Interlude 11f (Anniversary Bonus)

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If each of the tens of trillions of universes were like pictures, then they were organized into a mosaic, constantly rearranging itself and shuffling.  Taken in as a whole, it was a muddle.  Depending on how it shuffled, sometimes patterns emerged.  A predominant color, perhaps, or lots of scenes that were blurs of motion and activity.

But there was more to it.  There were faint sounds, for one thing, and they weren’t just two-dimensional.  Just the opposite – they were each a fully realized world, and each was continuous, like a slideshow or film reel that extended vast distances forward and backward from any of the scenes of focus.  Things got even more complicated when each of the slideshow reels forked out and branched as they moved further away.  The only thing stopping them were the terminus points.  The first terminus wasn’t complicated.  The now, the present.  It moved inexorably, steadily forward, consuming the individual realities as they ceased to be the future and became the now.

The other terminus was somewhat more ominous.  Every branch ended at some point, some sooner than others.

Dinah Alcott knew that those branches were ones where she had died.  Right now, there were a lot of them, more coming into view with every passing second.  Almost all of the images in the mosaic were either black or crimson.  Either the lights were on and everything was covered in blood, or they were off, and she was effectively blind.

She concentrated, and the mosaic organized into two portions, one slightly larger than the other.  In one half, that death-terminus came very soon.  In the other, it was some distance off.  She judged the size of the individual parts, and the number snapped into her head.

43.03485192746307955659 percent chance she would die in the next thirty minutes.  The chance was steadily ticking upward with each passing second, with possible realities becoming impossible and fading from her view, or being replaced with other possibilities, effectively shifting over to the other side.

Anxiety crept up on her.  She wanted her ‘candy’, to take the edge off, to help clarify her thoughts.

She knocked on the door to her room.  She heard Coil say something on the other side and tested the knob.  Finding it unlocked, she stepped through.

Coil sat at his desk, on the phone.  She didn’t want to talk to him, but she wanted to die less.

“It’s unfortunate,” Coil was saying.  “Step up recon, call in a secondary team to ensure twenty-four seven surveillance.  We’ll want a replacement for our Leah the moment they start recruiting again.  Yes.  Good.  Let me know.”

He hung up.


“What is it, pet?”

“Forty-four point two zero three eight three percent chance I die in the next half-hour.”

He stood from his desk.  “How?”

“Blood or darkness.  Don’t know.”

“The chance I die in the next thirty minutes?”

She thought, and felt the mosaic shift into a new configuration.  Coil’s face predominated each tiny scene, active, speaking and alive in some, unmoving or dead in the others. “Forty two point seven zero nine percent for the worlds where I don’t die.  Don’t know about the worlds where I’d die first.”

“And, say, Mr. Pitter?  The chance he dies?”

“Forty point-”  She stopped as Coil raised a hand.

“So whatever it is, it happens here, and involves everyone here.  Chance of survival if we leave?”

“Ten point six six four-”

“No.  Chance the average person in the city lives if we leave?”

“Ninety-nine point-”

“So we’re targets.  It’s not an attack on the city.  If we mobilize the squads?  To one decimal place?”

“Forty-eight point one percent chance I survive, forty-nine point nine percent chance you survive.”

“No difference.  Worse if anything,” he said.  She nodded, and he rubbed his chin, thinking.

Time was running out.  She fidgeted.

“I need some candy, please.”

“No, pet,” Coil said, “I need you focused.  What-”

She interrupted him, which always she tried to avoid doing, but she was feeling desperate.  “Please.  I’ve been using my power a lot.  I’m going to get a bad headache, and then I won’t be useful to you.”

“No,” he said, with more ferocity than she had expected.  “Pitter isn’t here to administer it, and won’t be until this situation is over.  Listen.  Chance that we survive Crawler’s attack if my soldiers use the laser attachments I’ve provided?  The purple beams?”

Crawler?  It took her a second to get her mental footing.  Coil was using his power.  She wasn’t sure how it worked, but she could always tell when he was doing it because the numbers always started changing all at once, and he knew things he couldn’t.  He’d know about things and numbers she might have told him, except she didn’t remember telling him.

“Thirty Nine point one-”

“If I deploy the Travelers that are on site at the moment?”

“Thirty point-”

He pushed his monitor off his desk in a fit of anger.  It crashed to the floor, pieces of screen rolling and sliding onto the rug at one end of the room.

Striding around the desk, he seized her by the arm and pulled her out of his office.

“Candy.  Please,” she said, whispering.


Gripping her wrist so hard it hurt, he drew her into the main area of his underground complex.

“Get battle ready!” Coil shouted.  It was so out of character for him to shout.  “Threat incoming!”

The soldiers that were at ease in the lower area of the base jumped to action, grabbing weapons and protective wear.

It wasn’t going to make a difference.  The numbers weren’t changing enough.  But he was already upset, so she didn’t tell him that.

Trickster, Oliver and Sundancer appeared, running along the metal catwalk.  Sundancer had her mask off, and her permed blond hair was damp against her scalp with sweat.  Oliver was in casual clothing, like Trickster.  He was good looking, his features chiseled.  Athletically built.  Trickster wasn’t.  He had a hook nose and long hair that didn’t suit him, but she knew he was smart, and she would have guessed it even if she didn’t know, just going by the way he looked at stuff.

“What’s going on?” Trickster asked.

“My pet has graciously informed us that Crawler of the Slaughterhouse Nine is less than thirty minutes away from entering this complex and murdering us all.  Suggestions outside of the obvious would be appreciated.”

“Trickster and I could go and try to stop him,” Sundancer suggested.

Outside of the obvious, Sundancer.  I’ve asked my pet.  You try that and we’re all more likely to die.”


“He’s a regenerator,” Coil answered, sounding irritated at having to explain, “And he regenerates exceedingly quickly.  More to the point, he has the added advantage that any part that grows back is stronger than it was before, typically with extra features, growths and increased durability to render him more resistant to whatever hurt him or give him other capabilities.  These adjustments are not only permanent, but he’s been working on it for some time.”

Trickster added, “I read up on these guys after you mentioned them the other night.  Crawler eventually becomes immune to whatever was hurting him, and he’s that much less human, afterward.  He wants to get hurt, wants to further his transformation, like a crazed masochist or someone with a death wish.  Throws himself into suicidal situations and then comes out stronger.  Which may be why he’s here.  The soldiers?”

Coil shook his head, “He’s immune to conventional ammunition and explosives, and most likely to most unconventional forms of ammunition and explosives as well.  The laser attachments might have some small effect, but not enough to draw him here.”

“Which makes me wonder all of a sudden how he found us,” Trickster added.

Coil shook his head, “One thing at a time.  If he is here because he’s seeking someone who could harm him, the only individuals on site who would be capable are Sundancer and your Noelle.”

That gave the three teenagers pause.

“Noelle?  But who even knows about Noelle, except-”

Coil raised his hand to silence Trickster.  “Pet, the chance that Crawler would seek out Noelle first, given the opportunity?”

She felt the images filter out until she was looking at a pattern of scenarios.  The vague shape of the hulking figure, the open vault door.  The images snapped into two groups, one vastly larger than the other.

“Ninety three point four percent.”

Shit,” Trickster swore.  “That’s why he’s here.  Just like Leviathan, Crawler’s coming after her?”

“I find every piece of evidence we gather only supports our working theory on your teammate,” Coil said.  He turned to Dinah, “The chance of survival if we were to give him what he wanted?  Give him access to Noelle?”

“Hey, no,” Trickster said.

“Eighty-one point nine percent chance we survive the next hour-”

“A start,” Coil noted.

Something about the image bothered her.  She pushed forward, seeing the possible realities that unfolded after that.  Very, very few extended any meaningful distance into the future.

“Six percent chance we survive the next five hours.”

Coil stopped, then sighed.  “Thank you, pet, for clarifying that.”

She nodded.

“Awesome,” Trickster responded, his voice thick with sarcasm.  With a more serious tone and expression, he said, “Let’s not give him access to Noelle.  Agreed?”

“Agreed,” Coil conceded.  “Any further ideas?”

Time’s running out.  She looked at the numbers for herself, even though she felt the initial throbbing pains at the base of her skull that foretold the encroaching headaches.  53.8 percent chance I die in the next thirty minutes.

“Pet,” Coil said.

What she didn’t get from his tone, she grasped from the vague images she saw of her most immediate possible futures.

“No,” she pleaded, before he’d even told her what he wanted.

“It’s necessary.  I want you to look at a future where we survived, and I want you to tell us what happened.”

“No.  Please,” she begged.

Now, pet.”

“Why is she so against this?” Trickster asked.

“Headaches,” Dinah answered, pressing her hands to her head,  “It breaks my power.  It takes days, sometimes weeks before everything is sorted out and working again.  Headaches the entire time, until everything is sorted out, worse headaches if I try to get numbers in the meantime.  Have to be careful, can’t muddle things up.  Can’t lie about the numbers, can’t look at what happens, or it just becomes chaos.  Safer to keep a distance, to make and follow rules.  Safer to just ask the questions and let things fall into place.”

“We don’t have time to play twenty questions,” Coil said.  “Would you rather die?”

Would she?  She wasn’t sure.  Death was bad, but at least then she’d go on to the afterlife.  To heaven, she hoped.  Finding an answer and surviving would mean days and weeks of absolute hell, of constant pain and not being able to use her power.

“Pet,” Coil said, when she didn’t give him an immediate response, “Do it now, or you won’t get any more candy for a long while.”

She could see those futures unfolding.  He would.  She could see the pain and the sickness she experienced, the full brunt of her power without her candy to take the edges off, complete with all of the details she didn’t want.  Worst of all were the feedback loops.  To go through withdrawal from the drugs, from her ‘candy’, while simultaneously being able to see and experience echoes of the future moments where she was suffering much the same way?  It was a massive increase in the pain and being sick and mood swings and insomnia and feeling numb and skin-crawling hallucinations.  There was no limit to these echoes, the feedback from her futures.  It would never kill her, knock her out or put her in a coma, no matter how much she might want it to.

She had come close to experiencing it once, early on in her captivity.  Never again.  She would obey Coil in everything he asked for before she risked that happening again.

“Okay,” she murmured.  She picked out one of the paths where they survived.  Even looking too closely at it made her head throb, like it was in a massive vise and someone had just cranked it a fraction tighter.  Some of the possible worlds around the fringes of her consciousness disintegrated into a mess of disordered scenes as she pushed forward.  The scenes and images of the less possible worlds flew around her mind like razor-sharp leaves in a gale, cutting at everything they touched.  “It hurts.”

“Now, pet.  As quickly as you can.”

He didn’t know.  It was something else, like trying to will herself to stick a hot poker in her body, in her brain, knowing it would remain there and burn her for weeks before it cooled.

But she did it, because as much as it would hurt, it would hurt more if she didn’t get her candy.  If Crawler got his hands on her, it wouldn’t hurt at all after those first few moments of pain, but that was bad too.  It meant dying.

She focused hard on that scene, taking it from an image small and vague enough that it could have fit on the end of a pencil to something full size.  Her head exploded with pain.  She caught fragmentary images as she felt herself double over and heave the contents of her stomach onto the metal catwalk and Sundancer’s legs and feet.

Sundancer could have yelled, but she didn’t.  Instead, she fell to her knees and grabbed Dinah by the shoulders to steady her.  It was just in time, because Dinah felt fireworks erupt in her brain, felt her body go spastic.  Too much, too fast.  The image was overly sharp and detailed, overwhelming her senses, shredding all sense of time and present.

It was long moments before she could even piece together what the others were saying and doing.  She was lying down, her head on Sundancer’s lap, a cold cloth against her forehead.  Oliver leaned next to her, holding a bowl of cold water.

“-running out of time!” Trickster shouted.  Coil stood just behind Trickster, arms folded, staring out over the railing, at his underground base.

“Give her a moment,” Sundancer said.  “Whatever that was, it just knocked the poor kid out.”

“That deadline she gave us?  It’s here.  Now.”

“I know, but pressuring her won’t help anything.”

A smell hit her.  Like the bitterest black chocolate in the world and overly strong coffee, the odor so thick on the air that she could taste it.  With her already upset stomach, it made her want to retch.

“Smells bad,” she said.  “Make the smell go away.”

“She’s conscious.  Is this smell a clue?” Trickster turned.

“No.  It’s a symptom,” Coil answered him, not turning to look at her or them.  “She may be dizzy, dazed, or she may rub or scratch at herself until she fully recovers.  Don’t let her scratch her corneas or rub herself until she bleeds.”

Dinah tried to recall what she’d seen.  “Darkness.”

“You mentioned that earlier, pet.”

“We were in the dark, and it smelled like meat.  It smelled like sweat, too.  And we were all pressed in close together.”

Where?” Coil asked.

“There was a metal door in front of us.  Big.  The vault door downstairs.”

“Noelle’s room,” Trickster said, an instant before Dinah put the pieces together.

“How many of us, pet?”

“Everyone here was there,” she looked towards the soldiers.

“Is she in there?”

“She was.  Yes.”

Coil turned and swept her up in his arms.  Her skin crawled at the contact of her body against his.  She didn’t say or do anything about it, in part because she wasn’t able, too sick, hurting too much.  The other reason was because she had seen the numbers shift each time she flinched away from his touch or made her disgust known.  Little differences.  He was angrier with her, more curt, if she pulled way, if she complained about it.

There was safety in the numbers, in following the rules she set on herself.  It kept her power in order, it ensured Coil was tolerant with her, and it meant she didn’t have to go without her candy for even a short time.

Coil took the stairs two at a time as he descended to the ground floor, Trickster, Oliver and Sundancer hurrying after him.

“You,” Coil called out, not even bothering to recall the employee’s name, “The vault door.  Open it.  Squad leaders, organize your groups!”

There was a faint crash in the distance, and a vibration rippled through the complex.

“Pet, the chance that Crawler kills us, now that we’ve undertaken this route?”

“I don’t.  I can’t.”  Her head hurt so much.

Try,” and in his hard tone, she heard the unspoken threat of having her candy taken away.

She did.  The scenes had no order to them.  They were all jumbled, and trying to pull some semblance of order and sense into them was like thrusting her hands into fire and razor blades, thrusting her mind into fire and razor blades.  A long groan of pain was drawn from her throat, and the strength went out of her body.

“You’re killing her!” Sundancer gasped.

“No,” Coil said, as if from a place far away.  “I’ve had her use her power to check.  This may be miserable for her, but she can’t die from it.”

Coil touching her, that overpowering phantom smell, the fear, the nausea…

“I need to barf.”

Coil set her down and held her by the wrists as she leaned forward to cough up mouthfuls of bile.  Her stomach was already empty of food.

“The number, pet?”

Sundancer bent down to hold her, so her shoulders weren’t being twisted with her arms held behind her by Coil.

“Three point one percent,” Dinah gasped out.

“Reassuring,” Coil said.  The vault door opened before them.  “Trickster?  Would you announce our imminent arrival to Noelle?”

“Yeah,” Trickster sighed.  “Fuck.  I hate to do this, but can I get a number?”

“Trickster!” Sundancer admonished him, sounding horrified, “You can see how much pain it’s causing her.”

“It’s important.  Kid, what’s the chance that Noelle kills us?”

There was another series of crashes, closer.

Dinah shook her head, “Please.  I just want to put everything back together.  Every time I use my power, it all falls apart and it hurts.”

“Pet, it’s the last question we’ll ask you tonight.  I promise,” Coil said.

So she did.  She reached for the number.  It can’t kill me.  It doesn’t do permanent damage.  It just hurts.  It’s my brain telling me my power shouldn’t be used to find answers like that.

The words she used to convince herself did little to soften the pain that came with digging for a number once more.  She screamed, and tears flowed down her face as she sank into Sundancer’s arms, screwing her eyes shut.

“Nine point eight percent,” she managed.  Was she being carried?  They were venturing inside, past the first of the two heavy vault doors.  How much time had just passed?  Where was Trickster?

“That’s good information to have, pet,” Coil said, from somewhere near her.  “Squad leaders.  As you gather inside the containment room, I want you organizing your troops into ranks, your backs to the door.  Weapons need to be locked, loaded and ready to fire.  Be sure to equip the laser attachments and battery packs.  Don’t venture any further than ten paces inside.”

There were affirmative responses.  Dinah could hear guns cocking.

Another crash, the closest yet.  The sound of rubble and concrete falling echoed through the underground complex.

“He’s here,” Coil said.  “Last people inside, hurry.  Close the first door.”

Dinah opened her eyes.  They were in a concrete room with steel girders at set intervals, as if forming a cage against the inside of the room.  It smelled like meat that had gone bad.

The second vault door slowly swung closed as the last few stragglers slipped through the gap.  Employees, technicians, people in suits, some soldiers.  They packed in close at the end of the room closest to the door, their bodies pressing against her.  Three fifths of the chamber were left unoccupied.

And on the other side of the room – darkness.  Trickster was emerging.

“How is she?”  Coil asked.

“Scared.  Hungry.  She said she didn’t get her meal tonight,” Trickster answered, his voice quiet.

Coil folded his arms.  “She did.  I personally observed the delivery.  I suspect she’s needing more food as of late.  Unfortunate we find this out now.”

“She asked me to turn out the lights on this end of her room.  Said it would be easier if she can’t see us.”

“Do it,” Coil ordered.  He strode over to one of his squad captains and spoke in the man’s ear.  Dinah thought she might have overheard something about night vision goggles.  She closed her eyes, as if it could help shut out the pain that continued to tear through her skull.

The pink of the light shining through her eyelids turned to black as the lights went out.

“I’m sorry,” A girl’s voice whispered in Dinah’s ear.  Sundancer?

Dinah tried to answer, but her voice came out in a croak.

“I’d help you if I could, but I can’t, you understand?” Sundancer whispered to her.  She had her arms around Dinah.  She smelled like barf, but that was Dinah’s fault.  “It’s not just that my friends and I are in a bad spot, or having to help Noelle, or even that I don’t think I could save you on my own…  We made a promise to each other, when everything began.  Fuck, it sounds so stupid, sounds so lame, when I say it like that.”

There was a crash nearby, the sound of metal on metal.

Then a massive impact against the vault door made the room shudder.

Sundancer kept talking, as if oblivious to the ongoing attack.  “When you’ve been through hell and back again with a group of people, when you’ve all lost everything, and you collectively stand to lose more?  I- I don’t even know what I’m saying.  Maybe there’s no justification for letting you go through what you are.  I just… they’re all I’ve got.  I’m sorry.”

Dinah reached up and fumbled around until she found Sundancer’s hand.  She didn’t have a response, couldn’t speak if she’d been able to think of what to say.  She just held the hand tight.

A series of hits collided with the metal door.  A roar rattled through the air, painfully loud despite the muffling effect of the intervening wall.  It was a roar heavy with frustration and anger.

There was the sound of guns cocking.  She almost missed it in the midst of the steady, relentless crashes that came from the metal door.

“I’m so hungry,” a girl’s voice echoed through the chamber.  She’s close.

“I know, Noelle,” Trickster answered.  “Just a little while.  Let’s go back to the other side, away from these people.”

Noelle sounded like someone who was very, very tired.  “Can’t wait.  Can’t wait at all these days.  I can smell them.”

She wants food as badly as I want my ‘candy‘, Dinah thought.  The difference is that she can and will take what she wants, even if it means eating one of us.  I don’t have that power.

God, her head hurt.  Worse, she knew this was the calm before the storm.  Her head would hurt more with every passing hour until she wanted to die.

“You can hold on,” Trickster said, his voice gentle.  “You don’t want to come any closer than that.  You know what your power does.  None of us want that.”


“And these guys, as good as they are, I can’t be positive that one of them won’t shoot you in a moment of panic.  We don’t want that either.”

“I’d live.  Don’t want to, but I’d live.”

“You would.  But would I?  Would Oliver and Marissa, if you went berserk?  They’re in here too.”

Sundancer spoke up, calling out, “Remember the promise we made together.”

Noelle didn’t reply.  The silence lingered, punctuated by the heavy blows on the metal door, echoing through the concrete chamber.

“Come on, Noelle.  Let’s go back, before you or someone else here does something they’ll regret,” Trickster urged.

The banging continued.

“Come with me, Krouse?  We can talk alone?”

“That sounds good,” Trickster said.

Dinah felt the tension in the room ease.  The pain in her skull didn’t get any better.  She set about the tedious task of trying to reorganize the images in her head.  Building a house of cards in an unpredictable wind.  Every time the numbers changed, what she’d started to sort out fell apart.

She’d have to wait until a period of calm before she made any real headway.  The passage of time would help as well.  Then it wouldn’t be so painful to use her ability.

She got caught up in the painstaking operation, and it was some time before she realized the banging had stopped.  Still, the gathered people in the room waited.  Just in case Crawler was bluffing them, waiting until they opened the door.

Long minutes passed before Coil gave the order.

Dinah was blind.  Her power too fragile and painful to use, so she couldn’t see the future that awaited them outside the door.  Her heart pounded in her throat as the door was opened.  The first squads moved out, fanning through the complex to find if Crawler was lurking in some corner of the underground base.  They returned and gave the all-clear.

Emerging from the gloom, she squinted in the face of the flourescent lights.  Claw marks gouged the outside of the solid steel of the vault door, each at least half a foot deep.  The catwalk had been torn down at one side of the complex, and innumerable boxes of weapons and supplies had been crushed or scattered across the floor.

“Candy?” she asked.  “My head hurts.”

“You can have your candy, pet.  Go to your room, I’ll call Pitter in and send him to you.”

With her armed escort, she headed to her room.  She collapsed gratefully on her bed.

She knew she’d regret it, but she used her power.  She had to know.  It would be one more use, to hold her over, and she would stop using her power for the next few days, at least.  Weeks, if Coil let her.

She clutched her covers and bit her pillow as her head erupted with pain.  More than half of the groundwork she’d so carefully laid in place over the past hour fell apart as she pulled the scenes into two groups.  Minutes passed before she had her number.


More than four percent higher than it had been yesterday.

Thirty-one point six percent chance she’d get to go home someday.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

87 thoughts on “Interlude 11f (Anniversary Bonus)

  1. I wonder what the chances are that Dinah is someday going to realise precisely what factor predicates whether she’ll go home or not(other than her survival).

    • Necro comment, but it’s almost certainly a combination of factors. The increase of 4% following these events is almost certainly down to Sundancer’s changed disposition, but some large fraction is also probably from Taylor.

      • Seems more likely that it is to do with eliminating a bunch of futures where she dies to Crawler. That has to improve the odds of anything that involved a future beyond this day.

      • I would guess that by increasing her value to coil she might also increase coil’s willingness to give her freedom, which she might be able to trick him with, even with his power.

        • Necroing a necro, but it’s more likely that Coil would want to keep her if she became more valuable. Maybe I misunderstood you and this is what you meant, but it would make more sense if he actions helped Coil take the city, but with her only barely helping at pivotal points, at which point Skitter is more valuable than her, and Coil either releases her as per his agreement with Skitter, or Skitter can help her escape.

  2. Is it Pritter or Pitter again? I know he’s called Pitter at “And, say, Mr. Pitter? The chance he dies?”

    and then “”Pritter isn’t here to administer it, and won’t be until this situation is over.” and ” Go to your room, I’ll call Pritter in and send him to you.””

    Also, I get the feeling Wildbow’s been reading some of the stuff that’s been mentioned about SCPs, because Crawler’s got a little bit of a SCP-682 vibe to it, much more so than Leviathan. Though I expected more like The Rake from the name.

    Either way, doesn’t sound like an easy one to kill. Drop it into a sun or black hole.

  3. I am kind of bewildered about how Jack Slash has managed to not get killed compared to some of the other Slaughterhouse Nine. Every other member of the Nine we have been introduced to have had at least some sort of defensive ability with their power. Being able to cut through almost anything from afar is pretty badass, but I just don’t get how noone has killed him yet.

    • Taking hostages and knowing when to pick your fights go a long way.

      Most of the parahumans seem to be culturally locked into a paradigm that stacks the deck a certain way- The Undersiders have been going against the grain at every step by trying to play a game designed to favor a different type of power and paying for it even when they win. Some, like Jack, play to their own strengths.

    • It’s genre basics – people who aren’t bulletproof never get hit by bullets. Simple as that. Also blunt trauma never kills anyone no matter how strong the guy punching you is, all colourful energy beams are perfectly safe since their effects depend on the target, and even antihero vigilantes who kill people all the time never kill remorseless mass murderers.

      The only thing truly dangerous to one who wears their underwear on the outside is disinterest. If you don’t sell copies and the writer(s) don’t have an interest in you, no amount of invulnerability can protect you from getting killed just to show the new villain of the week is dangerous.

      • But remember, people who can’t take a bullet are more likely to try and avoid it. If you can regenerate or are bulletproof, there’s not much reason to worry about bullets, so why bother dodging?

        As for the blunt trauma mess, there’s a reason why so many people may wind up with something low level to enhance their durability. I don’t know where you get the antihero vigilantes and remorseless mass murderers thing. The best I can think of is Punisher not caring as much if Jigsaw survives. Punisher’s reasoning is that Jigsaw’s so much of a problem to the criminal underworld that Punisher kills more criminals by letting him live and struggle for power.

        You did have Scourge of the Underworld killing villains at one point, and even attempted to take down Osborn’s Thunderbolts.

        Also, the color of various beams does matter. It can indicate certain things about power or how the thing works, so each color could have a little different effect in that regard.

        Finally, you got to remember that Wildbow’s not selling comics here. Without that kind of incentive, characters won’t die for being boring.

        • Just to clarify, what I meant with the coloured beam thing was the strange phenomenon of how the same character can use their beams to cut steel like with a high-powered laser, but if they shoot a person with it it simply knocks them down, no scorching except maybe on clothes and definitely no cutting.

          And the fact that Wildbow isn’t selling comics just means it’s all about how interesting the characters are to him. No immunity through popularity.

        • *necrocomment ahoy!*

          > But remember, people who can’t take a bullet are more likely to try and avoid it. If you can regenerate or are bulletproof, there’s not much reason to worry about bullets, so why bother dodging?

          There was actually a scene in the web serial Super Powereds where a superhero-in-training was told that his job in combat was to hit and be hit — because if he dodged, whoever he was fighting might hit one of his less durable teammates instead.

    • Throwing my theory in here six years later, it was mentioned that Jack’s the one thing that holds the Nine together. He’s what keeps them from just murdering each other and everything around them that moves without a care in the world. Considering this, and backed up by comments he made while talking to Theo, I’d say it’s likely that he’s got the Nine protecting him, and he’s got some big damn heavy hitters on his team. Crawler, as we just learned, is nearly invincible, Siberian’s invincible, Mannequin’s pretty damn near invincible and creepy enough the heroes that fight him are probably shitting themselves, Hatchet Face is “the boogeyman of the cape world,” whatever that means (probably includes lots and lots of murder and death for people he doesn’t like), Shatterbird can slaughter entire cities using glass on a whim, and while I haven’t read ahead to find out exactly what Bonesaw does, she wouldn’t be on the team if she couldn’t fuck up your average cape. You don’t have to be the strongest person ever if you have eight of the strongest people ever as body guards.

      • Well, I should say he has seven of the strongest people ever as body guards currently, soon to be eight. You get my point.

    • Jack has the strongest superpower of all… friendship. Or the closest approximation possible when a third of the friends in question don’t talk and another third wants to kill everyone there.

      More seriously, Jack has a knack for figuring out parahumans’ weaknesses. He’s been at this since a few years after Scion, and has plenty of experience under his belt. And the friendship quip wasn’t completely a joke; he’s been cultivating long-term relationships with useful parahumans since before he took over the Nine.

  4. The travelers have fought an endbringer before levaiathan, right? What if it was the simurgh?
    What with ‘win the battle, lose the war’ and mannequin’s backstory its implied that she knows exactly how to push people past their breaking points so that they become monsters, thanks to her telepathy.
    What if noelle
    Is the result of the simurgh intentionaly creating a trigger event, knowing exactly what to do to give noelle the powers she has now.

    • That would mean either Noelle was related to a Traveller already, to make sure she was someone they would care enough about to go to great lengths to take care of, or the Simurgh caused her to trigger again and it somehow made her desire alot of meat. I find it more likely that her power just caused some sort of nutritional imbalance that requires massive amounts of meat.

      • Are you talking about the travellers having fought an previously? We know that already from the pep talk before Leviathan arrived, not to mention the fact that these comments were made in the day this chapter was uploaded, so how can they contain spoilers outside of pure speculation?

      • They aren’t spoiling anything, these comments were posted on the same day as the chapter you’re commenting on. The only thing I can think of that you thought would be a spoiler is the mention of them having fought an endbringer before since it was just before Leviathan disrupted the pre-fight meeting so maybe easier to forget it the midst of all the fighting.

  5. With the Slaughterhouse Nine, I’m very impressed with your delicacy of touch with when to imply (Crawler, Manikin) and to be explicit (Jack, Shatterbird). Both ramp up the tension and pose questions but do it in very different ways, which is awesome.

    Incidently the amount of information Dineh seems able to process implies a lot about the possible mental powers in the wormverse, and seems to indicate genuine psychics (of the read, rather than write kind) are possible despite the scientific consensus against it (as reported by Glory Girl way back when).

    Incidently that comment about needing five times the brain mass gave me an amusing idea for a power: Someone who can read minds, but not in real time – they can take a snapshot of someones mind state and then have to spend days in a trance parsing it (giving the writer a great tool for uncovering important exposition at times of maximum drama rather than getting the answer instantly ;)).

      • Kind of like the main character in Unforgettable (TV show), who has all the information about anything she’s ever experienced available to her. She just needs to know to look for it.

        (Which, incidentally, is exactly like trying to solve a computer problem when you have access to the source code. There’s way more information than you could possibly look at all at once, but you start somewhere, and then follow the trails until you find the answer — which means not only discovering it, but also recognizing your discovery as the answer to your problem.)


    • Genesis and Ballistic were attending to their respective territories. Coil asks Dinah early in the chapter about the ‘on-site’ Travelers. ie. The ones who are there for the time being (taking care of Noelle, dealing with soldiers, giving reports, etc.) – Oliver, Trickster and Sundancer.

  6. Super late, but . . . this reminds me of the Master from the End of Time episodes of Doctor Who. Powers that require an amount of food that would actually provide that much energy and all that.

  7. > He was angrier with her, more curt, if she pulled way, if she complained about it.

    Should “pulled way” be “pulled away”? It would make more sense that way.

  8. Well. Here, we find out a little about Crawler, but very little, and a very very very little about Noelle. So, since we don’t learn a lot about Crawler, I’ll add a bit of a summary on the most mysterious supporting character in the story at the moment: Noelle. (wildbow, if I accidentally spoil a little something, could you be so kind as to delete that spoily bit?)

    Crawler…well, he’s a monster. He has probably been healing, regenerating, changing for years now, and whatever you imagine he looks like now is probably far more human than he actually is. (Unless you’ve checked out the fanart page.) It wouldn’t surprise me if Crawler could beat up Alexandria in a mano a mano fight. He is also mentally an inhuman monster; what sane human would actively seek out harm? This is why he joined the Slaughterhouse Nine, becoming another of their heavy hitters.

    And now for Noelle. She has some sort of Striker power or something that makes it deadly or dangerous to touch her, as well as a massive appetite. This appetite is probably part of why the Travelers are dependent on Coil. She also seems to not be in total control of herself, bringing to mind a quote from Newter: “Sometimes getting powers fucks up your body. Sometimes it fucks up your head.” From the sounds of it, the latter is in full force, and the former may well be as well if her body is dangerous to the touch (another comparison to Newter). Moreover, she clearly has some kind of heavy-duty combat powers, possibly Brute or Blaster. Or it could just be that Striker? power. It’s also obvious that she is dang tough, since Noelle notes that she cannot be killed by the soldiers, enhancing the idea of her having Brute powers. Finally, she is probably either ginormous, a Case 53, or has some massively distended jaws, since Dinah refers to being eaten by Noelle. As far as we know, Noelle lacks any kinds of mental powers…and let’s be honest, “deadly touch,” “minimal control,” “nigh invulnerable,” and probably “high-level Brute/Blaster/etc powers” is a plenty good reason for your friends to lock you up. Oh, and she’s a bit suicidal…but we don’t know if this is from pre-trigger depression or if it has something to do with the fact that she is some kind of dangerous inhuman monster losing control of herself who needs to be locked up away from the outside world most of the time. Or both.

    …Geez, these are supposed to be notes about the S9, and this one is about 2/3 Noelle.

    • My impression at this point is that she’s something vampire-like: hunger that will turn on humans if she loses control (and I don’t think we’ve been explicitly told what she eats), berserk reaction to pain, living in darkness (though that MIGHT not be voluntary), and superspeed and regeneration would fit with what she’s said so far.

    • It’s interesting to look back on my Noelle musings. They were accurate, though it helps that I made them incredibly vague.

    • Have to second this. The idea that she can see withdrawal symptoms coming, or can see the pain of pushing her power too hard coming, just makes everything she’s going through worse and worse. As for counting the percentage chance of going home…it just sounds soul-crushing.

      Of course, this chapter should serve as a warning of sorts to Coil – he may have underestimated the S9. I’m not sure how one should deal with Crawler, but Coil clearly isn’t ready to do so, a little reminder that the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time can undo even the best-laid plots.

      In the words of Xykon (from the webcomic Order of the Stick, for those who don’t know), “…planning doesn’t matter. Strategy doesn’t matter. Only two things matter: Force in as great a concentration as you can manage, and style. And in a pinch, style can slide…In any battle, there’s always a level of force against which no tactics can succeed.”

      In the Wormverse, one might call it the lesson of the Endbringers. Enough raw power can render any plan meaningless.

      • > In the Wormverse, one might call it the lesson of the Endbringers. Enough raw power can render any plan meaningless.

        Sorry to beat a dead comment-horse, but I can’t say I agree. The main problems with the fight with Leviathan were all based in planning.

        1. Nobody has managed, in thirty years, to find a way to track or communicate with Scion. I’m on my first reading so maybe this will be explained to me later, but it seems like the Protectorate is, as usual, highly incapable. I’m not sure if Scion always wins Endbringer fights, but he’d surely make things A LOT easier.
        2. Striker/Teleporter combos were not utilized. There were at least two teleporters on the battlefield, Trickster and the one who transported the Triumvirate. Either one could have brought Clockblocker or perhaps Ballistic straight to Leviathan and drastically improved the situation. Concerns about the health of either could be solved by also teleporting in Shielder or the woman who made people invincible or whatever.
        3. Again, after a number of years, no progress has been made as to understanding Leviathan’s biology. It took Tattletale to figure out his weakpoints, and even after that point, nobody was managing to concentrate fire very well. Removing one of his legs or his head, if it didn’t kill him, would make it much harder for him to escape.
        4. There WAS NO BATTLE PLAN. The Protectorate knew what cities the Endbringers might target. They had a god-damned list, and several months between attacks in which to send out Thinkers and Tinkers to those locations and form strategies based on the local area and, loosely, on the cape population. Obviously capes fluctuate, but it should be simple to check in with the local PRT every few weeks and see who is around. The Triumvirate should have been aware of Clockblocker’s power and used it to buy time to organize.

        Clearly, the Protectorate has some work to do. With Armsmaster’s weapon blueprints, his fighting simulation program, Clockblocker’s power, Tattletale’s information, and an actual god damn battle plan, they should be able to take out Leviathan next time, provided they have a good location and some powerful capes to replace those who died. And an actual goddamn plan.

  9. Listen to me carefully, pet. If you reply to my next question with a number below or equal to 50%, I’ll give you a candy right away. Otherwise I’ll deny you a candy for, let’s say, a week. No dodging, please — you know how it hurts to lie about numbers or get withdrawal syndrome.

    Now, the question: what’s the probability of you receiving your candy today?

    • Such questions are never asked, just like bullets are never used against the non bulletproof. Because they’d ruin the story.

    • Logically, the answer can only be 0% every time. Since it’s kind of obvious she’ll never get her drugs if the question is formulated that way. :V

    • Here is a solution: Dinah resolves not to answer so long as the probability is above 50%. As it becomes less and less likely that she’ll ever answer, the probability drops. The moment it hits 50, she grins and says the number. It immediately shoots back up into the 90s, giving Dinah a slight headache, but it doesn’t matter, because she recieves her candy.

    • 100%. Coil is too boring to ever play such a costly, frivolous game just in the interest of academic curiosity. It’s not even good science (or prescience) to give her incentive to bias her numbers

      But logically speaking, if Dinah’s own choice is the only factor that determines the future and she has two possible choices – saying what he wants to hear or not – it should be exactly 50%. Isn’t free will great?

    • He did it at least once during the questioning. He went straight from asking questions about chances of living to questions about crawler, without first establishing that crawler was the entity attacking them. Clearly he learned this in a discarded reality.

    • Good point.

      Maybe he just considers it too much of a pain in the ass usually. He likes to keep his two timelines as separated as possible to ensure a higher level of safety. Having to split timelines every single time he asked Dinah a question would make this more difficult.

      In fact, I guarantee you that he had two timelines going simultaneously and in one of them he wasn’t saving everybody, he was just getting the hell out of dodge.

    • Yeah, as soon as it was revealed that Dinah can actually find precise solutions, this was a pretty obvious problem. Coil can always just ask Dinah for the solution to things in one timeline, then actually employ that solution in the other, so she’s never in pain and he always has a perfect response to everything. There’s no reason to do anything else.
      To be fair, until the reveal that Dinah is actually horrifically OP, I’d been pretty impressed with everyone in this story using their powers as well or as poorly as their intellects implied, so this is the first real issue I’ve had. But it’s a fairly glaring one. Coil should be much smarter than that.

      • Coil already did something similar when questioning her, but wasn’t asking for the ‘solution’ and you’ll notice that Coil can only generate 2 ‘realities’ at a time. In the comments just above it’s speculated that he had one scenario running where he can escape on his own, and he was also using a reality in the questioning as he knew things he shouldn’t have known.

        Imo he wouldn’t be able to ask her for solutions all the time as that would mean he has to discard the reality in which he’s just asked – but what if the other reality in which he didn’t ask goes pear shaped? He’d be leaving himself with no contingency, and that’s very uncharacteristic of Coil…

        • …It takes a few seconds to ask. One timeline: ask the question. The other timeline: twiddle your thumbs. Then end split, create new split, and implement solution in one timeline while the other is your contingency in case something stronger than her prediction capabilities is involved. But there isn’t very much which fits that category.

      • Kind of a Necropost, but there’s already been an established reason why Coil doesn’t; making multiple realities messes with Dinah’s accuracy. As we saw in the first Coil interlude, the man is incredibly paranoid and seeks to be as safe as possible. If he tries to abuse Dinah’s power by combining it with his own, Coil may instead change the numbers drastically enough that they are different in each timeline. Coil’s both clever enough and paranoid enough to recognise this risk, which is why he’a hesitant to use both powers combined except in extreme cases (such as with Crawler potentially whiping them all out here).

  10. So this was very cool getting into Dinah’s head. I thought she’d be a lot more screwed up than she seems. It also almost appears from this that the drugs make her MORE functional than she’d be without them which is a sad and scary thought. It was extremely heartwarming at the end to see that she still wants to go home. I was extremely worried that everything Taylor is trying to do would be for naught when she showed up all heroic and Dinah went “No, I’m good here thanks.” Good to know that won’t happen.

    Okay so all of the Nine are supposed to be out delivering their recruitment messages right? So did Crawler just go off and do his own thing with deciding to go for Noelle or was he trying to recruit her/Coil/Dinah?

    In the same vein, why isn’t Sundancer more overpowered? The girl can make a Sun for crying out loud. After hearing how dangerous Crawler is why didn’t they just tell her to make a much bigger Sun close to what she started to use on Lung and instead of holding it close to Crawler hold it inside him while he burns alive in the span of seconds. There is no way that guy’s regeneration works fast enough to survive a sun being inside the core of his body. If he is honestly that strong then he might as well be Endbringer level because that’s just ridiculous.

    • Well,Sundancer might be just artistic license,she could just create “fiery orbs that are hotter than most fire,but not really as hot as the sun,or even the centre of earth”.Moreover,Dinah said that in all realities,whoever survived was inside the vault,so there is prolly some reason this wouldn’t work.Also,if it didn’t work,you’d have to face something much much stroger than before.Finally,who says he isn’t close to endbringer level?Last time I checked,his power level is not public enough for everyone to know,and he is not the kind of guy who would fight an endbringer (ok,he would,but not to kill it,to become stronger).

      • Actually, she said in the one reality she looked at in depth where they all survived, they were all in the vault.

    • The reason for this is simple: Crawler would regenerate fireproof, and it only takes on organ, one bit of skin regenerating fireproof before it can snowball, with that now immune piece ensuring he can’t be completely destroyed, which with Crawler means “not inconvenienced much at all”.

    • Manton effect. Narwhale’s said to be one of the few to be able to keep her powers manifested inside someone, and even she needs to generate her force field outside and then pierce her target. Moreover, even if she could burn out enough space to override that, Sundancer’s sun has been implied to move slowly, so she’s stuck standing there as Crawler (who has to have at least some invulnerability to fire from being around Burnscar) dodges around/through it to take her down.

  11. Why doesn’t Coil just have Dinah default to two sig figs? I’m guessing that that would be at most 2/5 the strain of doing her usual five, and probably more if she works anything like a mechanical sensor in terms of difficulty of gaining increased precision. Its not like he really needs a precise answer to know if there’s a decent chance of something happening. Also, I wonder if she’s ever tried Newter in place of her usual “candy”. Coil can probably afford his services and he seems much less likely to damage his precious little calculator than conventional drugs, and very relaxing as well.

    • Wildbow mentions in the comments somewhere how Dinah actually finds it easier to use more significant figures and it’s a bit more of a strain to artificially change the percentages by rounding.

      The Newter suggestion is a good idea though I don’t think Coil would go for it if only because it seems to be almost as much of a control thing for him as anything else. He seems to like that Dinah is utterly dependent on him.

    • Newter boasts that he isn’t addictive. Part (or maybe all) of the incentive for Coil to use the “candy” is that it is addictive, allowing Dinah to be controlled carrot-and-stick fashion.

  12. V qba’g erzrzore jung V bevtvanyyl vasreerq nobhg Abryyr sebz Penjyre’f vagrerfg va ure, nfvqr sebz “fur pna uheg uvz? FPNEL,” ohg abj gung V xabj nobhg ure cbjre…
    Ure qhcyvpngrf nera’g cresrpg, ohg gurl unir gur cbjref naq gur xabjyrqtr bs gur crbcyr gurl pbcl- obgu bs juvpu ner npdhverq genvgf. Vs fur qhcyvpngrq Penjyre, gur erfhygvat Perrcre(f) jbhyq nyzbfg qrsvavgryl unir ng yrnfg fbzr bs gur fnzr nqncgngvbaf ur unf, naq ur pbhyq svtug gurz gb tnva vzzhavgl gb uvf bja culfvpny pncnovyvgvrf. Naq vs ur pbhyq pybar uvzfrys ntnva nsgre gung, ur pbhyq svtug gur arj pybar gb trg uheg ol uvf arj nqncgngvbaf naq orpbzr vzzhar gb gubfr
    Jvgu Abryyr ybpxrq va gur inhyg yvxr fur vf abj, vg jbhyqa’g or uneq sbe uvz gb whfg xrrc gevttrevat ure cbjre, perngvat n cbfvgvir srrqonpx ybbc gung cebqhprf zber Perrcref naq n gbhture, fpnevre Penjyre jvgu rirel vgrengvba. B_B

    • There’s a reason the comment was coded: it is a spoiler. Your intent is good, but could you please refrain from re-spoiling the spoilers in the future?

  13. Oh fuck. The Travelers have been carting around Lilith? Not just Lilith, but SCP!carnivore!Lilith? I already had this universe pegged as darker than Evangelion, but holy crap.

    And then that last line, yikes. Stay fast stay safe, Skitter.

    • Darker than Eva is certainly an apt description. At least in Eva the world is mostly screwed because the people capable of doing something to help are either utter idiots, completely suicidal or straight up complexity addicted. In Worm, the world is screwed because literally everything is just set up against humanity on too many levels to count.

      • Well.. to be fair… they had a lucky streak described in interludes 26 x and 29… saying more would be a spoiler.

  14. This is one of those moments where using numerical probabilities in an uninformed way really hurts a piece of writing. The last couple of paragraphs here are supposed to be poignant and are instead silly.

    The statement that her odds of going home someday improved to 31.4%, and a 43% chance of her getting killed by Crawler today, means that the 43% chance of getting killed either came out of some very improbable new event, or else some consequence of the way this played out dramatically reduced, in a different way, her odds of going home. Either of which distracts strongly from the point of telling the reader about her choice to check, if he actually knows anything about fractions and is paying attention.

    I’m gonna rant a little bit about prophecy in fiction for a little bit now, which is not related to the above contradiction.

    That’s aside from the logical problems with talking about random chance being something that can be self-influential. If I say, “there’s an 80% chance of getting into a car accident today, so I’m just gonna stay home” then there obviously isn’t an 80% chance, and presumably never was, assuming I was always going to use my power to check. Which implies that the power doesn’t account for its own use, which therefore makes it *completely useless* as a narrative tool. What’s the point of saying something bad is 99% likely if your characters can aim away from it? A 99% “chance” of something happening when you have total control over it happening or not is merely a narrative guarantee that it won’t happen ever.

    Let me use a real life example. It is fantastically difficult to create Moscovium (the most recently produced element on the periodic table). The odds of making even one atom of it are astronomically small. The odds of it ever existing anywhere in the universe (barring a concentrated and conscious effort to overcome all the barriers involved) are essentially zero. So of course it has been made. It was a fait accompli that it would get discovered and produced, and it always was, because it was unlikely but not impossible. Knowledge and conscious effort are the direct counters to random chance, so which was it? The 0% probabilistic chance of it happening, or the 100% narrative chance of it happening (i.e. we made it happen because it was unlikely)?

    Dinah’s power makes it sound like an application of Multiverse theory going on, where she sees ten trillion different universes and then measures the proportion of them that have a certain characteristic. This is self-consistent, and totally fine as far as my suspension of disbelief goes. The problem lies in calling it chance. It isn’t chance when decisions are involved. If you can see a split between two different paths and you choose one because you prefer where it goes, then it doesn’t matter how big the paths are. But Dinah’s power only makes sense if the size of the paths is what she’s measuring, and that isn’t chance, from her perspective, or from the perspective of anyone she tells.

    Okay, rant over.

    • Playing it the other way around, the power would not be that useful if the result did not change. If you know that there is an 80% chance of being in a car accident and nothing you do causes the number to change, what is the point of having the number?

      You decide to stay at home, and the probability goes up to 99%, because a car misses a turn and plows right into your living room. If you stay at home, you are probably in the living room reading.

      “I think I will go out after all.”

  15. Wait why can’t Coil just make Dinah do her future-sight thing and then cancel out that reality, sidestepping the issue where Dinah is incapacitated for weeks afterword? I would think that would have occured to Coil. It was the first thought through my head when I realized Dinah could look at the details for a specific future.

    • A lot of people have asked that, and I have two theories. First, Coil’s second reality was him running as fast and as far as he could. He was already too far away to ask Dinah, meaning he had to do it in the (eventually chosen as true) reality.
      Second theory, which I like a little more. Both realities are occurring at the same time, and Dinah’s path-to-success required almost the full thirty minutes. If he only used it in one reality he would have to wait around in the other (sure there are other things he could be doing, but without knowing which ones will lead to his survival there’s no point). Thus, he probably had her finding a path-to-success in both realities, and the one we saw was the one he went with.

  16. I wonder if it would be possible to use Crawler’s power against him, like having a powerful Master mess with his mind causing his brain to shut down in reaction, or having an attack so powerful hit him that the armor his body would generate would be so heavy it would immobilise him.

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