Colony 15.2

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One thing at a time.

As much as I wanted to make it a focus, taking care of my territory was something I had to handle in my downtime.  I felt guilty; I’d left my people to handle things on their own, I’d failed to arrange the cleanup of the bodies Mannequin and Burnscar had left behind.  I hadn’t made arrangements for food, fresh water or accommodations.  I wanted to make it up to the people who had stuck by me, or at least the people who hadn’t left, but this wasn’t one of the instances where I could let my emotions dictate my priorities.

We had a mess of things to do and a limited amount of time to work with.

After departing from our meeting, we’d taken the afternoon and evening to handle our personal affairs, agreeing to start on the major stuff in the morning.  Bitch had to take care of her dogs, Regent was toying with gangs in his territory by puppeteering their leaders, and Tattletale had her various spies and scouts to keep in contact with.  Things were a little less busy for myself, Grue and Imp: I’d tended to my territory, ensuring that the cleanup was going well and that the major concerns were being addressed.  Grue and Imp had taken the afternoon and evening to try to catch up on sleep.

Except we hadn’t been able to break away from planning, and just going by his participation in our exchange of texts and calls, Grue hadn’t managed to rest much.  We’d arranged plans, discussed priorities, sent messages to Coil, tracked down information from our various underlings, and in the doing, we’d managed to hash out a general game plan.

With a hundred problems we needed to handle, we’d agreed the most important thing was to deal with the most inevitable ones.  There was no point in working out a complicated and involved attack plan against Coil if we didn’t wind up fighting him.  There was a point in dealing with the Chosen; they were bound to attack us at some point, regardless of how future events unfolded.  Better to take the fight to them.

“Whatcha thinking, dork?”

“You’re still calling me that?”

Regent chuckled.  He was walking down the center of the street with Imp.  I was keeping to the sidewalk out of habit, and because the raised concrete path was fractionally higher, so I wasn’t wading in quite so much water.

“Just thinking about priorities,” I told him.

“Yeah, Tattletale kept trying to rope me into the planning phase last night.  Not my thing.”

“I wouldn’t have minded,” Imp said.  “I wouldn’t have anything to contribute, but I’d like to follow along.  And I can’t figure out my niche in the group with the trio being so… trio-ish.”

“Trio-ish?” I asked.

“Tattletale, you and my brother.  Making all the plans, you’ve got the nemeses…” Imp paused.  “Is nemeses a word?”

“Yeah,” I said.

And you three have the brains, of course,” she stabbed a finger in my direction, as if it was an accusation, “Which leaves Regent, me and Bitch, following along, expected to obediently do as we’re told.”

“Let’s quit and start our own group!”  Regent said, throwing one arm across Imp’s shoulders and gesturing dramatically with the other as he continued, “Regent, Imp, and Bitch, the Othersiders, a spin-off team.  And we’ll stick with Coil while the others turn traitor, and we’ll have this epic fight…”

Imp took his cue, “And Brian and I will go head to head, and it’ll end in this dramatic moment where he says something pretentious-”

“Et tu, sis?”

“And then I’ll say ‘Yeah, it’s me’ and finish him!  No mercy.”

They were playing off one another, joking.

And he calls me the dork?

I ignored them up until we met up with Tattletale.

“No Grue?” she asked.

“He’s tired,” Imp said, shrugging free of Regent’s arm, which had stayed in place since they began their play-acting.  “Not sleeping these days.”

“We should address that soon,” Tattletale said.  “We’ve seen how mistakes happen when some of us get too fatigued.  With the way things are stacked against us, we could wind up with another few days of concentrated activity, and running on empty from the start could spell bad things.”

She glanced at me.  Fine, I’d own up to it.  I’d fallen into that trap.  I nodded an agreement.

“And you?” she asked me.  “You’re good?”

“Guilty about leaving my people to their own devices,” I admitted, “But I’m glad we’re working through this stuff.”

“Speaking of,” she said.  “We’ve got the mayoral elections coming up in a week and a half.  They were thinking about canceling them, but with the Nine gone, they’re apparently wanting to get things closer to normal.”

“What does this mean for us?” I asked.

I caught a glimpse of Imp nudging Regent, in a ‘see, see?’ kind of way.  She muttered something about the trio.

“On the upside, Coil has two agents as mayoral candidates, so he’ll be focused on that.  On the downside, it’s another thing we have to take into consideration.  We could throw a wrench into that situation, to slow him down in his takeover and buy ourselves time to leverage the situation to our advantage, but I’m wondering if it’s really worth it with our other time constraints.”

“The primary one being Dinah getting her powers back,” I said.  I turned to the other two, “Are you wanting to chime in instead of poking fun?”

“I’m good,” Imp said.  Regent chuckled a little.

Tattletale said, “I’ve been trying to figure out what’s been happening with the Chosen and Purity’s group.  The white supremacists keep losing leaders.  Kaiser got offed by Leviathan, now we’ve got a brainwashed Hookwolf running off with the Nine.  The natural thing for the group to do would be to fall in under Purity, but there’s some snags.”

“Some Chosen thinking they want to be leaders?” I asked.

“There’s that.  Stormtiger and Cricket have been Hookwolf’s followers for a while.  I could see how they might feel that it was their due to get a turn.  There’s also the fact that Hookwolf was probably engaging in some propaganda against Purity, in case she tried poaching from his team.  So you’ve got the overall group split between the Chosen and the Pure we’ve had for a few weeks now.  Then you’ve got another split within the Chosen, with the loyal and the brainwashed, and the, um.  Not sure what to call them.”

“The free thinkers?” I offered.

“If you can call a neo-nazi a free thinker,” Tattletale conceded.

“So it’s a prime opportunity to strike, then,” I concluded.

“Maybe.  Or maybe they’re in the same straits as us.  They could be feeling the same kind of pressure from multiple directions.”

“Something to keep in mind,” I said.

“Something to exploit?”

I glanced at her in surprise, and she shrugged.

“Elaborate?  You’re not suggesting we ally with them, are you?”

“Fuck yes!” Imp skipped halfway across the road to join us.  “Finally, an argument I can get into.  No way are we allying with the skinheads.”

“Are you taking this seriously?” I asked her.

“Totally one-hundred-percent serious.  I’m not cool with working with them on any level.  I’ve put up with their racist asshole kids giving me a hard time at school, I put up with their racist asshole adults throwing slurs and swear words at me when I’m walking down the street.”

“I’m not talking about working with them,” Tattletale said.  “I’m talking about a ceasefire.  We broker a deal, agree to leave them alone if they leave us alone, they can hold their own territory without worrying about us, and they extend the same civility to us.  It gives us a chance to do what we need to do.”

“Still not cool,” Imp protested.  “It gives them a chance to do what they want to do, which is making life hell on anyone that isn’t straight, white and Christian.  Or whatever you call people that worship those viking gods.  They like naming themselves after those guys.”

I looked at Tattletale, “I can’t argue with her point.  The first part.”

Tattletale frowned.  “I’m trying to think about what’s easiest to achieve while clearing up the most problems.  I already got in touch with New Wave and got them to chill out for a bit.”

“How’d you pull that?” Regent asked.

“Lady Photon was wondering where her nieces went.  I told her that Panacea was healing Glory Girl but she still wanted her space.”

“Hmm,” I offered, to give an indication I was listening.

“It isn’t true, or I should say it isn’t the whole truth, but we tried to reach Panacea and she turned us down again and again.  It’s a shame, but what can you do?”

Amy had crossed my mind as I’d reflected on the various encounters with the Nine, and I’d thought about going to look for her.  Having her in the group would be invaluable, no question.  Even touching base with her could leave us options if someone got hurt or if we needed resources.  That said, the major issue was that I couldn’t be sure she’d actually join or even listen, and we were trying to operate with certainties.  I couldn’t afford to go when it meant potentially wasted time.

Better to be in my territory, for morale, for organization, and to keep working on the costume bits.  It also let me eat, sleep and take care of Atlas – stuff I tended to forget about.

Thinking about Atlas reminded me of one thought I’d had during our downtime.  “It’d be fantastic if we could get a tinker in the group,” I said.  “Between Bakuda, Armsmaster, Mannequin and Bonesaw, I’m sort of starting to appreciate what they bring to the table.”

“What you see there are the end results,” Tattletale said, “You have to realize how much time they’re spending building stuff, or time spent building tools to build better stuff.”

“Bonesaw did plastic surgery on seven people, performed brain surgery on Cherish and then trapped her inside a pod that could keep her alive for years or decades, and as far as I figure it, even if they got their hands on an all-terrain vehicle, they can’t have had five or ten minutes to do it in.  That doesn’t amount to much prep time.”

“Some to build and program her mechanical spiders, but yeah.  She probably wouldn’t need as much time as you’d think.  Probably didn’t even have to put Cherish’s head back together after doing what she needed to for the surgery, for example, if she was going in the pod.”

You’re almost a tinker,” Regent told me.

“Not really.”

“You made these rags,” he pulled down his collar to show me the skintight costume beneath.

Rags?  If you don’t want them, I can use the material.”

He laughed.

“I don’t think I’m anything like a tinker, though.  I just realize my power’s not that strong, so I wrack my brain to think of ways to expand it.  I make the most of the possibilities available to me, while a tinker creates possibilities.”

“I’m getting what you’re saying,” Tattletale smiled.  “You liked having Panacea around as a pseudo-tinker, huh?  The way it expanded your options?”

I shrugged, “Goes without saying, doesn’t it?”

“But you especially, given how you think.  It’s a shame that there’s not really any tinkers around that aren’t already committed.  Unless you want to make a point out of recruiting Leet?”

There was a bit of a pause as we all considered the idea.

We simultaneously broke into laughter.

“Come on,” Tattletale said, “Let’s get down to business.”

Beyond our short detour to meet up with Tattletale, we’d primarily been focused on heading towards Regent’s territory.

As if they knew Regent didn’t have the forces to retaliate or respond in kind, the Chosen had decided on an underhanded means of attack.  If you could call it that.  The Chosen’s wolf-head gang tag and swastikas marked every available surface.

A snub, an insult.

Shatterbird descended from some distant point high above us, landing in the middle of the College, Regent’s territory.  It was the middle ground between Downtown and the Docks, and the buildings were a mix of quaint housing and stone buildings.  Or they had been.  Most were ruins now.

Dust and sand stirred around us.  It coiled around Shatterbird, then streamed against the offending pieces of artwork.  Housepaint and whitewash peeled and disappeared, flecks of spray paint were gradually worn away, and concrete was chipped.

In less than a minute, the area was clean.  Not only was it free of the spray paint, but walls were left looking cleaner and newer than they had in years, maybe decades.

“Nifty,” Imp commented.

“Why spend a few hundred bucks on a sandblaster when you have a Shatterbird?  Who’s a good little power tool?”  Regent gave Shatterbird a pat on the cheek.  “You are.  Yes you are.”

“Stop that,” I said.


“That’s uncalled for.”

“It’s totally called for.  Are you bothered I’m calling her a tool, or are you bothered I’m mocking her?  Because she is a tool, you know.  In more than one sense.”

“You don’t have to mock her.”

“Why?  Because we should be respectful of the poor widdle mass murderer’s feelings?”  He snapped his fingers, and Shatterbird covered her ears, shutting her eyes.  “There’s a reason I’m doing this, believe it or not.  You aren’t the only one who can have ideas about finding some special angle in your power.  Her best bet at breaking free is if she has a strong enough emotional reaction while being far enough away from me.  I’m irritating her because I want to keep her emotionally drained.  That way she won’t be able to put up a good fight when she does get a chance.”

“There’s got to be a better way of doing that.”

“Sure.  Tell you what.  Next chance I’ll get, I’ll take her to my lair, sit her down and torture her until her mind breaks.  Heck, it wouldn’t even be that hard.”

“You-” I started.

“He’s being facetious,” Tattletale interrupted.

Regent rolled his eyes.

“The alternative is killing her,” he said.  “But that seems awfully wasteful when she’s giving us some much-needed firepower and deterrence.”

“I’m not saying torture her, and I’m not saying kill her.  I’m just asking you to treat her with respect.”

Shatterbird spoke, startling me.  “Hi!  I’ve killed hundreds of people and maimed thousands.”

“I get your point, Regent.  Stop that.”

Shatterbird smiled wide, the expression so fake and cheery it was disturbing to see.  I tried to ignore her as she continued staring at me.

As an idle thought, I noted that her teeth were in surprisingly good shape.  It made me wonder how the Nine took care of their teeth.  Did they threaten some dentist and force him to do fillings and whitenings?  Or did Bonesaw handle that?  It was odd to think about.

“Okay, we’ve got Shatterbird for some firepower, you’ve got a swarm, Skitter?”

My bugs weren’t condensed into a swarm, but I had a good number.  “I’m set.”

“Can you find them?”

My bugs searched our surroundings.  “There’s people, I’m just not sure they’re Chosen.”


I pointed.  “Six there, belowground.  Eight there, on the far side of the building where it isn’t caved in.  Five there, front room, drinking alcohol, I think.”

“That group,” she gestured to the first one I’d indicated, where people were gathered in a basement or cellar.  Some stone building with sandbags around it to keep the floodwater at bay.  “Ages, genders?”

“I can’t say about ages, but two are below average in height, smaller across the shoulders.  So probably younger.  Two female, one male.”

“Are they agitated, busy?”

“They’re annoyed because of the houseflies and mosquitoes buzzing around them, but I don’t think they’ve realized it’s me.”

“Just trying to figure it out.  The quality of the lodgings here is pretty miserable compared to some areas close by, then if I go by the graffitti and the placement thereof… yeah, it’s them.”

“All of them or just some of them?”

“Everyone present is a member of the Chosen.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yeah.  Nobody’s going to hang out here otherwise.  Doesn’t fit.  Even if I discount some of the evidence that’s leading my power to the conclusions it’s finding… yeah.  I’m sure.”

“Then cover up,” Regent alerted us.

I pulled the short cape over my head to cover my hair.  I could see Imp wrapping her scarf around her head with the same idea in mind.  Tattletale, for her part, pulled on the spider silk balaclava I’d made as a trial run at something for my minions, then donned a pair of goggles.

“Go, Skitter,” Tattletale spoke.

We attacked.  My bugs flowed into the spaces where I’d found the people.  In one moment, they were simply crawling on them, the next moment they were under attack, being bitten, stung, scratched and smothered.

As usual, I kept the wasps and bees from contracting their abdomens to force the venom out.  It would hurt, but the risk of anaphylactic shock would be minimal.

They fled, running for the outdoors.

I gave them a second of reprieve.  A few seconds where they could catch their breath and think they’d escaped.

“Your turn,” I told Regent.

Shatterbird attacked, calling forth a light flurry of glass shards.  There weren’t many, far less than I had in the way of bugs, but our enemies couldn’t defend against them.  My mosquitoes could smell blood as the shards sliced thin papercuts into their skin, impaled their cheeks and hands.

“Don’t hit any vital organs,” I said, “Or arteries.  Keep it confined to the outer edge of their body.”

“You’re so finnicky,” Regent commented.

“If you kill them, this situation becomes something totally different.  They’ll have a vendetta against us, and any friction within their group is going to take second seat to getting revenge.”

“I’m not saying I won’t be careful,” Regent sighed.  “I’m saying you’re being picky.”

A section of building floated across the street to land at the midway point between Shatterbird and our targets.  There were nearly twenty of them, and one of them was Rune.  Okay.

Shatterbird extended her arms out to either side.  The pelting hail of glass shards split in two, each half arcing well to the left and right, circumventing the obstacle entirely.  He stepped up the intensity a notch.

“Feels like we’re going easy on them,” he said.

“Just weeding out the foot soldiers.  If we can eliminate anyone with powers, so much the better.”

I nodded.  We’d made our point with the glass shards.  I set my bugs on them once again.

No point in playing fair, really.

One by one, they collapsed, losing their balance and falling, or simply giving way under the pain.  The second one of them went limp on the ground, curling up in the fetal position or trying to cover themselves in their clothes, I let up.  For everyone else, I made the bugs a little more aggressive with every passing moment.

“They’re going to retaliate soon,” Tattletale informed us.

A cloud of mist erupted and began to expand, squashing my bugs.  That meant Fog was here.  And if he was here, Night would be too.  Night and Fog, Nacht und Nebel.  I could sense someone who could have been her, running away from the collection of people.

“Rune, Night and Fog so far,” I said.

“That’s two different groups.  Rune could be looking to join the Pure,” Tattletale spoke.  “Purity’s not here or she would have responded already.  You’re not sensing anything that could be Crusader?  Your bugs wouldn’t be able to pass through his astral clones.”

“No Crusader.”

I sensed someone my bugs were unable to hurt.  He ran forward through the swarm, the hail of glass and Fog’s cloud.  “Incoming.  Not Night.”

Victor.  He was a talent vampire, stealing people’s trained skills, keeping them if he held on to them long enough, and leaving that person temporarily bereft of whatever skill they’d spent their lives learning.  People like him had a tendency to pick up martial arts, parkour, weapons training and other combat skills.  He tended to pair up with Othala, the girl who could grant powers, meaning Victor also had super speed, super strength or invincibility.  If he was wounded, she could give him regeneration instead.

But her power demanded that she touch whoever she was using it on, and it limited her to granting one power at a time.  If he had invincibility, it meant he didn’t have super strength, pyrokinesis or any of that.

I started tying him up in silk, drawing the lines out with my spiders and carrying them with flying insects.

He didn’t make it halfway to us before stumbling.  A minute later he was caught.  I began layering it on him, thicker.

“Victor down.  Othala’s somewhere, only big problems are Night and Fog.”

“Okay.  How confident you feeling?”  Tattletale glanced at me.

“I could try my hand at dealing with Night.  Not sure about Fog.”


“That’s cool.”

“Going to see if I can bait them,” I responded.  “You guys get back some.”

“Play safe.”

Our last run-in with Night and Fog had been ugly.  That had been months ago, and we’d basically lost.  I wasn’t content to simply lose, though.  I’d replayed the scene over and over in my head since it had happened, doubly so since I’d found out Coil’s power.  If he could create alternate timelines and choose the results, and if he’d used his power to save us, what had happened in that other timeline?  Had we died?

I hated the idea that I owed my life to Coil, because I hated him.  I hated that he’d turned something I could almost make peace with -being a villain- and he’d turned it into something that I was deeply ashamed of, something that gnawed at me.  He’d used me, and he’d done it to abuse, manipulate and take advantage of a young girl.

That irritation had been one more nudge to get me thinking about how I could have handled this.  With every new trick, strategy and technique I came up with, I tended to think about how they could apply to previous encounters, especially those encounters where we hadn’t come out ahead.

My bugs gave me a way of tracking Night.  I could sense her change as she escaped the line of sight of both her allies and our group.  I didn’t hurry after her, but I kept my attention turned in her direction as she transformed into that multi-legged, hyper-agile, lightning quick death blender of blades and claws and moved to flank us.

I called Atlas to me.

So long as I could see her coming, she wouldn’t be able to maintain that form as she closed the distance.  That didn’t mean her human self was a non-threat.  She was prepared to use any possible method to blind or distract so her opponents would take their eyes off her.  Flashbang grenades, smoke canisters, a cloak that doubled as a net, complete with hooks to catch on costumes and hair.

Fog was in his cloud form, advancing inexorably towards us.  He had the ability to adopt a gaseous body.  He was capable of making the gas semisolid, even maintaining a crude hold on objects.  If someone happened to breathe him in or swallow that smoke, and he made it solid while it was in their bloodstream, it was capable of doing horrific internal damage.

Shatterbird stopped driving the glass shards at our enemies and began collecting the nearby glass instead.  She formed it into a barrier.  The join wasn’t perfect, and Regent apparently lacked the fine touch the real Shatterbird had, because he didn’t strategically break the glass to make the joints fit better or create smaller pieces to jam in the holes.

Fog was slowed, but not stopped entirely.  He seeped through the cracks.

The high-pitched sound of glass slapping against glass filled the area as Regent patched up the holes by pressing larger pieces of glass over the gaps.  Still imperfect, but it was as good a barrier as we might hope for.

Night had paused.  She’d clearly wanted to use the smoke cover or the distraction of Fog’s approach to attack, but with his approach delayed, she was slowed down as well.

I was already prepping my bugs, readying with a response of my own.

I was nervous, I had to admit.  I’d fought against Leviathan, I’d fought the Nine, but Night was never going to be an opponent I could laugh off.

Fog managed to get enough of himself through the glass that he had leverage enough to break it.

“This power is so hard to use,” Regent complained.  “So much to focus on.”

“You’re doing fine.”

“I’m doing fine because she’s helping.  I think.”

“Be careful then,” Tattletale said.  “Don’t rely on her power.”

“Kind of hard not to, unless you want to let him approach?”

Would Shatterbird cease assisting at the most critical juncture, getting us all killed?  It would fit.  Unless she was helping only because she didn’t want to die.

“I’m going,” I told them.  “Hold down the fort, run if you have to.  We’ve basically scored a victory here, it’s just a question of driving it home.”

I climbed on top of Atlas and flew away from my companions.  If my plan failed, I could fly, but Tattletale and Regent couldn’t.  Better that she chase me with the others having a chance to escape than a scenario where I led her straight to them.

My swarm swamped Night, catching her alien, angular legs with strands of silk.

Lots of legs, only so much silk.  It wasn’t really working.  It might have been doable if I had a sense of how her body moved, or how the legs bent, but any time I looped silk around what I might consider a knee-joint, it turned inside out, the silk dropping to the ground.


My bugs weren’t finding anything I could identify as a sensory organ, no eyes or anything of the like.  Nothing that pepper spray would have an effect on.

Okay.  Something else.  I held back with the bugs that had the silk lines, rearranging them as I closed the distance.

The second I rounded the corner to spot Night, she was human again.  She pulled her cloak around herself, glancing around until she spotted me.

I swallowed, backing away slowly while keeping her in plain view.  My bugs gathered, but not to the extent that they blocked my view of her.

In one fluid motion, she wrapped her cloak around herself and then cast it out so it billowed.  She had a canister in her hand, whipping it in my direction.

I caught it in a net of silk strands buoyed by nearly two thousand flying dragonflies, beetles, wasps, hornets and cockroaches.

Night watched as the canister floated off into the air a distance away.  I readied two more nets, placing them in the air to the right and left.

I knew what she would do next, but that was mainly because I hadn’t been able to come up with a good way to deal with it.  I could trust Grue to handle it, but he wasn’t here.  I could use my bugs, with some luck, but even then I wasn’t sure it would have an effect.

She used a flashbang.

Close my eyes or stare dead on into the flash, I’d be momentarily blind either way.  I opted for the former, covering my eyes and flying both up and away.

With my swarm sense, I could feel her creating some distance, breaking away and heading for the general direction of the others, moving faster than any car, with far more raw mobility, turning on a dime and easily navigating obstacles.  Even before the flashbang went off, I was turning to follow.

I could tell the others were distracted by Fog.  Even some of the other members of the Chosen were slowly pulling themselves together.  I stepped up the assault with my bugs to make up for the fact that Regent and Shatterbird were otherwise occupied.

That left me to catch Night.  She was taking the long way, favoring alleys and going through the ground floor of buildings, which simultaneously let her maintain her monstrous form while forcing her to take just long enough that I could keep up.  The fastest path between two points was a straight line, so I had that advantage at least.

So long as I had eyes on her, I could slow her down, keep her from assaulting my teammates.  If I could catch her in human form, I might be able to bind her, or at least keep those flashbangs webbed to her belt.

There was the worst case scenario that she’d get close enough to kill someone in the span that a flashbang blinded us-  I wasn’t oblivious to that.

I was gaining on her, slowly but surely.  My heart pounded in my chest as I sensed her closing the gap between herself and the others, my eyes and my bugs scanning the surroundings so I could calculate the best position.  It wouldn’t matter how close I got to Night if there was a building blocking my view of her.

She stopped.

Or, more appropriately, she shifted gears from zig-zagging from one piece of cover to another to running at human speed.

I caught up a few seconds later, stopping Atlas so we circled directly above her.

She glanced around, looked up at me, then bolted for a restaurant with a tattered canopy over what had been an outdoor patio.

She disappeared from my sight for an instant, but she didn’t change.

The smoke canisters came out, but my bugs had lagged behind.  Anticipating another rush for my teammates, I piloted Atlas to a position between Night and the others.

The smoke spilled out around her, but again, she didn’t change.

She collapsed to the ground.

Wary of a feint, I approached with care.

Imp stood over Night, holding a taser.

“Got her,” she said, “Fuck yes.  You can’t tell me that wasn’t awesome.”

“Good job.  Now don’t take your eyes off her.  She heals back to pristine condition the second you blink.”

“We take turns blinking?”  She asked.

“Sure.  Blink on five.  One, two, three, four, five…” I said.  I waited until the second count and started blinking on three.

We draped Night across Atlas and hurried back toward the others, continuing the count.

Shatterbird had Fog trapped in a box of glass, layers upon layers.  Every time a puff of smoke escaped, a layering of glass shards covered the gap.  My allies were all standing, and our enemies were soundly defeated.  After a quick exchange to ensure we were sharing the duties of watching Night, I freed myself to check the scene with my eyes, rather than my swarm-sense.

Rune was kneeling, bleeding from shallow cuts across her face, chest, ribs, stomach and thighs.  She was using her power on a scarf to bind the wounds tight.

Othala was standing off to one side, hurt as well.  Victor was bound.

None of them were meeting our gaze.  We’d won to the extent that it was embarrassing to them.

“You’re in our territory,” Tattletale told them.  “Get out.”

“You’ve taken this whole fucking city as your territory,” Rune retorted, scowling.

“Your point being?” Regent asked.

“Where are we supposed to go?”

“Leave the city, retard.”  Imp said.

“You can’t just take the whole city.”

I didn’t feel like Imp and Regent were giving the impression of strength.  I spoke before they could.  “We already have.  We fought the Nine and played a pretty big part in taking out more than half of them.”  I pointed at Shatterbird, “Case in point.  You took advantage of that to try to claim some territory for yourselves.  Not only is that awfully pathetic, but you proved yourselves hypocrites, doing exactly what Hookwolf accused us of doing.”

“We staked out our claim.  It’s our right.”

“Your right?  On what grounds?  Strength?  We have you beat there.  Did you earn it?  No.  I think my team has you beat on both points.”

“Now,” Tattletale stepped forward, “Here’s the thing.  We can’t let you get away with this unscathed.  So we’re taxing you.”

“Tax?”  Othala asked.

“Tax.  Imp and I are going to step into the basement of that building over there,” Tattletale pointed, “And relieve you of every valuable we can carry.”

“You assholes!” Rune growled.  She started to stand, then fell to the ground, hard.  Imp had pushed her.  I tried to hide my own surprise at the girl’s sudden appearance.  The others looked somewhat intimidated as well.

“But that’s not enough, is it?  So there’s another tax.  We’re borrowing one of your teammates.”

The Chosen weren’t the only ones who looked shocked at the declaration.  I snapped my head around to look at Regent.  There was no surprise there.

Fuck them.  They’d planned this, and they hadn’t told me.

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134 thoughts on “Colony 15.2

  1. Bit of an apology may be due – was busy this week and sort of crammed this chapter into a late Thursday night & a train ride earlier today. If there’s grave mistakes or if it’s not up to the usual snuff, that’s where the fault lies.

    • The snuff was top notch. My nose is burning and I don’t think it’s gonna stop for a while.

      And I love how the Undersiders keep cementing their public image of being, basically, nightmare fuel. And when you can scare Night with appearing out of nowhere you know you’re scary.

      I really really wanna revisit the mutant watching websites from the beginning to find out what the public thinks of them.

      • Maybe for an interlude, there could be a transcript of a forum for the website. I want to see some in universe Skitter fans.

        • *Hefts the shovel up onto his shoulder and wipes his forehead with one hand.* Nope, no need to worry about any grave mistakes. *Moaning comes from the ground around him* One moment, unsatisfied customers. *Bangs at the soft dirt with the shovel, yelling “Get back in that grave rightchere ya here now!” hitting something solid a bunch of times until the moaning starts*

          Zombies, precocious little rascals.

        • Thirded. Maybe one of Coil’s other minions trying to learn more about his/her new allies?

          Aaaand you’ll get a proper review in the morning. Spoilers:

          I liked it.

      • To be fair, given how Night’s powers work, supers who can appear out of nowhere would be nightmare fuel to her anyway.

        Random thought: I wonder if Night’s powers stop watching if she doesn’t know she’s being watched. Would be a good way to detect invisible supers spying on her and the like…

        • I got that impression. She didn’t know Imp was there and her power still shut off. My question is, is it only humans that shut off her power by watching her? What about animals? Bugs being controlled by Skitter don’t affect it, and certainly not NORMAL bugs, so is there a cutoff point somewhere?

          • But Imp isn’t actually invisible. People just forget her immediately when they see her. That could still leave room for Night’s power to be disabled, without Night consciously realizing that she has seen anyone.

  2. Observations: Alex and Imp are bonding, they didn’t tell her because they knew she is uncomfortable with Alex’s power, and finally the Undersiders just made the Chosen their bitch. They want a new and specific member to help take down Coil. But what power could they use to take him down? The psychic vampire guy maybe. Use his power on Coil and make him forget his knowledge of the other world?

  3. I really liked this chapter, and the twist was nice. On the other hand, every single chapter that goes past at this point where Taylor doesn’t even think of her father strains my suspension of disbelief. The last time she saw him he was suffering from what seemed like some pretty serious blood loss, and was taken away by Coil’s medics. She doesn’t know where they took him, and seeing as she is planning to fight Coil the issue of what the hell is going on with her father should have at least crossed her mind. It made sense that she wasn’t thinking about this when the Nine were still in town, but it has been days since then. If she has had some sort of contact with him that is something I would expect to show up on screen.

    • She sent one of her minions to talk to Regent and get a report on Tattletale and her dad right after Shatterbird killed all the glass and electronics in the city. I don’t remember if the minion got back to her first, or if Grue found her before then, but either way, last we heard, Skitter’s dad was fine and had been sent home.

  4. “I climbed on top of Aegis and flew away from my companions.” – This was pretty much the only mistake I could find on first read.

    As for powers, Othala’s could be very useful but that depends on how long it lasts.

  5. Fantastic! And I love how Regent plays off on the ‘Trio’ idea while plotting behind Taylor’s back.

    “where my scalp failed” Not sure about this; I know what she’s trying to say but it seems a bit weird to put it that way.
    ““Rune, Night and Fog so far,” I said. “Different groups. Rune could be looking to join the Pure,” Tattletale spoke. ” Is she saying that the pure and the chosen are together here? If Rune was part of the chosen then why would her wanting to join the pure be brought up?
    “I climbed on top of Aegis” Outside of Psycho Gecko’s time bending slashfics, this should probably be Atlas. =P
    ” turning on a dime and .” missing a word?
    “blinded us. I wasn’t” Maybe a dash instead of a sentence break?

  6. “Let’s quit and start our own group!” Regent said, throwing one arm across Imp’s shoulders and gesturing dramatically with the other as he continued, “Regent, Imp, and Bitch, the Othersiders, a spin-off team. And we’ll stick with Coil while the others turn traitor, and we’ll have this epic fight…”

    Imp took his cue, “And Brian and I will go head to head, and it’ll end in this dramatic moment where he says something pretentious-”

    “Et tu, sis?”

    “And then I’ll say ‘Yeah, it’s me’ and finish him! No mercy.”

    “And then just as he’s lying there on the ground, there’ll be a dramatic twist and it’ll turn out that Coil is actually your dad!” I mentioned, joining in.

    Imp giggled. “Hehe, that’d be a pretty silly twist. What are the chances of something like that?”

    Regent paused, considering. “Actually….not terrible. Trigger incidents are pretty rare, and it’s rather unlikely for both you and your brother to gain powers through different trigger incidents. Usually when siblings manifest, it’s because they had the same trigger incident or else being second generation made it far easier for them to trigger.”

    Imp paused and stared at him, her mouth hanging open. “Don’t be….that’s…that wouldn’t even prove it was….”

    I raised an eyebrow. Surely she wasn’t actually taking the idea seriously? Unless she had some kind of reason to thi-

    -I blinked. Then winced as a moment of vertigo washed over me. I looked at Regent.

    “What were we talking about again?”


    Coil frowned as Aisha confronted him. This conversation hadn’t happened in the other timeline. He wondered briefly how decreasing Skitter’s workload could have resulted in his daughter figuring out his secret, before giving an internal shrug. It wouldn’t matter once he collapsed this timeline into the other.

  7. Superb chapter as always.
    Quick question, are the bullies even alive a this point?
    We haven’t heard of the 2 remaining ones for a while.

    • Emma’s father (Alan) showed up in the previous chapter. With the context of the conversation, it would have been very obvious if Emma had died.

        • It also means we might finally get Taylor interacting with them somehow. I know she’s moved on to stuff like saving a kidnapped and drugged little girl who can see the future while trying to stop the end of the world after fighting off the worst parahuman and non-human threats around that have utterly wrecked her home city…but it would also be ok to see her bullying former friend get some good comeuppance.

          • You know I have a question that ties in with warning her dad and the bullies. Is she ever going to go back to school or a normal life? She can get her GED, and its not like she’ll be hurting for money, especially if they take down Coil and loot his base. Taylor admitted she wanted to escape, and its safe to say she has. She is so disconnected from her old existence she has yet to make an effort to communicate with her Dad. If the city is every back to some semblance of normal, at the very least the bullying won’t continue. Alex, in his moment of awesome, gave evidence to Piggot and the police that shadowstalker and the other two girls were bullying. I don’t think we will ever see shadowstalker/Sophia again. Not only can Alex take her over should she come back, but the heroes have a to do major repair to their image after losing control of the city. A ward bullying a girl so bad, that she drops out and disappears, won’t help that effort. My guess is that she won’t ever go back to a normal life. She is fully committed to being a villain, and it will be difficult to be part of the Undersiders if she is in school the whole day. I picture her creating a new identity for herself, maybe a legitimate businesswoman or something to explain her money and property holdings. But who knows. I think the story will be over before the city is actually recovered enough to reopen the schools.

          • I have a really weird feeling about Emma. For some odd reason, I have a theory that her bullying of Taylor intentionally began as a way to make Taylor a superhero. Emma learned from Shadow Stalker about trigger events, and thus set out to cause Taylor to have one. But she thinks it didn’t work and doesn’t know how to mend the damaged relationship, so she’s given up and consigned herself to the bully role.

      • Checked last chapter again, and you are right. It seems like they hightailed out of the city… So i guess none of them got superpowers.

        • I don’t know if the story will be over before schools re-open. There is the whole world ending in 2 years thing which needs to be tied up unless Wildbow hates us and wants us to suffer, so the story either has to go that long either with a time skip of some sort or it has to be addressed earlier by killing Jack or something.

          • Considering the turn the story has taken a couple of times, you won’t be too wrong assuming “Ok, now if Wildbow wants us to suffer and survives on our tears, what would come next?”

            Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m watching a video of someone playing Slender with the lights off and headphones on.

      • Ah, that’s who it was. I hadn’t remembered that, so I briefly thought it was happening in the past and Carol (who’s identify I’d forgotten) was talking to Sphere/eventual Mannequin/I’m pretty sure I remember his name being Alan.

        • Yeah, Mannequin’s old name was Alan. I new there was another, but thought this was a third Alan rather than making the connection.

  8. Another indication of how far the Undersiders have come. Without their full team, they took out the entire Chosen, with Night knocked the fuck out.. As someone who has read some SCP Foundation, I really don’t trust the blinking system to hold Night though. At least we know she doesn’t turn into a vaguely humanoid sculpture when no one’s looking.

    • Who cares if they don’t look at her? They just proved that they could kick her ass. She gets up, they’ll put her back down.

      • If they don’t look at her, she heals back, AND she turns into some super stabby thing that can get up and take them all out at close range. Just like the fact that they’ve captured SCP-173 doesn’t mean it’s so easy to recapture it on the fly.

  9. Well, Imp is starting to earn her spurs. But where was she throughout the fight with the Nine? I think the cocky kid sister was hiding, terrified.

    • In her defense, she did track them to their hideout and actually slit bonesaw’s throat. Her main issue is that she doesn’t think things through but I can cut her some slack, since she is only 13.

      • Ha! Of course she wouldn’t have shown up once the miasma hit either. If she got that, she’d protect herself by keeping on using her power.

  10. Seems like Regent’s getting a little indulgent here and needs to be whipped into shaped. Bitch found herself on the wrong end of a fist when she went out of line and she’s not a bonafide sociopath, so it looks like it’s going to be Alec’s turn soon.

    If I were to predict anything, I’d say that things are heading to Taylor stepping up to take a leadership role on the team. The Undersiders have been on a sorta hiatus for a while, Brian’s probably not in the best shape to be in charge these days, Regent’s getting mouthy(er) and starting to influence Imp, and Tattletale seems to be trying to help her friends by working behind their backs. Someone really needs to take charges of all this if the Undersiders are going to reform so to speak.

    Well, either way, it’s gonna be interesting.

    • I agree with you, Grue isn’t really in a position to continue his leadership role. I think Tyler would be a great leader. It was her plan to take on the 9, and Tattletales power should help her realize they are better off following her lead. If she ever truly stopped holding back, she would be an even better evil overlord. All HAIL THE DARK EMPRESS SKITTER!

    • Taylor has been in a leadership position for quite some time. She has been consistently making important calls for the group, making decisions that impact everyone in the field, and is one of the three characters that determines long term plans for the team. She doesn’t need to be in command of the Undersiders to be a leader.

      • Oh most definitely. But the problem I see is that the others don’t see her as the leader. It’s the problem Taylor brought up with Brian before Leviathan came by to have his little party. Bitch needed clear leadership to keep her in line, and now the other team members are pushing boundaries a little. Alec is throwing his weight around and Lisa playing behind Taylor’s back could make things veeeerryy messy.

        • Well Lisa certainly sees her as a leader, she defers to Taylor when there is no plan in place. She also jumped on board the whole “get dinah at any costs” plan really really fast. Grue sees her as at least a highly placed advisor, seeing as he turned down the protectorate’s protection plan on her say. Bitch may not admit it, but at this point she certainly seems to follow Taylor’s commands. Pretty much everyone recognizes that she is one of the team’s deciders. They just also acknowledge that some hard choices should completely bypass her.

    • What’s Regent done to really earn a fist in the face? Skitter slapped Bitch down because Bitch attacked her for no reason. Him being a dick to a mass murderer isn’t really on par.

      • True. He hasn’t done much so far. But remember that the Alec’s a genuine sociopath, and he’s getting mouthier and has this “the world’s gonna end so screw it” attitude from last chapter.

        If he starts acting up he’s going to be alot more subtle than Bitch about it, and could get alot nastier. I just think it’s a good idea for Taylor or Brian to let him know in no uncertain terms who’s in charge of the operation, sooner rather than later.

        I’m a little antsy about them keeping Shatterbird around to tell the truth. If they ever lose control of the ego-driven psychopath with a grudge against them it’s going to be a very bad day.

        • This is where the ruthless choice rears it’s ugly head. I say keep Shatterbird till after they deal with Coil. Then kill her. She is a liability should Regent get knocked out or incapacitated. I don’t think that Tyler has in her to do it though. Can she kill someone if they are a danger to others? Yes, she tried to kill Jack, Bonesaw, and Siberian. But a helpless mass murder? I don’t think she can do it. But if she wanted to send a clear message to Alex, she kills her the instant she is no longer needed right in front of him. He’ll realize who is charge afterward. If she wants to make it quick, not that shatterbird deserves it, she still has a gun.

        • You know what’d be interesting? If the reason the end of the world came about was because all the various capes and people figured “Thanks to that prediction, the end of the world is coming, so let’s just screw it and do whatever we want.”

  11. Is this a bluff? Or can Regent control multiple capes at once? What’s the guy’s upper limit?

    Well, I suppose you don’t get a title like ‘Strongest Master-class cape in the city’ without the chops.

    • I believe it was mentioned that he had controlled 4 people at once back in the day. Considering who he is controlling though I probably wouldn’t want to push it past two at a time.

    • In his sister’s interlude, he controlled two. From hints he drops, he could theoretically control a few at a time, but he can’t coordinate them very well when he puppets them all at the same time.

    • If they go and tax someone like Othala, they might work out some sort of system that does not require constant direct control like Shatterbird does.

      They might make her an offer like staying in a relatively nicely furnished cell with meals and access to running water for a few weeks in return for granting them the powers they need when they need them or Regent will control her body to do it for her. considering how completely horrible the whole being controlled thing is she might agree to go along with playing nice.

      Regent might have to learn how to control her though first just to make sure. Which reminds me, it was stated that once Regent had worked out how to control someone he can take back control at any time. Just how involved is this learning process, we saw him working out Shadow Stalker, but if he had more time could he do it more subtly? Could he have worked out how to control his team-mates by now?

      • When he controlled Shadow Stalker it took at least an hour and seemed kind of violent, almost like she was having a seizure. So I don’t think he can be subtle about it. She has to be restrained and he has to work on her for while before he can connect fully.

        • The way I understood it his normal power of making people seize and stumble etc is just the result of his body control not knowing which button does what in another human’s nervous system so to speak. If he spread that experimentation out over months into innocent stuff like having a team-mate almost stumble while being tired and distracted and going over uneven terrain after for example a battle, they might not notice especially if he caught them before they fell and told them to watch out for that no existent rock as they lost their balance. The violent nature of the taking control Shadow Stalker might just have been a by-product of being pressed for time and uninclined to be either subtle or gentle.

          Then Again it does not seem like Alec’s style to do something like that even if he could. Not because of any special moral problems, but mostly because he seems to be to lazy to think of it and go through the trouble and effort required without a good reason. If Lisa however thought of it and told him to do it “just in case” he might.

          • That actually sounds like a very plausible explanation for what I’d been wondering about Regent’s power for ages.

  12. It seems there is some trouble up ahead, but, the ending aside, this chapter makes for a nice change from the previous offerings of “the world is going to end and all the heroes are too corrupt, incompetent, impotent or stupid to have any hope of doing anything about it.”

    Taylor has come a long way and it is nice that her special outlook on using powers is acknowledged by others. She has always approached the whole situation in a Munchkin like fashion. It was especially obvious when she mused about how she would use someone’s powers for maximal effect a few chapters ago.

    Regarding the fight with Night I was a bit disappointed that only human eyes appeared to count for her powers and Skitter looking through he bugs even if she could not process the input didn’t seem to count. Maybe if she ever manges to wrap her mind enough to see through her bugs it will be different.

    Othala seems like the obvious choice to tax, but the whole ‘taxing’ team-members thing and the earlier discussion about needing a Tinker made me wonder if regent could actually make use of someone with a more mental power since he admitted himself that he is doing body-control not mind control. How much is the brain a part of the body he can control?

    While kidnapping people like this is the start of a slippery slope, I think Taylor should cut Alec some slack. Shatterbird has it coming and as long as the tax is temporarily and the taxee is treated well enough this enslaving of neo-nazis thing should pass as ethically justifiable.

    I am just glad that Taylor appears to be smart enough not to argue with her teammates in front of the enemies they are trying to impress.

  13. I kinda feel like Uber and Leet aren’t taken seriously enough. Their talents are flat-out broken, they’re just as dumb as bricks. Assuming someone with brains *cough*Coil*cough* starts helping them, I suspect a lot of trouble down the line.

    For reference, the reason I think their powers are extremely good is because they’re so flexible. Even assuming Leet’s limitation spreads over similar objects and not just identical products, there’s nothing stopping him constructing a machine that can re-create an object from an example, then feeding it his inventions until he has an armory. If he can’t do that, he’s so damn flexible he can build objects that help him build stuff. Assuming he can get around his limitation to automate the process sufficiently, then he can just sit and think and then gives orders based on whatever comes from his Tinker powers.

    If it’s a mental block (schematics get less and less “correct” each time he thinks of them) instead causing the issue, the problem is even easier to fix with any sort of detailed analysis device. Store blueprints in them any time you make something, replicate blueprints exactly.

    He’s about Dragon’s level, he’s just as think as two short planks.

    Same goes for Uber, really. Especially given the fact the Leet can make something too complicated and awkward for anyone else to use, but Uber still gets instant expertise. Even if that’s not enough to get over the complexity, free instant sniper, pilot or weapons master armed with stuff years in advance.

    Combined, they’re a stronger Armsmaster, with less time needed to train or perfect their techniques.

    • Yeah, they are awesome because they show that incredible powers don’t immediately put you in the top tier. And I think that their interpersonal dynamics are interesting, too.

      Uber might not even be in it for any criminal profits and, in fact, might be entirely funding them through his brilliant online webmastery while doing villainy on the side to hang out with his friend.

    • Leet has a pretty severe limitation; even if he makes a set of perfect ear of some kind, if he breaks it’s over. (Exactly how it works is potentially important, though.)
      Uber’s power is useful, but not game-breaking. He can’t lift cars, leap over small buildings, or resist small-arms fire. It makes him better than a random person, but that isn’t saying much. (Besides, what benefit is there to making a complex device? That would mean Leet couldn’t use it.)

      Overall, though, their hypothetically powerful powers provide a nice foil to Taylor. Her power seems weak, but is a bit stronger than it sounds. Leet and Uber are idiots who can’t exploit their powers; Taylor can exploit hers to her best advantage.

  14. Okay! I’m back.

    What to say about this chapter? Pretty straightforward, but I’ll admit some confusion. I thought there were 6 people in the basement, but then there were 20 enemies including footsoldiers?

    Anyways. So, some people think Alec is out of line. WRONG! Skitter is out of line. Alec is keeping her in check. You do not have to be nice to mass murdering psychopaths.

    And that’s where I want to start. I like this chapter. I like the action, the dialogue, and of course as usual Alec keeps casually setting the bar higher and higher for best dialogue every time he appears.

    But, this is probably the first chapter where I didn’t like Skitter’s opinions. She’s just too idealistic even after all she’s been through. She casually takes in that Cherish might be imprisoned for decades alone with all the negative emotions of the entire city, yet insists that Shatterbird be treated with respect? It’s just a little arbitrary.

    Honestly I’m starting to wonder if she’s deluding herself. Don’t forget, she let that Thomas guy die, she acted as a spotter for a sniper to try and kill Oni Lee, she cut Lung’s eyes out, had her bugs go to town on random people to try and find Siberian/Manton, and made a few spirited attempts to kill the nine, and let’s not forget: SHE LEFT HER DAD IN COIL’S CARE AND HASN’T CONTACTED HIM SINCE! I don’t think she’s holding herself to the standards she’s holding others too.

    For instance, yeah, body control bothers her. For the entirely legitimate reason that it’s creepy. But, WHY does she care what some white supremacists and probable murderers (IDK here, but I assume Skitter knows more about the chosen’s actions than I do.) feel? They’re borrowing one of them. It’s a great play, a fantastic play, with no bloodshed or murder, yet encourages the rest of them to leave the city like no other. And to be honest, a guy like Viktor sounds pretty damn hardcore. He can easily ruin someone’s life, and judging by the amount of skills he has on the cast page he has ruined many by stealing skills they used and developed for a lifetime.

    And of course Skitter reacts quite badly to the idea, especially that her team went behind her back on it. Well, that’s what bothers me. It’s almost an overreaction. Granted, it’s in character, but at this point I think Skitter would have realized the value of compromise so her team wouldn’t have to go behind her back.

    Alright, but onto other things. As usual, Alec is gold. Pure gold. 100% pure gold. And he’s doing a damn strong showing of moving things forward and making the best quips in the story. Also, author, if you need help coming up with a “funny” interlude, just make it a non-canon interlude where Alec and Skidmark spend the whole thing insulting each other. It would be made of win.

    I liked Imp! You know, along with Armsmaster, and Taylor’s dad, she’s one of the characters that has growed on me the most since her introduction. I didn’t like her at first, but her interlude turned that 180 degrees around and put her into the category of awesome like *that*. I also enjoyed the subtle part where they start fighting and Imp suddenly gets no mention at all. Clever, funny.

    Anyways, I really like these social chapters where the team gets in touch and talks some, but this one had a good mix with action, and showing just how badass the Undersiders are. That’s one of the reasons I’m interested in seeing a third party take on them. The Undersiders have to have moved up on the threat list IMO. I mentioned before, but I could feel Carol’s worry when she said the Undersiders took Victoria. If any group in the city takes someone, they’d be the worse because you can’t track them down easily, and not knowing what they had in mind would be the worst.

    And lastly, this probably isn’t the time or place for it, but I’m curious. How did you go about creating the Undersiders? As I understand, they were a late addition to the setting. Did you take existing characters and team them up, or were they made from scratch? How did you decide what kind of powers the team needed or didn’t need? Transportation is something every team needs in a Superhero setting, which is a key factor with Bitch I think.

    I’d also like to know how you decided on how Skitter came to be the protagonist. Admittedly, this is for entirely selfish reasons. I’ve been toying with a Superhero setting/story of my own since before I discovered Worm, and have never been able to find a protagonist I like. I’ve tried a few, but all fall flat, or are simply too boring. Many characters have a place in my setting, but not as the main character. So, if you wouldn’t mind helping a fan out, it’d be much appreciated!

    Anyways, overall another solid chapter. It remains to be seen, but I think this chapter might have just kickstarted something huge and jumped straight into high gear. Interesting, and well done. I look forward to what happens next.

    • Typing this on an iPod, so please excuse any clumsiness in wordsmithing.

      So, character design & conceptualization. Avert your eyes if you don’t want a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. I know that can ruin stories for some people.

      I’ve mentioned before, but there’s really two kinds of design. Top-down and Bottom-up. The former starts with the concept and then fills in the background/concept. Since it’s so hard to come up with (unused in the mainstream) superhero names, I’ll typically start with that. Let’s say… Chubster. Heavyweight parahuman. I’d move on to outline his powers, allegiance, general personality, and motivations, then the nitty-gritty details as needed. Real name, family, history, relationships, etc. I try to do all this with everyone, even characters who get only one line of dialogue.

      The bottom-up design is the opposite. Start with the backstory, the details, work out how the core concept came to be. It’s more organic, makes for deeper characters, but it can be hard to paint the broad strokes that capture the whole character. For example, it’s pretty damn hard to come up with a cape name for Taylor.

      Now here’s the thing. This doesn’t apply to just characters. It fits for setting, organizations.

      Taylor and the Undersiders were bottom-up concepts. Start wih a seed, build from there. As the Undersiders were put together with leftovers recruited by Coil, that’s how I designed them, putting other teams together and then making picks from the remainder. (The fact that circus was mentioned during Taylor’s recruitment is a personal in joke. I have lots of those).

      I didn’t design the team to fill in gaps in their abilities or round them out. I was ok with there being a lopsided composition. I -wanted- one. I enjoy being forced to think outside the box in using powers to solve logistical issues like getting around.

      I mean, heck, I didn’t really plan for Bitch to be the team’s way of getting around. I had her bring the team to the rooftop in the group’s intro because it made sense, and somewhere between then & the end of 1.5, I’d realized how much it made sense to use her power in that way.

      In brief? If you have to force it or twist your own arm to fit into some preconceived notion, I think you’re probably using the wrong approach.

      More later; there’s a limit to how much I can write on this thing, but I do have more to say on the general subject.

      • Thank you for the response!

        In brief, I certainly started with a Top Down approach, but it changed rather quickly I think. I had a character, his powers, his motivations, his personality, and then… Well I started figuring out how his powers affected the setting, how common they were, how people reacted, and before I knew it my main character was 90% different and I had a huge world with lots of different groups and individuals, each springing to life.

        Since then I’ve been exploring the different characters that have cropped up, and started writing a short bit about most of them, but they really don’t, imo, make a good protagonist. Too many have too strong of personalities, and skewed or inaccurate world views. I like an unreliable narrator as much as the next guy, but I want someone a bit more objective and easier to understand. Since then I’ve been toying with introducing a character that would be designed “top down” specifically to try and “force” him/her into the setting. Currently things are at a relative equilibrium in world, and introducing a character that doesn’t quite “fit” would create some personal conflict and tip the scales so to speak to move things forward. I’m a bit leery of course, as having a character that doesn’t fit from the get go might be difficult to read or empathize with.

        So far, I haven’t had much luck. I start creating, and then the character takes a life all his/her own and suddenly belongs on the other side of the country because twenty years ago blah blah blah etc. Anyways, thank you again for the response. I’d love to hear more about your process, if/when you have time and opportunity. Thanks again!

      • And, because I said I would, and because I went through the same issues you describe:

        I think that if you’re writing but you’re not making headway into homing in on a core plot or overstory, then the important thing to do is postmortems.

        If you start a story, take the time to decide -why- you’re stopping, when you do. Was it flow, character, were you getting bored of it & thinking readers would feel the same way?

        Keep track of that stuff. My own method has me creating a new page at the start of any document, complete with a title, one-line synposis (in case I was wondering what the story was) and then the postmortem itself. I sort these stories into folder by genre.


        • Shepherd
        • Folder: Write/Otherword/Fantasy.
        • Synposis: A valiant prince challenged the witch queen to save the princess. A story like so many others. Except he lost. In the doing, he gave the witch the power to curse his kingdom of Onalt. The story starts a hundred years later, in a country where the firstborn child of every couple is born a monster, undying in their loyalty to the witches that now rule. As Onalt comes under crushing siege from neighboring countries, Epione is among the Firstborn drafted for the defending armies. She serves under Mathilde, who has gone from reluctant shepherd and caretaker of the Firstborn to an even more reluctant squad captain.
        • Postmortem: Like Epione, like Mathilde, like atmosphere, but core storyline unwieldy/simplistic. Too predictable?

        That’s all it takes. If I’m searching for ideas at a later date, or if I’m trying to figure out what the common threads are in the failed stories, I crack open a few documents and check out what was tripping me up. I might add notes after the fact or on a reread to see if something new comes to me in terms of why it didn’t work/succeed. If something keeps turning up in how stuff gets bogged down or screwed up, I’ll try to write something that directly contravenes said issue. In the above case, with the story too simple? If that keeps happening, I’ll try writing something complex and convoluted, to exercise my abilities on that front. See if anything comes of it.

          • and be sure to keep in mind that the most important part of writing is actually putting your pen to paper, or finger to key. If you’re doing that & it’s not going anywhere yet, you’re still doing better than a lot of the aspiring writers out there.

          • Broken shoulder. :/ Finger to key indeed right now, though I miss being able to doodle in the margins. Thanks for the support!

    • I have to agree with most of your points. Skitter is way too idealistic with regards to Shatterbird. The woman murders hundreds or thousands in the city alone plus she seriously injured Taylor’s own dad. I am a little worried about keeping her around if only because I know at some point she is bound to get free and either go on to try and kill one of them or simply run away and start killing again in another city. That being said, she is a wonderful powerhouse addition to the team.

      Concerning the tax of taking over teammates of defeated rivals. Wow. That is so incredibly creative and totally fucking scary on so many levels. It is utterly perfect for dissuading future attempts on the Undersiders. Seriously who is going to want to attack them after this? If every time the other side loses, the Undersiders take one of their members for a day or two…it’s perfect. It’s Skitter’s policy of preemptively using massive force to prevent future issues personified. Hell they have turned into Ender Wiggin! It’s awesome!

  15. The Undersiders sure have leveled up some. They made The Chosen look like complete chumps.

    Shatterbird deserves far far far worse. Skitter is being a hypocrite or she’s not so much giving a shit about the mass-murdering supervillain as she’s keeping her people-puppeting supervillain teammate in check.

    • I think Skitter’s objection is more of a principle thing. I mean, Regent is pretty creepy sometimes. I won’t argue that Shatterbird doesn’t deserve horrible things to happen to her, but would you like associating with the kind of person who is psychologically capable of making those horrible things happen?

  16. Thanks for the mention on the RPGnet forums, Razorsmile. Good few new readers came in that way. Much appreciated (now to see how long it takes them to catch up).

  17. So, assuming Taylor doesn’t screw things up by arguing against this new “kidnap the evil people” plan, there are five options for who the Undersiders get. (Also assuming that they don’t get a two-for-one, such as choosing Night and having Fog reluctantly come along as well to stick with his wife)

    Rune – Not all that helpful. Shatterbird’s and Skitter’s powers cover similar ground, and the last thing the Undersiders need is another petulant little girl (assuming they allow her to talk or express any free will).
    Othala – A versatile choice, certainly, but limited. She can only grant one power to one person at a time, and none of those powers are overwhelmingly good. On the one hand, the Undersiders are all about making the most of versatile powers, but on the other hand, they already have a lot of versatile powers and might benefit more from having a few more of the “big stick” variety. (On an entirely different note, I didn’t know anything about the Othala rune or its use as a racist symbol, so her name just sounded similar to Obatala, a Yoruba deity. African god/white supremacist villain was an odd association.)
    Victor – Again, versatile. If he can strip enough skills from someone quickly enough, he’s potentially devastating against a single target, but he didn’t seem to do that in this fight, so I’m thinking it’s more of a long-term thing like Regent’s full-control power. I suppose stripping Shatterbird of her skill at using her power could be a solution to the problem of keeping/killing her, but I’m also not sure he can do that or that it would be a permanent or effective solution. Also, the skills he gains are somewhat mental, an aspect that they’d have to let him off the leash somewhat to benefit from.
    Fog – Fairly meh. Most of the Undersiders would be fairly unwilling to see his power used to rip people up, which makes him not terribly powerful. Grue can already handle obscuring vision, Fog can’t move very fast in fog form, and picking things up inside the fog is weak.
    Night – Conditionally, amazingly powerful. With Grue providing BETTER obscurement than Fog, Night could be much more useful to the Undersiders than she is to the Pure. The trouble is whether they can use her non-lethally. Every time she touched people in the previous fight, it seemed to consist of causing lots of huge gashes. If she has a more gentle option for kicking asses, she’d be great. Even if she doesn’t and they can only really let her off the leash against people that can take it, she’s an incredible threat. Non-invincible people would be completely unwilling to get anywhere near Grue’s darkness with her in play.

    I vote for Night.

    • I’m wondering if Regent would lose control of Night when she transforms, since so far we’ve only seen him manipulate human nervous systems. If he can still control her, then I’d vote for her too.

      • Do you think that she would be able to transform with Regent basically observing her through her own eyes? I kind of want this just so we can get a clear description of her in the monster-form…

  18. On the TInker point, I’d not be surprised if Coil avoided them getting a Tinker for the very reason that a Tinker, with their long term development, can be a damn tricky prospect to control with his power- It is very hard to decide where to branch off with a tinker, who may have many irons in the fire over a long period of time, and that is assuming the tinker is all that you need to worry about.

    Coil could tell the Undersiders whether to go after Bakuda now or in an hour for the best outcome in an actual fight, but he couldn’t prevent Bakuda from having planted bombs across the city(for instance).

  19. @Razorsmile: I think there are fundamentally different emotional attitudes to the concept of revenge involved here.
    For example my own attitude is, yes I have fantasies of beating up bad people but thats mostly the wish of having power to free people from bad things and the wish to change the bad guys mentally, to use the violence as a tool to correct the smugness and ignorance to the pain of others.(which of course is mainly wishful thinking)
    There is no purpose in punishing bad guys in itself for me no satisfaction in making someone miserable onyl because they made you miserable.
    So I can only speculate why people would want such things:
    1) People probably feel a need to create [/b]fairness[b], we all know that the world is not fair
    nevertheless we have a desire to make it fair, so why should someone that inflicts pain on others
    not suffer the same amount of pain.
    2)People [/b]demonize[b] bad people, they lost the right to be called human, they threw away basic human respect so there is not reason to give it to them and I am free to vent the anger and pain they created in me trough their deeds on them.
    This works for most people because morality in large part is a contract we form with our surroundings, I abide by the rules if you abide by the rules, I will trust you and in turn I exspect you to be trustful

    Well those are the only 2 explanations that come to my mind right now.

    • 1) Fairness, balance, essentially “justice” is one of the key components of human civilization — that the “punishment fits the crime” but that the law is dispassionate, removed from human emotion and objectively applied to all people equally, so the law is indeed fair. It treats humans as equals, with a set of rights and at essence respects them and life.

      (yes, the legal system gets corrupted because it’s operated by flawed human beings, but I’m talking about what Justices stands for as an ideal, not a process)

      2) Dehumanizing an enemy, for any reason, makes you equivalent to them. That’s what I was getting at in my comments last chapter — you become a villain when you go beyond balance, go beyond justice, and start being cruel and torturuous and unusual. Their treatment of Shatterbird is unjust, whereas mercifully killing her would be a balance.

      Taylor is a teenager still forming her identity, let alone her morals, so she’s going to be hypocritical sometimes — that’s realistic and great writing! As an observer, not in the midst of the story’s events, I can say it’s morally wrong to mistreat Shatterbird and hypocritical to restrain her and worry about Dinah. But worrying about Dinah is moral no matter who liberated her. It’s never moral to treat a person as an object or a tool. Coil uses Dinah, and the Undersiders are using Shatterbird the same way — they are becoming their enemy, especially now that they intend to add another “tool” to their arsenal.

  20. Am I the only person who is seriously skeeved out by Alec’s attention to Aisha? She’s, what, 13? 14? And he’s in his late teens, and a sociopath, and raised in a household that taught him absolutely nothing about the appropriateness or lack thereof of intimate relations. And that arm of his lingered, to me, very much overlong on her shoulder. I hope Grue pulls himself together soon enough that he notices and does something about it.


      • Ah, good to know. I checked on the Cast page, but there was nothing about ages there. In any case, according to what we know of Alec’s past, he sexually far past his chronological age. Still skeeves me out.

        (And this time, I caught my frickin’ browser in the act, replacing ‘skeeves’ with ‘sleeves’. And again, just there. It’s kinda creepy — really sleeves me out.)


        (That last one was deliberate. The only time I like to make mistakes is on purpose.)

    • I actually find it a little cute. I think they’d make a good couple in a weird sorta way. It’s basically the equivalent of a junior or senior dating a freshman so it doesn’t bother me much. If he was like 19 or 20 totally different but as it is I don’t see an issue.

  21. Regent is starting to creep me out. I feel like taking Aisha aside and having a little talk to her about being careful around known rapists….

    I agree with Taylor. Yeah, sure, Shatterbird probably deserves everything that Regent can do to her and more, but that’s not the point. The point is that having your teammate do things like that to people is just plain creepy.

    And if the Undersiders get into the habit of having Regent puppeteer anybody powerful they can get their hands on, where’s that going to lead? Nowhere good.

    By the way… I drew you some fanart, Wildbow:

  22. Teeth? Slaughterhouse Nine having a personal dentist?

    This addition is so random that I expect the issue to pop up in the future!

  23. Well, crap. First-time reader here, and I’m calling it now: Imp’s behavior is wildly out of character here… but it *is* consistent with someone who’s been puppeted. Suddenly seeming chummy with Regent, doing back-and-forth jokes with him where they’re completely in “sync”? Yeah, that’s really not good, and I’m surprised Skitter didn’t notice anything off.

    • Chummy, yes, certainly.

      And remember, if you can, that we haven’t seen a lot of Aisha lately. Plenty of time to hang out with Alec, and pick up a few mannerisms. And vise versa, I suppose.

    • Oh. Oh dear… A few chapters ago she was letting him twitch her fingers to show off his power, and that’s only what we’ve seen… Roaring Grue of revenge?

      Not quite conclusive yet, we don’t know her all that well, but if it’s true I wonder if Tattletale knows.

  24. Imp took his cue, “And Brian and I will go head to head, and it’ll end in this dramatic moment where he says something pretentious-”
    “Et tu, sis?”
    “And then I’ll say ‘Yeah, it’s me’ and finish him!”

    Imp’s been learning a bit.

    “But you especially, given how you think. It’s a shame that there’s not really any tinkers around that aren’t already committed. Unless you want to make a point out of recruiting Leet?”
    Not such a terrible idea…well, except that his inventions don’t usually work. Still, how much like anything he made before could (say) a relay-bug-cloning device be?

    I knew what she would do next, but that was mainly because I hadn’t been able to come up with a good way to deal with it.
    Hm…how long does it normally take for a flashbang to detonate? Could Skitter have used a finer net to take it away?

    • For the flash-bang the problem is Night regenerates instantly on transformation, so she can just hold it until it goes off and her eyes will recover immediately as everyone else goes blind.

    • For the umteenth time this is mentioned in the comments,she was mentioned at the same batch as Tattletale.

  25. Minor nitpick but with their ‘blink on 5’ technique, couldn’t they just wink one eye at a time instead? Same effect as blinking, doesn’t break line of sight.

    • Theoretically, but I’ve tried that: it’s harder than it sounds. I can’t do it for more than ten or so seconds, when I can simply keep both eyes open for perhaps thirty. (Guessing with the numbers).

  26. Night is such a weeping angel.

    Also, I really like Alec/Regent for some reason. Maybe his witty quips and nonchalant rebellion? idk

  27. This chapter is a nice break from the usual trauma, I really enjoyed it. I’m going throu Worm a second time, savoring the awesome after having spoiled all the cliffhangers. I think I’ve actually enjoyed it more the second time, appreciating the foreshadowing and the growth of the characters.

  28. Wildbow, you mention early in the comments that this chapter was rushed on your part. I think I may have a kind of “continuity error” bothering me:

    As Skitter starts scanning for people in Regent’s territory, she ID’s one location with six people, belowground. when TT asks for specifics, she says:
    “I can’t say about ages, but two are below average in height, smaller across the shoulders. So probably younger. Two female, one male.”
    Which doesn’t match up with SIX people. I got stuck there trying to figure out why.
    After the confrontation was over:
    Rune, Othala, Victor, Night , Fog and ?? Not six. Was that MEANT to be a mystery or is it in fact an “oops”?

    Still, the part where Skitter and Imp double-team Night was cool!

    • I dunno about the description not matching,but these six are obviouslly,if you pay attention,not the supervillains,just some gangmembers.

  29. “he’d turned something I could almost make peace with -being a villain- and he’d turned it into something…”
    Maybe “he’d taken something I…”?

  30. Necro-comment;

    The teeth thing is funny but maybe a bit of a continuity-stumble?
    IIRC, when Bonesaw had Taylor on the table and was attacked by Parian, she pretended to have a tooth kicked out, but Taylor knew that it was a lie, because she knew Bonesaw had reinforced the teeth of the Nine.
    So it seems bit strange that she wonders here how they keep care of their teeth.

  31. Re: Alec/Aisha
    So he’s 15 or 16, and she’s 13 or 14. A two-year age difference isn’t that big a deal, even at that age. He’s a sociopath, but he doesn’t seem to push the bar too far with his teammates (you don’t shit where you eat, after all), and she’s been raised around her mom’s skeevy, druggie boyfriends. It’s been heavily implied (from Grue’s trigger event onward) that she’s had to put up with a lot of shit from them. So yeah, he’s had a lot more sexual experience than you might expect, but then again she’s probably learned how to recognize and deal with creepers pretty effectively at this point. You grow up fast in that kind of environment. Besides, if he was bothering her, all she really has to do is use her power for a second so he forgets what he’s doing, or tell anyone else in the group and they’d kick his ass over it. It’s not like she’s the quiet type who would just sit there putting up with unwanted attention.

    I think they genuinely like each other. They have a similar sense of humor, between her trollish desire to irritate people and his schadenfreude-driven “it amused me” motives. I actually kind of ship these two hardcore, just because I like the way their personalities interact.

    *sociopath tangent* Yes, it is possible for a sociopath to like someone, or at least enjoy their company, especially when they have a shared interest, like bugging the shit out of other people. It’s more fun with an audience. It’s consistent with the personality profile to do apparently selfless, mutually beneficial things like helping save Dinah (because the world’s going to end anyway, why not fuck with Coil? Might as well be doing something /interesting/ for the next couple years instead of sitting around getting bored with debauchery.) or going to great lengths to punish Shadow Stalker (pragmatic, in that it was probably the least he could do to scare her into leaving rather than retaliating. Chalking it up to her fucking with Taylor and/or Grue could have been a little bonus along the lines of “These people are mine. /You/ do not get to fuck with them.”) It’s even reasonable that Regent wouldn’t be as morally compromised surrounded by people like Skitter, Grue, and Tattletale as he was when he was around his family (as discussed on the phone with Cherish). The name of the game is adaptation: one of the more fundamental sociopathic traits is mirroring the actions and behavior of those around you, so most socios who don’t have strong sadistic tendencies tend to be heavily influenced by those around them. Surround yourself with ruthless, sadistic bastards and you’d become just as ruthless and sadistic; surround yourself with people with hero complexes, a strong sense of loyalty to family and team, and relentless pursuit of truth and, well… not so much. Most sociopathic characters tend to end up kind of one-dimensional. Wildbow does a great job of making Regent a believable character, with a fairly realistic personality. *end tangent*

  32. > “Who’s a good little power tool?” Regent gave Shatterbird a pat on the cheek. “You are. Yes you are.”

    This is my second time reading through this story, and this still makes me laugh out loud. As much as Skitter and Grue may be annoyed by Regent and Imp’s attitudes, I feel that they are absolutely necessary to keep things from getting too melodramatic.

  33. “The Othersiders.” Oh god that is awesome. If Worm was tv show, The Othersiders would totally be an epic spinoff! Plus it could be cute to have a bit of UST between Alec and Aisha. They work very well together! And the “Who’s a good little power tool?” line is comedy gold! I forgot how awesome Alec was when he wasn’t being unbelievably creepy. I literally had to fight not to double over laughing at my desk when I read that line!

    Wow so this battle was such a massive curbstomp I’m not even sure it can be called a battle. I had completely forgotten about Imp even after specifically noting not to forget her once things got started. That power is awesome. It even affects things beyond the 4th Wall!

    • Yes, and also one of several things I especially like about the setting: supers who use mundane weapons like tasers when they’re better than just powers and martial arts.

      When the Travelers agreed to break the rules to fight the Nine, they took this half-way to the extreme.

  34. >but this wasn’t one of the instances where I could let my emotions dictate my priorities.

    Girl, your emotions are telling you to go up against a magnificent bastard who’s actually helping more people than he’s hurting.

    Goddamnit, Taylor. It’s a GOOD PLAN. Hell, they should just kill Night, she’s too dangerous for the Undersiders to afford not to take her out of the picture on a permanent basis.

  35. I forgot that Night and Fog’s names alliterate in German. That’s one of my favorite things ever, cape duos whose names complement each other 😀

    Also, getting really sick of Bitch and Imp calling people retards.

  36. Okay, I REALLY need to clear something up: the part where Imp says “it gives them a chance to do what they want to do: which is making hell for anyone who isn’t straight, white, or Christian.” There is a really huge misunderstanding here: the Chosen are NOT Christians. They may claim to believe in Jesus, but they don’t follow any of his laws. Also, they DO attack other Christians. They only favor the Protestants, they HATE Catholics, and Orthodox. To imply that they are Christian is offensive, and I am disappointed.

    • I mean, there is a lot of ways to be Christian. Just like any other group, there are good Christian people and shitty ones. The Ku Klux Klan are mostly Christian, for example. People believe what they believe. Much as we might like to, we can’t pretend otherwise. (Though we can explain why they are wrong and, failing that, taze them/set a swarm insects on them/body control them.)

  37. She used a flashbang.

    Close my eyes or stare dead on into the flash, I’d be momentarily blind either way. I opted for the former, covering my eyes and flying both up and away.

    Isn’t this the same sentience as the last time they fought fog and night like 7 arcs ago

  38. I think binge reading has really colored my perception of fights. Theres a lot of fighting, to say the least, which is unfortunate that I struggle keeping interest in reading them. At the start reading her fights was interesting, but now it feels a little routine unless it’s the strongest things she fights.

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