Interlude 11b (Anniversary Bonus)

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Theo clutched the remote control in both hands.  For five minutes, he hadn’t taken his eyes off the TV set.

For those same five minutes, the TV set had been off.

“Who’s a pretty baby?  Who’s a pretty little girl?  You are! Yes you are!”

Aster squawked in one of the little cries that foretold an incoming tantrum.  Theo clutched the remote control tighter.  He felt a throbbing pain where the corners of the remote bit into the heels of his hands.

“Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry!”

Theo’s throat was dry, every thud of his heartbeat seemed to make his hands shake and his vision waver.  He’d never been more intimately familiar with the television itself.  The shape and color of the TV set, the proportion of the screen to the outer frame, the little border of silver around the very edges, and the ‘Starry’ brand name logo at the very bottom.  He suspected it would be ingrained in his memory for the rest of his life.

Which might just be a very short span of time.

“Nope.  Don’t see the appeal.  Hey, boy.”

Theo’s heart leaped in his chest.  He tore his eyes from the television and looked up at the man who was cradling Aster.

“The baby needs to be changed.”

Theo nodded and stood.  He was reaching for Aster when the man threw the baby at him.  He had to scramble to catch her, almost let her slip through his arms, and only just barely caught her by pressing her against his stomach and pelvis.  She started screaming.

“Don’t drop her, now, or I’ll be very annoyed.”

Theo nodded, raising his voice to be heard over Aster’s shrieks, “Yes sir.”

“Must you keep calling me that?  Do I really look like a sir?”

Theo looked at the thirty-something man.  He wore a dress shirt that was open to show his muscled chest and stomach, and had the sleeves rolled up to expose his forearms.  His tight jeans were low slung, his limbs long, and his hair was longer and greasy.

The man’s beard had been trimmed, but scruff was growing in around the edges, obscuring the intricate pattern that had been trimmed into the inside border of the  facial hair.  A knife danced around his fingers constantly, making Theo flinch every time the blade turned to point toward him and Aster.

Jack Slash.

“My father told me I should address my betters as sir, sir.”

Jack laughed with the slightest touch of derision.  “Well, your daddy taught you well, didn’t he?”

True enough.  Theo wondered if this measure of respect played any part in why Jack had let him live this long.  “Yes, sir.  I’m going to go change the baby.”

“Yes.  Do.”

Theo’s hands shook as he adjusted his grip on Aster, hauling her up until her head was at his shoulder, even though that meant she was screaming in his ear.  He carried her to the changing table and set her down.

Kayden had reclaimed her old apartment after the catastrophe, found many of her possessions still there.  The man never let the front door out of his sight as he walked around the living room, and was soon behind Theo.  With the open window, Theo could hope the man was upwind of the aromatic diaper.  How long before the squealing of the baby, an offensive smell or something else set the psychopath off?

“How long until your mother gets back?”

That was something else.  That was the third time Jack had asked the question.  Was his captor’s patience running out?

“She’s not my mother,” Theo changed the topic.  He dropped Aster’s dirty diaper into the bin.

Jack walked up to Theo, until he was just behind the boy, his shadow cast long by the setting sun, stretching over Theo and the changing table.  Theo could feel the tension ratcheting up.  “I’m going to get upset if you lie to me.”

Theo didn’t take his eyes off the baby, forced his fingers to keep working on the diaper.  “Kayden is Aster’s mother, sir, my dad’s ex-wife.  She’s been taking care of me since my father died.”

“Of course, of course, now I understand.  I believe you,” Jack said, before chuckling.  He turned and walked away, leaving Theo breathing out a shuddering sigh of relief.  When Jack spoke again, there was no humor in his tone.  “Do you love her?  The mother of that baby?”

“Yes, sir.”  But I don’t like her.

“Good, good.  Does she love you?”

“No sir.  But she likes me.”

“Ohhhh?” Jack drew out the sound, and it was vaguely mocking.  “Do tell.”

“I- I take care of Aster for her.  I do my chores, I don’t talk back.  I don’t make life harder for her,” Theo began.  He swallowed, “But my dad treated her badly, and I think she sees him when she looks at me, and she’ll never let herself love me because of that.”  She has to look past the doughy face to see Dad in me, past the baby fat I never seemed to lose, but I have his genes, I look like him, beneath it all.

Do you have some of your father in you?”

Did he?  “I’d like to think not, sir.”

“I’m remembering now.  Kaiser.  His name in costume was Kaiser.  I met him once, don’t you know?”

“I didn’t know.”

“Years ago.  Allfather still ruled Empire Eighty-Eight then.  They held a big meeting between all of the factions.  We stopped by.  Great fun.  I don’t think they accomplished a thing that day.  We provoked a bidding war instead.  Group called the Teeth wound up hiring us to kill some members of the Protectorate team.  We did it, and then we wiped out the Teeth before leaving the city.”

The Slaughterhouse Nine must have been new, then.  People today would know better.  Hopefully.

Jack chuckled lightly, “I digress.  I do remember your father.  He was older than you are now when I saw him.  He talked in a way that made me think he was an athlete.”

“He was, sir,” Theo confirmed.  And he was disappointed I never followed in his footsteps.

“There were more teams in this city, then, more villains.  Not many heroes.  Lots of scary motherfuckers around, and yet I could probably count on one hand the people who made eye contact with me.  Even then, when my reputation was a fraction of what it is today.  Your father was one of those people.  Ballsy fucker.”

“Maybe he thought you’d respect him for it, sir?  He was always good at reading people.”  And making them do what he wanted.  Even me.

“Is that so?  I’d like to think I’m much the same.  A people reader.  But my interest is in the design of people. What makes them tick?  What holds them together?  All too often, it’s one little thing.  In architecture they call it a keystone.  The one stone that keeps the entire arch from collapsing.  The weak point.  And I’m very, very good at finding those weak points.  Can you guess what I’m talking about here?  Why I’m in this apartment?”

“Aster, sir?”

“And you say you’re nothing like your father.  You’re sharp, little boy.”  Theo couldn’t see Jack move, but again, the man’s shadow fell over him.  He felt himself shrink down, as if the shadow weighed on him.

“Thank you, sir,” he managed.

“Yes.  See, my compatriots are all busy with a task, tonight, you understand.  I bet on the wrong horse.  Come.”

Jack’s hand fell on Theo’s shoulder, and he flinched.  Still, he scooped Aster up and followed as Jack led him to the front of the apartment.  There was a trail of blood leading from the front door to the nearby bathroom.  Jack gave Theo a push on the shoulder, but remained outside the bathroom, where he could watch the front door.  Theo entered.

There was a man in the bathtub.  He’d seen Jack drag the man inside, had heard the taps running.  What he hadn’t expected was for the man to be alive.

The bathwater was crimson, and the man lay in a sea of things that had been taken from the freezer and dropped within.  He was Japanese, Theo noted, his hair cut short, his body bearing the lean muscle of someone who’d honed their body into a weapon, and he was unconscious, though breathing.

“Oni Lee,” Jack spoke from outside the bathroom.  “Our habit is to nominate a certain individual.  Then the others test them in their own ways.  If that individual passes the test, they are recruited to the Slaughterhouse Nine.”

Theo didn’t know how to respond, so he kept his mouth shut.  He rocked Aster in his arms, using one hand to shield her eyes from the scene.  Not that he thought she could make it out or understand what she was looking at, but it made him feel better.

“I had a little conversation with Oni Lee.  Found him living above a grocer’s, with the help of one of my teammates.  Someone shot out his kneecap, it seems, and he’s been restless ever since.  A few kills here and there, but perhaps a little harder when you can’t walk.  Need the right time, the right place.  I kind of respected that, and the fact that he was another fan of knives was a point in my book.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But we didn’t even make it to the test.  I told him we had tinkers that could fix him up.  He was interested.  Then I told him he’d have to prove himself, he asked me how.  Now, it isn’t always done, that a member of the Nine tests their own candidates, but I decided to anyways.  Something off about him, wanted to make sure he didn’t embarass me.  Told him to come up with something, and he couldn’t.  Do you know what tabula rasa is, boy?”

“No, sir.”

“Blank slate.  A piece of paper with nothing on it.  A formatted computer.  A tombstone without the name on it.  Seems that fellow can copy his body just fine when he teleports, but something in his mind gets left behind.  Once I realized it, picked up on the fact that he was little more than a robot wanting his orders, I informed him I had decided we had no need for his services, we fought, and… here we are.”

“I see.”  And Jack was in one piece, while Oni Lee was bleeding out into the bathtub.

“So.  Come on out of the bathroom, now.” Jack ushered Theo out of the bathroom with the dying man. “There we go.  Back to  the subject of Purity and the baby…  Aster?”

“Yes, Aster, sir.”

“We’re going to play a little game.  See, the moment Purity steps in that front door, I give her just a moment to take in the scene… and then snicker-snack, you and the baby die.”

Theo felt his blood run cold.  Tears appeared in the corners of his eyes.  I’m going to die.

“I’ll get to savor the expression on her face as she watches her keystone crumble.  I’ll get to see how she responds as that element in her life that supports everything else bleeds out on this nice white carpet.  Maybe say something to just twist the knife.” Jack mimed a lunging stab and then slow turn of his blade.

Straightening, Jack looked Theo over, “A pity she doesn’t love you, but if she likes you, at least, then it’ll have to do.”

Why did I tell him that?

“She’ll kill you, sir.”  Theo said.  Then he added a hurried, “No offense.”

Jack waved him off.  “She’ll try.  So many have, and they’ve all failed so far.  But it’s good that it’s a little dangerous, a little risky.  It’s no fun if I know how it’s going to play out.  Some unpredictability, it gives spice to life.  Maybe I’ll kill her right after I see the look on her face.  Maybe I’ll escape and leave her to wallow in her misery.”

Escape?  From a fifteen story apartment building, against a supervillain who can fly and level city blocks?

Then again, Jack had done worse things than murder the child of a cape like Purity, and he was still here.

“Sometimes,” Jack started, pausing as if he was constructing the thought as he spoke it, “I like to imagine the impact I’ve made on the world.  What possible realities am I pruning, what events am I setting in motion, each time I take a life?  If the flap of a butterfly’s wing can alter the course of a hurricane, what am I doing when I take a human life?  The life of a person who interacts with dozens of people every day, who would have a career, romance, children?”

Tears ran down Theo’s face.  He clutched Aster tight.

“Can you tell me who you are, Kaiser’s boy?  What am I doing to reality when I open you up from cock to chin and let your entrails spill onto the floor?”

“I-I don’t know,” Theo said, his voice quiet.

“Don’t shut down on me, now.  Here, I’ll make you a deal.  If you give me a good answer, I’ll make it quick.  Thrust my knife right through the center of your brain.  It’ll be like flicking a light switch.  You just stop, and there’ll be no pain.  It’ll be as dignified as death can be.”

“I-”  Theo shook his head.

“I’ll even let you relieve yourself in the bathroom beforehand so you don’t shit yourself so badly when you drop dead.  You’d have to be quick, unless you want to be on the toilet when she comes in, but it’s a chance few get.”

“I wanted to be a superhero,” Theo blurted.

Jack laughed abruptly enough that Aster was spooked and started screaming louder.  His laughs continued for several long seconds.

Theo went on, as if Jack were still listening, “I’m probably going to get powers, because I’m Kaiser’s son.  But I don’t want to be a member of Purity’s group, I don’t want to cleanse the world or try to fix things by killing or through hate.  Sir.”

“And you’d fight people like me, I suppose?”

Theo nodded.

Jack was still grinning.  “What would you do to people like me, then?  Let’s say you got powers.  Would you right wrongs, lecture schoolchildren on doing what’s right, and see bad guys like me carted off to the Birdcage?”

Somehow, knowing the inevitability of his own death gave him a measure of courage he had never had before.  Even so, it took all of the willpower he had.  Theo met Jack’s eyes for the first time.  The man’s eyes were a very pale blue, and there were lines at the corners.

Theo swallowed the lump in his throat.  “People like you?  I’d kill.  Sir.”

Jack broke into a second spell of hysterical laughter, and it was all Theo could do to keep Aster from squirming out of his grasp in her distress.

“Can’t-” Jack had to break off to let another small laugh pass, “Can’t say I can imagine that, boy.  You, as one of the vigilantes?”

Neither can I, Theo thought, but he remained silent.

“But you’ve piqued my interest, and if there’s any reason I do what I do, it’s because I find it interesting.”

Theo could see the cell phone on the coffee table in the living room light up and shift position as it vibrated.  It happened behind Jack, and the man didn’t appear to see or hear it.  The only person who called Theo’s phone was Kayden, and she’d been out getting groceries.  It was routine for her to call for him to open the lobby door, then come down to help bringing them up from the lobby…

She was coming up.  He was almost positive.  Could he distract Jack and give Kayden the opportunity to put the man down?

“I’ve changed my mind,” Jack said.

Theo stared, trying to fathom what the man was saying.

“Don’t let it be said that I can’t delay my gratification.  Listen carefully now, I’m making you a deal.”

Theo nodded, mute.

“I want to see this.  This picture you paint.  So I’m going to give you a chance to make this happen.”

Theo nodded slowly, but his thoughts were on Kayden’s approach.  How long until Kayden opened the door?  Would Jack attack her?  Attack Aster?  Despite what he was saying now?  Or would Kayden attack him and provoke something?

“How old are you?  Fourteen? Fifteen?”

“Fifteen, sir,” Theo said.  Hurry up, finish before she comes.

“Two years then.  Two years to get your powers, to train, to do whatever it takes to become the motherfucking badass you describe.  That should be long enough without risking that one of us gets offed by bad luck or picking the wrong fight.  At that two-year mark?  You hunt me down, you kill, disable or sneak past my Nine, whoever they are two years from now, you look me in the eyes, and then you try to kill me.  If you fail?  If you cannot find me?  If you chicken out?  Hmmm… what’s a good consequence?”

In his hurry to resolve this before the door opened, Theo made the first suggestion that came to mind, “You kill me.”

“That goes without saying.  No.  It should be meaningful.  What’s your name, boy?”


“Fifteen year old Theo.  How many people’s lives will you touch in these coming two years, because I’ve spared your life?  Two hundred?  Five hundred?  A thousand?  How far will the flaps of your butterfly wings extend?”

Theo glanced at the phone.  It glowed and moved again.  Was Kayden in the lobby?

Jack went on.  “If you fail in this, I’ll kill nine hundred and ninety-nine people in your name.  I’ll even break my usual rules to get the body count that high, so it’s something special, beyond my usual habits.  Maybe a bomb, maybe poison.  I’ll come up with something.  I can target the people you love, those you’re closest to, people you’ve affected.  Aster there can be the nine hundred and ninety ninth, and you’ll be the thousandth.  Perfect.  Canceling out the impact you’ve made in the world, it’s poetic.”

Theo swallowed.  A thousand people?  Could he say no?  Could he refuse the offer?  Or would Jack carry what he threatened regardless?

“Well,” Jack spoke, smiling.  “I’ll be off.”

He stepped into the bathroom, turning away from the door for the second time in his entire ‘visit’.  When he emerged from the bathroom, he held the naked form of Oni Lee over one shoulder, a knife in his free hand.

“A treat for a teammate, this is,” Jack winked.  “Doesn’t need to be alive.  Just fresh.  Would you get the door, Theo?”

Theo hurried forward to open the door, shifting Aster in his arms to open it.

Kayden stood on the other side, groceries in hand.

Stern, she said, “Theo!  I called you twice.  Can you go down to the lobby and get the last two bags of groc-”

She fell silent as the door opened wider, revealing Jack.  In a moment, the bags in her arms were tumbling to the ground, and her hair, eyes, and hands were glowing with blinding light.

“Kayden,” Theo had to control his voice to keep it from shaking, “Let him go.”

“I had a wonderful conversation with young Theo here,” Jack spoke.  He rested his hand on top of Theo’s head.  Theo could feel the hard handle of the knife tap against his scalp.  “Very interesting.”

“What are you-” Kayden started, her voice rising with anger, but Theo lunged forward, gripping her shirt and shaking his head.  She looked down, confused.

Jack waggled a finger at her, “Don’t bother, Purity.  See, I’ve been studying you.  I go into every possible fight armed with knowledge.  You have a weakness.  A flaw in that power of yours.”

Theo could see Kayden tense, but she obliged when he pushed her away from the door and towards the end of the hallway furthest from the stairwell, stepping back.

“While reading up on you, I tried to put the newspaper clippings and online information in chronological order, and a funny thing happened.  Seems like your power is weaker some days, stronger on others.  I mapped it out.  You have some form of internal battery or fuel that drives your power.  After going days without using your power, you’re stronger.  After periods where there’s more sunlight, your power is stronger.  You absorb light of any kind, I suppose, and later spend it to use your abilities.”

Theo thought he might have seen a tiny flash of concern on Kayden’s face.

“It’s been an overcast week, and you’ve been using your powers a great deal, trying to put the Pure on the map.  So think very hard about what you want to do next.  Because if I’m right, and your power is spent, you might not succeed in killing me.  And I would retaliate by killing all three of you.”

“You’re underestimating me,” Kayden spoke, her voice hard.

“Then blast me away.  Turn me into a smear in your hallway, if you think you’re strong enough, quicker with your light than I am with a knife.  Prove me wrong,” Jack smiled.  He waited a few seconds, and the only noises in the hallway were Aster’s mewling complaints.

Jack stepped into the hallway and turned toward the stairwell.  “Thought so.  Be grateful.  That boy is the only reason you and your daughter are alive right now.  He’ll explain.  Train him.  Make him strong, make him vicious.  Let him take whatever path he needs to take.  You and your daughter owe him that.”

Kayden looked down at Theo, who glanced at Jack for just a second, then looked up at her and nodded quickly.  Urging her.  Jack wouldn’t be doing this if he didn’t think he could get away.

“Alright,” she spoke.

Jack didn’t offer anything further.  His knife twirling in his fingers, he stepped toward the door by the elevators, kicked it open, and stepped inside.  As he made his way down, he whistled a merry tune, the sound echoing through the stairwell until the moment the doors shut.

Theo handed Aster to her mother.  He felt dazed at the magnitude of what faced him.  Two years.

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77 thoughts on “Interlude 11b (Anniversary Bonus)

  1. I did say on Tuesday that I was preparing an anniversary bonus to thank you guys for supporting Worm for the past year. This is part of it. There’ll be other bonus updates on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, in addition to the regular updates. Okay, Tuesday and Saturday are interludes too, so this does delay the main story a smidge, but I’m hoping that’s not cause for major complaint.🙂

  2. (In Character)

    I feel an odd kinship. The other side of my coin. But not someone who uses bread and circuses for a…different purpose.

    If ever there was someone to shoot, he’s it. Or carpetbomb him. Some people take lemons and turn them into boomshine, and he’s one of them. He can just keep a pocketknife on him with his power. If he loses that, he’ll probably extend his fingernails and get you that way. If not that, he’d tear out a tooth and find a way to make that work.

    Within two years, Theo is going to save the entire world.

    Plan A: Feed him minions with implanted bombs set to go off at cessation of heartbeat.
    Plan B: Instant confrontation utilizing extremely strong, durable power armor that provides full body coverage.
    Plan C: Sneak attack using mutated vicious Komondors
    Plan D: Jupiter. That’s pretty self explanatory.
    Plan E: Amorphous goo monster that can dissolve organic matter on touch.
    Plan F: Inject him with specially designed nanites that disable nerves carrying optical and auditory information and instead send in a signal of one’s own to torture/disable/kill Jack Slash. Suggested programming: cute baby animals.

    • Fascinating. Because I came to the exact opposite conclusion of what Theo’s going to do in two years trying to kill Jack.

      I suppose only further reading will see which of us is right.

    • Hate to point out flaws, but plan D might be a rather pyrric victory…

      However, let me suggest:

      Plan G: a sniper (with either regular bullets or tranquilizers to get him to the Birdcage, depending on morals).

      Plan H: tame Endbringer.

      Plan I: provoke him into doing something big enough to get Scion’s attention.

      Plan J: have him fight Skitter or someone else with plot amour.

      Plan K: poison.

      Plan L: Trickster. Some possibilities are fairly obvious.

      Plan M: all of the above (plans A through L). Preferably at once.

  3. Great chapter, i love it. One of your best IMO.

    I hope we will see Theo again in the future and see some of his training.

    Speaking of promising young men, what happen with Chariot? We haven’t hear anything about him since Sentinel 9.5. Will he appear again?

  4. So far what we’ve seen of the Abattoir Eight they’ve been quite likable for complete monsters. Figures. As far as I can tell, nobody being all good or all evil is pretty much the biggest theme of this whole narrative.

    Great chapter.

      • These guys don’t seem like sociopaths, more like psychopaths. Sociopaths are generally defined as being mentally incapable of feeling things like the majority of people do (like Regent). They tend to be homicidal maniacs because they don’t give a shit that they are killing people. The part of them that is supposed to cringe at that is broken so they feel nothing. Psychopaths on the other hand don’t have their empathy broken, they have their psychology broken. Instead of feeling nothing they feel good with the wrong things. Torture, murder and destruction feels awesome. Sociopaths are capable of working in society if they care enough to fake things; psychopaths never bother to fake anything because they revel in the chaos.

        It’s a tossup for me as to be who is scarier. A sociopath can be reasoned with but they can’t be easily predicted. A psycho though…dear lord run the other way. From what we’ve seen of the Nine so far they look like psychos.

        • Please don’t generalize people with psychopathic tendencies to “homicidal maniacs”. That’s an enormous overgeneralization and stigmatizes mental illness in general. Remember that it’s first and foremost an affliction, and because horror movies use it as a plot device does not mean psychopaths kill everyone around them.

    • Likable/Interesting in no way equals Good. (Likewise a Douchebag is not necessarily Evil.) I really don’t think the Slaughterhouse 9 falls under the definition ‘morally grey’.

  5. Hot damn, I was actually right about something. Except their understanding of powers isn’t intuitive, Jack Slash is just a really smart dude. Also, this chapter was great.

  6. You know what might be really interesting? What if Theo never actually develops powers? He would have to go some other, unconventional route. Sounds like an interesting spin-off story.

    In the last episode, Siberian says something along the lines of “My first gift to you is to let you live. You’re the first person to have heard my voice and survive.” But she says this as she’s getting off of the guy who shot at Bitch’s dog, who seems to still be alive. Was that Siberian already dismissing the guy, or a mistake by the author?

    • Fun fact. Despite what movies & TV would suggest, you don’t tend to survive having your eyes gouged out without immediate medical attention.

      She was confident he was dead.

        • Hunh.
          I wonder if Skitter was aware of that when she decided to do the eye scoop thing to Lung. Or if she just assumed his accelerated healing would cover that. After all, his healing powers had been so useful the FIRST time she did something to “just slow him down” without actually murdering someone …

          • As I recall, she called Tattletale to confirm that Lung’s healing factor would be up to the challenge before she carved his eyes out….

    • There seems to be a clear lack of non powered capes, so yes, it would definitely be interesting. I doubt he’d get any of the legal protection of a cape unless he faked some minor power… wow, I’m actually quite keen for this storyline. If it doesn’t turn up in the rest of Worm I may even write something with the same premise myself.

  7. Longtime reader, first time caller.
    Love the story.
    Anybody else get the impression the fight between Jack and Theo in two years may be the world-killing event?

    • I think it more likely that it won’t come to that. Whatever Theo and Purity end up doing to try to prepare him might well be enough to tip things toward the catastrophe. After all, we’ve seen that certain trigger events will do *something* to pierce the veil behind which our fractal demon baby god-things lurk. And I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that an unusual trigger event of some flavor or another is in the works here.

    • I think it’s more likely Aster herself does it. Maybe she gets Triggered earlier than anyone else, sees more with a childs mind, and takes more power than anyone can handle. I think Jack Slash just sets up the first dominos.

      Everyone seems really afraid of Jack Slash… I think he is the same type as Jack White. We’ve seen his type before, but it seems more personal when you don’t have a caped crusader doing the talking.

  8. Ohhh, I get it. I’d assumed his mind was gonna be fixated on violence, but Jack Slash is actually as sharp as a knife.

  9. I hope for Theo’s sake his supoerpower doesn’t turn out to be pulling flowers out of hats … good job turning the silent guy watching TV into an interesting character.

    • I’m pleased with how it turned out (and the reception). This interlude went through a heck of a lot of revisions & ‘scrap it and start fresh’ rewrites, and was probably the 2nd worst to put together in terms of time spent (Wednesday’s is the worst, for different reasons).

      • I’d actually expected him to be even more of a mess internally, after what we knew about him before. In also contributes that when we last saw him I thought Kaiser’s power was some sort of obedience generation or emotion manipulation.

  10. Damn, great chapter! In the middle I was thinking Theo would have his trigger event and somehow fight off or escape from Jack with his new power, but this twist was way better.

  11. Two Years? Anyone reading this comment who wants to avoid possible spoilers stop before you hit my theorizing.

    That sounds like Theo’s going to develop very dangerous powers that go out of control fighting Jack to me… Or maybe one of the 999 people does.

    And without Jack those same powers are still liable to go out of control but it’ll take fifteen years.

  12. I don’t get it…
    He’s literally just a guy with an extensible knife, a guy with a pistol could kill him easily so why is he bein treated as a big threat?

    • Sorry to invoke Godwin but *cough*Hitler*cough*. In our history the greatest atrocities have been committed by charismatic, clever, crazy individuals in a position of power…and none of them were capes.

      Being a leader of a group of mass murdering capes is power, his power itself is power, his ruthlessness/madness/resourcefulness is power.. and apparently Jack is very good at maximizing all his power to break people. I’d define that as being a big threat.

      The interesting is that his modus operandi seems to be quality over quantity in terms of killing people. As he tells
      Theo, killing 999 people at once would be breaking his usual rules/methods. So maybe he is deemed a serious local/personal threat to wherever his group is at the moment but not a ‘big’ threat calling for a nationwide manhunt with snipers everywhere. The Worm universe seems to have a high threshold on what constitutes disaster anyway e.g.Levi@BB

  13. Jack Slash, leader of the Nine.

    In a way, Jack’s power is the opposite of Skitter’s. Bug control sounds pathetic, but it is versatile enough that someone with enough creativity can be truly terrifying with it. Jack Slash’s power sounds dangerous, but it is a one-trick pony…and a one-trick-pony not much better than, I dunno, a really great pair of shoes that lets you do the trick as well. This analogy fell apart, but Jack’s slashes don’t really have a lot of advantages over simple firearms.

    And yet, Jack has become the most feared supervillain in the world, discounting folks like the Endbringers and Blasphemies and stuff. How? Well, look at the end of the chapter. Jack is the chessmaster, the master general. He is Napoleon, Caesar, and dare I say it, Hitler (in the sense of being good at leading, not that he’s evil. Although he kinda is a lot worse than Hitler, when I think about it.) Jack Slash is not that big of a threat personally, but he commands big guns and, unlike Hitler, is smart enough to use them. And to not betray his non-aggression pact with Russia with winter looming and the Soviet Union being ginormous.

  14. In this corner! One of the most feared supervillains in the world, outclassed only by the Endbringers themselves, the Roving Reaver, the Psychotic Psychologist, Manager of Mayhem and head of the Slaughterhouse Nine, the man predicted to end the world, the one and only Jack Slash! Villains tell each other scary stories about him, folks! He’s got presence, he’s got power, he’s got a body count that would make the most ruthless dictators pale with envy! He’s the winner of more super-fights than most capes have even seen and the survivor of more than they’ve even heard of! When he comes into town, everyone with sense leaves! Come one, come all, if you dare to even see him in battle!

    And his opponent, a new challenger! He’s got no powers but poise, no experience in combat, nothing but motivation and two years to prepare! Theeeeeeo Anders! Don’t underestimate his silver tongue, though – with nothing but the truth, he won a stay of execution from a man who’s not known for giving them out! He may not talk smooth, but he says the right thing in the clutch! He talked Jack Slash and Purity down from fighting in the same night, Ladies and Gentlemen! Let’s see what he makes of himself!

    Place your bets! Place your bets and hope we don’t all die horribly!

    …and, on a more serious note, god help the Wormverse. The last thing people there need is for Jack to get creative.

    You can call it chutzpah, you can call it balls, you can call it intestinal fortitude; Theo has it, folks. Poise in the face of imminent doom, that strange combination of uncertainty and terror that paralyzes people. Two years to turn himself from unwanted child into warrior and savior, but if he had what it took to get through this night, I’m willing to bet he’ll make it a contest, at least. I salute you, sir.

  15. Yikes. I rather get the feeling that with the Slaughterhouse Nine on the scene, things are going too get quite a lot darker. (Darker than the previous Wormverse? Like I said, yikes.) I suspect this may in fact go darker than I like to read… I don’t tend to read horror or gore, by choice. And I find serial killer psychopaths like Jack Slash quote disconcerting.

    And yet. I blatantly am going to continue reading, because the setting and the characters have an iron grip on me. wildbow, congratulations: you’ve got your hooks into me enough to drag me out of my comfort zone.

    Jack Slash is terrifying. Reminiscent of the Joker. And it’s not even because of his power. Theo… is in for a fraught couple of years.

    • Like a Joker who can blend into a crowd and has a super power which, this being Wormverse, is probably inventively applied and more dangerous even than it sounds (though an extendable blade sharp enough to go through whole crowds with merely human strength behind it is already pretty scary).

  16. Jack’s behavior seems a bit out of character here, as he has a fairly standard MO for dealing with powerful capes like Purity, but he departs from the pattern here. Maybe he thought it would be interesting to just drop by and destroy her on his way home from recruiting Oni Lee? Why was he after her, just pure chaotic evil? Word of god whispered in his ear?
    What was his exit strategy, since I’m pretty sure he wanted her to stew in her misery for a while? Maybe he’d be better off holding Aster hostage, doing evil things to Kayden in the meanwhile. I know some spoilery things about the tricks up his sleeve, but I don’t remember any that would get him off the hook if Purity gave him a direct blast of her power, unless her battery truly is empty. Was he expecting her to just go limp as Aster dies? Jack might like gambles, but the odds on that one don’t seem very attractive.

    • Well, later on somebody says something and a commentor connects some dots, and you realize that Purity was not going to win this confrontation.

  17. Great bonus! It immediately grappled my attention and kept reeling me in until I became involved with the new characters. Tense and compelling.

    • It says you have a very understandable fear of human evil.

      Endbringers are like a force of nature, they’re impersonal. Jack makes it explicitly clear that he enjoys going after the most important parts of you.

  18. Wow, okay, so I read on tvtropes that Jack Slash is a Complete Monster type of villain and wanted to know what that’s like, and the first thing I see is this chapter. o.O

    Man, he really is as bad as the other ones of his type… like Terumi Yuuki from Blazblue or something. Pretty much sadistic serial killers who love torturing people for fun and brutally massacring them… Hard to imagine how anyone can be that fucked up. o.O Anti-Villains are more understandable, but that? Damn…

    • Thats nothing,he had one appearance and he outmonstered Johan Liebert,THE complete monster…he unnerved me more than most creepypastas,including the good ones…this guy is a keeper,he is so scary a revelation that he isn’t a complete monster would actually make him scarier.

      • Also,is it just me,or was that the first onscreen murder of a cape (Bakuda is still alive)done by someone other than the Endbringers?(including the ones done with assistance from the Armmaster,on that count).

  19. >“Sometimes,” Jack started, pausing as if he was constructing the thought as he spoke it,


    So uh, this is a bit awkward. I really, really like Jack Slash. He’s like cap’n Sparrow, except… deliciously, grotesquely twisted.

  20. This entire chapter is terrifying. Jack’s psycho and this kid just got put into the worst situation possible. He’d better pray to whatever God he believes in that he, or anyone, can kill the Slaughterhouse Nine.

  21. Missing word,

    “Could he refuse the offer? Or would Jack carry what he threatened regardless?”

    carry *out*, easy typo to make.

    And that clears up what I’ve noted so far! I’ll point out anything I find as I read on, amazing story and thanks for making it happen!

  22. Ubyl pbj. Gur ovg nobhg Wnpx orvat n crbcyr ernqre. Yvgrenyyl uvf svefg nccrnenapr va crefba. V xabj jr nyernql unq gur cneg jurer Qvanu fnvq ur unf n unaq va xvpxfgnegvat gur ncbpnylcfr, ohg V jbhyq abg unir thrffrq gung lbh nyernql xarj (naq jrer, inthryl, gryyvat hf) rknpgyl jung vg jnf.

    • Thanks for ciphering your comment, MisterTeatime. I’ve read your comments and now some of the story is spoiled for me, I guess, but thanks for attempting to hide the spoiler!

      And always happy to meet fellow Pratchett fans online.

      • Just so you know, rot13 is used on all Wilbow works for spoilers.

        Generally, spoilers for Wilbow’s previous webnovels, as Wilbow would erase them because “someone could read Pact without reading Worm”, but spoilers for later moments from rereaders can also happen.

  23. There is one and only one reaction I can have to what I just beheld….
    the scene in Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 where the previously mute girl looks up and sees Leviathan and her raction is to utter the first word ever heard from her in the movie… “FUUUUCK…..”
    (stupid youtube forcing me to type this out… *growls*)

  24. Theo should stage some sort of traumatic moment (maybe claim it was his trigger event) intense enough to make him psychotic. He should then falsify or actualize his murder of Purity and Aster, do the same with some civilians, and wind up joining Slaughterhouse 9 — this may be sufficient to convince Jack that Theo’s an entirely new person and Slaughterhouse material. Once a member, he’ll probably find it easier to kill Jack.

    • Like, Theo is so frantic to become powerful and save those 999 people that his trigger event is more desperate and explosive than any before.

      Or that in their fight, Theo and Jack kill most of the earth’s population.

      So, in a way, Jack was directly responsible for the death of the world, the way Coil’s “pet” predicted (I forgot her name. Dinah? Idk)

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