Interlude 16 (Bonus)

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February 2nd, 2001

The helicopter’s rotors stirred up billowing clouds of dust and debris as it landed.

Evan leaned forward from the chopper’s passenger seat, hitting the button for the intercom.  The interior of the helicopter buzzed with his voice, “Check!”

“Clear!”  Lady shouted.  Pyne echoed her.

“Gun up!”  He told them.  He followed his own instructions, unstrapping himself from his seat and collecting his machine gun.

Bird one landed, over,” the radio buzzed.

He pressed the button, “Squad two here.  We just touched ground, over.”

Waiting on a response from three, over.

“Give me a few minutes and I’ll be in the air with Pyne for supporting fire,” the pilot said.

Evan nodded.  “Wish us luck.”


He opened the door separating the cockpit from the chopper’s midsection.  Four uniforms had been seated in the corners, and were now unbuckled and double-checking their guns and ammo, outfitting themselves with the additional gear that had been tied together and strapped down in the center of the chopper.  Tieu and Coldiron carried the grenade launchers and ammunition: grenades, flashbangs, incendiary and smoke.  Holler and Shane were the guys big enough to haul the extra guns and the packs with ammo clips and supplies.

Pyne and Lady were still kneeling behind the turrets that looked out over either side of the vehicle.  The pilot would be manning the guns for the front.  The pilot, Pyne and Lady were the only ones certified to use the containment foam, the latest addition to the arsenal of the Parahuman Response Teams.

Their entry hadn’t been quiet, and he’d expected at least one of the vehicles would see some sign of trouble quickly after they landed.  Maybe it would be the terrified populace of Ellisburg, maybe their target would show up right away.  He hadn’t quite expected this.  It was empty, a ghost town.  Rain, rain and more rain, not a light on in the small town, not a single soul to be seen.

“Here’s the lowdown,” he spoke to his squad.  Hearing his own voice was reassuring – the only other noise was the drum of rain on the roof of the helicopter and the sound of ammunition clips snapping into place. “We have him pegged as a high level Changer.  Who can tell me the standard protocol for dealing with a Changer classification?”

“Formation is top priority, trust nothing and nobody, passwords, hit hard and obliterate,” Holler said, his voice characteristically quiet.

“And for a Changer that’s off the charts?”  Evan asked.

There was a pause as his squad tried to recall if this had come up in training.

“Formation is number one priority, trust nothing and nobody, passwords, hit hard, obliterate… and pray?” Lady asked.

The others all chuckled, some more nervously than others.

“Lady’s not wrong,” he admitted, “We’ve been able to piece together who he is.  We got security camera footage from the early stages of the incident, just last week, and we found his face.  One of the top geeks from the Protectorate then found other cases of his face around the city and found a name.  Jamie Rinke.”

His briefing was interrupted as the pilot buzzed them over the intercom, “Chopper three just landed, cap.  You’re clear to move out.

“Can we get a picture of the guy?”  Tieu asked.

“No point.  After his first appearance, he started changing his costume for each job, as well as adjusting his body size, body shape and apparent powers.”

“His powers change?”

The captain nodded.  “Off the charts, I told you.  We’ve got him down as a tentative changer-seven, trump-four.  The geek was able to dig up some background.  Thanks to his accounting info, credit card statements, phone bills and emails, we know he worked as a banker, made more money than any two of us sorry losers put together.  But he was a loner, no family, no friends, never went out unless it was for the Christmas party at work, and he tended to leave early.”

“So what happened?”

“Got downsized.  Stayed at home for something like three weeks, then the bills started rolling in and he realized he wouldn’t be able to pay them all.  He sent out job applications, dozens by email, but he didn’t have the references.  Faced homelessness, a disruption of his boring, lonely life.  We think that was his point-zero.”

“His trigger event,” Lady answered.

He nodded confirmation.  “Followed by a crime spree.  Span of a few days, quaint little Ellisburg disappears from the grid, communications and power cut, no cars or people getting out.  Guys upstairs sent some heroes in, we got a brief report before they defaulted to radio silence.  Report doesn’t tell us anything except they think the whole crime spree was all the one guy.”

“And we don’t know how he operates?” Tieu asked.

The captain shook his head.  “They sent in cameras, cameras got taken out before they got an image.  So they’re doing the sensible thing.  They’re sending us.”

“Great,” Coldiron said, his voice thick with sarcasm.

“We’re not alone out there, so be careful about where you’re shooting.  This place’s got a population of about five thousand.  Sort of town that has only the one movie theater.  But whatever this bastard Rinke is doing, we think he’s operating from somewhere near the middle of the area.  Three helicopters in the air, three squads of six, and a team from Toronto’s Protectorate division backing us up.  We move in a spiral pattern to close in on the center of this podunk town, see if we can’t squeeze him out of hiding, and we maintain radio contact with the other squads at all times so everyone knows what’s going on.”

Lady had started pulling on her pack, with others watching out the tinted window around the turret.  She buckled it on and then gripped the hose-sprayer.  The display on the nozzle would be showing her the amount of foam remaining, as well as the settings for spray volume and distribution.  She gave him a thumbs-up.

He gave her the smallest of nods.  “Let’s move out.”  He raised his radio to his mouth, “Squad two moving out.  Where’s our capes?  Over.”

Capes are with squad three, over.”

“Pass on word if they break rank.  I really don’t want to shoot a friendly, over.”

Will do, over.

He hit the button, and the side of the helicopter folded up.  Moisture from the rain dotted the flat expanse of his helmet.

He was point, Holler and Tieu covered the right and left flanks, Shane and Coldiron covering their rear.  Lady stood in the middle of the group, ready to lay supporting fire where it was needed.  Their gun-mounted flashlights were the only light outside of the scant amount that filtered through the clouds.

The streets were empty.  Cars had been abandoned where they were, doors left open, windows broken.  There was no blood, no bodies, no clothing strewn about.  Here and there, things had been knocked over, but that was all.

Nobody evacuated?” Tieu asked.

“No,” the captain replied.  He wiped the water from his helmet with the crook of his elbow.

“Then where’d they all go?”

“I suspect we’ll find out.”

They passed a store with a grinning deer on the logo: a ‘Mister Buck’ store.  Signs proudly proclaimed that everything inside was a dollar.  It was the kind of cheap carry-everything store that appealed to the lowest common denominator, but in a town this small it was the centerpiece of the ‘downtown’ area.  The front window had been shattered, and various gardening implements were scattered around the interior, out of place; hoes, shovels, pitchforks.  Improvised weapons?

“Holler, anything thermal?”

“It’s cold.  Rain isn’t helping, but I’m not seeing anything except you guys.  Not even a smudge in the darkness”

They moved on, guns trained in every direction, eyes scanning the area for their target.  They passed a clothing store, where the window had been broken, the contents of one rack strewn out in the street, plastered to the road with the rain.

Evan picked up the radio, “Squad two here.  Anything out there, boys?  Anything at all? Over.”

“Nothing at one, over.”

“Ditto from three, one of my squad just said they’re not seeing any critters.  No birds, rodents or strays.  Over.”

No animals, no people.

“We’re taking a short detour,” Evan informed his squad.  He pointed with his gun, “This way.”

His squad took cover beneath a bus shelter that was attached to a nearby storefront.  The panes of plexiglass had been broken, but the overhang offered respite from the rain.  He adjusted his flashlight to increase the light output and pointed it straight down at the ground.


“One minute.  Keep your eyes peeled.”

Long seconds passed.  He changed the settings on his flashlight back to normal.

“What was that about?”

“No bugs.  Dark night like this, you’d think there’d be a moth or some mosquitoes gathering around the light.”

“Captain,” Holler spoke up.  “Something on the thermals.  Dim.”

They turned to face the same direction as Holler.

“Coming around the corner,” Holler spoke.

“Lights off,” Evan hissed the order, clicking off his flashlight.

In a second, the gun-mounted flashlights of his squad members flicked off.  The shape that moved down the street was reduced to a dark blur, a shifting bulk of gray-black against a background of pitch black.

Rinke?  As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could make out a figure dressed in a jester’s motley, two contrasting colors predominating, blue-orange or purple-yellow.  The mask a patchwork cloth that covered his face, with only two dark holes for his eyes.  But most daunting of all was the man’s size.  He was obese, bloated, ten feet tall and nearly as wide, advancing at a glacial pace as he lurched down the middle of the street.  His arms were drawn behind his back by the weight of the sack and the cloth he carried.

He raised his radio, clicked it on.  In a low voice, he spoke, “Got eyes on Rinke.  He doesn’t see us.  Move in to our location to support and keep the radio quiet.  Over.”

There was a confirming buzz as the man on the other end turned the radio on but didn’t speak.  That would be squad one.  Three buzzes marked squad three’s response.

“Strategy?”  Tieu whispered the question.

“Wait for the other squads.  Foam him, burn him to ash with an incendiary.”

“We’re not going to interrogate him?  Find out what happened to the people here?”  Tieu asked.

“No,” Holler was barely audible.  “He’s got no heat.  The reading came from the bag.  Not warm enough to be alive, but whatever’s in there’s just warm that it was probably living up until a few minutes ago.”

Every eye in the squad turned to the large patchwork sack that the bloated thing hauled behind it.

“Not worth the risk to interrogate,” Evan murmured to his squad.  “We foam him, which shouldn’t be hard with how slow he’s moving, then we burn him because that’s protocol for dealing with Changers.  We’ll do it quickly and without hesitation because he’s got a Trump rating as well.  Don’t know what cards he has up his sleeves.  Might want to disappear us like he did with the rest of the locals.”

“And the wildlife.”

“And the local wildlife, yeah.  Safeties off.”

Rinke slowly turned to face them.  The second the dark holes of the mask centered on them, they opened fire.

Evan’s entire body shook with the recoil of his assault rifle.  The brute didn’t seem to mind as his blood and flesh sprayed from the holes the bullets opened up, advancing steadily.

Tieu and Coldiron fired the incendiary grenades.  The shells exploded on impact with Rinke and the ground, lighting him up.  He continued to waddle towards them, slower than they were able to walk backwards.

Rinke dropped the sack, gripped the sheet with both hands and hurled it towards them.  It spread out, scant amounts of light filtering through the holes in the weave.

A net.

Lady shot the net out of the air with a blast of foam, causing it to land at the halfway point between them and the brute.  She sprayed his feet, locking him down to the ground.

Rinke thrashed as the flames spread.  The cloth burned away to show pallid, gnarled flesh, a face without ears, nose or brow – only recessed, piglike eyes and a mouth that was little more than a ragged gash across the lower half of his face.

“Another incendiary, everyone else hold fire!”

One more incendiary shell struck home, ensuring the monster was covered in flame from head to toe.  The smell of burned meat and sulphur filled the air.

“Hold position!  Wait for the fire to do its work!”  He raised his radio.  “We engaged and foamed the bastard.  He’s lit up.  Over.”

Squad one hears you, over.

Squad three here.  Good work, over.

The bloated stomach split with the weight of the upper body, tearing across one of the recesses of a roll of fat.  A slurry of half-dissolved bodies spilled out around him.

“Tieu!  One more!”  Evan called out.

Tieu fired an incendiary round into the opening, lighting the brute up from within.

It took several minutes for the entire thing to burn.  They didn’t relax a second.  It was the number one lesson drilled into them in training: as regular humans, it was a given that they were the underdogs.  That meant that no matter how well equipped they might be, no matter how weak the enemy, they were not allowed under any circumstances to give the enemy an advantage by underestimating them.

“Hold position,” he warned.  They’d wait until the others arrived.  Rain pattered on the roof of the shelter, and fire crackled and hissed as it turned the mass of flesh into crumpled black tissue.

The sound of distant gunfire cut through the quiet.

“What?” Holler asked.

Evan spoke into the radio, “Hear gunfire.  Report, over.”

The response came back, “Hostiles!

There was no ‘over’ to mark the end of the transmission, only more gunfire.

“Move out!”  Evan ordered his squad.  Into the radio, he shouted, “Squad two coming in to reinforce!  Over!”

Squad one had surrounded themselves with a ring of containment foam, and were alternately scanning the surroundings with their flashlights and firing bursts into the shadows.

Two members of squad one dropped as spears of bone sank into the armor at their chest and neck.  Evan caught a glimpse of the attackers, waist-high figures with oversized heads.  Two had mouths like the bloated thing had, with the narrow teeth of a fish, while a third had a beak.

That wasn’t Rinke we shot.  There’s others.

The other realization hit him just as hard.

“He’s not a Changer!”  Evan bellowed, clicking the button of his radio to inform the capes and squad three.  “Master-class cape!”

“Sir!”  Shane shouted.

Evan turned.  There were more crawling out of the windows and storefronts behind them.  They ranged across the spectrum of body sizes and shapes, from small men little more than knee-high to figures not unlike the bloated thing they’d attacked earlier.  Males and females, fat, thin and muscular, tall and short, nearly human and almost alien.  Two or three dozen of the assorted creatures.

No.  He caught sight of light reflecting from watching eyes in the shadows, eyes that reflected light like a dog or a cat, in the darkness of building interiors and the shadows of alleyways.  There were quite a few more than two or three dozen.

“Fighting retreat!  Fire at will!”

They backed towards the other squad.  Their gunfire mowed through the enemy, the grenades killing ten or more in a single detonation, but the enemy ranks were seemingly endless, the targets too unpredictable. Some were slow, others fast.  Some made large targets, absorbing gunfire meant for their fellows even as they died, while others were damnably small.  The mass of them made noise, too, squealing, gibbering, giggling and grunting.

How did he do this?

Squad one had no doubt laid down the containment foam to stop the ones that were small and quick enough to avoid most gunfire, but they’d trapped themselves in the area, and were now falling prey to the hail of spines.

Coldiron took one spine to the face.  He dropped like a puppet who’d had its strings cut.

The standard PRT-issue suits are supposed to sustain gunfire.  Those spines are hitting harder than bullets.

Rinke was a master who can make these things: real living creatures.

He cast a glance at squad one, down to one member, kneeling with one arm around a teammate he was using as a body shield and the other hand firing his rifle one-handed.

“Retreat!  Through the store!”

His team ducked back into a storefront through the shattered display window.  Bursts of fire took down the creatures that had been hidden within, a skinny faceless woman with blades for fingertips, a trio of what looked like babies with spider legs, a half-dozen waist-high people with deformed features and mismatched clothing that they’d clearly scavenged from nearby.

While Shane and Tieu reloaded, he offered supporting fire.  He gunned down one of the smaller creatures, caught a glimpse of one of the other thing’s expression.  It was female, small, and its face twisted further in rage than it had already been.

They feel.  They have feelings?

The horrible thought that they might be people crossed his mind.  The notion that this was a psychological trick, that he was under the influence of a power, gunning down civilians…

No.  He’d been trained to deal with mental and emotional attacks.  They all had.  Had to think abstractly, consider the edges of the problem.  Even if their perceptions were under attack, there were always hints, always clues.  Things matched too neatly.

If this was a trick, it was complete and effective enough that they were already doomed, no matter what they did.

His squad headed out the back door of the store, gunned down a tall creature in the alley as they made their way to the next street.  Their gunfire brought more of the things crawling from the woodwork, throwing themselves down from windows and crawling out of the spaces in dumpsters and beneath cars.

“Flare!”  He shouted.

There was a brief whistle as the flare speared up towards the sky.  As if in response, one of the beasts perched in a windowframe spat a glob of caustic goo at them.

Shane went down screaming, smoke pouring off him as his suit was consumed and the acid reached his flesh.

They couldn’t afford to stop.  Evan fired a single bullet through Shane’s skull without slowing his run.  Holler got the thing in the window.  It exploded violently, globs of acid spraying through the area to steadily eat away at the surrounding architecture.

Evan reloaded, all too aware of how quickly he was going through clips.  Lady was covering their retreat with foam, but the foam would run out.

One of the helicopters had approached, laying down additional foam to help.  There were no safe places here, no places to find cover.  The best they could hope for was to get to a spot they could evacuate from.  There wasn’t a living soul left in the city, nobody to save.

The sound of the explosions had drawn the attention of others.  They were pouring from nearby buildings.  Concentrated rifle fire tore through their ranks, but did little to stem the overall tide.

“Captain!”  Lady shouted.

He turned to see that she was all right, then saw what she was pointing at.  One of the things, a pear-shaped woman with thick legs and no arms, was standing with her legs shaking from strain as she virtually spewed a mess of creatures out onto the ground.  They clawed and bit their way free of the sacs that held them and wasted no time in starting to crawl, lurch and run towards his squad.

Holler gunned the mother-thing down before she could finish or spew more abominations from between her loins.

Things were clicking into place.  It made sense, now, how the situation had gotten out of control so quickly.  How Rinke had seized the city so totally and absolutely.  It wasn’t just that he was a master-class cape who could make monsters with abilities of their own.  He could make monsters that bred, monsters that gave birth to more monsters.


Holler fired another flare into the sky.

Evan reached for his radio, shouting at the top of his lungs to be heard over the gunfire, even his own gunfire.  “Squad two needs an evac, stat!  We just sent a flare up!  Where are those capes!?”

Choppers one and two down, squad two.  Your capes vacated the scene.

“Damn them!”  He pointed his gun to the sky to gun down an emaciated winged beast that was trying to swoop down on them from overhead.  “Get us chopper three, then!”

Chopper three is giving squad three supporting fire while they all retreat to a viable landing point.  You’ll have to get to them.  They’re north of your position.

“You heard the man.  Move!”

They didn’t get two paces before the ground rumbled.  A clawed hand speared up through the pavement to catch Tieu by the leg, crushing it as though it was paper.  The pavement strained and cracked as whatever was beneath tried to break the surface.

Tieu looked up at his team, his expression hidden by the pane of his helmet, then stuck the end of his grenade launcher into a crack in the concrete.

They were already running, their backs to him, when the explosion marked the loss of another member of their team.

A grenade round cleared away one more crowd, and they hurried through the gap.

Three of us left.

Without Tieu or Coldiron, they didn’t have a grenade launcher, no way to deal with the massed crowds.

“Holler, need ammo!”

Lady directed a stream at the nearest crowd, aiming the spray at their heads, so any spray that missed would catch the ones who stood behind them.  When one tipped forward, the expanding foam served to create a barrier that caught others.

Holler pulled off his bag, handing out clips.  Evan tucked away the ammunition as fast as it entered his hand, pausing only to reload and shoot down the creatures closest to them.

He turned his head as he heard a voice.

“-Eat!  Eat!”


They’d defaulted to a three-man squad, Lady covering the left and some of the rear, Holler watching the right and the rest of the rear, with Evan leading the way.  The voice…

A laugh.  Not the gibbering noise of the creatures, but all too human.

He spotted the culprit.  A man, potbellied and hunchbacked.  The style of dress was similar to the patchwork brute they’d fought first, with bright, contrasting colors that he couldn’t quite make out in the gloom.  There were jarring patterns with stripes here and checkers there.  He wore a cloth crown, and his cloth mask featured beads for eyes and a perpetual leer of a smile.


“Rinke!” he screamed the word.  He took aim and fired.

He hit his mark.  The man went down, and the creatures wheeled on him, screaming, squealing.  If he’d had any doubt about his target, the reaction dispelled it.

Then he saw Rinke stand.

“You would shoot me!?”  Rinke roared.  If anything, his voice was all the more terrifying because it sounded so small, so human.  “I create life!  I am a god, and this is my garden!”

Evan could see flesh billow into existence in the man’s hands, embryonic sacs with the shadows of something forming within them.  They burst, and two struggling, childlike figures dropped to the ground to disappear in the midst of the stirring crowd.

Lady did what she could to suppress the enemy’s approach, laying down the foam, but there were too many, and their irregular sizes and shapes made it impossible to cover all of them with the foam.  If she aimed high, she missed the little ones.  If she aimed low the bigger ones leaped over and others walked on top of the ones who’d become stuck.

A spine caught him in the midsection.  Before he could react, another struck home.  They penetrated his armor to stab into his stomach like hot knives.  He caught a glimpse at one of the bastards that was spitting the things at him, gunned it down before it could shoot again.

He could hear the helicopter’s approach, knew it was too late.

“Ring!” he gasped out the word.  He could barely breathe, felt like a weight was sitting on his chest, every word he uttered came out thinner than the last.  “Circle us, make high.”

Lady did, laying down foam in a circle around the remnants of his squad.  He couldn’t breathe at all, now.  Had one of the spines caught him in the diaphragm?

He was blacking out, faster than he’d expected, saw the bastards making their way over the top of the wall of foam, getting stuck, others using their bodies as handholds to crawl forward, reaching, drooling, screaming, squealing.

Didn’t matter.  He was dead anyways, knew it beyond a doubt.

One of his squad members collapsed on top of him, blood spraying out onto the front of his helmet.

The darkness took him.

‘Lady’ stirred, felt the weight of machinery and tubing that kept her from moving.

“You’re awake,” an unfamiliar voice called out.

She tried to speak, couldn’t.  Her throat was raw, her tongue leaden.

“I don’t want to offend you, but I’m frankly surprised you made it,” the man spoke.  She turned her head to one side to see a bed in the other corner of the room.  A tall man lay there, hooked up only to a saline drip.

“I’m Thomas Calvert,” he introduced himself.  “Squad three.  We’re the only ground forces that got out alive.”

The only ones…  She shut her eyes.

“Your sister was here.  She was talking to the doctor about your prognosis.”

“Pro-” she started, wincing at the pain speaking caused her, “Prognosis?”

“You might not want me to tell you.  The doctors will be gentler than I will.”

“Tell me.”

“Deep tissue damage.  Your kidneys are gone, which means you may be on dialysis for the rest of your life.  You suffered some muscle damage when they gnawed on your legs.  There’s no future for you on the PRT teams.”

She shut her eyes.  She’d lost her squad, her career, her health, all in a matter of an hour, if that.  Half an hour?  How long had the mission taken?  Twenty minutes?

“You’re not alone.  I won’t be joining any future missions either,” Thomas remarked.


“You mean Nilbog.”


“That’s what he called himself.  He’s alive and presumably well.  I saw out the window as the chopper pulled us out, Nilbog retreating to hide in some building, his creatures were returning to their hiding places.  I expect the man will be alive for some time.”

“Why?” She wheezed the question.

“Far as I could tell, he’s wearing one of his creations.  Made him bulletproof, maybe fireproof.  We won’t be able to bomb the area.  He’s created beasts that multiply if you set them on fire.  Did you see those?”

She shook her head.

“He may have other countermeasures for other courses of action.  You’ll get your chance to talk to the Chief Director, but last I heard, they’re planning to wall the city off.  They’ll let the motherfucker be the god of his own little town, so long as he doesn’t try to expand any further, which they’re saying he won’t.  I almost envy him.”

“He… gets to live?”

“Yeah,” Thomas spoke, letting his head rest on the pillow.  “It is a perk of having power, that you get to decide which rules apply to you.”

She shook her head.

He sighed.  “I thought I might trigger, perhaps.  Hoped.  I suppose I don’t have the potential.”

She glanced at him in surprise.


“I… I’m glad I don’t have powers.  That I can’t have powers.”


“They’re monsters.  Freaks.  Lunatics.  They fight only because they have the impression that they’re stronger than their opponents, and when they aren’t they run.”  She thought of the squad of capes that had accompanied them. “They abandon the rest of us.”

Thomas chuckled, and it sounded mean.  Mocking.


“I suggest you change your attitude,” he said.


“It’s ironic.  When the doctor and the Chief Director were talking to your sister, the Chief Director assured her that you still had a position in the PRT.  Some of it is probably to keep you quiet, a cushy desk job and fat paycheck to make up for the fact that they sent you into a deathtrap and killed your teammates.”

“A desk job?”

“Director.  You’ll manage the local teams, handle the PR, convince everyone else that they aren’t freaks, monsters, lunatics and bullies.  I suggest you fake it, pretend you really do believe it.  You might start to believe your lies.”

“And you?”

“Oh, I did mention I wouldn’t be on the team in the future.  Not because of any injuries, mind you.  I’m facing a stay in prison.  My captain and I were the only ones left,” Thomas knit his fingers together and rested them on his stomach, looking very calm.  “He grabbed the rope ladder first, but he didn’t climb fast enough.  I shot him.”

Her face twisted in disgust.

“You would have done the same in my shoes.”


“Well, it doesn’t matter.  A few years of my life.  I don’t expect I’ll be there for too long.  There were extenuating circumstances, and the PRT doesn’t want me talking to anyone about what happened.”

She shut her eyes, tried to shut her ears to his smooth voice prattling on with things she didn’t want to hear.

Monsters, freaks, lunatics and bullies… the labels didn’t belong to just the capes.

It’s like the world’s gone mad, and I’m the only sane person left.

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267 thoughts on “Interlude 16 (Bonus)

  1. Every time. EVERY freaking time you manage to surprise me Wildbow. Piggot used to be an assault member and Nilbog created a medieval town of monsters that he rules. Damn, so thats why she acts the way she does. She HATES them all. One question though. Why the heck haven’t they nuked the bastard? I doubt his creations would be able to reproduce from that big a bomb, and might even die if they take him out. But my hat is off to you sir for managing to create another truly creepy villain. Nilbog, it’s always the quiet ones huh.

    • Maybe they are afraid that regenerating materials might get scattered into far too wide a radius to contain, and they don’t know whether killing him will stop them. Indeed, it might only be his survival that keeps them from spreading.

      • Okay then,no fire. How about you just call in a massive amount of tanks/infantry/gunships and bring on the lead rain. Or lie and say he is making demands or ele he will start to expand. That way they can treat him like an Endbringer. Bring in a large gathering of heroes and villains and storm the place. They can’t let him get away with something like this. They PRT need to show that you will be taken out if you cross a line. Can you imagine what he has been doing for the last decade?

          • But he was broke and then had a trigger event. While that conspiracy is very big, they seem, to me anyway, to create more heroes than villains. They were interested in Shatterbirds/Siberian’s power though. Cauldron is powerful and influential but they can’t be behind everything. But wow Nilbog is freaky. The real nightmare fuel would be from a perspective of someone who lived in that town when he visited. I wonder if he let any live so he could rule over them like that creepy kid from the twilight zone who ruled over his town.

            • Yep, and the [cover] story seems off. Just being confronted with the prospect of being homeless after having lived a life of comfort… it doesn’t seem like the kind of acute trauma/threat that’s associated with trigger events we’ve seen.

              And I’m no expert but it seems like someone with this guy’s profile should have substantial savings and not have to worry about homelessness after a few weeks of unemployment. No family? No social life? What was he spending his money on, then?

              It’s possible it was a natural trigger event but the more natural explanation is that the loner-geek decided to blow his fortune on a serum that would let him play god.

              • I’d say he was sufficiently messed up before his trigger event, and this was just the feather that broke the camel’s back. Remember, he stayed in his house for 3 weeks. That’s a long-ass time.

    • I can think of a few different things for that.

      1. Tunnels. It’s entirely possible he’s heavily tunneled under that position, North Korean style.

      2. Survivability. With his suits and adaptations he can create in his creatures, they might manage. They show a great ability to take punishment, some are small in size, and others can reproduce when burned. By now, he might have ones that can reproduce due to radiation as well.

      2A. Even if they manage to take him out, all that does is leave a huge horde of creatures capable of breeding very quickly interacting with radiation in unusual ways.

      2B. If they fail to take him out, he’ll retaliate.

      3. Necessity. Reasons to take the town back? Infrastructure: Negligible, will be destroyed by nuclear bomb. Resources: Neglligible, made inaccessible by nuclear bomb. Population: DOA. Morale: Dependent entirely upon questionable success. Defense: Nilbog might decide to expand any time it crosses his mind to do so.
      Reasions not to? Morale: If fails, gets worse. If course is not pursued, won’t likely get worse. Repercussions: Minor environmental damage, potentially apocalyptic parahuman response from Nilbog. Bluff: Can reassure people that Nilbog is contained and that he has negotiated a deal with the U.S. government, inferring ability of U.S. to defeat him and making Nilbog appear less dangerous to public and save ass of whichever politicians were responsible for that patch of ground.

      • Good points, but they should still be doing something to kill him. I would probably have tried to use the right supers to capture a few of his creatures and examine them to get a better understanding of what he is capable of. But he must have made a move at some point. Piggot and the unnamed soldier from squad three were given special circumstances to keep things quiet and secret, but we know that he is known by the outside world. Would someone that batshit crazy really stay in that town for eleven years?

    • Not nukes. Too many secondary thermal effects. Maybe a neutron bomb. Otherwise, I’d suggest a persistent penetrating nerve gas, reapplied periodically.

      • Except a neutron bomb [i]is[/i] a type of nuke, one with an emphasis on producing energetic neutron radiation over raw explosive power. (in a regular fission bomb, about 5% of the energy is released in the form of radiation. For a neutron bomb, that figure is closer to 50%, with the rest of the energy going to power the explosion just like a regular nuke)

        That said, it’d probably be a better weapon to try against his monsters than a standard nuke.

            • Baduka is dead, remember? Killed by Lung in the birdcage, she was the only bombmaker tinker. Still, even if she was alive, its not like she couldn’t escape ironman style with bombs if she’s forced to do work (and the PRT has no body control heros anyways), if she is free for even 10 seconds of control, she may be able to detonate her bombs.
              Also this is 2001, baduka might of not even have triggered yet.

              The tinker bombs that were confiscated from her were used in fighting the S9 and I believe Leviathan.

          • The only tinker shown to make bombs is Bakuda,and Bakuda specialises in it

            Bakuda’s bombs were recently captured,and are in limited supply,but they were used against the endbringers and the 9,so they could be used vs Nilbog.

  2. Interesting to see things from the PRT’s view point. And that there are areas that are now ‘no go zones’ because the capes and others can’t contain the other parahumans.

  3. “Rain, rain and more rain, not a light on in the small town, not a single soul to be seen.”

    An extra space between single and soul.

    Nice to see their Changer protocols are the same as dealing with The Thing, but they were just a little slow on the uptake about why he looked different each time. And now we see why Piggot is the way she is. Ironically, not the only sane person anymore.

    Hell, we’re all insane. It’s just to degrees. Take me for instance. If people like me were sane, I’d go mad. Maybe I already did.

    Nilbog really seems to freak them out. I guess he and the Endbringers haven’t made each others’ acquaintances (figuratively or literally in this case). Reminds me of that Bogleech place I linked to at some point before, making various monsters.

  4. So now I think that Skitter is in even deeper shit. Piggot is a lot smarter socially than she is, and has already baited her into giving away information even in the middle of a fight.
    Nilbog not getting his own tag is perhaps comforting, though.

    “Lady had started pulling on her back” Pack(or Backpack).

  5. Hmm. The best chance at taking him out would be via a coordinated attack that took all of his creations out at once, while avoiding getting close. Are they insectbite-proof and/or immune against poison? We won’t, by any chance, see an epic Master vs. Master fight sometime in the future, will we? *puppyeyes*

    On another note, your ability to invent interesting powers and creepy villains is truly amazing.

    • If she ever gets a hold of mass amounts of para-insects, incredibly voracious or resistant creatures. Then a Nilbog v Skitter fight would make a lot of sense as a thing she decides to go do one day.

        • That would be a fun surprise, “Hey Nilbog I can control all your creatures!” “Oh noessss!”

          Especially given that he rides around in one of them. Heck, taking out Nilbog might actually be enough to get Skitter some credit…or just more fear and such directed at her.

          “Okay, I killed Nilbog for you guys, that was a good guy thing right?”

          “She defeated Nilbog! Kill her quickly!”

          • Tabloids read: “Queen of the Docks kills Nilbog! Is this an expansion into new territory for the Hive?!? PRT vows a definitive response!”

          • Skitter + Panacea = Horrifying supremacy. I mean Nilbog is super powerful but even so, he seemed to have nothing like Skitter’s Master powers. His strength is in creation, not in control, either that or he was playing with them from the start but I don’t see that as likely.

            This combo meanwhile, would have roughly equivalent potential for creature abilities. Added to that would be a massive range, total awareness and control by singular entity. One both intelligent and aware enough to guide the creatures skillfully. Sanity. And probably most worth mentioning, allies.

            I would say that last one is Nilbog’s biggest issue. If he is ever taken out he’ll have no-one to come to his aid. However if Skitter and Panacea had teamed, they’d have powerful friends ready if ever someone found a weakness in their own powers.

            • The problem with this statement is Panacea would have to break ALL of her rules and even then something like this would take a long amount of preparation, I don’t know if there’s a side effect or debuff to Panacea’s power but I’m pretty sure the two of them working together could beat anything short of an Endbringer.

    • Thing is…it’s not all that far off Skitter really. Imagine if Skitter had gone similar levels of batshit. Had been that utterly homicidal, maybe decided that she only wanted her bugs to be alive, and had enough range to encompass the city. Would have been just as horrifying too, no way to fight back, almost nothing works against the swarm and no one even knows who she is or what she looks like so she just leaves and goes somewhere else to spread the peace.

      Heck, add in the possible canon that her orders stay with her bugs and she could literally up and leave in the midst of the fight.

      Pretty much any master-class can be this kind of horror, just varying in degree. If Bitch wasn’t as kind hearted as she is at her fluffy centre then she could pretty much just spew super dogs into the streets from every shelter in town.

      • Which is why I always had a hard time with believing that people underestimated her. I knew from the moment where she stated how wide her range was that she had a power with SCARY potential for pain/death. Bitch seems to have a limit to how much juice she has before she has to rest. The most we have ever seen was 11 dogs when she attacked Leviathan. If skitter ever has a 2nd trigger event and has the ability to grow/craft the bugs to some extent, than she might actually be more dangerous than Nilbog. She is smarter and has a much bigger imagination.

  6. …I am both amazed at this interlude and horrified at the images it conjures. It’s a cliche to have rainy night turn into a nightmare of zombie-monster proportions, but you make it work, wildbow.

    I’m a bit concerned how Nilbog gets the Manton effect exclusion thing. His creations could be counted as inhuman, and Oni Lee or Prism make clones but still are considered to be under the Manton effect rule. Or was that just a government story to make people more scared of Nilbog, because he frankly doesn’t need it.

    Wildbow, feel free to start experimenting more with your writing in interludes. This one was a good change in genre to horror, and it still came out giving us world- and character-building events. We didn’t even know it was Piggot until the Director desk job came up, letting us feel it was a different character at work. Hell, it even started with a different character’s view. Honestly, though, keeping within Lady’s perspective would have made the reveal a bigger impact at the end. However, please don’t let that limit your future writing. For example, a multi-perspective interlude on the same event might be good, like a Rashomon thing.

    I’m looking forward to how Piggot’s history will affect her stay with our protagonists. Keep it up!

      • Hey, the story has it’s good share of Nightmare Fuel, but it still didn’t stray far from the superhero roots or the Hero’s Journey (in this case, Villain’s Journey) sort of thing. This was the first time I could see an immediate, deliberate shift in aesthetic to something out of a zombie film and the like. Oftentimes I wonder what a story would be like if written in a different genre. Ever think of what the Wormverse would be as a comedy or something?

        • Believe it or not Wildbow actually addressed it in a past comment. He claims he has a hard time writing comedy. The nightmare fuel page isn’t too long, mostly because it doesn’t describe exactly what Bonesaw has done, or what exactly happened to Glory Girl, but I just added Nilbog. The crowning moment of funny page only has two entries. The first entry is the only time I have laughed out loud reading the story. Which is fine because this story keeps raising the HSQ to new levels. But a Uber and Leet interlude might be funny. Or even better, since the wormverse seems to share at least some of our popular culture, maybe there are celebrities or musicians running around as superheroes due to a bad drug trip or they simply bought their powers from Cauldron. When I read the Trump classification I can’t help but wonder what happened to old Donald comb-over in this universe. I want to see him as the worlds most pathetic hero going around calling himself The Trump.

          • From the files of Cauldron, Failed Superpower Attempts

            Subject 6211997
            Powers gained: Ability to command the attention of anyone who heard her sing and force them to hear those words over and over again in their heads, even repeating them and spreading the memetic effect to others, ultimately driving people to insanity.
            Notes: No actual ability to sing
            Reason for Rejection: Powers only worked on one day of the week, Friday, Friday, fun fun fun fun. Requesting self termination.

            Subject 11171960
            Powers gained: Can turn into a frustrating fruit that no one wants to be around.
            Notes: An actual fruit, not slang for being gay
            Reason for Rejection: Just so f**king annoying, made it difficult to drink orange juice

            Subject 962011
            Powers gained: Can cause fluctuations in gravity that, in conjuctuion with limited area of effect, could cause significant damage to the earth and a potential apocalyptic scenario
            Notes: Powers only activate during straight sex
            Reaso for Rejection: Could cause significant damage to the earth and a potential apocalyptic scenario. Subject was willing to take a non-official cover in the media to divert attention away from important stories and towards tabloid journalism under the alias “Perez Hilton”. Subject’s powers are easily contained.

          • *gotta do necro-comment*
            With Worm, Wildbow has created a new genre:
            Teen Superhero Romance Horror, with occasional side interludes of Black Comedy.

            Even though the 2 author’s stuff is utterly different (other than word count), the Wormverse brings Diana Gabaldon to mind for me. Her stuff is dead trees; Historical Romance with a believable-ish Time Travel twist. She started with something that was going to be a trilogy; I believe book eight is due out soon. 🙂 Each one has more pages (most 800-1000 in PB; books tend to split apart before you finish!) Plus there’s a “bit part” character who has spun out into his own series of books. Wildbow — have you looked into her agents/ editors? I bet they would have some good ideas, and be able to “get” your work for publication!

  7. You know powers like that make me wonder about Taylor and how her bug senses affect her mental state. A guilty pleasure of mine is reading what if fanfics by others. This gives me the idea of a interesting story. What if Nilbog and Skitter had gotten each others powers during their trigger event? Nilbog would probably have used her powers to their true terrifying potential but he would probably have been killed quickly. But just imagine how different the story would be if Taylor had gotten his power. She would have terrified the entire city even if she had the heart of a saint.

    • My own favourite (as in, I continue to develop it in the back of my mind) is what if Panacea had triggered the night Marquis was taken. Though what if Armsmaster had been a little more persuasive that night and Skitter had joined the Wards the next day (after they got done dealing with Lung being poisoned) with him as an actual distant mentor/role-model figure.

      But I have to say that it is probably a sign of how epic Wildbow’s worldbuilding is that there are so many what ifs. Almost every arc gives us another dozen ways the story could have gone differently or another perspective or nineteen that would have been fun to see. It needs to be more popular because the fanfics would be beyond awesome XD

      And yeah, Nilbog-to-Skitter would be a brilliant trade. She’d probably have a very different Aesthetic for starters, it seemed a lot of their shape was due to Nilbog’s craziness. I also don’t see her being so unthinking of them if they cannot have the apparent sentience stripped away. Still, if she still ended up with the Undersiders she’d be the star in their crown of horribly creepy powers. A living power suited Tinker like master. Held back by her morals but as if anyone would believe that.

      The nine would certainly have come after her…though now I mention them I wonder if they ever dropped in on Nilbog. I actually thought it was Crawler’s origin story at first, he and the other nine would have fair chances in their at least they would have at this kind of level. I imagine Nilbog has gotten much worse stuff by now.

      • If Panacea had triggered, Marquis might have been healed and they would have escaped. I could see Marquis getting captured again at some point, and she turned herself in for leniency for her father as her power was too damn useful to others. I actually think Taylor would have fit in fine with the Wards. There would have been an incident when she found out about Shadowstalker, but once the situation was found, I’m sure Piggot would have moved Shadowstalker or made her quite due to the nasty PR they would have gotten. I actually it was Crawler’s origin story to due to the changing appearance at the beginning. I think Crawler would have been the only survivor if the 9 had tried to recruit Nilbog. His creations would have attacked every living thing, so Manton wouldn’t have been able to hide, and they would have been overwhelmed except for Crawler. But I figure they would have dogpiled and restrained him. Taylor having Nilbog’s power would have been a gamebreaker. With her imagination/intelligence, I could see her fighting off Leviathan, The Chosen, and the Merchants by herself. I could see her still joining the Undersiders, but she would have had more than enough power to tell Coil to screw himself and rescued Dinah. The 9 wouldn’t have underestimated her though, and she would probably have been approached by Siberian. Jack and Bonesaw would definitely not have survived her. I picture her creations as being more seamless and not nearly as gross as Nilbogs. I wonder what the heroes would have named her?

        • I agree on the seamless part, likely Taylor would want them to look friendly…but I can see her hitting the uncanny valley, or just having the utility aspect mess it up, like cute little gremlin things that open their mouths to show faaaaar too many teeth.
          As for power, it would depend on whether she and Nilbog remained scaled the same. So his bug powers encompassed a city range, her creation powers were much more limited in scope than his. Taylor’s nature would mean she’d refuse to stay back out of danger like he prefers, so making some kind of suit would be likely.

          Yeah, the Wards would go well for a while at least. She’d certainly have been fast friends with them even if the bugs would probably have been less well received then among villains.

          As for Panacea triggering early (I really wonder what it was that triggered her in the end, and why losing her father wasn’t enough given that she was a second generation at least) well. My thought process for it basically runs:

          Elevated brutality in attacking him (maybe he killed someone recently) leads to Marquis fatally injured.
          Little Amelia triggers, heals him and begs him to not let them take her away from him.
          He escapes because she’s constantly healing him so he can more or less do as he likes. Though given his nature I doubt he’d take the obvious advantages of this.
          They now need to hide, changing his face is hardly difficult when he can manipulate bone structure and his daughter can alter his eye/hair colour. But Marquis realises that villainy will risk her too much and goes into hiding as a civilian.
          Following from this are a lot of changes to Panacea, ending up with her as a rogue healer with several rules which she absolutely will not break and a loving, instructive parent (despite being a difficult relationship given different moral perspectives) making her much better balanced and stronger willed. Her appearing anonymously, earlier and being indiscriminate in who she heals means more capes in the Bay (they live longer) and a general agreement not to attack the healer.

          But most importantly, when they were looking for a place to blend in, Marquis found a meaningless job -mostly to hide that he had as much money as he needed- and a suburban house. The day they moved in, his little daughter went out into the yard to play, and saw a figure hiding behind the neighbour’s bushes.
          Amelia promptly hid as well, but eventually one and then the other came out to hesitantly say hello.
          Smiling at the other girl’s thick glasses and wide smile, Amelia introduced herself and received a reply in kind.
          “My name is Taylor.”

          • I imagine her creations as being sexless and mostly faceless like mini versions of the Endbringers. Well they both would have benefited from being friends and just having someone to lean on when times got tough. I was actually disappointed that she didn’t join the Undersiders. She acknowledged to Jack that Skitter was open and nice to her. They would have had a great synergy of powers, had a way to kill Coil without him being able to escape through an airborne virus she was immune to, and Glory Girl wouldn’t have ended up like that.

          • Yeah, that’s exactly how I see them. The kind of thing where they’d have no visual connection to human beings. Whereas Nilbog basically created necromorphs. Right down to the really disturbing stuff with babies and pregnancy.

            I think that was the exact problem, it was too good a development for it to happen. But then that is one of the few times I really haven’t liked a development in this story. For all the reasons you state.

  8. By the way, I got an even scarier thought for all of you. Go ahead and go turn off the lights, because this has potentially more frightening implications both for survivability and for expansion.

    Nilbog bacteria.

    Hope you washed your hands after touching that light switch.

    • Makes Ebola like the common cold. But thankfully he seems too crazy, and content to stay there. I also doubt a guy with a theme of the renaissance fair from hell would be thinking about bacteria.

    • It could be like Taylor where there’s a limitation on how small he can go.

      If that’s not the case, the world better hope he doesn’t become sane enough to do it.

      • Yeah, maybe he can only go far enough to do something like those massive fungi hidden underground, or those forests of trees that are all clones of a single one.

  9. I expect the man will be alive for some time.”

    “Why not?” She wheezed the question.

    “Far as I could tell, he’s wearing one of his creations.”

    Probably meant “Why?” instead of “Why not?” there.

  10. Guys, don’t be too hard on poor Nilbog, he really wants to be a good person! Honest! He will take great care of the creatures that live isn his territory, so we should all cut him some slack. At least he isn’t trying to claim to be one of those monstrous heroes! Those guys are all irredeemable bastards don’t you know?

      • No it was a joke obviously, or at least I thought it was obvious. It does make me wonder though if his power just drove him crazy. I hope it did, because this is a pretty fucked up situation. We know powers can have severe mental effects, so maybe he legitimately thinks he is doing the right thing in this town. It wouldn’t make his death any less essential, but I can’t help but wonder if this was him snapping or being changed.

        • Loner or no, I find it hard to believe that someone this dribblingly crazy could have maintained a normal life. Still, he was probably always weird. My take was that he was a super nerd (hence the name and rennaisance fair themes) and a bit odd. Then his life fell apart, which he couldn’t deal with -maybe due to some pretty severe and multi level autism, or another mental state enforcing reliance on routine- and he gets this massive power.

          The power completely dislocates him from reality, which seems reasonably likely going by the Masters we’ve seen so far and the clear effects it has had on them. So he no longer cares about humans and just wants to build his awesome garden of magic and wonder. Hence his downright offended response to being shot.

          • Or, he could have had a breakdown similar to Panacea and this is the result in stewing in his own mess. We don’t know what his original creatures from the bank robbery looked like after all.

          • I know someone who was originally planning to react…quite badly…to the loss of their job which would have prevented them from engaging in the one real joy of their life, an MMO. They knew every map, spent a lot of spare time on it, and had some huge ongoing story mapped out in their head that didn’t rely on any audience other than the person themself. Luckily the quite bad reaction did not occur and they managed to keep on trucking. I think my attempts to reach out helped a little. I hope they did.

            So I can imagine someone doing what Nilbog did.

      • I don’t see how you can compare Skitter and Nilbog. But I am not willing to make judgment on the heroes since we don’t know who exactly they were and what their powers were. They might not have had the ability to rescue the PRT or make a real difference in the fight depending on what exactly they could do.

        • I was actually referring to the soldiers who opened fire without ever confirming they weren’t shooting what amounted to babies. Monster babies sure, but it’s not like the creatures themselves asked for any of it. Yes, their lives were at risk, but consider if they’d been fighting people who wore children as armour…?

          And that guy who shot his captain to get away faster.

    • You’re referring, of course, to the time that Skitter murdered everyone in her territory and used them as food for her growing insect army that tries to kill everyone who enters her territory.

      • I remember it well.

        Joking aside that is a really scary idea. I can kind of see why the heroes worry so much with stuff like this going on. The higher ups must live in fear of the days when a villain goes all the way off the deep end and starts going slaughter happy crazy on anyone and everyone they encounter.

        Still, Nilbog was ultimately pretty pathetic. A super nerd who lost it over what amounted to a null point. He could easily have used those powers to make buttloads of money. Instead he went crazy, another one for the nihilists.

        • Well, there IS a reason, why villains outnumber heroes (3 to 1, I think). To elaborate, a quote from “The Chicago Sentinels” (abbreviated):
          “Breakthroughs tend to happen when a person is pushed to the absolute edge/to great trauma. Combine this with a big dose of wish-fulfillment and you tend to get not-so-stable individuals”

          Also, remember that powers (especially Master-class, it seems) carry the risk to change the way someone thinks. Nilbog may have become unable to value the life of anyone other than his creations. He may not even see himself as “human” anymore. i don’t think that he is practical enough to wear that just for utility – he may want to be more like his creations!

          Also, wildbow: thanks. just thanks. I’ve been waiting to find out about Nilbog for SO long!

        • Turns out a nerd with a god complex would still be obsessed with worldbuilding in some limited bubble of the world, creating gross caricatures of life in some attempt to emulate it and create a masterfully drafted story.

          Makes me want to write some more. Don’t know how Wildbow does it so much.

  11. I can’t help but think Wildbow was paying attention to the whole ‘Genoscythe the Eye Reaper’ thing while writing this because if not, it means Psycho Gecko’s psychic or something when he came with Genoscythe and his fleshcrafting.

    • Wait, I remembered to write something down about Genoscythe fleshcrafting? My version I thought up years ago with this Drow priestess I roleplayed as. It really helps you get in touch with your inner bitch, which is useful at times.

      In that case, it was kind of a way for a shapeshifter to use their own powers to create a weapon from themselves. Hard to disarm a priestess from a backstabbing culture whose hand could turn into a stiletto of bone. I suppose you could literally dis-arm her, though. For Genoscythe, what was it I thought of…turning people into still living armor and weapons while maintaining a fondness for man on eye socket fornication? Like that’s so hard to imagine fitting in the Wormverse.

      Even then, I think I stole the general idea from a nice little game called Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. That’s right, that motherfucker had two colons in its name. TWO. One villain you face was a clan, Tzimisce or something, that use a form of magic to mess with others’ shapes in a torturous process that often left them insane and violent. Most commonly, you faced these guys in the form of heads with arms for legs chasing after you.

      I suspect the chain of idea snatching goes further.

      Wildbow mentioned Nilbog long before this, though I’m a little hurt, nay wounded even, that Wildbow pays me little attention. At least as far as ideas go, I’m sure. I like to think of myself as an attraction of the comment threads. Just not the thin man, or the 1 ton man, or the snake girl, or the world’s largest rat, or the giant, or the fire eater, or the bearded lady (trust me, I look horrible in women’s underwear).

  12. Well, that was a fascinating insight into the life of those poor faceless bastards. I refer of course to the PRT that are so often taken out by our beloved heroine. It also explains Piggot. A lot.

    What exactly was Chief Director Alexandria thinking? Some guilt perhaps? Or just plain dumb? “Hey, let’s put a traumatized soldier into a position of command over the kind of people she was traumatized by. What could possibly go wrong?!?”

    I did like the reference to what I suspect was Dragon’s father, the geek comments. Pity that Geek’s daughter wasn’t there with them.

    • Perhaps she wanted someone that knew the horrors that could happen in the world. Someone that would never ever forget what the really nasty capes were capable of. Someone that knew that the heroes might break and run. Someone willing to come up with plans like “Bomb the living shit out of the abomination that noone has been able to stop” and have them work.

      • Okay, come on mc2rpg, this is a bit much. I like arguing and discussing but you can’t just give a bunch of over the top emotive points like that. None of those really counter the reasons why it was a bad idea.

        For all you seem to think that it’s irrational attachment to the heroine that leads to certain viewpoints, this makes your own attachment to the authority figures seem irrational.

        • Honestly I think putting someone in charge that has seen the worst that the villains have available is probably a good idea. With this kind of stuff happening in this world I think it is important that the people in command actually have some sort of first hand experience. Piggot knows what she is fighting for, and has seen the worst there is to offer, and if that leads to a more militant stance towards supervillains, well the setting certainly justifies it.

          Also I don’t think that attachment to the heroine is irrational at all. Taylor is my favorite character, with Tattletale as the runner up. I just think that applying a protagonist centered morality to this story doesn’t work.

          • As an advisor I would agree, but in actual authority Piggot has made some pretty awful calls and this explains a lot of that. Heck, even what she says here is completely out of sync with the actual story. When has a hero run from a fight outside this interlude? Other then the refusal to deploy against the Nine, they’ve been more reckless than cowardly.

            Not to mention, all that the Chief Director could have known was that she’d just been heavily injured and traumatised. There’s no reasonable way to justify then putting her in charge of capes. Even with our perspective it’s not much better than it could have been, do you really think any of the villains will bother turning up to the next Endbringer to hit the area at this rate? Knowing that they are considered fodder?
            Even the act of bombing Crawler was not the best plan they could have constructed. Knowing that the Undersiders were planning assaults they should have teamed up and used Tattletale’s knowledge.

      • Yeah, I’m sure if she was ever faced with a situation like the Slaughterhouse 9, she’d just order them out to engage them no matter what, since keeping them from doing whatever they want to whoever they want would be the right thing to do.

        Be kind of a dick thing on her part to want to sacrifice someone else, like a Captain or civilians or supervillains, just so that she could make it.

  13. What happened to cutting back on interludes? Was this a “just one more”? I kind of liked it when the interludes only came between arcs. Of course, I was still archive binging then, so I’m a bit biased.

    I noticed that you completely omitted any description of the PRT soldiers, aside from mentioning that two of them were “big.” Until near the end, I wasn’t even sure “Lady” was actually female and not a man’s last name or odd nickname. Lots of great description of the monsters, though you used omission there, as well, but it was an artistic sort of omission where you mention the salient features and let the imagination fill in the rest. Making the PRT soldiers faceless, even if they did have names, actually sort of worked. They simultaneously come off as people with names and life stories and as faceless drones.

      • You call those Chryssalids? They aren’t Chryssalids unless they zombify on every hit and burst from a zombie every time one is killed. I want to hear some howls of anguish as X-Com players realize every civilian on the map has just been turned into a fast, reproducing, heavily-armored, one-hit-killer.

        And what has happened to the much vaunted Sectoid psionics? Bah, two birds with one stone. Used to be their higher ranks only needed to see one of your team to try to mind control or panic any one of them, usually the one with the rocket launcher who had the perfect view of the rest of your team.

        And 4 people only? In the old days, 4 people on a mission was an ok casualty rate, not an entire team. I once had a goddamn survival horror/action move with a squad of men sent up against a team of lobstermen, having to scrounge ammo off their dead cohorts and hoping that this shot will hit and will actually kill the damned aliens…

  14. Sometimes I try to think of what the really evil characters could do with their powers if they were good or even neutral.

    I Imagine Nilbog using his power to make non-suffering meat to make vegetarian arguments invalid. The creatures would be purely muscle tissue or liver tissue or whatever kind of tissue that meat is going to be used for. It would have a noncentralized nervous system, so no chance of self-awareness and no pain sensing nerve endings. It would be about as immoral as eating plants. This assumes he can keep up with demands for meat. If his power is only fast enough to populate a town in a week, his meat would be prohibitively expensive.

    Or maybe he’d grow replacement body parts for surgeries. There would be no more waiting lists for transplants. This assumes he can make individual body parts. Since we’ve only seen him make full creatures at once, we don’t know if there’s a restriction where he has to make an organism capable of surviving.

    • I don’t think it is safe to say that they’re unfeeling, yet…

      And as for the thought of ‘how would they…?’ it is nice because quite a few of the characters in the story, indeed most of them, would work as well on the other side without much change to their personality or powers. I could definitely see switching most of the Wards and the Undersiders, and Taylor and Armsmaster have already played both sides of the field.

      What if Cauldron had encouraged the Big Three to become villains to drum up popular support for the heroic Coil? What if Crawler had decided to take up endbringer wrasslin’?

      Some groups, of course, are harder to swap- the empire folks for instance- without fundamentally changing the characterization. But in a lot of cases people aren’t as devoted to their ‘side’ as you’d usually expect.

      • One of my favourite characters remains the racist hero who sacrificed himself against Leviathan…even if his sacrifice accomplished rather little. For this kind of reason, he was probably a bastard, and I can easily see how he would have worked in the Empire. But a moral shift would be required.

        For a lot of the characters, that’s workable. If Siberian was a nicer person for instance and so on. The personalities of most characters are sufficiently deep that they can work on either side.

    • Siberian and Crawler. Kill Leviathan

      Bonesaw. Revolutionise medicine.

      Mannequin. Finish what he started.

      Heartbreaker. The best damn therapist ever. (instead he chose to be the rapist)

      Cherish. Could go the same as her dad, though her detection abilities would make her the perfect method for a city to control crime. A way to know the location of every dangerously unbalanced person in the city.

      Coil. Hesitant to mention him as he pretty much is already doing it, namely helping to fight major threats. Though mostly cause they are magnetised to his employees. 😉

      The Endbringers themselves (if they were sentient and friendly).

      Leviathan could just go for a walk anywhere there’s a drought.

      Behemoth is free power for everyone if he just supercharges a bunch of massive capacitors.

      As for the Simurrgh going by the assumption that she reads minds while sleeping and thus picks a good target, she could do what I suggested for Cherish but on a global scale. Finding disasters, people about to go crazy. Basically cutting off stuff like this before it can happen.

      • who sad that the endbringers aren’t friendly^^
        they notice a big enough thread and since they cant communicate with the normal people they just kill the thread with a few innocent bystanders killed by accident, but way less than the thread would kill^^

        • Great, thanks. Now I will forever think of the endbringers as kin to the Nyafex.

          This being a carnifex that desperately wants to hug people but has very sharp claws and just kills everyone by doing this.

        • ok i dont expect that just want to hear some logical counteraguments against something like (claudrin is the big enemy and the endbringers are saving everyone by fighting / stalling claudrin [cant find how that is spelled^^])

          • What would be even more chilling in such a scenario is if the Endbringers are the ‘undiluted’ material that Cauldron has been selling to give folks ‘powers’. Cauldron sees the Endbringers as the threat they are, the Endbringers are just trying to stop their very essence from destroying *yet another* world.

            The other connection to this would be if they didn’t show up until after Scion did. And could also explain why Scion always seems ‘distracted’ until the Endbringers really ‘go to town’? ie, He figured it out and respects them for their views, but has to take a stand before they *really* get out of control?

            Sort of a “You can prune that thread. But when you prune it too much, I’ll be there, shutting you down. When I show up, your work is done.”

            This of course, would also feed into the ‘mythology’ of Scion and how he’s able to ‘defeat’ the Endbringers (or at least seems to be a solution for them)

            Conjecture, of course, and Wildbow’s work is amazing for bringing it about. Reminiscent (but not duplicative) of a superheroic MMO that’s got less than 48 hours at this point to live. (City Of Heroes)

          • Ok,here’s two:Simurgh’s way of “treating”mannequin (even if it did avert a disaster,there were surely less “necessary evil”ways to do that),Leviathan’s movement to cause maximum colateral damage.

    • I’m a vegetarian
      meat tastes bad

      anyway getting someone who could and would create sentient to only create food instead is mightily immoral

      and there we are at the other point because of which Nilbog won’t be taken out
      you would have to kill a town full of sentient intelligent creatures (innocent victims) to kill him.
      [on the otherhand as much as the PTR seem to like killing^^]

      • I think some of them worry about the rights of animals considering all we’ve learned and are still learning about animal intelligence. I can understand where they’re coming from. However, understanding doesn’t mean agreement. I personally don’t feel an animal life is equal to a human life, and it works out better for us to eat meat. Amino acids, good flavor, capable of reproducing on its own or through domestication with less worries over a cold snap or ethanol ruining the price of it.

        Plus, plants are capable of communicating via sound. If you go down the animal intelligence route, that’s the kind of thing that suggests eating plants could be just as wrong.

        • I’m actually opposite both sides in that argument: taking animals as much more sapient that most people give them credit for being (as you say, plants are showing elements of sentience, and I’ve seen others comparing the emotions and personalities of their pet snails, so how can we pretend something so much more complex as a cow isn’t intelligent?), it’s immoral to *not* eat meat for “moral” reasons. In non-paradoxical language, if we agree that animals are very nearly as emotive as we are, but then say that killing and eating them is therefore bad, then we’re putting ourselves right back in the “we’re inherently better than you” category over carnivores and those omnivores without the same qualms. We’re omnivores, and we evolved to be omnivores. We get a number of biological benefits from eating meat, and while we might be able to replicate most of that with the right processing, that’s no excuse to use language that’s only consistent for bigots (no slight against you, PG: you are’t trying to say we’re equal with herbivores). Personal arguments are fine. Feel free to be vegetarian because you prefer the flavour, or because you know you’d never be able to personally kill your non-plant food and don’t want to pretend everything’s fine by having someone else do it. Just don’t condemn those — human or not — who aren’t.

      • Sorry, I should have specified my comment to be “moral arguments of vegetarians” instead.

        As for using his potential to create sentient life to make food instead, the same could be said of a farmer who works too hard to have sex. Is the farmer obligated to breed with as many women as possible, thus making more sentient life?

        • Traditionally they bred as much as possible, creating lots of babies to make up for the ones that die in the womb, in childbirth, or as babies, and to use the ones that survive as farm labor. Was important to have a wife who was a good broodmare and could do some work too, like cooking, cleaning, looking after the kids, and the occasional field labor.

    • I thought his powers followed the laws of conservation of matter and energy. In other words to create a first generation Monster he would need: 1) pre-existing Body to be altered (whether it was initially Dead or alive). 2) Sustainable food source (Townspeople and animals living in the town before he got there). But since its been implied that he creates his things out of thin air, and can keep them active without feeding them, I feel less creeped out. But only just a smidge.

  15. So our villains are now responsible for a hostage who may need regular dialysis. That is a Complication.™ 😀

    Unless Panacea pulled a McCoy and grew her a new pair of kidneys, anyway.

  16. You know, Piggot is likely to have a flashback if she sees Atlas. Because Skitter is VERY close to Nilbog. Scarily so. Hell, even their modus operandi – establishing a territory and developing it while breeding their creations is close. And if Piggot thinks that Skitter can mutate her insects (which she might if she sees Atlas) the parallels will become even clearer (to her).

      • I wonder how much of the Piggot/ Nilbog back-story TT has actually been able to access. She has gotten into a lot of classified data, but perhaps not that. Yet.

        A lot of commenters also seem to assume that:
        a) Nilbog really came from or bought his powers from Cauldron. Given the timeline, I have my doubts on that. He was just a VERY BAD trigger event.
        b) Piggot is (not in 2001, but now) in on the details of the Cauldron/ Protectorate/ Triumvirate set-up.
        I doubt the big 3 have done anything to make the PRT (the mortal “Cape advisor/ admin” group) aware of the truth — in fact, I’m sure they’ve gone to some lengths to make sure Piggot doesn’t know. But perhaps Dragon has a clue?

        Moral ambiguity is starting to look like moral spiderweb. 🙂

  17. Has it always been like that, or is this new? I was reading through the comments and a lot of them had that wrap-around text thing that makes it hard to read, you know, with a word beggining on one line and ending on another. If so, I hadn’t noticed it before, but it does make it rather hard to read the comments.

    Onto the chapter: liked it, agree with those that say that Skitter might remind Piggot of Nilbog, in the PTSD sort of way, perhaps. Is that where the distrust comes from?

      • Nope, and it’s doing stu
        ff like this which makes it prett
        y much impossible to read ea

        Yeah, that’s enough of that. So yeah, it gets problematic real-fast. Want a real example of what it looks like?

        Psycho Gecko:
        It’s new, and effecting other chapters’ comments as well. Or at least the l
        ast one’s comments.

        It seems to only effect replies…like this one, come to think
        of it.

          • Huh. What browsers are you guys using? And does the problem start at a certain point?

            I’ve not changed any settings, and I can’t see the issue, so I’m kind of in the dark here. You can understand where I’d want to fix this, though.

          • Firefox, it started last chapter for me, but I now see the same problem with all of the archived chapter comments, and they were fine before. It seems to only happen with replies, first posts have nothing wrong with them. But it seems to to do it for only some sentences.
            Your post looks like this to me:
            Huh. What browsers are you guys using? And does the problem start at a certain point?

            I’ve not changed any settings, and I can’t see the issue, so I’m kind of in t
            he dark here. You can understand where I’d want to fix this, though.

          • Might be firefox, I suddenly started having a heap of issues (which I confirmed as not originating with my own gear as best I could) with it yesterday. Currently using chrome until it settles down.

          • For me it’s:
            I’ve not changed any settings, and I can’t see the issue, so I’m kind of in the dark here. You can underst
            and where I’d want to fix this, though.

            The break is at the end of the line for me.

          • It’s an issue with Firefox, nothing I’m at liberty to change or fix on my site. They eliminated/disabled support/implementation of a [word-wrap] element in the latest build, and that’s the element used for the comments here.

        • Oh? It seems to be effecting IE as well, as I have the problem with that.

          Did IE and Firefox do the same thing or something?

        • Long after that’s been fixed, but it’s a skill you pick up pretty quickly if you work with old-style computer terminals/emulators (and, I’ve heard but can’t verify, medieval Latin documents). It’s still not quite seamless, but I’ve gotten the hang of treating it like hyphenation that hasn’t gotten smart enough to recognize syllables, and barely stutter over it when some command prints out paragraphs of text without proper line breaks.

    • Earlier this week when I was looking for Chariot’s appearances I noticed that Piggot had some subtle indicators of what could have been bigotry towards all parahumans. Nothing so strong that I can claim to have guessed this was coming for sure, but…

      When Legend appears at her window she (as our narrator for that interlude) thinks something nasty on the order of “Like most parahumans, he had defaulted to self-involved and intrusive behavior.” When he gets started talking about adopting, she’s really interested in the subject of how not to get any parahumanity on the child, too. Nothing really conclusive, just enough to raise an eyebrow. So I think the retreat of the capes during her moment of crisis and the more-direct trauma at Nilbog’s hands sealed an already-nascent bias. Skitter being a master slightly reminiscent of Nilbog could still be part of it, but I think it’s a good deal wider.

      And then Skitter IS pretty darn untrustworthy purely on her own merits, from an outside perspective.

      • Another point is that when talking statistics, she refers to number of parahumans compared to number of humans, as if capes no longer qualify as human to her.

    • I had the same question, only substitute endbringers with Crawler. Wouldn’t this be heaven for him? Never ending challenge/ chance for injury and he could always retreat if he gets in over his head or bored.

      • There’s really nothing to say that he *didn’t* hang out there for a while. Crawler’s a pretty freaky guy by the time we see ‘im.

        Did I miss some reason the Endbringers should be particularly attracted to Nilbog’s turf, though?

        • Technically, there doesn’t seem to be any conflict there. It’s a very peaceful place. I guess as someone keeping the peace and keeping the crime rate at 0% there, he should qualify as a hero according to some people’s criteria. 😉 (We have Poe sign!)

      • His greatest weakness, up until the device that actually stopped him(did it?) has been being trapped. He might, therefore, be less cavalier about possible capture situations than death defying ones.

  18. I’m seeing the same word wrap problems with IE version 9 64 bit! so it’s not just Firefox.
    I’m so looking forward to the next chapter, boy is Piggot in for a surprise!

  19. So nilbogs power runs on bloody gibs and people bits yet he hasnt left his territory. No fresh meat means hes not mustering a nigh
    Unstoppable horde. So hes just living it up as godking, perfecting his designs. Hmm, if I were him i’d grow bored. Perhaps he has ocd, autism or something similair. It would explain why hes reluctant to leave the comfort of his territory, that and it makes sense how such a man who lost control of his life would gain control of life itself.

    • They were reproducing off the flames though, so I am willing to bet he doesn’t actually need all that stuff. It would not surprise me if his minions were still reproducing somehow. After all, crawler was regenerating massive amounts of flesh from nothing, so this guy might be able to pop out much larger creatures from smaller chunks of flesh.

  20. Just noticed that this chapter gave us another info that has not been divulged before.

    I know I always asked myself what the ‘Trump’ classification stood for. Now we know:
    Parahumans who can change their powers – mimics, adaptors, etc. Meaning that Eidolon is probably the highest rated trump in the wormverse (yet).
    It also means that Brian is not only a stranger, but ALSO a trump now – if only a low-level one. Though I guess that even a low-level trump is probably considered a far greater threat than most other classifications of the same or a slightly if not much higher level; in the wormverse, versatility seems to be far more important than raw power – which is quite realistic – unless one has SO much raw power that others hit a glass ceiling if they do not have enough raw power (like with the siberian and the endbringers – though Behemoth seems to have an almost universal power and we still don’t know the exact nature of the Simurghs powers).

    Also, I just had an idea while writing this: I think that Scion himself is a high-level trump, who can take pretty much any power he wants/needs. And if that is true, than Eidolon might be Cauldron’s (failed) attempt to copy Scion’s power set! Which would be another reason why Scion would be so disgusted by the mere sight of Eidolon (if he knows about it – but if he has a higher-level version of Eidolon’s power, who seems to have quite a bit of clairvoyance, that would be very possible!

      • is this a confirmation? (on what)
        1) trump = Parahumans who can change their powers
        or 2) Eidolon is a failed attempt to copy Sicon,
        3) Scion is a trump, who can take any power he wants?

        to the above
        to 1) or are they people who influence powers (like Hack Job)
        not just change their own
        to 3) what if guru met Scion, and used Scions abillety to take a power
        (would it be permanent [i get it he would be way to overpowered so no, but are there other arguments for that?])

    • I disagree that Brian is a low Trump. Power copying has to be around a seven, even without the fine details and a range limit.

      Remember that his Darkness thing can happen more or less instantly. He was able to drive off the Nine (while massively maimed) killing one of them and then heal and save all his teammates, sure he can’t do much by himself. But any time he fights a cape he gets exponentially more threatening.

      Given that a Trump 4 was someone who could cycle between relatively minor powers (bone spears, acid, etc etc) on the scale of lunacy in Wormverse, someone who can copy invincibility, insta-regen or unstoppable projections (even if he lacked the co-ordination with it) is horrifyingly threatening. His rating and the attention paid to him is about to spike sharply when they find Clockblocker.

      Which is hilarious since they’d never have faced such a thing if they hadn’t refused that rescue mission. XD

      • All true. But remember, the trump 4 rating given to nilbog had been assigned based on information from BEFORE he took down an entire city and started creating masses of Goblins. he probably used lower-level powers before; also, it is possible that some, if not most, of his higher level powers were instead attributed to his supposed changer power (the bonespears, maybe the acid, many other powers that could be either) so he may have gotten a lower trump rating than he would have deserved if he actually was one.

        also, grue’s darkness does not happen instantly – in fact, it takes him longer than before to generate/spread it, but it is much thicker. the only reason he could engulf the 9 so quickly before was because his powers where temporarily going completely overdrive.

        though, the fact that he does not seem to have a cap on how many powers he can have at a time probably moves him up beyond level 4 or 5. then again, he does not get the skill to use them (as Eidolon does) and they are far weaker than the originals (again, unlike Eidolon). we would need to have a more comprehensive description of power levels for that.

        Hey, wildbow, that gives me an idea: someone mentioned that it would be a cool idea if you varied the style of your interludes, maybe do an infodrop. how about a comprehensive description of power classifications and levels, with examples for the various levels and possible subpowers. I’m sure everyone here would agree that this would be EXTREMELY interesting and, if you ask me, quite due after all this time^^

        • please do not read that last half sentence like I mean that you owe us anything (quite the opposite, actually). What I mean is that it would be very good and useful for us if we finally had an idea how to classify characters in the wormverse. it would also make fanfictions easier, at least the part where the writer would classify their character.

          that said, it would be great if such a listing of powers would finally include ratings of all the undersiders – even if it is faulty rating given to them by the PRT.

          • holy moley, writing the next two chapters for my own story right now (since I promised a bonus chapter this week). but the new dresden files novel threw my timetable out of whack because I spent the entire wednesday reading it.
            Not that I regret reading cold days. seriously, it’s awesome.
            but now I’m barely able to catch up. did that ever happen to you wildbow? that you had to crank your writing power to overdrive to catch up after loosing time?
            any advice on how to handle that?

            also, what kind of rating would parahuman get who had a writing power – something like being able to make words appear anywhere he could see, just by thinking them?

            and how would you twist such a power to make its user into a demented, nigh-unstoppable mass-murderer?

          • some more details on the writing power:

            said parahuman (let’s call him Wordsworth) could just look at anything and let words appear on it. the words would appear through in a natural form for the subject written on – if he looked at a screen, the pixels would change to show the words. but he couldn’t, for example, write a word document since he would only be changing pixels. if he looked at paper, it would discolor to make the words appear (ink would not appear out of nowwhere). if he looked at a person, the color of their hair would change, their pigmentation would adapt to make words appear. and so on.

          • That’d be a shaker-level power, pretty low level. But it wouldn’t fit into the Wormverse, I don’t think. Not as described. But if you were to force my hand, I’d basically make him Eulogy, who stalks his victims and writes in their surroundings (spying through open windows of their apartment, onto the dashboard of their car, using cameras if that sort of means qualifies for the writing power). The power is used to gaslight the victims, and he writes fragments of their suicide notes, complete with lurid and grotesque details that don’t fit the individual. Then in their weakest moment, when they’ve been pushed to their limit and are wondering if they’re truly going mad (as are their loved ones) he frames them for whatever crimes and depravities he alluded to and stages their ‘suicide’. Operates as a hitman for people who want their enemies to suffer, barely known outside of that circle.

            As for writing for deadlines? I have a spreadsheet in google docs where I have formulas set up. I want to write a minimum of 4k words by 10pm. Spreadsheet tells me that I have to write X words per hour, and I have other spaces marking out my progress within that hour. So I know how far ahead/behind I am for a given time.

            I’ve had a few rough days where I had to write a lot in a short time. There was one such day this past October where I went out for lunch & things stretched on a bit too long, I had to skip out early only to find that I didn’t have bus fare; got home with only 25% of my writing done and it was already something like 5pm in the afternoon. That sucked. Today sucks too – I’m away this weekend, so having to finish Saturday’s chapter before noon tomorrow, on top of getting ready. Not as far along as I’d like to be.

          • wow, you actually managed to turn that character into a demented serial-killer. wildbow, you officially scare me now. seriously.

            also, good advice. I’ll have to work out something like that spreadsheet for myself. thankfully, I’m using ywriter, so I’ve got buckets of options I can use^^

            and good luck with that chapter. I know you are going to make it.

            Last but not least, have fun on your trip!

        • He faces Leviathan again, he drops Darkness on Leviathan.

          He can now make tidal waves. Or more usefully, stop them.

          He fights Behemoth, if he could get close enough…actually it’s a damn shame Manton’s a dick cause the two of them could kill Behemy in short order.

          Basically the stronger those around him, the worse he gets. Which means you have to try and fight him with standard stuff, but his darkness now blocks damn near everything you’d need to use, so you’re left with bombing runs (impractical and over the top anyway) or normal humans hand to hand in the dark with a trained combatant who may or may not have physical enhancement from his powers.

          His rating will go up.

          Also while the infodump sounds awesome, I recall wildbow wanted this to be a book eventually and while I guess that could go in as a glossary…seems it could be awkward.

          • how about a chapter where a professor is explaining power levels to his students – with one of the students being a character (whether the lecture happens in the past or present could make this appropriate for a lot of characters) from the story

          • While his shadows are nice, I would be utterly baffled if shadowing Leviathan let him stop the tidal waves. I would be rather surprised if he was even able to slow them down. Leviathan is just so goddamn good with those timing the water that he must have massive amounts of control. I just don’t think Grue would handle scaling up that much very well. Perhaps after he has fought Leviathan a few times and gotten plenty of practice with his stolen powers.

          • Didn’t notice this until you put it that way, mc2rpg. Shadowing.

            Like when an intern shadows someone for their program and learns to do the same job. Or like when Grue shadows someone else with powers and gets the same powers.

    • Oh, “things” will, possibly in the chapters to come. But don’t forget to look on the bright side of this story as well.

      • *is hung from a tree, a spear piercing his side, surrounded by a dozen dark elves with sharp expressions and glaring swords*

        You know what they say.
        Some things in life are bad. They can really make you mad. Other things just make you swear and curse. When you’re chewing on life’s gristle, don’t grumble, give a whistle, and this’ll help things turn out for the best.

        *palms a canister, presses a button, and drops it*

        Always look on the bright side of life.
        Always look on the light side of life.
        If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten
        And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.

        *Continues singing in his nice self-contained helmet as the elves fall almost immediately to the white cloud expelled by the canister and shrivel in their armor. He reaches down and pulls out the spear, then grabs a temporary patch out of his belt and slaps it over the hole before any gas can get it.*

        When you’re feeling in the dumps
        don’t be silly chumps,
        just purse your lips and whistle,
        that’s the thing.

        *Raises his left arm to his neck and activates the Nasty Surprise, a miniature chainsaw blade, which thrusts out suddenly to cut him loose out of the noose. It withdraws back under his arm and he reaches inside a couple sets of armor, pulling out the fish, mullet specifically, that the elves have been transformed into and walks into the distance, juggling.*

        You know, you guys are lucky I didn’t use the cyanogen chloride I was originally thinking of dropping.
        Always look on the bright side of life…

        • I’ve just formed my mental image of the cape Psycho Gecko (took me long enough, I know): a Tinker 6 in a lizard themed suit of power armour, (dull green with a spined lizard head helmet and no tail), whose specialization is a knack for running on his own slapstick-esque physics.

    • The only way things could more screwed up is if we found out Rush doesn’t exist in this verse.

      But the core Undersiders could make a mean substitute if they had to. I dunno.

  21. Hmm, you know, the nature of Nilbog’s powers explains why Panacea was so screwed in the head. Because their powers are IDENTICAL. Or close enough to be identical. And it’s probable that both she herself and her parents and all people in her social circle knew about this.

    And yes, Panacea can give things powers – she made relay bugs that are equipped with Taylor’s power.

      • True. But the parallels are there. And it would explain why Piggot didn’t get her kidneys regrown by Panacea – I imagine she would not even be able to bring herself to be in Panacea’s company for long, much less allow Panacea to heal her.

          • Here’s me wondering if Piggot’s history in the PRT is common knowledge with anyone other than people directly involved in this. If word got out that an important person like Piggot was a bigot (ha!) against parahumans and that bigotry might have influenced her descisions things could get ugly for her.

            Which makes me think that Tattletale could be even more of a threat to the heroes if she had access to the media, there’s so much that could screw over alot of careers if it got out, not the least of which being Cauldron’s cover being blown open.

            But for now the Protectorate has the better media and PR resources, maybe they’re afraid that could change, and that being a reason why they’re trying to come down so hard on the Undersiders.

          • The Undersiders will never have the PR resources to fight against the PRT in that way. The PRT seems very active at PR and integrating the idea of powers into society. Even if Tattletale telling everyone about Piggot’s past would cause a problem I rather expect the PRT could make a decent run at quashing the spread of the information. Worse comes to worst she just calls Tattletale a liar publicly, because who is the common man going to believe, a bank robber or the director of the PRT.

            • Worse comes to worst,it just burns Piggot and the ones who promoted her.The advantage of a bureaucracy is that it can always cut its tail when squirming.

          • The Undersiders don’t need better in house PR, any of the juicy tidbits they have stored away would get swarmed by tabloids. “Tattletale Tells All.” I think that she and definitely Taylor would recognize that actually hurting the reputation of heroes in general wouldn’t really align with their cause and hurting that of the PRT wouldn’t give a big enough advantage to be worth it.
            As a side note I do seem to remember it being mentioned that Coil had a media outlet or two in his pocket.

  22. Wildblow, you have made mention that you want to keep your Interludes relevant to what is happening, and this one certainly fits with the theme, telling us more about Piggot. I am curious if we can have an interlude focusing on Emma and Sophia, something that explains Emma’s actions towards Taylor once she came back from camp? The question about what happened to make Emma go from friend to horrible bully has been itching at me since I started reading this.

    • Me too. Since Wildbow took the time to lay the groundwork for this twisted relationship between Emma and Taylor at the beginning of the story, I’m guessing it will eventually come into play in an important plot point in the main story. Probably in the finale episode Wildbow will bring things full circle. Emma is important somehow, otherwise it would have just been some random bully. Emma is a Chekhov’s bully.

    • It’s not a complex answer and we already got it. Sophia was a super hero, Emma found that much cooler. Then suddenly she was in with Sophia and backing out would have looked worse and worse all the time (ostracised as well, possibly worried about physical violence) as she also got deeper and deeper into her hole regarding hurting Taylor.

      The more she hurt her old friend the less she could go back and the cycle went on. She came to embrace it.


      Certainly not actually canon accurate but most of the details are already there, I don’t think there’s a huge amount left just in answering such a question. Emma’s return would be more new stuff then resolution of old.

      • True, but discarding an old friendship in favour of a new cooler one does not require the sustained viciousness with which Emma went at persecuting Taylor. Sophia may have been a born bully but she didn’t have any specific grudge against Taylor or even know her before Emma. I get the impression Emma was the instigator and it went beyond impressing Sophia, but I may be wrong. Wildbow always surprises us.

        • There’s also the henchgirl she saved from the Merchants. Can’t remember her name. But when Taylor is getting all accusatory about why no one helped get her out of the locker, she starts to mention that Emma said something…

          We never got a full answer there. Also, I think there had to be a reason Emma’s dad came back to the city in that one interlude. Maybe I’m wrong and there is no more story there, but I’ve wanted to see Taylor get some revenge personally.

          While she’s at it, perhaps she could stop by a couple places for me to cause some chaos:

          1501 4th Avenue, Suite 2050, Seattle, WA 98101

          18 True Tower, Ratchadapiek Road, Huai Khwang, Bangkok 103 Thailand

          and the last and most important, she should go here if she can only pick one:

          158-16 NCSOFT R&D Center B/D, Samsung-dong, Gangam-gu, Seoul, South Korea

  23. as for the wordwrap problem: it does not appear on my blog, nor does it appear on a few other wordpress blogs I know. so it’s probably not a problem in wordpress. maybe it’s the theme you’ve chosen? but then again, how come it does not affect you, wildbow?

    • reading through the comments on this page I saw a few with it towards the middle and otherwise haven’t seen any. I’m using FF on Win7 64bit. Really don’t know how to make sense of it all given the conflicting seeming causes.

  24. FYI to my readers – I’m away this weekend. Saturday’s chapter is written & scheduled to go up, but I may not have (reliable?) internet access, so please don’t be offended if I’m not prompt in responding to comments/issues.

    I’ll be back before the weekend is over and I hope to resolve whatever the issue is with word-wrap.

  25. Hey Wildbow, just commenting to let you know there is something wrong with the ‘Piggy’ tag. It isn’t including the most recent chapters, just this interlude then all the way back to Sentinel. Maybe you tagged her differently in the more recent ones (Director Piggot?).

    Also wow. Never figured Piggy was a soldier. Very interesting.

  26. Okay weird question for you Wildblow. During the school meeting scene, it is mentioned that Sophia’s guardian that is brought along isn’t her mother. Would that mean that it was someone that was watching over her Ward activities? If so, wouldn’t that mean that the heroes actually had more than a little knowledge of Sophia’s bullying and yet still did nothing even though she was on a sort of probation? Or am I just wrong about the woman’s identity?

      • RIGHT! Especially since she is on probation, I just want to know what the administration was thinking just letting it continue on (Again assuming the woman was actually from the Wards) that they allowed this to happen, and if you realize it, use blatant blackmail in front of the people. Remember the big reveal of that chapter was that Emma had ShadowStalker pull out a letter talking about what happened, and Sophia’s guardian didn’t say anything about THAT completely illegal act. I mean come on, her cape identity talking about what happened between her best friend and the girl that she has been bullying, and NO ONE mentioned that maybe they shouldn’t let that happen? That could really mess with the ward PR if it ever came out .

        • It is obvious isn’t it. They are A$$holes who care more about their PR than innocent people. Piggot mentions in Weld’s interlude that they are very worried about a big backlash against people with powers. With the sheer number of villains and the heroes less than perfect performance, I think the only reason there hasn’t been a backlash is that they are meat for the grinder that is the Endbringers. So her job is to make sure they don’t look too bad. I think Piggot knew what was happening but chose not stop it because if she did, then the public would find out that a CAPE who is on probation was allowed to relentlessly make an innocent girls life hell and the PRT, and by extension the heroes would look bad for allowing it to happen. Rather than risk the public finding out, she let it continue. Makes me wonder what happened to shadowstalker after Regent left her hanging. It will also make this an interesting conversation if Tattletale finds out that Piggot is connected to Taylor’s bullying.

          • Ironically, that whole thing might have gone better for her if she had lost her temper, gone bug happy and been found out.

            If Taylor was a parahuman, then it was no longer a parahuman bullying a normal girl if things got out. Rather it was cape versus cape, and Skitter was (at that point in the PRT’s eyes) likely to come out on top of a who’s more stable competition.

          • It doesn’t really make sense in that light, either. “PRT facilitates cape bullying” coming to light is a lot worse PR-vise than “PRT oversight catches a bad apple”.

            Not to mention Piggot hates capes because she considers them monsters and bullies. I find it hard to believe she wouldn’t have come down on Sophia like a one eight ton of bricks had she known about her conduct.

  27. I wonder… could the local PRT’s shitty behavior (countenancing Shadow Striker, refusing to deploy against the 9, covering up Armsmaster) have been caused by Piggot thinking that such behavior would be the only orders that would be obeyed?

  28. Rinke was a master who can make these things: real living creatures.

    “can” should be “could”

    Also, now THAT was entertaining.

  29. Since as far as I can tell, no one has made the obvious joke yet, I shall provide it.

    Courtesy of Troll 2: “Nilbog is goblin backwards!”

  30. DUDE! Brilliant interlude here. OMG, Once I realized it was Piggot; I about crapped myself. Well done, very well done. And Nilbog; total badass, Am looking forward to more occurances of him.

    • Nilbog makes badasses. He’s kind of deluded and stuff, himself.

      But yeah. Someone like him? With the PRT trying to cover upall their mistakes, the Nine recruiting desperately, the world ending and things going down the pipes no matter what happens? We’re seeing Jamie Rinke again.

  31. “It’s cold. Rain isn’t helping, but I’m not seeing anything except you guys. Not even a smudge in the darkness”

    Missing a full stop. Cheers babes =)

  32. So your reaction to the almost unanimous “finally someone we dont like or simpatice with getting hurt” response is to throw in a character development chapter that pretty much makes one want to root for piggot……………….

    i both love you and hate you right now you wonderful wonderful asshole

  33. “whatever’s in there’s just warm that it was probably living”
    Missing a word like “enough” here?

    Anyway. Yick, terrifying. Nice to have a view into why Nilbog is so feared though. Shudder.

  34. So many comments about Nilbog but so few about Piggot and the Calvert guy? I have to say my opinion of Piggot both skyrocketed and plummeted simultaneously. She was badass being able to survive that helltrap but now she is straight up racist against people with powers! Calvert seemed to be a budding psychotic so I seriously hope he got stuck in some jail cell for a long time though the way Worm seems to work he’ll probably end up being another client of Cauldron once he gets out. I am seriously curious who those capes were that were supposed to be with this group. Not a single one stayed to help? Really? I need to take note of these assholes so that my future opinions can be colored appropriately.

    And as others have said…Nilbog is freaking scary. I can see why the government leaves him alone though. If the man is crazy enough to stay in his little town and there is nothing worse saving there might as well concede the defeat rather than risk massive collateral damage if your ill advised plan to kill him fails as horribly as the first few. This chapter also serves to make me wonder yet again why everyone keeps dissing Skitter. Rule Number Whatever seems to state rather elogantly: Don’t Fuck With Masters.

    • We were told somewhere (by Wildbow in a comment, I think?) that the scale doesn’t stop at ten, but that anything higher is rare. So I agree that it seems slightly odd a seven is “off the charts”: possibly they’re just preparing for the worst because of what he’d pulled off, assuming a higher rating so they wouldn’t let their guard down. After all, over-compensation is something the PRT try to make a point of when they can.

  35. The horrible thought that they might be people crossed his mind. The notion that this was a psychological trick, that he was under the influence of a power, gunning down civilians…

    Getting closer. But if someone wanted you to gun down civilians without knowing it, they wouldn’t show you grief reactions…

    • It specifically said that one monster that they thought was Rinke had a belly full of dead people. I wonder why they had no heat signatures, though, given that that should have required the delusional psychopath thinking that maybe they would come after him with people equipped with heat-vision goggles and that he would want to launch an ambush.

  36. Well, it would be like that if she was sane. But she’s the one who decided it was a good idea to risk making the endbringers win every fight by breaking the truce, just to get a few of the less dangerous Nine.

    • I really don’t think Crawler counts as one of the less dangerous of the Nine…Given another few years to power up the guy could become as difficult to off as an Endbringer.

      I really don’t think she risked breaking the truce like everyone else seems to both in universe and out though. Piggot clearly told the people in harm’s way what was about to happen. She was a bit haughty and arrogant about it and clearly would’ve preferred they all die in the blast together but if she hadn’t said anything then it’s quite possible a lot more of the group would’ve lost their lives. No one had asked the Undersiders to get involved anyway so the situation is a lot different from the bullshit that Armsmaster pulled with leaving cannon fodder as bait. Even his move was a bit borderline in my books. Are they both unrepentant assholes? Yeah definitely. But I don’t think they truly crossed the line. (Well, actually Armsmaster crossed it for me when he took out Skitter’s armband with an EMP but not with the cannon fodder plan.)

  37. Rereader here, just came across one of those magical moments that makes rereading worth it:
    Thomas Calvert… Definitely heard that name before…

    Holy bleeping bleeper bleep bleep bleep gah. Gah! Jeez…

    • First time reader here, I appreciate the bleeps and will keep an eye out for that name.

      Hang on, could it be Coil? Wanting powers fits, Wildbow’s skill at setting up important information innocuously fits, even the kind of power he might have got if he’d triggered in the escape fits (shoot his captain in one timeline, wait for him in the other). Maybe Cauldron can grant powers you would have got from ‘near trigger experiences’.

      As I said, first time reader so if I’m right it’s pure luck.

  38. >Not even a smudge in the darkness”

    Missing a full stop.

    >The mask a patchwork cloth that covered his face, with only two dark holes for his eyes.

    Missing a ‘was’ to function as an independent sentence.

    >Rinke was a master who can make these things: real living creatures.


    >crushing it as though it was paper.


  39. Holy crap, I did not expect to hear Piggot’s origin story. The interlude happens in a perfect time too, considering that Taylor just captured her.

  40. A little after the narrator realizes what Rinke’s classification is, I realized a couple of semi-related things, which I’m not sure I’d put into words before.
    One: Panacea doesn’t have a classification noted during the story, but I would list her as a Master. (The initial conclusions from the exploration of Ellisburg- no one has evacuated, the native life is completely absent, and the place is overrun with things matching no known species- made me think that the simplest explanation would be someone completely amoral running around loose with Amy’s powers. Every animal of every species was harvested as raw material for the new things they wanted to build. Millions of years of evolution overwritten with the work of a single intelligent designer.)

    Two: The reason she never has a classification given is that despite her use of a codename and strong identification with the heroes of New Wave, functionally she’s a rogue. The vast majority of her work with her powers is outside of combat, and totally unconcerned with law-vs-chaos or good-vs-evil affiliations; she’s only used them to fight when her life is directly threatened.

    • Panacea is definitely primarily a Striker, as her power requires contact, but she probably gets a secondary classification of Master and maybe Trump.

  41. Hmmm, this chapter has the worst writing of any of yours that I’ve read so far. It was a real slog to get though the massive infodump at the start. You could have trimmed a lot of fat out of it and done a bit more showing and less telling. And you probably shouldn’t attempt to write military fiction until you understand it a bit better, most of the conversation was completely unrealistic and jarring to read. I suspect this is a symptom of trying to write too fast.

    Given the importance of Thomas Calvert here (I’m 3 chapters ahead) I really thought his dialogue should have been done more convincingly.

    Very interesting topic for an interlude though.

  42. On the reasonable seeming assumption that it IS Piggot this chapter just broke another of the ‘rules’ of the interludes: not repeating a viewpoint character. Disappointing, but hardly surprising. This after her first interlude broke the ‘all viewpoint characters must have powers’ ‘rule’.

    Piggot, hasn’t anyone told you it’s supposed to be the paras who break the basic rules of your multiverse?

  43. Is the author under the mistaken impression that all bombs are fire bombs?
    Most bombs are blast-frag weapons. It wouldn’t take many to totally wipe out that village of monsters, given that carbine bullets were killing them. Whatever the creator is wearing that makes him bullet resistant, its way to small to save him from a 500 lbs bomb, let alone one of the big 2000 lbs ones.

    I find it bizarre that there were three infantry teems there, and air support. A single gunship would have been able to mow down everything there.

    • For the infantry versus gunship, they were expecting to have to hunt down a single individual who didn’t necessarily want to be found (and presumably didn’t show a heat signature any more than his creations did), not the target rich environment they ended up in.

  44. Why do they have assault rifles? What are assault rifles? Can you give a description next time? I think what you meant to say was “automatic rifle.” But there are no such things as assault rifles. Rifles can be used in an assault, but “assault” isn’t a type of weapon.

  45. «Rinke dropped the sack, gripped the sheet with both hands and hurled it towards them.» what sheet? There was no mention of it before, yet you expect me to know what “the sheet” is now?

  46. I’ve always been confused by why the briefing and discussion of Rinke is done after the team disembarks. They get off the chopper, step into hostile territory, and THEN have a discussion about who they are up against? it just seems a little off. I know the explanation was given for the audiences benefit, but maybe the briefing could be done while on the helicopter? Just a though for if/when you turn this into a book. Otherwise, great chapter.

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