posts as Psycho Gecko and stories featuring me are on Legion of Nothing and here. Generally they’re small one-shots that are either making a point, poking fun at things, or have what I felt were funny references to the story. Or combinations of those. Three consecutive Thursdays, I posted parts of a story in Jim’s comments at LoN. Psychonomous Gex! The Rise of Psycho Gecko, if anyone wants to search for that. More of a present day summary.

        I’d like to tell the full backstory on its own sometime, but that’s quite a task. If I wanted to share it, I’d need a site, and who wants to stop by just for a short story like that? I’d feel bad dropping it in yours or Jim’s comments too. I felt embarrassed enough that I went through with that one over on LoN. It didn’t help that I made an error in one part that made an entire comical list gag useless. At least you get to correct your mistakes.

        Aside from that, I do have some writings that are about different characters from City of Heroes on a couple of other sites, not necessarily under this name because of them being Supergroups. My gas-mask wearing mad bomber woman predates yours, Wildbow.

        In our top coincidence news, there’s some wierd relationship between something called Psychonomics and something called Gex or gEX. Had no clue about that one. Also didn’t know about Xolotl and Axolotl until real recently and that was also kinda freaky, especially given that the Psycho stands for Psychopomp and that one of the things he uses his powers for is rapid regeneration. Regeneration is such an overdone power, but he’s no Wolverine or Deadpool. Well, some people I know have drawn comparisons to Deadpool, so I try to avoid reading him. Don’t want any inadvertent (or advertant) cross contamination while writing.

  11. Various typo’s, with corrections in square brackets:
    enough and try to follow [enough to try and follow]
    eveyr [every]
    We’re going [to] go
    whinge [British spelling; American spelling is without the g: whine]
    but it’s the sort of thing I can do because it feels like I should [? Maybe remove the “can”]

    That was an intense and interesting chapter. I kind of always felt that Alec was hiding a sly, conniving mind behind his devil-may-care attitude. I admit that I thought he was a spy or traitor of some sort, though.

    I can easily see how having that kind of control could be addicting. I think that it says a lot about him that he was able to give it up. I wonder why he did, though. Was it out of a sense of duty? An abhorrence of his father?

    • Changes made. I think I made a few of those hours ago, though? You start compiling the list & then put it down for a long while?

      Keeping whinge, though. It fits with where Alec came from (he was born & spent more than half his life in an area where many anglophones had some strong British/Scottish ancestry/identification, and his father lived in the United Kingdom for some time, so Alec could have easily picked it up somewhere, growing up.)

      Why did he stop using his power? It’s been hinted at, but the primary reasons were that Tattletale knew it would scare Taylor off, it’s problematic to use, it’s the sort of thing that brings the heroes down on your head, if you’re not careful, and lastly, he wanted to fly under the radar and not draw his dad’s attention.

      • Oh, yeah. I get your newest chapter e-mailed to me and then I read it through the day when I feel like taking a break from my work. Sorry if you already made the corrections.

        Also, I realize that Regent had a lot of good reasons to keep this a secret and to use the power sparingly. That said, I could see this being something that would be hard to stop once you started, no matter how irrational that would be.

    • ‘Whine’ and ‘whinge’ are not the same word. Whining more closely refers to higher pitches like when a dog is scared; whinging is specifically complaining, with the word being used mostly when you’re implying that the complaint is petty and inconsiderate. In usage, though, when you hear that someone was whinging, you consider it a given that they were using a specific tone of voice, usually a whine.

  12. I’ve been reading for a while but this is the first time I’ve commented because it’s the best chapter so far! On the one hand the potential uses for Regent’s power are horrifying but on the other is is so satisfying to see Sophia finally brought down but on a third hand I feel like a sociopath revelling in that. But it is Sophia…. Why am I so conflicted?!? Take that as a compliment to your character development skills🙂

    Congrats on 100 chapters!

  13. Gosh… for a moment I thought he would do it… By that, sealing his own fate and that of his team members…

    Even what he already did (emails to police & school, weirding out Emma and especially scaring her family) may have been a bit too much… If she ever talks about it, seriousness will be some levels up, which means: The Birdcage for him and the Undersiders. *shudder*. Hm… thinking again… he is already bound for the Birdcage, for killing. But still…

    I think I need to calm down before I go to sleep.

    • On the other hand, there is no evidence that it was him that sent the e-mail, and it would take the PRT admitting that the other actions could have been done by Regent to give them much chance of getting caged for that.

      Besides, Coil’s taking over the city; taking over one hero isn’t that much, by comparison.

  14. at the beggining i felt that the chapter inspired postivie emotions,with shadow stalker getting what she deserved, but as the chapter went on i stopped thinking she deserved it and starting thinking reagent was going too far, by the end i felt sympathetic for shadow stalker, and started to realize that reagent really is a sociopath. he probably didnt realize he was doing something wrong, and felt like he was doing the right thing, but it was also clear that he enjoyed other poeples pain and would, if he could without risk, control as many people as possible and do stuff like this to all of them, deserving or not.

    • The thing I find the scariest about Regent is that he DOES seem to know what he is doing is utterly wrong and fucked up. And he just doesn’t care. He is so screwed up from his upbringing that practically nothing brings him any feeling and he gets more pissed about not having feelings than anything that should cause those feelings. It’s scary as hell to know that the only thing that keeps him from going all out is loyalty to his team (partly because he feels he should be loyal than actually needing to be loyal) and he knows if he pushes it too far than the heroes will gun for him as a priority.

      The only time I felt bad for Sophia was when he threatened her mom actually. I knew bullies like her, was bullied myself and I know of at least one person who killed themself to get away from bullies. So I have very little sympathy for people like Sophia. If you drive someone as far as they drove Taylor, then you deserve every amount of Karma she received here and more so. One single horrible awful bad day does not make up for over a year of shear torture. Because that’s what the trio did. Torture. I’m amazed that Taylor didn’t snap and either kill herself or kill them prior to the start of the story. Sophia deserved this.

      • I believe it’s mentioned earlier that Taylor herself thought that she had been travelling down that road; if her power hadn’t come in to distract her and give her a superhero life to look forward to, she might have turned suicidal. It’s scary to think about how it actually makes sense, and more so that this kind of stuff actually happens in real life.

  15. The first time I read this, I remember thinking that this was terrifying and Alec was a huge dick. Re-reading it now, Alec is a dick, but he’s also a pretty swell guy considering his background and personality. That line about him feeling worse about not feeling anything is subtle, yet powerful in that context.

    • I felt similarly — but you’re right about the ‘considering’. His morality hardware has been burned out, but he’s trying to emulate it in software.

  16. Man. So regent basically raped a bunch of people with his power? I know its is dads fault that he’s fucked up but damn he really is a fucking sociopath.

    Still kind of fun watching someone be evil with their powers and have fun doing it.

    But yeah this chapter kind of makes Regent terrifying.

  17. Back when I first read this chapter, I honestly thought Alec was going to do it, and I felt really bad for Sophia. She has ridiculously bad karma, but doesn’t deserve being made to hang herself. It was a very suspenseful chapter, with a real sense of growing dread. I was very releived by the time the chapter ended. Kudos to wildbow, for prompting that sort of emotional response for a character as unlikable as her.

    On my reread, I was more able to pick up on some of the hints as to her backstory, too. Interesting stuff.

    • I felt really bad for Sophia. She has ridiculously bad karma, but doesn’t deserve being made to hang herself.

      No, what she truly deserves is for the last thing she ever sees to be Skitter saying, “you want to know why?” *takes off her mask* “This is why.” And then Alec causes her to step off of a nice, tall building and makes sure she doesn’t go shadowform for the next few seconds.

      Did you know that if you stepped off a 14-story building, it would only take about 3 seconds before you reached the ground, in which time gravity would accelerate your body to 60 MPH? After those 3 seconds, her body would impact against asphalt or concrete and decelerate back to 0 again in much less than 3 seconds, causing her to splatter.

      Like a bug.

      She is a murderer, an unrepentant murderer at that, and moreover an unrepentant superpowered murderer, and that’s before we even get into any of the things she’s done to Taylor. that’s exactly what she deserves and I’m kind of disappointed it didn’t end that way. I really am.

      • Man, that would have been great. I think Sophia would have had to have done something worse for Taylor to have gone for that, but just the idea of that scene gives me chills.

  18. Oh my god, this chapter… just this chapter…

    I’ve been archive binging up to this point and intend to go on further but wow, amazing writing. It evoked so much emotion, without a doubt one of the best chapters in the story I’ve read so far.

    Regent is scary, but you wrote him in a way that gave me so much schadenfreude that I pulled muscles from laughing so hard during the early antics. Sobered up a bit later but wow, really fitting for Sophia, karma is a bitch. Just an awesome story (first comment).

  19. I started this expecting that it would make me hate Regent, or at least dislike him rather than generally be annoyed by him and suspicious of him. Then, I was totally into it. By the end I wished he’d killed SS. No reason to let her live, really, other than doing what he said he would to the group. But he could make up an excuse to get around that. I’d think she’s more trouble alive than her death would create.

    Still, fast thinking on his part.

    I noticed that in the past few chapters you’d used the word “grunt” a lot, and in places where it didn’t fit right. I was surprised that in this whole chapter the word didn’t show up after the second sentence – which was just a restating of what happened in the last chapter.

    • The problem with killing her is that it would bring the PRT down on him and the Undersiders. The group is more of the underdogs at the moment. Nobody really puts priority on them besides Coil because while they are annoying they haven’t done anything worth putting big resources into hunting them down like ABB or EEE. Blatant murder would rocket them straight up in the priority whether or not it was with their consent.

  20. It’s the little things that really sell this short. Stuff like Alec pausing to check youtube because he doesn’t know how to tie a noose. Keeps things grounded, reminds you that whatever else he might be, he’s human. Helps the reader to stay connected and empathize, which only ratchets the horror of his actions that much higher.

    Great stuff.

      • I had the same reaction to the comment too, but it’s actually correct as is. “Short” is a common abbreviation for a short story or film. Nim was saying it’s the little choices that help sell this short story, and he’s right.

        The language ambiguity is unfortunate. That’s one of the dangers of English. Its flexibility and ambiguity is brilliant for writers (and comedians.🙂 letting them express things in a nuanced, layered way. It also makes it very easy to inject double meanings where you weren’t intending to.

  21. Okay.


    Holy sh*t.

    I’m not exactly sympathetic towards Shadow Stalker

    (as per comment on SS’s Interlude, she’s one of the few characters I actually find myself hating with no sympathy at all)

    but this is scary.

    I still don’t feel sorry for her. At least, not in any rational sense. Regent completely screwed her life over and probably psychologically damaged her for life, and I feel bad about the idea of that happening to someone in the abstract, but I still think she deserved it, in the context of what she already did.

    My main reaction to this isn’t sympathy for Sophie, it’s fear and awe. Regent just jumped several rungs closer to “favorite” and “scariest” characters in this story. He took over this girl’s body and used that to destroy her life while she watched from inside, which to me is much scarier than even the Endbringers…

    …but he did it because she deserved it, and because she had hurt his teammate, which to me makes him a lot more likable, by some twisted reasoning.

    I’m going to have so much fun getting to sleep tonight. Keep up the amazing work, Wildbow.

    • I agree on all accounts. Regent is far scarier to me than the Endbringers. They will kill you but they will kill you fast and you will see it coming. This guy makes your mind a prison and can use your own muscle memory to damn you. It’s scary as shit.

      And yes I love how he basically fried his hard drive and runs a simulation of what should be there. And that he did this to her because of Taylor. So glad he is on the protagonist’s side!

  22. I like Regent now.🙂
    I’m not a sociopath like him but I can imagine doing something similar myself (particularly enjoying an athletic body with powers).

  23. I have not been able to stop obsessively reading this story since I discovered it a few days ago, and I just wanted to say that WOW this is by far my favorite chapter. More than a bit disturbing and sociopathic, but awesome and fantastically written. I’m a bit disturbed by how exultant I was the whole way through. Also now I’m alarmed at the disappointment I felt when he DIDN’T kill her. Like other commenters have said, I suddenly find myself really liking Regent. Great work!

  24. “I think I’m done with listening to you whinge,”

    I think it should be “whine”, unless that was intentional and I just don’t know the slang.

      • Whinge is also a *word* word, not slang. (As in, it is so much a word in the UK that I had no idea until now that it wasn’t universal in English-speaking countries. It has been used many times by relatively non-slangy sources such as BBC News, the Financial Times and the Economist.)

        The OED traces it to late Old English /hwinsian/ (‘whine’ traces to the related /whinan/). Its complaint meaning is actually *older* than the similar meaning of ‘whine’, which dates in that sense only from the 1520s. Both long predate any English colonization of the American continent.

        Given that, I wonder why it dropped out of use in the USA? Maybe it was less common in Ireland and the parts of the west country that sourced so much US immigration…

  25. I’ve been loving this so far, and then this chapter, oh my gawd! That was intense. I’ve been reviewing this as an option to have my book club read, and it’s just so unique I think I can sell them on it easily. So much good writing, but this chapter really stands out. Wow.

  26. Just read up to this point over the last week based on the recommendation of the HPMOR author and I am totally hooked. I think this is a perfect spot in the story thus far for me to take a break and smoke a figurative cigarette.

    Any speculation about Steven? No matter what Steven put Sophia through that made her such a cruel person (assuming she wasn’t before) it can still be argued that she deserved some sort of punishment for her behavior, though this is obviously extreme. But I wonder if some of us will have to temper our “enthusiasm” for this payback once we learn more about Sophia’s fomulative events.

  27. Wow.

    Up to here, the character I’d had the worst opinion of was Bakuda. One of the few people I thought actually deserved life in a one-way deathtrap like the Birdcage, or *maybe* being put down as a precautionary measure.

    Regent, though, needs to be *executed*. Publicly, if possible. Yes, Sophia was a bitch. Yes, she was a horrible person. She did not deserve this. *No-one* deserves anything like this. A fucking Endbringer attack would be preferable to allowing Alec to live once he has proven capable and *willing* to do something like this. His father, too, from what we’ve heard so far.

    • Really? I found it justified if not light treatment considering that she attempted to murder Skitter(as well as Grue for that matter) and was not going to let things drop. This is the bigger factor to me, most people seem to have focused on the bullying but that’s just because we read more about it.

      I mean lets look at his options as he sees them.

      1.Let her go while knowing she’s already tried to kill one teammate

      2.Make her commit suicide and try to make it appear like she left town.

      3.Keep her hostage indefinitely.

      4.Frighten her into leaving town.

      Letting someone with no compunctions against murder and a vendetta against you go free when they’re at your mercy requires either a death wish or a noble but stupid outlook.

      Option two is worse than what he actually did in my book.

      Option three is questionably even worse than two morally speaking. Plus there’s a risk that she’d get free of whatever restraints they used during periods that Regent slept.

      I’m fine with option four and really don’t see much wrong with it other than him getting enjoyment out of it. Sophia clearly has mental issues and it would take a lot to frighten her to the extent that he needs to. There could be an argument as to whether he needed to go quite that far but it would be easy to not go far enough.

      • I’m not sure that anyone’s disagreeing that it was the best tactical move available (though getting Sophia being her lovely murderous self on film and releasing it to the media should work to get her sent to the Birdcage pronto – she’s already on thin ice. If the issue of whether she was being controlled pops up, we’ll Armmaster can detect lies, no?).

        What Mouse (and I, for that matter) are saying is that it’s a move that only a monster would actually execute.

        I can understand how such a power could be seductive and addictive. And feeling lessened when only on a single body would be horrible. But those other bodies are *inhabited*. Being powerless over your own body and your own life is about the most horrible thing that can happen to someone. Having your enemy control them is worse. (Arguably murder is worse still, but at least a murdered person isn’t still suffering).

        Regent seems to be so messed up for good reasons and this action helped out the Undersiders but that doesn’t change the fact he’s a horrific monster.

    • Why “executed”? If we execute everyone that is even capable of upsetting the status quo, then soon no one will be left. On the other hand, those who completely abuse their powers (not necessarily super) need to have the capability to use their power taken away. Taking one’s agency to use their power away is the most effective form of punishment, worse than any death penalty.

      Of course, that doesn’t mean I support your idea of killing or punishing people like Alec. I mean, everyone is capable of terrible deeds in their own way. The fact that he chooses to channel his power towards benefiting people, even indirectly, by destroying the lives of evil people, rather than destroying innocent lives for his amusement, which he is capable of with his power, is definitely a redeeming factor. Being able to separate what is good from what is evil is pretty much all the morality that is necessary. I wouldn’t say Alec is completely amoral, at this point in the story. In fact, I’d even say he tries to be a good person to his.. well.. colleagues.

      Taking a person’s past actions into account is all well and good, but it’s also necessary to give more weight to the person they are trying to be now. Alec has changed his motives, if not his actions, and doesn’t use his powers for personal pleasure anymore. Shadow Stalker, on the other hand, has displayed multiple reasons to be “put down”. If given more power, she’d pretty much enforce her “prey-predator” view upon the entire world. She’d abuse, ruin or even take away the lives of everyone she deems weak, without remorse or doubt. So yes, she very much deserves to have the equation of power turned on her.

      Fuck, I can think of hundreds of people who deserve to have their capability to act taken away, just as Regent does. I don’t know why you can’t.

  28. I always love reading from the perspective of psychopaths/sociopaths. They always do such *interesting* things in stories, where neurotypical characters would be boring and predictable. I hope there are more chapters from Regents POV.

  29. Watch that first line, folks, it’s a doozy. Seriously, it stood me on my head with one word. “lied.”

    Very happy to learn more about both Shadow Stalker and Regent, and this chapter definitely accomplishes that. And as terrifying and wrong as this is, I’m a bit disturbed to admit that it was also very satisfying, partly because of the way he turns her own nature and past wrongs against her, and partly because seeing her powerless and afraid is a bit of poetic justice. As far as wrongness, though, the way he turns her unconscious reactions against her is almost worse than his outright control of her body. It means that she can’t help betraying herself in small ways, effectively giving him clues about how to hurt her the worst. That would add to the terror a lot, I think.

    All in all, extremely troubling – but a great read. I’m not sure whether dying or surviving is worse from SS’s perspective, mainly because I think she’s extremely prideful and each option hits her hard, in significantly different ways. I definitely think that pressuring her not to admit Regent’s responsibility for much of what just happened was a masterstroke, in terms of finding a way to hurt her – this night could well have ramifications for the rest of her life, and she’ll be reminded of what he did every day, most likely. Anytime something makes her think of her family, or school or super-work. Her entire life is probably tainted by this, now, even if she never again sets foot on the same continent as Regent. It’s a hell of a blow. Maximum effect for minimum effort, indeed. And despite the horrific things he does, I still end this chapter feeling more sympathy for Regent than when it started. That is quite an achievement.

    I do feel a bit bad for Sophia (though not as much as I probably should) and also for her mother. In a nicer and less logical world, she and Danny Hebert would meet in a local support group for parents of superteens and help each other through the nastiness, or something. Parents of supers often get a raw deal, it seems to me. Even the decent ones.


    • It’s not spelled out, but I noticed that Mom was pretty quick to fall back to smacking Sophia, showed plenty of anger, little fear, although she knows her daughter is healthy, strong, impulsive and violent. I have a feeling that Sophia had a lot of help digging the hole she’s in.

  30. That was… amazing and horrifying. The wham “I lied” line at the start, the guilty amusement as she admits her misdeeds then the increasing unease as she’s forced to do things she wouldn’t then more and more horrible as we see her home and near-suicide. And how this is Alex trying to be good.

    Something that occurred to me was that this is in some ways the same as Taylor or Ender’s approach, the willingness to inflict fear or pain if it is necessary and the best way to resolve a situation.

    If the rush of controlling people is like a drug to him it’s scary to think what he might start doing once he has his own team and the others can’t keep an eye on him as much.

  31. “The anger was gone now. There was only fear.”
    My favorite part of this very good chapter. It’s neat to have this literal insight in what a character feels, cause it makes it so clear that Alec’s thing works. Probably not in the way he intended, but still: He manages to break Sophia’s illusions of immortality, or superiority. Now that she understands that she’s not better than everyone else – that she can be beaten, and even killed – she can begin to connect with the rest of humanity. Maybe even develop empathy. I think, in her position, a person can only choose to completely embrace other people, care about them and hope that they care about her in turn and try to avoid making people want to do this sort of thing to her again, or reject other people completely and go live in a cabin in the woods.

    In either case, everyone wins.

    Not that I’m advocating abusing people to the point where they fully believe they’re going to die as a solution to antisocial behavior or anything. It may have worked for me, but I don’t want anyone to go through the same. But speaking as we are, sure about the facts a) exactly what she’s feeling and b) she didn’t die, in Sophia’s case, I think what Alec did helped her.

    • Or she defines predators as better than prey and defines her abuser as a predator. A belief in her superiority to the majority would then be reinforced.

      Or she reasons that while they may be dangerous if given a chance and the right conditions, that’s a motivation to be more careful. There are many ways of mitigating risk.

      More than two potential responses to fear down the line.

  32. I haven’t said this yet, so let me say it now: this is an excellent story, one of the best things I have ever read.
    Suffice it to say that this is the most disturbing thing I have read in a long, long time. Especially the part where he almost hangs her.

      • I agree that “whinge” is a word; a very Anglo word that Alec would know and use, but …
        it is obviously sticking for many USA readers, and is probably NOT a word that Sophia would use. so the question is — would Alec make the little “slip” of putting it in her mouth in front of her mother?
        May want to consider that in an edit for publication, Wildbow.
        On the other hand:

        HOLY. CRAP! did I have Regent under-estimated until now! He is SERIOUSLY powered and scary! Amazing character development!

  33. God. Friendly little pet sociopath they’ve been keeping around.

    Taylor knows that Tattletale misses things. It would be smart of her to start asking Tattletale more specific questions about horror scenarios like this, which she seems better at imagining.

  34. I always kind of liked Regent, especially his costume design, all about deception. It was a bit annoying how you were giving all the characters these awesome backstories, but kept skipping over Regent, leaving him in the background. Now we get a whole chapter of Alec/Regent psychopathic goodness, and I must say, I really, really enjoyed it. Not sure what that says about me, but I wished he had killed Sophia. At the very least, publicly revealed her as Shadow Stalker? The bitch got what was coming to her. I wonder what happens with the suicide note, though, because she didn’t actually commit suicide…?
    Alec is quite a scary character now.

  35. Second time reader first time comment or. Good job asusual wildbow. As a sociopath myself. I couldn’t stop giggling. Would have like to see her die but whatever. I will say that I preferred Alec keep her as his personal meatpuppet but Taylor is too much of a hypocrite for that to ever happen. Still gj wildbow.

  36. Everyone else: lol sophie got what she deserved
    holy crap holy crap regent is freaky as shit!

    So Alec is bi? This shall have interesting effects on the ships.

  37. Too rude. Scare her? Break her? Mess her human contacts? Too rude.
    What would she think? That she met even bigger bully than she is?
    Alas. I hoped she will repent somehow and make perfect pair for Brian.

  38. We’ve talked about what Alec did to Sophia but I’m a bit surprised that noone’s brought up how comfortable he is deliberately deceiving the Undersiders.

    He ostensibly punished Sophia on Taylor’s behalf, but even that seemed more from a sort of general “I can’t let you get away with messing with my associate’ principle than any genuine concern for Taylor.

    He seems happy enough to be part of the Undersiders for now, but he doesn’t seem genuinely attached to any of them. If a better deal came along, I suspect he would turn on a dime.

  39. Typo alert-
    So yeah, maybe father had broken something in the process. -Father
    “What the fuck soph… what the fuck!? It’s three AM!” -Soph
    “Seriously? That‘s your issue!?” – the ‘s is left out of the italics
    Thirty-three Stonemast avenue had a toddler’s toys sitting on the front lawn. -Avenue
    The hedges between the property and the neighbors was overgrown -were
    So what did he do do you? -to you

  40. I’m just wondering out loud here. If Sophia gets exposed in school as being shadow stalker, which I’m sure is going to happen in one of the upcoming chapters, then it sure as hell is going to do one hell of a lot of damage to the Wards reputation, which means that Piggot will have to ensure a stricter recruitment policy.
    Coz the people in Winslow sure as hell know what a sadist Sophia really is. Then again, if they prevented her from being expelled, and just suspended maybe the authority really are a bunch of insensitive assholes.

  41. This is my second time through, and I think this is my absolute favorite chapter. Yes, there are some where Skitter pulls off some pretty badass shit, and points of delightful foreshadowing and irony, but there’s just something about a well-written socio-pov chapter…and this is one of the best I’ve ever read. My compliments to the author.

    After reading everyone’s reactions to Regent here, I can’t wait to see how they react to some of his later actions!

  42. Holy…wow. Okay I have to say that was awesome and extremely well played and I am soooooo glad to see at least one of the trio get their comeuppance. But I have to say that dear lord Alec scares the shit out of me! He strikes me a more dangerous Dexter. He knows pretty much without a doubt that he is a fucked up sociopath who doesn’t really feel things the way that he should but it doesn’t change that he is a fucked up sociopath. He has the potential to be one of the scariest nightmares in the closet of almost anyone shown so far in my opinion. Thank god he works with the main characters and thank god he didn’t decide to go after Taylor before. It was a wonderful pet the dog though fucking with Sophia so much partially on account of her, especially since she only just started to patch things up a few days prior.

    Also I have to say that the entire situation with Alec is a perfect example of what I had commented on a few chapters back in 9.something. Sophia is a evil bitch who might or might not have a sad backstory but it doesn’t matter. She is psycho but not nearly to the extent that Alec is. And Alec had an even more horrible past almost guaranteed. And yet here he is being nice to his teammates, helping out previously even when it hurts him, knowing he is fucked up and sorta kinda working around it, and all around having redeeming traits despite being screwed up and kinda evil. He is a bastard but he is a bastard who understands that and doesn’t go out of his way to be a bastard just because he can. It’s pretty cool. Doesn’t change the fact that he scares me shitless though.

  43. “Comeuppance”? “Awesome”? “Justified”? What the fuck is wrong with all the people lionizing Regent? I haven’t read farther than this but he deserves to be dumped in the deepest darkest part of the Birdcage more than any other character we’ve seen so far.

    • Really? You think that a man taking revenge on someone who has tried multiple times to murder a not one but two of his teammates, at least once in cold blood, deserves to go to the Birdcage? Is Regent a bit unhinged and the worst person on the team? Sure. But he at least is attempting to be civilized and was screwed over by his father from the time he was born. Sophia has no supervillain parents to give a convenient excuse for being a psychopath. She has been shown to have no thought for her teammates at all, her family didn’t seem particularly invested in her and she executes people who are inconvenient or annoying. Regent has been holding back with few complaints and even in this chapter he held back. SS never held back and acted far worse than he did.

      On top of that we know exactly how she was acting out of costume with outright torturing to Taylor. I’ve been bullied myself. Thankfully it wasn’t to the degree shown in this story but it was bad enough I hated going to school. If I had been subjected to the torture (and that’s what the bulling at the beginning of the story was, not abuse, torture) shown earlier, I wouldn’t have made it as long as our hero did. I would’ve snapped and either killed the bullies or myself. Sophia deserved far worse than what Regent did to her in this chapter. I have no delusions, Regent is a sociopath. But to me, for giving Sophia just a small amount of the karma she has earned, he is my hero.

      • Yes, Regent deserves to go to the Birdcage. The keyword is “revenge”. Regent wasn’t acting in self (or other) defence – he went out of his way to use his powers to mentally torture someone.

        This argument that “Oh, but Sophia is worse!” doesn’t hold much water. That doesn’t excuse Regent’s actions – it just means they *both* belong in the Birdcage.

        Yes, he’s doing the best he can with the upbringing he had. How often do we tell dangerous criminals “Oh, I didn’t realise you had a terrible childhood. You can go free then.”?

        Regent is understandable, even sympathetic. He’s also a major menace to society.

        • I can agree that he is a menace and probably should go to prison but I don’t believe he deserves the Birdcage. He should go to regular prison with rotating guards and get therapy.

          I just get annoyed when people suddenly decide Regent is a bad person because of the Sophia thing. He’s shown he has a screw loose quite a few times. My biggest problem with him is honestly the part with Bakuda when he was honestly praising some of her antics which creeped me right the hell out. I’ve been a little set against Regent since then. I’ve come to terms with him being the Token Evil Teammate.

  44. My compliments to Wildbow. It takes a lot of skill to craft a character unlikable enough that I wouldn’t feel bad about something like this happening.

  45. >It was funny, but with the route they were taking, if the timing was a little different


    >The light fixture itself was flimsy , but the frame it was attached to was bolted securely into the wooden beams of the ceiling.

    Space between clause and comma.

    I like Regent. Maybe that paints a bad picture of my ego, how my favourite characters appear to be Coil and Regent, the two a lot of people would probably call the most evil characters in Worm so far.

    I don’t find them to be such, though. They’re both supremely self-interested, but evil? It’s not like either of them go out of their way to hurt people, like Kaiser would, or go about their business in a despicably unscrupulous way, like Heartbreaker, or are just incomprehensibly violent, like the Endbringers. They just do their thing; as it happens, their thing occasionally involves hurting others, and they don’t really care. Aye, a man of my heart, this Regent.

    I’m sad he didn’t make Sophia kill herself, and I don’t think it fits his personality not to. Sure, his team would probably have reacted with revulsion if it ever came out, but the way he set it up, it’s unlikely it ever would have. From Regent’s perspective, I see no reason not to kill her. It would’ve been a more complete job – only drawback is he wouldn’t have been able to see it.

  46. That… was way less satisfying to read than I thought it would be.

    End result? I like. Her hero career is over, at least in that city and under that name. Her relationships are gone.

    But that body control power… wow…

    I think it creeped me out too much for me to really enjoy it.

  47. As much as Alec is a fucked up sociopath (I don’t deny that in the least!), since the beginning of the story, although I’ve always gotten the sense he was clearly evil, I’ve found him just a fascinating character. His powers are undeniably awe inspiring, even if he uses them in fucked up ways. I guess a part of me deep down is attracted to how screwed up and evil he is, which sort of disturbs me.

    As someone who had a friend bullied (If not to the degree Taylor was, but still cruelly) when I was in high school, knowing the effects on his mental health for years afterwards, I can be glad of SS’s fate. As much as I know Regent acted not out of loyalty to Taylor, I still like that Shadow Stalker ‘faced the music’ so to speak.

    All in all, if in real like someone i knew acted as Alec does, I suppose I’d probably be incredibly terrified and freaked out. But as a story, the sociopathic character is just so interesting and compelling that I can’t help but like him. Wildbow, I congratulate you on a truly fantastically crafted character.

    You have to admit, moral issues aside, Regent does have a very cool costume.

    • What if I said that just because Alec used to be an evil psychopath, it doesn’t mean he’s always evil ever after? I mean, he does keep his… psychopathy.. under control a lot of the times. In fact, outside combat situations, there’s rarely any scene (other than this particular one) where he grinds his enemy’s face into the dust purely for his own entertainment. To get the job done, sure he does, and maybe he enjoys it. But he never goes out of his way to find someone to torture.

      Also, he’s literally the one guy the Undersiders can depend on to not let emotions cloud his judgement. If there’s one guy who can genuinely compliment an enemy (Bakuda) in order to buy time without letting guilt at being an asshole get in the way, it’s Regent.

      Doesn’t it all come down to whether the person he’s going to be a psychopath with is also an incorrigible (incorrigible is a key word) psychopath who would never change her mind about killing them all and, figuratively, bathing in their blood?

      • I agree entirely. Although it mentions him using his power in evil ways in the past, throughout the story so far, he hasn’t used the full extent of it where it wasn’t deserved or necessary.

  48. Damn. Alec was always my favorite Undersider. Hell, he’d even be the kind of guy I’d like to kick back with every once in awhile. I thought his attitude was just a laid back personality, I didn’t think he was an actual sociopath! During that tattletale interlude, the moment tattletale read him as “sociopath” I went an instant “NOPE” and realized Alec is not the type of guy I should be cheering for.

    This chapter has me at mixed feeling for him. On one hand, he’s absolutely a sociopath. On the other, he tries to maintain a “code” to a certain degree. He considers the Undersiders his friends even though he doesn’t feel anything for them. The actions he did in this chapter were a mixture of “I need to scare this girl out of town” “Karma’s a bitch” and “I love fucking with people”

    Unfortunately, he acts upon his personal desires over anything else. At least he’s willing to admit it. For now, Alec is still cool in my book, he just creeps me out on a whole new level.

    • I agree though truthfully after this chapter I was less creeped out than before. His comments during the whole Bakuda thing really made my hair stand on end in addition to a few other things here and there. This gave me context and let me feel a bit better about his particular version of crazy.

      I mostly read Alec as a sorta Dexterish character. He is a guy who truly believes he is completely incapable of feeling anything, is mildly bothered by that and still sorta tries to act somewhat normal most of the time. Coupled with he does seem to actually have some feelings but doesn’t particularly recognize it himself I actually really liked him a lot more after this chapter.

  49. Oh, wow. Hahaha. That bitch deserves it. I feel kinda bad, but that shit in her phone about Taylor? Emma and her actually plan out the bad shit they want to do to her, which in hindsight is obvious, but shows how truly evil that girl is. Loved this chapter!

  50. Wow, this was somehow the most riveting (and terrifying) chapter yet. Incredibly well done! Bad people doing bad things to other bad people… It’s almost as interesting to read through the comments and see the different levels of reactions.

  51. Even on a second read-through and knowing it was coming this was pretty disturbing. Like many others here I’m actually disturbed by how satisfying it was to see Sophia/SS get, well I was going to say “her comeuppance” or “just desserts” but I don’t really agree with that.

    Since reading a book on evolutionary psychology and getting used to the idea of emotions as basically suspect, designed to help us survive rather than out of any greater purpose or tapping into some kind of basic truth, that I’ve become skeptical of the ideas of retribution even in its fairer guises of “fairness” or “justice”. It feels instinctively right and good to see bad people be punished, but that instinct could well exist so we make an example of those who cheat or harm us rather than because retribution is actually right (and punishing unfairness is usually to our advantage since we’re biased to calculate things in our favour anyway).

    For me punishment can be justified on utilitarian grounds (to aid rehabilitation or deter others), but punishing for its own sake, even if motivated by ideas of fairness or justice, is just increasing the amount of suffering in the world. I feel Regent’s “scare ’em straight” approach could possibly be justified on these grounds (even after the Wards fight Sophia wanted revenge, and in the circumstances breaking her spirit might have been the only way she could be removed as a threat), but if say you found out Sophia was living on a deserted island somewhere, with no prospect of or opportunity to harm others there would be no reason to go and harm her just because “she deserves it” for her misdeeds.

    • Totally agree. Regent went way over the line.

      The hypothetical I think of is “If X could be cured of their violent/criminal tendencies with 100% success, would you be happy to see them set free and returned to society tomorrow?”. Why/why not?

      • That’s a good way of looking at it, ideally everyone would be given however much time and therapy they needed to mend their ways. Everyone deserves that chance and it’s a tragedy that our resources and time are sometimes limited (e.g. when the person is about to harm someone) mean sometimes we can’t always give people the mercy they deserve.

        As for Regent though, I’m not sure if I’d say he went *way* over the line. The fact he enjoyed it is reprehensible and maybe that impure motive taints the whole enterprise, but I wonder if you could make a utilitarian argument at least partially justifying a similar “scare ’em straight” action if the motivations behind it were different.

        You could argue his power gives him enough knowledge of Shadow Stalker’s emotions to know she won’t let this go and will come after his friends again unless he does something. This puts him in the position of having to choose whether to harm her or risk harm to the other Undersiders (or possibly unrelated parties). While she still deserves mercy, would the extent of her misdeeds (murder and torture) make her less deserving of it than an innocent or someone with less bad misdeeds, meaning if we had to choose to save her or the other we should choose the other?

        This justification would only apply if he knew for sure she was likely to harm others (something we’d have trouble knowing in real life), if he couldn’t think of some less horrible way of stopping her doing so and if protecting others rather than revenge was the primary/sole motive for Regent’s action.

        Does that sound fair? I’m not an expert on morality or ethics so it’s possible I missed something important here, and the action still feels pretty questionable.

  52. You know what always scares me the most whenever I read this chapter? I know I should be absolutly horrified by Regent systematically destroying Shadow Stalkers life. I know I should be. But so much of me is just finding him sorta charming, and hates Sophia so much for the shit she did to Taylor…. Well Shadow Stalker should be Glad Regent wasn’t feeling more ambitious about ruining her life.

  53. I really enjoyed this chapter!
    Regent doesn’t scare me. If he were real, he totally would and I’d want him to go to the Birdcage, but as it is, I really like this power.
    Not even because he’s fucking up Sophia. The bullying scenes were long ago and I don’t quite hate her, and I have a hard time connecting her to her superhero identity.
    Just…the possibilities.
    (And no, I don’t think anyone should feel scared by this. You don’t have an obligation to feel any one way.😛 )

    This was one intense chapter, Alec with his sociopathic tendencies freaked the hell out of me. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, since the first line. Good thing he didn’t cross that line though.

  55. I’m worried, because I think I enjoyed this interlude as much as Regent did, and I don’t like what that says about me as a person.

    • Emma deserves it. Emma deserves worse. As someone who has been bullied, I would much rather be killed than slowly tortured for years. Especially by someone who used to be my best friend. Sophia may have issues and Alec might have been a bit extreme but I have pretty much zero issues with what happened in this chapter. And I fully feel that Emma deserves far worse than this.

      When you start to think this is over the top remember how the story started. Taylor was forced to eat lunch in a BATHROOM STALL to try and escape her torturers. And it still wasn’t enough. These ‘people’ deserve every ounce of karma heaped upon them.

      • Y’know, it’s not incompatible to believe someone deserves to be punished horribly and still recognise that someone willing to actually inflict that horrible punishment on someone is a bad person.

        • I never said that Alec isn’t a bad person. He’s certainly not good by any stretch. He may be acceptable (pushing the bounds really at this point since most of my examples of his better behavior is from later chapters) but he is definitely not good. I was mostly commenting on Sophia and Emma having this coming.

      • Okay, I understand where you’re coming from. I’m sorry, I didn’t want to shit on your experiences. I definitely don’t feel *sorry* for her.

        I stand by what I said about Alec. Just like with Sophia, no matter how he was raised, it doesn’t excuse the grievous crimes he admitted to committing, and seems to have even less qualms about hurting people than her.

        • No worries, I just get annoyed at all the people who look down on bullying as not really being as bad as the victims make it out to be. It really is a form of long term psychological torture that most perpetrators simply never get punished for because “they’re just kids”. My own experiences were nowhere near as horrible as those depicted here but it still hits close enough to strike a nerve.

          I agree, Alec is screwed up. I can’t even really defend him all that well at this point as his primary redeeming factor is that he does truly seem to do this more out of “you screwed with one of my few friends” rather than just wanting to “play”. He certainly enjoyed his antics far more than is comfortable. While I cheered for the karmic retribution I did still get the willies from Alec. Between here and his reaction to Baccuda, he is an exceptionally creepy and disturbed guy.

          The one thing I can give to Sophia without any reservation at all: she does well and truly believe her own philosophy and follows it.

          • That’s one of the things I love so much about Worm; the portrayals of abuse and bullying are so real and the effects/treatment of abuse are not remotely sugar-coated. Representation for victims of bullying is an important thing. But I 100% understand that it must be uncomfortable to read.

            • I agree fully. It really makes Worm so much more powerful!

              It was but that was part of why I feel this story was so amazing. It’s rare to find literature that takes something totally unrealistic like superpowers and not only makes it sound perfectly reasonable but also blends it with well portrayed real world issues.

  56. Augh. See, this is the Sophia chapter I wanted, except it’s about Regent. (Does that make sense? I want(ed) a chapter that gets is inside Sophia’s head the easy this one gets us inside Regents’. I see where this one was necessarily easier to write, because we already have some context for Regent.)

    That… *shivers*. Yet we know Sophia earned every bit of what he did to her. Whether she deserved it is a slightly different thing.

  57. I FUCKING LOVE REGENT. He is definitely my new favorite character. He has so much more depth now and you have done an excellent job of conveying how much of a sociopath he is. And hes still likeable for it IMO since it is pretty much his dad that made him that way. If you believe in nurture > nature anyway.

  58. I just want to finally comment… I have been absolutely AWESTRUCK and CAPTIVATED at this entire series (book?!)…

    Whoever the author is – first, my most sincere apologies for not knowing as I’ve been unable to tear myself away from reading this for more than sleeping (recovering from surgery)…second, holy shit – why don’t you have some sort of publisher and print this?! This is the kind of brilliant writing that deserves to be PAID for…have to say I’m glad it isn’t for my own sake (broke single mom), but I would maneuver some bills to buy this with the way I’ve been hooked like a damn junkie, just sayin!

    Huge kudos to you, this is absolutely one of the best things I’ve read in a LONG time…more interesting to me than Harry Potter or Twilight (hope that isn’t offensive, but I think we can all agree that those things got tons of press).

    And last…wow…I have to say I only feel a slight bit sorry for Sophia, as sick and twisted as that may be…she totally deserved it!

    • Uh, no she didn’t. There are precious few people who I would say deserved what she got, and Sophia is not one of them. This was MAJOR overkill and Regent is a sick fuck for doling it out.

      • The girl had no qualms with attempting to kill people simply because they either annoyed her or got in her way. She was also one of the ringleaders in a progressive bullying campaign that had a high school girl steps away from suicidal. This was bad but it was not caps worthy “MAJOR” overkill. It was karma coming all at once instead of spaced out.

        Regent is screwed up yes but Sophie was nowhere near innocent. I actually hate Sophia more than some of the true crazies in the setting. Murderers are horrible but Sophie and Emma were straight up torturers. As a victim of bullying myself, I cheer watching her get some comeuppance in this chapter.

        • Look, here’s what Sophie did versus what Regent did to her.

          -Physically bullied Taylor
          -Directly caused her trigger event
          -Was an accomplice to emotional bullying

          -Physically tortured her
          -Took control of her body, which I read as a metaphor for rape
          -Forced her to fight against her teammates
          -Gave her false hope and immediately snatched it away
          -Forced her to out herself to the police
          -Forced her to assault her own mother
          -Forced her to falsely out herself as a lesbian
          -Taunted her with preparations for her own suicide
          -Released her into the wild

          I count the last one because her life is fucking RUINED. She has no safety net. She can’t turn to her family, her friends, or even the police. This girl probably has PTSD similar to those of rape victims/survivors, and she has nowhere to turn. She will be homeless for the rest of her life, probably unable to rely on even other homeless people for help, for fear they’ll recognize her and turn her in, if a reward for her capture is posted. The chances of her being sexually assaulted while out on the streets is high. And when I say “the rest of her life,” I mean “the next few months, at most,” because this girl is probably going to kill herself. And when she does, will she be vindicated? No. Fucking. Way. She’ll be remembered as an unstable cape who lost control, probably had deep-seated mental issues, and killed herself as a result.

          If you still don’t care about her fate, think of her family. Her parents are going to have to fight off the press for the rest of their lives. They will probably receive hate mail and threatening phone calls, being the parents of an unstable cape and all. They’ll be blamed for something she didn’t even want to do. In the midst of this, they’ll always wonder why she did what she did. They’ll never have any peace. Regent’s “payback” didn’t only affect Sophie; it affected her family. I’ve been bullied. I’ve been abused. And this is not justice. This is SICK.

          All because she bullied the protagonist, who, by the way, has the Undersiders for support and nifty superpowers to show for her trigger event.

          • Things you missed in the “what she did”
            -Tried to murder Gru
            -Tried to murder Skitter
            -Purposely goes out of her way to hurt people (remember how she
            let those men start assaulting that woman so that she would have an excuse to go all out and injure them as badly as she wanted?)

            -Has a fucked up philosophy about everyone being either predator or prey and fights to enforce this on those who don’t “stay in their place”
            and last but not least:
            – Has LITERALLY (see i can use caps too, isn’t this exciting?) killed multiple people

            Now from what i can see, your first mistake is reading too much into the story “Which i read as a metaphor for rape” Regent has actually raped people, so there is no reason to imagine that this is a metaphor for that. Now to address everything else you said point by point:
            – She has no safety net? Have you been paying attention? She hates almost everyone or despises them for being weak at the very least. She doesn’t rely on other people. ESPECIALLY as shoulders to cry on.

            – As for the PTSD, perhaps but i doubt it. she was angry instead of scared for the majority of the episode. Anger does not (despite what many people who are easily “triggered” might tell you) create PTSD

            -Why would she be homeless, and why would there be a reward for her capture posted? You seem to be thinking that people would not realize that she had been taken over by Regent, but this is NOT the case (It took the wards less than five minutes to figure out that she was being controlled so…)

            -Her being sexually assaulted? are you high? first of all, attempting to sexually assault her would be as pointless and laughable as trying to rape the wind. Second of all she is far too capable and aggressive for that to ever happen.

            – Her killing herself is not an option given the way she thinks about strength and weakness. (for her it would be an unforgivable weakness to admit to being damaged by killing herself)

            -Who do you imagine will be blaming her parents, and for what? the general public does not know what happened, and never will unless her family tells them, so no. And they will never have to “wonder why she did what she did” because the PRT will almost certainly tell them. Stop acting like she committed a mass shooting in her school or something.
            So that’s that. Also as a final note, the website has a trigger warning at the beginning to tell sensitives like yourself to steer clear. but you obviously haven’t read the beginning have you.

      • It IS just a story…but I concur, I see how someone would not believe anyone deserves punishment of any kind, as it is merely perpetuating violence, and what’s the point in that? But I agree, Regent was pretty sick.

  59. Wow, this chapter.

    Also I guess I’m more of a sociopath than the sociopath, since I really wanted him to kill her.

  60. Wow. Just wow. This is the first time I’m replying to one of your posts, Wildbow. You probably won’t see this but I had to say something. I have already read all of Pact first and then decided to read this one. I have been loving every word from the beginning. I loved Pact as well. This though. This is something else. Never before in writing have I felt such a concoction of emotions. Happiness at a ruthless bully, murderer, and all around bad person getting some well deserved comeuppance. Unhappiness and a bit of pity at an overly unfair punishment. Happiness again when I think of what she’s done and how she really does deserve this. Joy at the creative punishments for a vile person. Fear when I’m unsure if Regent is going to kill her, which I think would be a bit overboard. All of these emotions were flowing through me at the same time while I read this interlude. The whole story culminating in this at this point is masterful work, sir. I’m floored by this writing. Now I can’t wait to see the possible aftermath of this course of events. I would be a little sad if this was never touched on again but I’m sure it will be. You’re not one to leave plot threads hanging. Pun intended. You’re currently my favorite writer which may not mean much since I don’t read many books but gosh.

    Also I’m conflicted that this punishment didn’t happen to Emma who it seems like would be more deserving of this type of thing and who I really wanted to see get it after her awful personal attacks against Taylor. This is still good though. In a truly just world the whole posse would see an equal punishment. After I’m done reading this story I will be very excited to read Twig. You’re two for two on phenomenal writing and I doubt any future developments in this story could ruin it as I know you’re a skilled writer. Anyway enough gushing. Thanks for writing cool stuff.

  61. I recently discovered this web serial, and have since fallen in love with this story.
    I’ve been reading as much as I can every time I get a chance.

    Fantastic writing and concept, and your delivery is spot on.

    Of everything I’ve read so far, this is my favorite chapter, hands down. It was such a blind side, and seeing what Regent could and would do because of her, “Fucking with his teammate”, and simple boredom is beautiful.

    Certainly made me like the character a lot more.

  62. The world is so fucked up. People are just too good at doing only the stuff they can get away with. Honestly I’m a nice guy but I was hoping throughout this series that they would get their comeuppance, so glad it happened even though Emma deserved something like this instead.

  63. Holy shit.
    I knew Regent was messed up, but I didn’t expect to see something this cold-blooded.
    Props to Wildbow for the effortless changes in perspective. It feels like a totally new character each time.

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