Migration 17.3

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“Hey!”  Krouse screamed at the soldiers.  “We need medical attention!”

There was no response.

“They can’t hear you,” Jess said.  “They’re too far away.”

“Fuckers!”  He shouted.  Stepping forward, he roared, “Why!?”

The loudspeaker blared, “Step away from the fence!

The man in charge must have given an order, because every gun present moved to point their way.  As one, Krouse and his friends backed a healthy distance away from the fence.

“Bastards,” Krouse muttered.

There was a distant rumble.  The Simurgh ascended from the skyline a mile away, a half-dozen uprooted buildings orbiting lazily around her.  As chunks of concrete came free of the ruined ends of the structures, they too orbited her, a protective shield.

Or a weapon.  Each of her wings curled forward, and the smaller pieces orbiting her went flying ahead, simultaneously striking a hundred targets Krouse and his friends couldn’t see.  Scion fired one beam, and she moved one of the apartment complexes she was lifting to put it between herself and Scion.  The goal seemed to be less about blocking the attack and more about hiding herself from Scion’s sight so she could take evasive action.

“Cover!” Cody shouted.

The angle of the beam meant that they were in the path of the resulting devastation, the remaining chunks of the building sent flying in their general direction.  Shouting incoherently and screaming, they ran to take shelter around the corner of the nearest building.

Chunks of concrete, pavement and metal hit with enough force that they cracked brick and etched divots intp the snow-covered road.

“Oh god,” Marissa said, sliding down to sit where the sidewalk met the base of the house, “Oh god.”

“How’s Noelle?” Krouse asked.

“Pale,” Jess answered.  “You awake, No’?”

There was no response.

“She’s still breathing?”

“Yeah,” Jess said, pulling off a glove and reaching over.

Krouse closed his eyes.  There was nothing they could do for Noelle just yet.  He glanced at each of his friends, to gauge how they were handling things.  They looked scared, Jess most of all.  But she was the one with the biggest idea of what was going on.  She was the one who read the websites and magazines about capes, who had the best idea of how the Simurgh operated.  Marissa looked lost in thought, no doubt grieving over the brutal death of her best friend.  Luke’s face was drawn with tension, suggesting he was in more pain than he was letting on, and Cody looked angry.

Not that Cody was wrong to feel that way.  The people who were supposed to be on their side were putting them in danger with attacks that sent chunks of concrete flying halfway across the city.  Or, on a more mundane level, they were fencing them inside the city’s limits and threatening them with guns.

“Luke?  Your leg?”

“Doesn’t hurt that much.  I think it’s pretty shallow,” Luke said, bending down and touching his pants leg.  It was red-brown of blood, and had frozen stiff enough that it was only about as flexible as cardboard.

“It doesn’t look shallow.”

“I’m more worried about Noelle,” Luke said.  “We should get inside, try to get her warmer and see if there’s anything we can do for her.  If we can find supplies to bandage my leg, that’s a bonus.”

“Let’s go, then.  Is this place okay?”  Krouse looked at the house they were huddled beside.

“It’s a little close to the guys with guns for my liking,” Luke said.

“Yeah, but if there’s trouble, maybe they’ll come help us,” Krouse pointed out.

“Doubt it,” Jess said.

He turned her way, but the way her lips were pursed suggested she wasn’t planning on elaborating.

They moved around the building until they found a door.  Use of the doorbell and liberal knocking didn’t get a response from anybody inside.  After Jess was set down, Cody and Oliver took turns kicking at the door, to little effect.  They quickly abandoned that idea.  Not like it is in the movies.

They had to wait while Cody used a fencepost to shatter a basement window and climbed inside.  It would be a minute or two before he reached the front door and unlocked it from the inside.

“Hope there’s nobody hiding in there,” Oliver muttered.  Mewled might have been a better word.

Krouse didn’t generally dislike Oliver, but the guy was hard to like, too.  He’d joined the group when they’d started their gaming club at school, had once been one of Noelle’s friends, back when they were in kindergarten or something.  Now he was in a few of Krouse’s classes, but despite the associations, he remained a second string member of the group.  Krouse was willing to admit to himself that Oliver was a second string friend, too.  He was short, a little pudgy, with an unfortunate haircut and no real personality, rarely joining in of his own volition.

Marissa had done everything her mother had asked of her, fought to be number one in ballet, number one in violin, number one in dance, in the pageant circuit, in grades and in countless other things.  In each case, Marissa had either broken down under the pressure or it had become clear that first place wasn’t in reach.  Her mom would let up for a few weeks, and then push the next thing.  It had only been at the start of eleventh grade that Marissa had finally put a stop to it and pursued something that her mom didn’t understand and couldn’t pressure her on.  The gaming club.  The drive to win had stuck with her, and she’d still remained Marissa at the end of it all.

Oliver’s mom was a hardass in her own way, too, but he had buckled under that domineering pressure, breaking rather than thriving.  In contrast to Marissa, his identity had been ground away.

“I’m scared,” Oliver said.

Grow up.  “We’re all pretty fucking scared,” Krouse said.

“Look at them,” Oliver was looking past the fence and across the park to where the soldiers were standing.  “When Cody broke that window, they tensed, like they thought we were a danger to them.”

Krouse glanced at Jess, saw her staring hard at the ground.  “Maybe we are.  Jess?  You seem to have a better idea of what’s going on than any of us.”

“You never followed this stuff?  You really don’t know?”

“What is she?  What can she do?  Why are we under quarantine and why did Grandiose’s team kill him?”

She averted her eyes.  “Let’s wait until Cody’s with us, so I don’t have to explain twice.”

Fuck waiting for Cody,” Krouse said.

“Krouse!” Luke admonished him.

“This shit is important!  She’s stalling because it’s bad, but we need to know if it’s that bad.”

“We’ll wait for Cody,” Marissa said.  Luke nodded in agreement.

Krouse scowled.

It was another minute before they heard the clatter of the latch on the other side of the door being opened.

“Place is empty,” Cody said.  “Basement was such a mess I had to wade through all the crap down there.”

Krouse was the first inside.  It was someone’s house, but messy.  Stacks of magazines covered every surface in the living room, there were plastic bags with the tops tied sitting underneath the hall table, and artwork that included paintings, clay figures, vases, and bird sculptures sat on every surface that wasn’t occupied.

Where are they?  He wondered.  He’d assumed that anyone who hadn’t evacuated while he and his friends were getting free of the toppled apartment building was hiding out.  Had the residents here cleared out?

He found a couch and got into a sitting position, easing Noelle down.  He rubbed his shoulders where the sleeves of her shirt had been pulling at him while Marissa and Oliver handled getting Noelle from a sitting to a prone position.

“On her side,” Marissa said.  “There’s a lot of blood in her mouth, and we don’t want her choking.”

Oliver nodded, and Krouse found space to get close and help them shift Noelle over.  Once she was in position, he seated himself on the oak coffee table, elbows on his knees, facing her.

She was white to the point that she was pushing pushing past pink and moving into the bluer hues, and she had a purple-brown bruising around her eyes.  The blood around her nose and mouth was caked on thick.  Some had gotten onto her coat and sweatshirt.

“She’s still breathing?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Marissa said.  She touched Noelle’s throat, and Noelle shifted, pulling away.  “Shhh.  It’s okay.  Just checking your pulse.  It’s weak.”

Can’t stand this.  Seeing her like this, when I can’t help her.  Krouse turned to look at Jess, where Cody was settling her into an armchair.  “You were going to explain.”

“I don’t know if I should.”

“We have to know what’s going on, what to watch out for.  This screaming in our heads-”

“Don’t remind me,” Cody said.  “Fuck me, I’m losing my mind.”

“That’s what I was going to ask,” Krouse said, staring at Jess.  “Are we losing our minds?”

“Not… not permanently,” Jess said.

“Oh god,” Marissa said.

“It’s what happened in… what was that place called?  Lausanne?  Switzerland.  She showed up, and nobody wanted to pick a fight with her, and they were curious, so they studied her, and tried to communicate with her.  Tons of people gathered.  Then she… sang?  Screamed?  Whatever this is.  There was chaos, people didn’t know what was happening, so they weren’t able to evacuate that well.  Roads clogged.  And then they started flipping out.  Emotions ramped up, inhibitions lowered, flashbacks to old traumas.  And a lot of the emotion that got juiced up was fear.  People can do pretty stupid, dangerous things when afraid.”

Oliver put his hands to his head, his fingers scrunching up his hair, his eyes wide.  “She’s getting into our heads?”

We have nothing to fear but fear itself, only it’s taken literally, Krouse thought.  Aloud, he asked, “It goes away?”

“A temporary break in sanity can be pretty devastating,” Marissa said, her voice small.

“Yeah,” Jess said.  “But it’s still temporary.”

“So that’s why they’re scared?  They think any guy with superpowers that loses his mind is too big a danger?  And the army guys are there in case we turn into a rabid, panicked mob?”  Krouse asked.

“…Yeah,” Jess replied.

Krouse hadn’t missed the delay before she’d spoken.  It had only been a fraction of a second, but it had been there.

“So we just need to minimize the damage we can do if worst comes to worst,” Luke said.  He’d settled in the armchair beside Jess, and was rolling up the frozen leg of his jeans.

Krouse studied Jess, saw how she was looking hard at the ground.  That pause: there was something she wasn’t saying.  Was she lying about it being temporary?

“I’m going to go see if I can scrounge up anything to take care of that leg,” Marissa said.

“Thanks,” Luke said.

“Oliver,” Krouse said.  “Find blankets?  Look for a linen cupboard.  Something we can put around Noelle to warm her up.  Maybe around Luke, too.”

“And me, if it’s no trouble,” Jess said.  “The circulation in my legs isn’t so good, and the idea of what might happen if they get cold is pretty scary.”

“Okay,” Oliver said, hurrying to obey.

Jess added, “And what are you doing, Krouse?”

“I’ll watch Noelle,” he said, his voice firm.

She frowned.  “Can you get us some water?  Or juice, maybe?  Both Noelle and Luke have lost blood, they’ll need to avoid getting dehydrated.”

“But Noelle-”

I’ll watch Noelle in the meantime.  I’m not good for much else right now.  Don’t worry.  You’ll be in earshot if there’s trouble.”

“Right,”  Krouse reluctantly agreed.  He stood and went looking for the kitchen.

He found a carton of orange juice, a plastic container of cranberry, and glasses.  He had to search for a pitcher to put water in, opening cupboards.

He stopped when he reached the far corner of the kitchen.  There was a small banging noise, repetitive.  Too small to be the house’s residents.

No.  the back door of the house opened into an enclosed back patio with a dining room table and heavy green curtains blocking each of the windows.  On top of the table was a cage with a small bird inside.  A cockatoo or something.  The bird was standing on the floor of its home, slowly, steadily and monotonously banging its head against the raised metal lip of the cage.  Blood and bloody bird footprints joined the bird shit that spattered the newspaper that lined the cage.

She affects animals too.  Is this what’s in store for us?  It was unnerving to watch, to imagine that it could easily be him doing the same thing, sometime in the near future.  That steady, mindless kind of self harm.  Suicide by compulsive repetition, beating his head to a pulp against the nearest solid surface… if he was lucky.  He was a human with opposable thumbs, and there were a hell of a lot of ugly things he could do to himself if that fucking bird woman decided to push him that far.  Just as bad, there were ugly things that he could do to others.

He looked away to find something that could serve as an improvised pitcher for the water, and his eyes caught on something.

He returned his eyes to the cage.  He’d been scared, earlier, had felt genuine fear for Noelle’s well being, for his own.  But this was something else entirely.  What he was experiencing now wasn’t fear, but despair.  He backed away, thinking hard.  Too many things weren’t making sense, but this threatened to bring everything into a kind of clarity he didn’t want.

He found a knife, returned to the cage, and then grabbed the bird in one fist.  It didn’t struggle or resist as he held it down, severing its head with one clean stroke.

It’s just a dumb fucking bird, but it doesn’t deserve to suffer.

Maybe he could hope for the same.

Can’t let anyone else see this and get freaked out.  He disposed of the cage’s contents in the nearest wastebin.  He found a combination sheath and knife sharpener in the kitchen drawer, tucked the knife away and stuck it in his back pocket, covered by his jacket.

Better to be armed if another monster shows.

Before anyone could come looking for him, he grabbed a flower vase and started rinsing it out in the sink.  He tried not to think too much on the subject of what he’d seen, but was unable to break his train of thought any more than he could free himself of the steady, endless screaming in his head.  There were enough notes to it now that it almost did sound like singing.  Something a few notches above soprano in pitch, holding long notes that stretched on just enough for him to get used to them.  Then they changed, jarring his thoughts, never settling into a pattern.  It was as if it were designed to rattle him.

He finished filling the vase and, with a little more force than was necessary, he snatched a tray from between the microwave and the neighboring cabinet.  Dropping it onto the counter, almost relishing the clatter it made for the distraction from the screaming in his head, he collected all the glasses and drinks.

Marissa had already returned to the living room by the time he brought the tray through, and was working with Cody to disinfect and clean Luke’s wound.  Noelle wasn’t moving, and Oliver was still occupied elsewhere.  That left Jess on her own, watching Noelle with an eye on what the others were doing.

Krouse put the drinks down at the end of the couch.  “Jess?  Water or juice?”


He poured a cup and brought it to her.  He didn’t let go as she took hold of it.

“Krouse?”  Her brow furrowed.

He leaned close, kept his voice quiet, “Please tell me I’m losing my mind.”

“What do you mean?”

He hissed, “This thing with the Simurgh, the singing, it’s not even half the problem here, is it?  We’re far more fucked than that.”

He noticed the way she averted her eyes.

“You know, don’t you?  You figured it out, too?  The way you’ve been acting.”

“When did you find out?”

“When I was in the kitchen.”

“It’s not a priority.  We need to get help for those guys and-”

He gripped the glass harder, jerked it a little to make sure he had her attention.  “No.  Don’t dodge the question.  You’re keeping way too fucking quiet on all of this shit.  About this, about the singing in our heads, you’re hiding something else about the Simurgh.”

“It wouldn’t help to tell,” Jess said.  “They’d panic, and we need to focus on taking care of Noelle and Luke.”

“We damn well need to know what we’re up against,” he hissed, maybe a bit louder than before.

“Krouse?” Luke asked.  “Jess, you okay?”

“We’re just talking,” Jess said, looking at Krouse.

He let go of the glass, letting her take it, and straightened.

“If that Simurgh is going to play up our emotions, we need to stay on the level,” Luke said, eyeing them,  “Keep calm, cooperate.  No whispering, or you’ll make the rest of us paranoid.”

“Right,” Jess said, looking at Krouse, “That makes sense.  We should watch our words, in case we make others unnecessarily upset.”

Krouse gave her a long look.  “Fine.”

“What’s going on?” Luke asked.  “You two are acting funny.”

“It’s nothing,” Jess said.  “Not important right now.  How’s your leg, Luke?”

“Deeper than we thought,” Marissa said.  “We-”

The crack of gunfire interrupted her explanation.  The initial burst was followed by a longer, steadier stream of shots.  Something broke just outside, and everyone in the house that was able threw themselves to the ground for cover.

“They’re shooting at us!” Oliver shouted from the stairwell.

“Get down!” one of the girls urged him.

Oliver hurried down the stairs and then lay down in the front hallway of the house, hands on his head.

The gunfire stopped.

“What in the blue fuck?” Luke asked.  He was still in the chair, hadn’t moved.  “Why the hell did they do that?”

“Not us,” Marissa said, as she gingerly rose from her crouch to stare out the window of the living room.  “Trouble.”

Krouse climbed to his feet.  A sheer, translucent curtain showed a figure by the fence.  The sheer curtains masked the details, but Krouse could make out a pair of short horns on the thing’s forehead, marking it as one of the monsters.

“We’re not safe here,” Luke said.

“We’re not safe anywhere,” Marissa said.

Krouse hurried across the room to check on Noelle.  She’d been periodically rousing to mutter something before drifting back to unconsciousness, but the fact that she hadn’t moved in response to the gunfire was alarming.

“Hey, Noelle,” he said.  He brushed her hair away from her face.  She was paler than before, and the bruising  around her eyes was worse.  Even in the past few minutes, she’d gotten worse, not better.  “Give me a response?  Anything?”

There was nothing.  I wish I knew something about first aid.  Something that could help.

Two gunshots echoed in the distance.  A low, faint rumble marked a series of attacks from Scion or the Simurgh.  Buildings falling.

Without looking away, he said, “Marissa.”


“I need you to give Noelle a thorough check-up.  I… I don’t think she’d want me to do it, or see.  She was always sensitive about that stuff.”

Even hugs, even kissing, or holding hands, they were things that she’d parceled out with reluctance.  She wouldn’t want him manhandling her, checking for injuries.

He stood up to make room for Marissa to get close, stepped back.  Marissa began undoing Noelle’s jacket.

“Do you want me to move Jess closer, so she can help?”  He asked.

“No,” Marissa said.  “I can handle this, I think.  What am I looking for?”

“She shouldn’t be this pale, but there’s not a lot of blood, except around her nose and mouth.  Check for injuries?  I’m worried she’s bleeding into her boot or her jacket or something.  I don’t know.”

“I’ll look.”

Oliver had headed back upstairs and was making his way down with an armful of sheets.  Krouse grabbed one and threw it at Luke, “Cover your head.”

“You’re being a little extreme,” Luke said.

“Do it.”

“I’m not saying I won’t.  I’m just saying you’re being a little intense about it.”

Krouse spread his hands.  “I don’t know how to help her.  I-  all I know is that she cares about that stuff.  If nothing else, I want to respect that.”

“She’s modest,” Oliver suggested.

Krouse twitched with irritation.  He wanted to stab his finger in Oliver’s face, growl, you don’t know her.

He bit his tongue and kept from reacting, reminded himself that he was under the influence of that incessant screaming in his head, a constant pressure on his psyche.  If he let himself slip, he knew how easily he could transition into tearing into Oliver, expressing all the frustration he had over how passive and submissive and fucking whiny he was.  The guy wouldn’t even fight back.

Noelle’s not modest.  She’s damaged, Krouse thought.  He glanced at Marissa, and he didn’t say anything.

“Are the rest of you guys going to move to another room, then?” Marissa asked.

“Yeah,” Krouse said.

He, Cody and Oliver retreated to the kitchen, while Luke reclined in the armchair with his leg propped up and a folded sheet over his face.

“She could die,” Cody said, once they’d reached the kitchen.

Krouse tensed.

“Just saying.  It was bad when we were getting out of the apartment, and it’s getting worse.”

“We’ll help her.”

Cody nodded.

A minute passed, and Oliver turned his attention to searching the cupboards for food.  He found a fruity cereal and poured some out into his hand.  Krouse took some for himself, chewing on it.

Cody’s eyes narrowed as he glanced away.  “I don’t like you, Krouse.”

“This isn’t exactly the time to hold onto old grudges.”

“I know.  I know that.  I’m just saying, I think you’re an asshole.  I think you’ll fuck the rest of us over if it means serving your own ends or helping Noelle.  But we can’t afford to fight between us.  Whatever I think of you, we can’t afford to be enemies.”

“That was never a concern,” Krouse shrugged.  He heard Marissa, Jess, and Luke exchanging words in low voices.  He stepped closer to the door to listen in, keeping his eyes averted.  He couldn’t make out the words.  He wasn’t really hearing the screaming in his head, but it was almost drowning out the faint, muffled words.

Cody muttered something under his breath.  “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Put me down, act like I’m not worth your attention.”

“I wasn’t.  I was saying I wasn’t stressed about us being enemies.”

“You phrased it like you wouldn’t care even if I was your enemy.”

You are, and I don’t, really.

Krouse shrugged.

“You have no problems benefiting off my hard work, but you look down on me, you talk down to me.  I’m inconsequential to you.”

“I thought we weren’t enemies,” Krouse said, turning.

“We aren’t.  I’m just saying you’re making it really hard to be allies.”

Krouse shook his head.  “Okay.  Whatever.  Change of topic: what kind of stuff was in the basement?”

“Anything and everything.”

“I’m going to go look, while we wait for Jess and Marissa to finish.”

“I’ll come with.  We shouldn’t go anywhere alone,” Cody said.

They headed downstairs, and Oliver followed.

Piles of magazines, piles of tupperware, pieces of wood lashed together, bags of old clothes… Anything and everything.

Krouse began digging through the stuff.  He tossed all the bags of clothes into one corner to forge a path.

“I asked her out first,” Cody said.

“Uh huh.”

“But when she said she wasn’t interested, I accepted that.  I walked away.  Stayed her friend.  You didn’t.  You slithered your way in, pressured her.”

“I just let her know I was still interested, while respecting the boundaries she set.  If you don’t believe me, ask her.”

“I might not get the chance, if she doesn’t get better.”

Krouse flinched.  “Let’s drop this topic of conversation.”

“Why?  You keep doing that, trying not to talk about stuff.  Is it because you know I’m right?”

“It’s because we know that whatever happens, this screaming in our head is going to push us to the edge.  Any argument could turn ugly if we aren’t careful, and I’m not forgetting that you wanted to hit me before.  What’s to say you won’t try again, with a weapon in your hand?”

“Fuck you.  I have self control.”

“If self control was all it took, I don’t think the Simurgh would have Jess as scared as she is, and I don’t think they’d be blowing up the superheroes who spend too long listening to this never-ending motherfucking scream in their heads.  We should stick to talking about this shit, the danger we’re in right here, right now.”

“Mm,” Cody grunted.  “What are we looking for?”



Krouse stepped over a few garbage bags.  He found a tool bench, and grabbed a short hatchet from where it hung on the wall.  Holding it by the head, he extended the handle towards Cody.

“Are you insane?” Cody didn’t touch it.

“If we run into another monster, we’ll need to defend ourselves.”

“Didn’t you just finish saying we’re in a dangerous mental state?  We’re more dangerous to each other than the monsters are.  And you want to walk around with weapons, so we can kill each other if someone snaps?”

“I want to walk around with weapons so we’re safe.  If you’re not going to take this, then Oliver…”  He extended the handle to Oliver.

He paused.  “Oliver?”

Oliver looked haunted, his eyes wide, staring at the wall.  Krouse had to double check that there was nothing there.  “Oliver!”

Oliver jumped.  When he looked at Krouse, his eyes were shiny with tears.

“You okay?”  Cody asked.

“I’m… no,” Oliver said.  He didn’t expand on the thought.

Krouse extended the hatchet’s handle towards his friend, “If I give you this so you can protect yourself, you’re not going to hurt yourself, are you?”

Oliver reacted as though he’d been slapped.  “No!”

“Then take it.”

Oliver did, weighing the weapon in one hand.

Krouse found a battery operated nailgun, fiddled with it to find the clip and check the number of nails inside.  He pulled the safety at the nozzle back and fired an experimental shot into a black plastic bag.

“This is a mistake,” Cody said.  “A ranged weapon?  We walk upstairs with this stuff, and in half an hour we’ll have killed and butchered each other.”

“If we’re going to go crazy enough to kill each other,” Krouse said, “We’ll find ways to hurt each other anyways.  I’m more concerned about us living through the next half hour.  With Noelle living through the next half hour.”

Cody frowned.

“Anyways, the nail gun’s useless.  It’s not going to do any real damage to anything like those monsters we ran into,” Krouse said.  He put it back on the workbench, grabbed a crowbar with a pickaxe head.

“Give me that one,” Cody said.

“Just remember what you said.  We’re not enemies.  If you have to, tell yourself it’s more satisfying to beat my face in with your fists.”

“We’re not enemies,” Cody said.  “And I have enough self control.  I’m more worried about what you’re going to pull.”

Krouse touched the small chainsaw that hung on the wall, saw Cody and Oliver stiffening in alarm, and decided against it.  Instead, he walked over to the corner, where duct piping and curtain rods were stacked against the wall.

He pulled one curtain rod free.  It had fleur-de-lis caps on the ends, and was apparently made out of cast iron.  Or stainless steel fashioned to look like cast iron.  It was thin enough that it might bend after one good hit, but it would serve as a functional spear.

Seizing a hammer in his other hand, Krouse said, “Let’s go see how they’re doing.”

Cody looked at the crowbar and frowned, but he followed without protest.

“It’s bad,” Jess said, as Krouse knocked and approached the living room.

“How bad?”

Marissa had removed Noelle’s jacket, and she hiked up Noelle’s shirt and sweater to show her stomach.  It was bruised to the point of being purple-black, and the right side was swelling in an ugly way, nearly twice as thick as the other side of her abdomen.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know.  But it’s stiff, hard.  She might be bleeding inside.  Or a hernia?  Something could have torn loose and shifted places, inside.”

Krouse nodded.  He felt his blood run cold, but he wasn’t surprised.  This was just a confirmation of what he’d already suspected.

“What are we going to do?”

“I’ll look for a doctor,” Krouse said.

“What?” Cody asked, “Are you insane?”

“I know it’s risky-”

“No shit,” Cody said.

“But I’m willing to put my life at risk if it means we have a chance at helping Noelle.”

“If you’re playing the gallant boyfriend because of what I said in the kitchen-”

He wanted to slap sense into Cody.  He settled for raising his voice, “Fucking stop!”

Cody shut his mouth.

“We don’t have a lot of time.  Noelle doesn’t, I mean.  So I’m going.  I knew I’d probably have to, even when I asked Marissa to check Noelle over.  It’s why I grabbed this,” he lifted the spear.  “I’ve got a little something to defend myself with if it comes to that.  I’ll go, see if I can track down any groups of people, find a doctor.”

“Alone?” Jess asked.

“I’ll take any help we can get.  But I’ll go alone if I have to.”

“I’ll come,” Cody said.

Krouse suppressed a wince.  He almost didn’t want Cody to come, knew that his company would offer as many problems as help, but next to Luke, Cody was the strongest one present.

“Oliver?” he asked.

Oliver shook his head.

Damn you, you little coward.  “Okay.  Just Cody and I, then.”

“I’ll come too,” Marissa said.

Krouse nodded.  “You’ll need a weapon.  Take Oliver’s.”

She did, and Krouse handed Oliver the hammer he had in his free hand.  Krouse glanced at the others, gave Noelle one long look.  Maybe the last glimpse he’d get of her alive.

“Let’s go,” he said, swallowing around the lump in his throat.  He walked to the closet and found a heavy wool coat that hung down to his knees, a replacement for the meager fall jacket he’d been wearing.  “Sooner the better.”

Cody and Marissa followed him as he ventured outside.  He glanced at the creature that had been gunned down by the fence.  A man, fat, with rows of horns on its head and shoulders.  He glanced at the soldiers, saw the guns that were pointed his way.  They weren’t firing, but they wouldn’t show him any more mercy than they’d showed the monster.

He didn’t know what was up with that.  That was one detail Jess hadn’t shared.  The soldiers didn’t fit with the scenario she’d described.  Maybe the people who’d failed to evacuate would go crazy, become dangerous.  But even a good fence would serve to stop that.  There could be other measures, like tear gas or tasers.  But guns?  Or blowing up a superhero?

No.  There was more to that story.

“Where is everyone?” Marissa asked.  “We’ve barely seen anyone on the streets.”

“They know better,” Cody said.

“They evacuated,” Krouse corrected.  “It’s why the heroes were okay with knocking down buildings like they were.  Everyone was already cleared out.”

“So quickly?  Why didn’t we evacuate too?”

“Took us too long to get out of the apartment,” Krouse said, the lie smooth.

Marissa shook her head, but she didn’t argue any further.

With Jess staying behind, at least, he didn’t need to worry so much about Luke, Oliver or Noelle asking similar questions and coming to the same conclusions he and Jess had.  Or, just as bad, would be if they got the bright idea of going to look for their families.  Jess would dissuade and distract the others, just like he would with Marissa and Cody.

He wished he was going crazy, that this was paranoia.  But he felt an ugly feeling in the pit of his stomach, along with a hard certainty.  The pieces fit too well together.

The reason people had evacuated so quickly was because the fighting had been going on for some time.  Jess had said the Simurgh wasn’t a tinker.  She was probably right.  The Simurgh had merely copied an existing design, copied a device that had already been used once.  Making the massive halo-portal was just a question of copying the layout, remembering how the pieces had been put together, and being very, very smart.

Jess would have figured it out, once she saw enough of the capes, or when Luke had gotten lost in his neighborhood.  Even when they’d just climbed out of the apartment, she had asked why the Simurgh was here.

He thought back to the bird in the cage, and the bloody newspaper that it had been standing on.  He’d only been able to read part of the headline.  President Gillen orders…

It isn’t that Alexandria, Scion, the Simurgh and the other heroes somehow came here.  We’ve been taken there.  The Simurgh had brought them to Earth Bet.  Earth B.  It was the Earth they’d heard so much about on the internet and the news, stuff Jess had followed with such curiosity that they’d jokingly called her a cape geek.  An Earth where Japan was in shambles, a different president led the United States of America, there were a thousand times the number of parahumans, and Endbringers threatened to crush humanity in a merciless, unending battle of attrition.

They were a long, long way away from their families.

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148 thoughts on “Migration 17.3

  1. Loki-L was on the mark in the comments of the last chapter, yep (and I swore thoroughly at him/my screen for guessing it).

    Thanks for reading, guys.

    /returns to typing away until fingertips bleed. 3 of 8 done.
    Edit: happily typing away

    • Okay, so I was slightly unsure if the meaning was that the Travelers were from the main Worm reality and they were currently stuck in another world, or if they were from another reality and were now stuck in the main Worm reality.

      Alright, some thoughts now…

      The Travelers are originally from a world with vastly fewer superheroes. IIRC that puts them at well below one in a million parahumans. Interestingly, several major heroes exist in both dimensions. There’s an Alexandria, Scion, and Simurgh at the least (Unsure about Dragon). So, thoughts on what this implies.

      1. Scion and the Endbringers, if they are from other dimensions, are not from unique dimensions. This implies some weird things about interdimensional travel in Worm’s cosmology. If quantum mechanical “many worlds” theories are correct it also implies fairly strongly that there’s something extremely special that connects the two worlds.

      2. Assuming that it’s not something as simple as “large numbers and specialized connections lead to similar worlds” Cauldron has to be active in both realities for Alexandria to exist in both realities. Dragon would be the hardest to figure out, but she’s also the least certain point of similarity. Their reaction to Dragon’s blowing up the hero seems to imply as such, but it could be a trick.

      3. The Endbringers are either vastly weaker Aleph, vastly more of the world’s parahuman resources are devoted to them, or the Endbringers do not actually need the level of resources used to combat them. Honestly the Endbringers being active in both realities without causing a far more massive divergence is kind of weird.

      4. It implies weird things about the twin entities to have one world with so many more parahumans than another. It at least implies a geography to their activity. Alternately, Trigger Events may not actually happen in Aleph, it could be all Cauldron.

      Anyway, interesting revelation.

      • Alexandria and Cauldron operating in two realities can fit with the door maker and why there aren’t more missing persons reports from the case 53’s. The door maker might be able to connect to both Universes That may also explain why Scion and the Endbringers aren’t showing up all the time and they have a hard time being tracked, they are attacking/defending in the other reality. Reminds me of the TV show Fringe with their twin realities. Twin Universes and Twin Entities, coincidence? The Endbringers do not seem as active in the Travelers home universe, or it is early enough that all three Endbringers haven’t shown up yet. This fits because someone commented earlier that it seems unlikely that someone wouldn’t know about a city killing monster that periodically shows up and has killed millions of people. The Travelers home universe might already be destroyed or close to it in the present day, if they have alot less heroes/villains to slow down the Endbringers. The question that we need to ask, and that should be freaking the hell out of the Travelers if they realize, is how they and those monsters are connected.

        • Don’t forget that they have trigger events in their universe too. The two universes are closely enough linked for that kind of thing to happen in both.

          Thinking about all this can really affect things. Some dead characters might only be in another universe. Or maybe another universe dumped the Endbringers onto this one in order to get rid of them.

          Or maybe the Calvert we knew as Coil was actually Calvert from another universe and the original was really shanked in prison.

          And if I were Cauldron, I’d be looking for the other universe’s version of various important superheroes. Either they’d be a good way to infiltrate this universe with replacements or you’d be able to have your own version of the most powerful heroes around.

          And you don’t even want to get the economists started on thinking through all the implications of being linked to another universe worth full of markets.

      • 1. In one of the early chapters (when the Undersiders are watching movies from earth Aleph) it mentions that some tinker poked a hole in between two dimensions, but they can mostly just send radio waves.

        4. Having a parent or sibling with powers, whether they are related to you or not, increases you chances of a trigger even. Therefore, spending time with someone with powers increases your chances of a trigger event. Therefore more people with powers cause more trigger events which means more people with powers… etc. Even a small imbalance in the number of people with powers multiplied over multiple decades would create an exponential difference in the number of people with powers.

        Even worse than Cauldron being the cause, what if the reason there are more superheroes in Earth Bet is Simurgh?

        • Mostly radio waves, but there’s also an exchange of media and regular transmissions of news and data (mainly but not wholly) for research which is how Alec was able to get his hands on DvDs from the other world.

          • I don’t think this has to be true at all. It is just as easy to say that Cauldron has been fighting the Endbringers for a VERY long time and Skitter earth is just the newest battleground in the war. They could be manipulating this humanity because they don’t actually matter in the big picture to Cauldron. Earth Bet is just another source of disposable troops.

          • If the legitimate channels are only exchanging radio waves, data, and transmissions, then that means the only group we’ve actually seen moving between different dimensions physically is Cauldron.

            Add to that the invincible naked partially white girl they had a hand in named Siberian who is a projection of one of their top former scientists. The exact hand isn’t known yet. Oh, and then there’s the singing Shatterbird whose voice lets her fly and control glass in a way that seems telekinetic. She seems to be connected to Cauldron in that Cauldron wanted her to escape.

            I like my odds, despite my tendency to add 2 +2 and get lasertuna.

          • How does any of that say that Cauldron is working with the Endbringers? Clearly Simurgh is capable of dimension hopping so she doesn’t need Cauldron to get around.

          • “She was probably right. The Simurgh had merely copied an existing design, copied a device that had already been used once. Making the massive halo-portal was just a question of copying the layout, remembering how the pieces had been put together, and being very, very smart.”

            She could have learned it from some completely unnamed tinker off in a lab somewhere who will never show up in this story, or we can suspect the massive Cauldron conspiracy that we know has been physically crossing dimensions. But the fact that she is currently capable of making a portal doesn’t mean she never needed to learn it in the past.

            I didn’t say Cauldron is CURRENTLY working with the Endbringers because there’s this concept called time where some things have happened in our past. You know, like how there was a time before Simurgh showed up in that form in the setting. And working with can be a vague term at times. Like when Commander Shepherd is working with the Illusive Man and other terrorist operatives in Mass Effect 2.

        • The Travellers are from an alternate Earth that is clearly familiar with Taylor’s Earth (Earth Bet). Worm 3.4 indicated that Earth-Bet only has contact with one alternate world: Earth-Aleph.

          It’s vaguely possible at this point that the Travellers are from a previously unknown third Earth that has been observing Earth-Aleph in secret somehow, but based on what we know, odds are good they’re from Earth-Aleph…

      • No worries.

        As far as my favorite moments in writing go, I have two. One kind of moment is the one when I’m typing something out and something just sparks, connects and I get an idea that I never would have had if I weren’t in the midst of putting finger to key or pen to paper. The other is when I offer up a revelation that makes so much sense in retrospect and makes people want to go back and reread the older chapters in a new light/look for the clues that were dropped.

        Doing the latter is tricky, though, and as a relative novice in the writing department, I’m still testing the waters one way or another when it comes to figuring out what clues to drop and what to hint at. So I win some (Sophia), I lose some (Dinah being kidnapped, this).

        A bit of a letdown on my end, but I don’t fault you. I can only blame myself, learn from it and pray that the ones that remain in the story can make it to the grand reveal without someone guessing/spoiling it.

        • S’ok. Most of the rest of us are really good at guessing wrong. Like me. Especially me.

          Like I’m going to guess some of the same research that made Siberian and Shatterbird had also been used on making Simurgh.

        • As far as what I guessed beforehand, I had already guessed that Sophia was a cape long before it was revealed, though I hadn’t guessed Shadow Stalker. Dinah being kidnapped completely threw me off though. And by last chapter I had guessed that The Travelers weren’t in their original reality anymore, but I couldn’t guess any specifics beyond that.

        • I wouldn’t worry about it too much. To my mind your work is perfectly in the sweet spot – so unpredictable that we’re never sure what’s going to happen next but can still be chuffed when one of our guesses hit the mark.

          Even when wild mass guessing hits the nail on the head it’s always as one guess amongst multitudes. It never actually *spoils* the story because it was never more than speculation – you just sort of go “Oh hey, X guessed right. Neat!”.

        • For me this one wasn’t so much that it made me want to re-read chapters (though I have the advantage of reading them all at once rather than waiting for updates) but it did make everything suddenly click.

          The chapter name, the team name, why they were so disinterested in even the basics of the details of capes and Endbringers, plus all the stuff mentioned in the story with the people gone and the reaction of the people at the fence.

          Absolutely love that moment of everything clicking 😀

  2. And so the other shoe drops! Still many questions, even with the confirmation that they’re from another world. The similarities are curious, though I suppose it wasn’t made clear whether Krouse recognized Dragon or not- if both worlds have a Dragon, that would say a lot about how the worlds converge.

    “He glancing at each of his friends” Glanced.
    “were in Kindergarten” should that be lowercase?
    ” In each case, Marissa had either broken down under the pressure or it had become clear that first place wasn’t in reach, her mom would let up for a few weeks, and then push the next thing.” Not sure whether it should be split into two sentences or have something like ‘as’ inserted at the beginning, but the sentence seems to shift direction halfway through.
    “a heavy wool jacket that hung” maybe replace that with ‘coat’ to distinguish it from the jacket? (Woo nitpick)

    I’m enjoying this arc a lot.

  3. So she dropped an apartment building through a portal on someone else. Which means the quarantine is because anyone still in there not a hero may not actually be human and may be dangerous.

    That said, there’s still something up about the singing and Jess is not handling this the best way.

    Oh, and I guess something else we’ve learned in all this is that the Endbringers affect multiple dimensions. Either they’ve begun to focus solely on the main Worm universe for some reason, or there are analogs of them in other dimensions. Be interesting to see if two sets of Endbringers could be pitted against each other, but most likely they’d worry about each other only after everything else on earth was dead. Like AvP, if the P was running down your leg.

  4. Crap, judging by the comments thus far, there’s some confusion.

    Now to figure out which lines caused it.

    Travelers are from Earth Aleph. The other earth. They were brought to Earth Bet, Skitter’s earth. Not sure where people got the vibe that Alexandria and Scion have versions in the other earth, unless that was read from Krouse’s reactions?

    • Krouse knows who Alexandria does, or it seems that way to me, and jess specifically mentions Scion when explaining about Smurfette.

    • They go the vibe not in this installment, but because the narrative voice knew Scion and Alexandria by name, instead of ‘a man shooting gold beams’ and ‘a superheroine’.

    • It’s confusing in the if Scion, Alexandria, and the Endbringers all exist only on Earth Bet, wouldn’t it be a lot more obvious that the Travelers had been pulled into another dimension? At least as obvious as the different president cue?

    • Rewrote the second to last paragraph to clarify matters.

      I’d hoped it was clear – there’s shared information and media between universes (see chapter 3.3 or something like that where Dr. Haywire is first brought up), enough that Krouse and his friends know about the heroes in the other world, not so much that someone who isn’t a cape geek like Jess would know the details about the Simurgh’s power.

      • Ah, much clearer that you. So there is only one set of Endbringers, thank Scion. A thousand times fewer parahumans huh? Probably a much safer, and better off world than the Wormverse.

      • Speaking of Earth Aleph and Bet, why don’t the two realities exchange more important literature–technical manuals, tinker designs, and so on? Or at least, why haven’t we heard about it? I understand that there are fewer parahumans, but two realities working on similar problems is better than one. I guess any exchange that happens could be classified by the government.

        • Perhaps they do, but there’s not a particularly large amount of technological divergence? Tinker designs are hard for others to replicate in any case. Two very similar civilizations at roughly the same point in history may not be able to help each other much. And the more they do, the less noticeable it would be. If they regularly share research papers and discoveries the two would likely become more technologically similar.

          They could do it all the time, and it simply is not that relevant to most people. If technology has progressed 20% faster since Haywire broke the two worlds, and he did it 30 years ago, Worm would have 2018 tech, which isn’t really that impressively different. A bunch of processes and trademarks may have been exchanged, but if the two worlds are roughly similar it wouldn’t be that noticeable. We don’t really have many interludes focused on economics or engineering.

          • Really, what I find incongrouous is that Tinker tech hasn’t spread more. Take one good tinker and a few of their inventions spread wide could totally remake the world landscape; renewable/atomic energy, god weapons in the hands of non-capes, food replication, transportation.

            I get that everything -is- changing because of the capes, but in universe B, the spread of tech should have changed everything pretty much beyond recognition already.

            Certainly portable fusion generators should be the easiest advancement, making all the “power outages everywhere” less of a thing.

            Pretty much the only item of new tech that we’ve seen outside of the hands of a tinker or Dragon is the containment foam. So all the scientists in the world aren’t working their asses off to replicate anything that the tinkers bring to the table? No-one is recognizing the potential to change the lot of the common man?

            We should be seeing a new industrial revolution along with the changes that the story already shows, but… …nothing.

      • Hm…

        Giving a review, I am mixed about this.

        On one hand, I think this does explain some things. The reactions to Simurgh make MUCH more sense in the light. That part does make far more sense.

        On the other hand, this is quite weird overall. First, the point where they entered our world is unclear. We saw Simurgh appear to land from space, so her bringing them there before she arrived would be hard to understand. In addition there doesn’t seem to be a reasonable point afterward that Simurgh could have brought them over. Scion was active almost as soon as we saw Simurgh, so they weren’t brought over with the portal we saw.

        I can short of justify it, but it would still be weird. The only thing that comes to mind is that Simurgh’s been creating portals for a while. Her original attack was actually bringing a chunk of Aleph through the portal. That’s what caused the pseudo-earthquake, not the Simurgh’s telekinesis.

        Reading Migration 17.1 again it actually does make sense. It appears that she crashed near the travelers not after an attack from space, but that Scion blasted her there from another part of the city. Still, this was hardly obvious until now.

        I think the issue here is the reactions to the heroes. There was no “why is he HERE” with Scion or Alexandria. No real confusion, either. It wasn’t an “aha” moment where things started to make sense. Lines like ” Krouse recognized him: Scion. Definitely not someone he’d ever expected to see in person” seem typical for a native Betian.

        Looking very closely, there are definite hints, but I absolutely understand the confusion.

          • Yeah, but most residents of Earth Bet probably never expected to see Scion either. Skitter didn’t.

          • Yeah, that was a very misleading hint, because doesn’t every teen-ager in the world not expect to live through in person whatever catastrophe they hear about happening half a world away? (tsunami, nuclear power plant meltdown, flood, DUI car accident, whatever)
            Certainly I assumed that was a “nah, these endbringer problems will never happen to me” attitude as opposed to the shock of what is almost effectively a fictional character coming to life on a street nearby, to a universe Aleph-er.

        • I’m reading through a second time and I agree that the reactions to capes and an Endbringer from an alternate universe showing up are lacking to the point that it hurts the story. I get the desire to make it a reveal, but if you try too hard to keep the secret the reveal is just confusing instead of interesting.

      • I think that was rather well done.

        It is always interesting to see how writers deal with information that should be obvious and not worth mentioning to everyone in their fictional world. There are different ways to cram exposition in there.

        One common way is to have an outsider who needs to have everything explained to them, which only works initially. If a story and series goes on long enough and the former outsider still is as clueless as the reader it will come across as stupidity.

        Harry Potter not knowing some of the most basic aspects of the Wizarding world even after a few years of living in it is one example, the typical semi-retarded shonen hero from Japan is another.

        It would very hard to believe that anybody in the main Worm-Verse could not be familiar with the Endbringers and have their powers explained to them. People are going to be experts on it the same way everyone in our world is an expert on Osama Bin Laden, Tsunamis etc. So other than having been sleeping under a rock there would have been no excuse.

        Bringing in outsiders halfway through the main story is a good way to get some extra exposition on stuff like this without it feeling like you have idiot characters.

        • I don’t know about that, actually. There’s plenty of really important, potentially life threatening things that most people in our world are sorely under informed about. Also, if you think of the Endbringers as natural disasters, consider the sort of PSAs and such you hear in our world. You could say it’s hard to believe that anyone in a tornado prone area wouldn’t know the basics about what to do during a tornado, but the government makes sure to tell everyone frequently anyway. The Endbringers would probably be the same.

    • My guess is that Aleph didn’t have any superheroes at first. But then Endbringers started dimension hopping (or they exist in both) and the main heroes followed her.

      Hence why they recognize Alexandria and Scion.

      • wrong, there is no hint whatsoever that alexandria, scion or simurgh have ever been in Earth Aleph – they are only known through media sent through the portal. so the simurgh did not go to earth aleph and take them to earth beta. she moved in earth beta to the corresponding city, then created a portal of some kind that pulled them into the corresponding spot in this reality – most probably with the building they were in, which is why they did not immediately notice any differences.
        there is no dragon in earth Aleph, nor Grandiose – in earth beta, the simurgh must have been in the city for a while already, which is why the city had already been evacuated – especially since they probably knew she was coming. the dragon we hear is the dragon we know (only younger) and grandiose was a hero of earth beta. the reason the battle seems to start so abruptly is because it didn’t! they were already fighting in earth beta, but the travelers were only pulled over in the middle of the fight.

        wildbow’s clarifications, both in the rewritten ending and in the comments, pretty much spell this out.

        did I manage to make it clear? hope so.

        • Ah, thanks man this is what made it for me. And I agree, there is too little bewilderment on part of travelers for me to pick up what was going on. Even after reading explanation by Wildbow.

    • One thing that may be throwing people is that, while its very natural for Krouse and Co. to consider their world Earth Aleph and the Worm Earth to be Earth Bet, the average reader is likely to think of Taylor’s Earth as Earth Aleph, just like the mainstream DC Universe gets to be Earth 1.

      Honesrly though, I’m not sure that initial confusion about which world they came from/to is necessarily a bad thing anyway. It reflects that the situation is confusing and overwhelming. As long as it’s clear by the end of the arc, that just means it’ll take a bit longer for the shoe to drop for some readers.

      • But the other earth was refered as Earth Aleph from earth Bet point of view characters before,when they were discussing the alternate Star Wars movies.

    • You know it’s funny I never got the impression that there were doubles of Scion/Alexandria/Endbringers. I was much more confused by the implication that there were parahumans at all in Earth Aleph. I had gotten the impression previously that the only parahumans there were videos and news feeds of ones from Earth Bet.

  5. Okay so thanks to the clarification from Wildbow, we know that the Travellers were pulled from another dimension here by the Smurf and that there is only one set of Endbringers and heroes. This makes the Smurf much more dangerous if she knew what Noelle could be capable of if she came to this dimension and why Leviathan might have been tracking her. I am assuming this is the late 80’s, early 90’s so it is possible this has happened again since then. Maybe some of the worst villains in the Wormverse were created by the Endbringers to spread destruction. I look forward to seeing their trigger event. Either way, the she-bitch is potentially the hardest Endbringer to kill because she can see every attempt coming a mile away and takes steps to avoid it.

    • Late 80’s or early 90’s would make the competitive online gaming difficult. Even with accelerated tech from communication between worlds, it seems unlikely. I’m thinking this is fairly recent, like a year or two before the beginning of the main story. The explanations of the incident where Noelle killed a bunch of people sounded like they were only a few months ago when they were being described. That may have been THIS incident, in which case this was even more recent than a year or two.

    • I’m pretty sure the Travellers are still teenagers in the main Skitter story, and they seem to be teenagers here, so at most a few years have passed, probably less than two.

  6. This revelation is very interesting, but I think people are missing a key feature about the dimensional shift’s implications in all the discussion of the different worlds. They saw the hero getting killed for spending too long in the area, and noted that they had been there longer. The conclusion (for us) thus was that either they were immune to the effect, or that it took a fair while for whatever it was to show up. Their observation could be very wrong though. They might only now have been in the area long enough (or still have some time) before they hit the point of no return. And judging by what I think all of us are expecting from Noelle, it seems they’re nearing that moment.

    Also, the entities that cause trigger events: Sometimes they’re portrayed as singular, other times as paired entities moving in and out of contact with each other. What if that fact is connected to Aleph and Bet?

    • Twin entities, twin universes. I can buy it, but I am assuming the doctor that bridged the realities was a tinker, so that means the Twins predate the universes connecting. They are active in both but why do they focus so much more on the Wormverse and create so many more heroes/villains? What makes it so special that Scion, and the Endbringers also show up? I agree with the fact that the Travellers haven’t been in the area as long as others since they “just” arrived. When the signal goes off, I expect at least one death, and the rest to trigger at the same time. But it does put their relationship and their willingness to stay together in a whole new light. The question I ask after this is if anyone, like Dragon, know that they come from a different universe and if this has happened before. If it has, I am guessing that the Good Doctor from Cauldron isn’t from this universe either.

      • At least by the end of all this we’ll have a better idea what is up with Noelle. She’s why they all stayed together. Otherwise, other universe or not, they could have found some way to integrate with society and you know that’s what some of them would prefer.

        Heck, at the very least they’d be the leading experts in the history and culture of an alternate earth. Give some goverments a little insight into how things would have gone had they done something else differently. Rather Coil-esque.

  7. Darn multiple universes. Hard to keep track of and in my case there’s always a chance of running into a me created by the possibility that I might have wound up in their universe.

    Otherwise, there appears to be no actual analog.

    At least we know Simurgh either has a connection to Cauldron or she’s somehow been around whichever highly guarded base is working with portals for long enough to discern how to build a portal machine.

    And now we have to wonder what decision of Trickster’s led to their being stranded. Was there a portal he destroyed? Did the heroes make him an offer and he didn’t like the terms? How painfully will the extra member of the Travelers die?

    And to go out on a limb, who at Cauldron were exposed to too much of the random factor and became the Endbringers? When are the richest and most influential going to abandon the planet to the Endbringers in favor of Earth Aleph? How long until it’s realized that Cauldron is planning to take over an entire earth that has far fewer superhumans by using their own personal army? What, if any, connection is there between Siberian and Simurgh?

    All these questions and more will be made obselete here on the next exciting update of Worm.

      • That isn’t certain. It’s been heavily implied, but nothing is actually known about the origins of the Endbringers. (By us. Cauldron might know more than they’re letting on.)

        • Well, Tattletale was pretty certain when she said that Leviathan was never human. I’d call that more than heavily implied, given her powers. Though in spite of the fact that they’re all grouped together as Endbringers, they COULD have different origins.

    • You’re forgetting that the Simurgh built a portal with parts, Cauldron has a portal making cape.

    • “Simurgh either has a connection to Cauldron or she’s somehow been around whichever highly guarded base is working with portals for long enough to discern how to build a portal machine.”

      My understanding is that the Simurgh was probably copying the design from that Tinker (I forget the name) who made the first (public) portal between Aleph and Beta, rather than imitating Doormaker’s power with Tinkertech, especially since it’s possible to copy Tinker designs (crazily hard, but Endbringers can probably ignore that sort of thing).

  8. Given my track record, I’m most likely just saying exactly what it isn’t, but here goes. We know Simurgh has an intimate understanding of how to create portals. She has used them for different purposes. One dumped monstrous distractions onto the battlefield. The other was an attempt to hit someone with a building. Considering the distances and space involved, she had to have some idea how to aim the darn portal. There is a huge number of places in another universe to aim a portal where you’ll get precisely nothing. Something within her has to do with sensing other dimensions. This may be combined with or account for clairvoyance as I think I remember Dinah seeing it as potential worlds.

    For some reason I can’t quite wordify, I want to guess her ability can be applied to the present and not just the future. I hesitate to refer to it as telepresence though.

    Ok, now that I’ve put that out there, it’s sure to be wrong or be something like really high end clairvoyance with no special regards to dimensions.

    • Well, she immediately high tailed it to intercept Panacea’s message while it was happening or just after, NOT before it was sent. This seems to imply that there are some limitations to what she can see. It might be like Dinah, where she gets a percentage. There is a X percentage that not intercepting the message could result in more lives saved, or a great disaster being averted. It was called much, much earlier by someone, but I predict the prison riot/escape from hell is going to happen at some point in the next two years thanks to her.

      • I’m not sure that can be accurate. Fast as orbital speeds are, electronic transmissions are a heck of a lot faster. I think that must be narrative cause-and-effect but not chronological narration, at the end of Marquis’s interlude, because otherwise Simurgh would have to be moving at a sizeable fraction of the speed of light, which… doesn’t match with what’s been said so far, shall we say.

  9. I am not surprised that the Travelers are from a different universe, but I am VERY surprised that they are from Earth Aleph. I was expecting them to be from a universe that hasn’t been identified so that it could turn out their home was destroyed. Otherwise why would the Simurgh have left it intact? We know there are more than two accessible universes from the cauldron chapter, so maybe they are from an Aleph-2 and have ended up in Bet-1? Simurgh hopping out of a universe after she has destroyed it would also explain her monsters. She is pulling them from one of her monster worlds where the endbringers (or maybe just her?) beat humanity.

    I can’t help but think the Endbringers aren’t actually working together now. The reason the three of them (four if you include Scion which I consider a good bet) showed up years from eachother os that they destroyed their previous universes at different times. Universe Bet is getting so many more empowerments because Cauldron and the twin entities recognize this world as an ideal chance to hopefully kill at least one of the endbringers. Scion clearly can’t solo them, but if you mass produce powers to support it against the others then maybe Scion could win. Seeing as Scion wasn’t fighting the Simurgh in the Traveller’s home they weren’t worth all the additional empowerment. Why toss good resources at a lost cause after all?

    • If the endbringers aren’t working together in some fashion then why do they take turns attacking? That implies coordination.

    • Simurgh never went to their world,she just created a portal that brought them in Bet…dunno if she could go to Aleph,but she hasn’t bothered yet,it might be because she is focused at Bet

    • “We know there are more than two accessible universes from the cauldron chapter”.

      Cauldron could potentially have just been going to Aleph though, couldn’t they? although that doesn’t explain where the monsters came from, so I think you’re right about there being more than two universes, and about the origin of the monsters (since Nilbog’s ones probably don’t eat each-other).

  10. Wild mass guessing: The endbringers are some manifestation of the planet, they’re a bigger threat in Earth B because there are more Parahumans, which are in some way a threat to the planet.

    • Wouldn’t be in the best interest in the earth to have more parahumans? Hear me out here. Parahumans have been very bad for the wormverse. There are more villains, monsters like the 9/Nilbog, and I don’t even want to think about how bad Africa, the Middle East, and the rougher parts of Asia are thanks to all of the parahumans. Since most parahumans become villains due to trigger events, the more parahumans there are, the more death/destruction/chaos follows. While we are a tiny blip in the history of earth, if the earth really wanted to kill alot of us off, it should exponentially increase the number of parahumans.

      • Wrong!
        If earth wanted to kill us,it would have a reason
        That reason would be to protect nature,or life in general
        A maverick parahuman might ,instead,destroy these things along with humanity.

  11. Having reread the last 3 chapters and gone back to some previous arcs I think things make more sense now.

    They way everyone was saying that they never expected to see Simurgh etc in person makes sense in hidnsight.

    I am still a bit unclear though whether the Travelers native world had heroes at all. If Earth Bet has no native supers the line “Where are the heroes?” in the last chapter would have been clearer if it had been “If Simurgh is here, where are the heroes?” or something like that since he had little reasons to expect heroes to appear at all if they were not native to his reality.

    My theory is that the battle against Simurgh had been going on for longer than we saw in this chapter and that Simurgh already created one portal before the one we see and pulled the travellers building through it. This would explain why Scion was already there when he took so long to react to Leviathan. It would also explain why Grandiose was already at his limit when the Travellers were seemingly exposed for longer. Grandiose had been in the area for some time before the Travellers got pulled through. From the moment the building shook the travellers where in Skitters world, dropped into a battle that had probably already been raging for some time, with all the surviving civillians having long since evacuated and the only thing moving in the city were capes and monsters/travellers from other worlds that Simurgh pulled through her portal.

    For the general timeline it now seems, that contact between worlds must have been going on for at least a decade since Cody says he was a Toddler when Simurgh first appeard (or when contact to the other world was first made, whatever happened last). So it looks like in the time between Scions first appearance and the first appearance of Simurgh (the first Endbringer?) one Tinker created a way to communicate between worlds. If it really was a tinker form the world of Scion, the Endbringers and Skitter, one has to wonder though why he dubbed his own world as Bet and not Aleph. (Aleph instead of Alpha or Prime is a curious choice anyway since it is associated with infinity in math and could easily lead to confusion when describing many worlds)

      • Since the Smurf came much later than the other two, is it possible we haven’t seen ALL of the Endbringers yet? I can sort of picture Cauldron/Dragon Triumphant at killing one, and then another shows up next year.

          • One who creates a zombie plauge or one who shuts down technology in a given radius sending us back to the stone age maybe?

            • A space-based one seems more likely. Behemoth tunnels, deals with magma, his domain is underground. Levithan swims, manipulates water, his domain is the sea. Simurgh flies, manipulates matter via her telekinesis, her domain is air, or possibly the heavens, given that she’s also a psychic. If a fourth one exists, I would expect it to teleport, manipulate gravity, time, light, or some combination of the above, stay somewhere between the orbit of the moon and one of the astroid belts, and generally be the least predictable/most dangerous of them all.
              Also, has anyone else noticed that the Endbringers look more human by order of appearance? Behemoth is a massive, rocky cyclops, Leviathan is smaller, more athletic, and sleeker, and even if he does have extra eyes he at least has two properly placed ones, and the Simurgh looks like a human woman despite the size, eye color, feather sculpted parts and wings.

              • Scion? He looks almost entirely human, time travel powers would explain him turning up early, he’s got some kind of light powers, and flies (gravity manipulation). His energy powers would also let him fill the “fire” slot in the possible classical elements theme.

                …And now we’re terrified of the Wormverse’s “ultimate hero”.

                What if the most powerful being in the universe suddenly remembers who he is? Or the original (younger) version turns up, and goes on a rampage until Cauldron’s memory-wiper (I suspect the Doctor’s bodyguard, Contesa, is it?) empties his head and he escapes to when he “first” appeared in front of that cruise ship.

  12. This chapter gave me icy chills from start to finish.

    I’m a little confused about whether the Travellers today are still stuck in that world or if they went home – it would make their name make sense though. So Scion and Alexandria are in both worlds?

  13. Curious; the Travellers have been stated many times to be universally unusually powerful parahumans and their reality has a thousandth of the number of capes as Skitter’s. Could it be that the Endbringers are less of a problem for their reality because *all* their capes are as powerful? A quality over quantity thing?

    • Wildbow stated just now that the Endbringers don’t exist in the Travellers’s dimension and they only know about them through contact with the Wormverse. In terms of power I don’t think they are too different, but it probably depends on what their capes are like and what powers they got. For example lets say there exists another version of Taylor in their reality. If she keeps the same attitude/morals/intelligence she could really change their world if she got certain powers. Imagine if she used Pancea’s or Bonesaw’s powers to cure disease, got that Doctor’s TInker ability that created Dragon, or just got Alexandria’s power? She has the intelligence, imagination, and creative thinking to really get the most out of such powers, and probably wouldn’t go nuts with it. My guess, is that their few parahumans are pretty much celebrities.

  14. I am wondering if Aleph only has superhumans because they were contacted by Bet. We know that ‘superness’ is like an infection. It spreads through contact, starting with Scion as patient zero. So presumably it was Haywire’s portal that exposed some Aleph residents to the infection, which then produced a very few superhumans and has been slowly spreading.

    • I like the idea of powers being a contagion. The Earth is infected with superpowered parahumans, so a certain three “white blood cells” are created to destroy the infection.

      Almost certainly FAR off-base, but it’s fun to speculate wildly sometimes.

  15. I’ve been wondering…..could the power of the Endbringers, when they’re in a certain dimension, depend on the number of Capes in that universe? Probably not but it’s a thought. I mean Ziz(Too lazy for the other name) should be able to do more damage right? But instead ‘she’ relied on the portal really, or so I gathered. Ignore my ramblings I’m just fascinated with this arc…..I WANNA SEE NOELLE EAT SOMEONE!!!! (Also I think Oliver will be her first victim…notice how he is the only other one with an actual name!)

    • Oliver is part of the Travelers team in the “present day”, so she’s not going to eat him in this flashback. Luke on the other hand…

      • Wait oh crap. I think this just explained some things about Oliver that we see from Skitters’ perspective that didn’t quite make sense. Remember how we only ever saw him in Coil’s base? What if he doesn’t have any powers?

  16. On the third day of Wormmass, my wildbow gave to me;

    Three brave friends,
    Two cameos,
    And the start of some origin stories.

  17. Damn. This update makes me sad that Coil is dead. It would have been interesting to see how his power meshed with Earth’s Aleph and Bet. Earth Gimmel?


    Typohunt: Now he was was in a few of Krouse’s classes,

    Should be one “was”, not two.

  18. Calling it Earth B is stupid since that Earth is most certainly not going to call itself Earth B, so we’ll have two Earth A’s talking to each other and referring to each other as Earth B. “I’m from Earth A” “Uh isn’t everyone?”

    But yeah I’m assuming that Earth B is the universe that all other characters are in since Japan is ruined. I wonder why there are a thousand time the parahumans in this Earth and the Endbringer’s are winning by attrition (even though they keep losing battles against 15 heroes after winning battles against 100 heroes and killing 85 of them), shouldn’t the Endbringer’s be doing more damage in Earth A if there are a 1000 less parahumans. I forget the numbers Cauldron listed but going off Brockton Bay you’ve got roughly 1 cape per 5000 humans, so that’s 1.4 million parahumans compared to 7 billion humans. Even more apparently in rougher places. They should be able to go take out an Endbringer with ease, even just the EU which has double the population of the USA should have double the heroes to go attack somewhere. But then it seems like most of the heroes are pointless and it’s better not to bother attacking and let Scion and Armsmaster deal with it since they’re the only people who really did damage.

    If I was organizing it (which it’s a shame I’m not I have to say) I would gather up invincible heroes of NATO and potentially other places like Russia and China if they’re up for cooperating, and then really long range heroes and that’d be it. The invincible heroes would harry and harass and generally just get in the way, while long range heroes do damage from helicopters or somewhere that’s invulnerable. Pretty easy to take out Leviathan with that strategy. Not sure how they’re going to defeat Simiruigh here or how they beat Behemoth.

    Got a little distracted there, so there are only 1400 capes in the other universe it’s no wonder most people didn’t pay attention to the news.

    • Again, you’re making some pretty mistaken assumptions.

      Brockton Bay is special because it has a very high ratio of parahumans. It was a city that served as a key target, villains went after it, villain culture made room for more villains, heroes eventually managed to establish a balance (this is all stated earlier), a select few powerful groups (ABB, E88) established dominance after other groups fell (The Teeth, Marquis, stated earlier), and things quieted down on some levels, with tensions ratcheted high, by the time the story begins.

      Earth A doesn’t have Endbringers. It has very few, very unimpressive capes, that is all.

      Try to deal with Leviathan with a few brute strength heroes and some long ranged ones and he runs. He’s faster than most, and anyone fast enough to keep up with him is generally too weak to keep him in one place (and vice versa). It takes too long to whittle him down and the target gets smashed. Rain cover and storms make getting a bead on him difficult from a certain distance.

      • Wait, so it has more parahumans because villains went after it or villains went after it because it had more parahumans?

        If the first, why did they go after it, it’s not a very valuable city if it only has 50k residents, you’re not getting much drug money out of that. If it’s the second why does it have a high ratio of parahumans?

        “villain culture made room for more villains”

        That doesn’t make much sense, villains fight and kill other villains. The more villains in one area the less for one villain to have. They grate on each other and tensions would cause villains to be killed so there were less villains. Also that’s not even talking on recruiting normal people.

        From Wiki I got this: “There were at least 30,000 gangs and 800,000 gang members active across the USA in 2007.” USA has a population of 300 mil, so that’s less than 0.33% involved in gangs. 50k means that about 200 people are involved in gangs. Really stretching to fill the ranks now.

        “The state of Illinois has a higher rate of gang membership (8-11 gang members per 1,000 population)” So that’s way way higher than the highest state, couldn’t get good numbers on a city but whatever you see my point. Considering the tendency of humans to die in fights with parahumans and I see that number dwindling fast.

        The USA has 250 police officers per 100,000 which would mean 125 for Brockton Bay, plus PRT. Plus the fact that using the same way they took out Endbringer’s they could easily take out villains using teleporting heroes.

        Unless you’re talking about some other mistaken assumptions, like my figures on there being 1.4 million parahumans? I’ll just point out that I only took into account heroes and ignored villains there, so there should be even more. Considering there were over 100 heroes for the fight with Leviathan if we assume that cities were completely emptied that’s 1 hero per 3 million USA citizens, which would mean that Brockton Bay was 6000% more likely to have a hero than the USA average. I think you’ll see where I find that to be pretty damn crazy and needing of explanation.

        I guess I could do some numbers with the Birdcage as well, but we’ll leave that for another time.

        “Earth A doesn’t have Endbringers. It has very few, very unimpressive capes, that is all.”

        What’s stopping Crazy Angel Monster from stepping through her portal?

        “Try to deal with Leviathan with a few brute strength heroes and some long ranged ones and he runs”

        Good? We win, fight averted. How many invincible heroes do you need to distract him really? Like half the heroes were wiped out in the first five minutes of battle with doing next to no damage. Did Chubster really contribute to the battle? Did Grue? None of them had to be there. We could go down the list on the grave and say “how many of these contributed anything”

        Not to mention he spent most of the fight standing in the middle of the street, then when people stopped fighting him he went around killing people, then stopped again.

        “. It takes too long to whittle him down and the target gets smashed.”

        Whittle him down? At no point did he suffer from any damage he took, he fought Armsmaster with as much power as he fought at the beginning of the fight. There was even a specific line about Taylor noticing that he was faking being hurt before he retaliated.

        “Rain cover and storms make getting a bead on him difficult from a certain distance.”.

        Apart from the fact that you could give everyone 3D GPS or night vision or make some sort of laser reflection thing or bring in helicopters with spotlights or… the list goes on, he wasn’t exactly hiding for most of the fight. He surfed in in the open on his wave to begin with. People have been fighting in storms for long time.

        He only retreated when Scion appeared, who would have appeared anyway. And how much damage could he have done in the half an hour the heroes kept him busy by making him kill them. So the best tactic is just send in people who can’t die, either by being far away or by being invincible, to stall him a little bit. If an extra thousand people die who cares? He didn’t even wrack up a serious body count, and when you get a good enough tracking on him you could start just evacuating ahead of him and let him go to down on a city while you wait for Scion to arrive. Obviously wasn’t the case here but we’re talking 50k people it’s really not a big deal, compared to the 6 million or whatever it was from earlier.

          • Well I didn’t know they did a census during the Endbringer attack, the Slaughterhouse Nine attack, so I assumed the used the most recent figures. Also I’m not sure what evacuation there was, the citizens didn’t have time to evacuate from the Endbringer, and after that it was repeatedly mentioned how little traffic there was. I can’t think that many people managed to evacuate or that they’d have good figures on post evacuation people with the state of the city. Also if it was drastic, like a couple of hundred thousand had left the city there wouldn’t even be a question of it being condemned.

            You keep saying there’s no context without being specific at all. Also, can you point to the explanations, claiming they exist is not helpful, I’ve read all the previous story and I obviously wouldn’t say things if I had read the explanation.

            • While i can’t point out the specific parts (though likely while Taylor was visiting the shelters after the fight), it is said that most of the city was evacuating. They said multiple times that the only people left were people that couldn’t leave or had some reason to stay in the city.

              I believe they even partially address this during Shadow Stalker’s call with Emma.

            • It’s difficult to respond to your question/argument/whatever when it’s so incoherent and you keep trying to derail into some other topic when someone responds.

              “Calling it Earth B is stupid”
              There’s obviously a reason behind it, probably coming out of whatever diplomatic interactions the two Earths have.

              ” shouldn’t the Endbringer’s be doing more damage in Earth A if there are a 1000 less parahumans”
              The Travelers were somehow transported to Earth B. Where the Endbringers are. The text implied that there are no Endbringers in Earth A. There seems to be a lot less of super-anything in Aleph.

              Which makes your genius Leviathan strategy sort of moot. Quoting a bunch of numbers doesn’t matter if your core premise is off.

              “That doesn’t make much sense, villains fight and kill other villains”
              Wildbow is referring to the skewed villain:hero ratio in Brockton Bay. Historically the authorities couldn’t deal with the number of supervillains so they had relatively free run of the city for a time. Eventually the villain population settled into several power blocs and the Protectorate/Wards/PRT gained enough presence to keep a tenuous peace at the start of the story. What you’re saying is true only after the saturation of villains reaches a certain point, which it probably did before this power balance was struck.

              “What’s stopping Crazy Angel Monster from stepping through her portal?”
              Absence of evidence is merely evidence of absence. We don’t know how the portal works, or whether it even can go to Earth Aleph.

              “Good? We win, fight averted. How many invincible heroes do you need to distract him really?”

              No, that isn’t winning. Wildbow meant that Leviathan “runs” not in the sense that he leaves the target city but that he seeks out an easier target and it’s difficult for the defenders to keep up with him. They were definitely whittling him down, but it wasn’t until Scion and Armsmaster that serious damage was done to him. You’re also conveniently ignoring Leviathan’s tidal waves, which are what killed large numbers of defenders simultaneously. I thought the battle and subsequent chapters made it abundantly clear that Endbringers are still very much capable of knocking the most durable heroes out of the fight.

              Some defenders were definitely less useful during the fight, and others useful only in a support capacity. Plan A called for all defenders to attack him with everything they had, in an attempt to drive him out of the city before he could do serious damage. Once the defenders took enough casualties they had to shift to Plan B, which was to try to keep him from hitting the populated areas and to survive long enough for Scion to arrive.

              Finally, regarding population – a lot of people left the city in the wake of the Endbringer and SH9 attacks. I guess “evacuation” was the wrong word. More like a mass exodus.

              Your “mistaken assumptions” are your tendency not to evaluate your own arguments before posting them. The explanations are not hard to find or obscure.

    • Pretty sure Krouse and Co. were calling Taylor’s earth “Earth Bet”. I figure Japan is ruined in the Worm verse. Leviathan would be my guess – island nation and all…

      There’s a few issues with the anti-Endbringer plan, but one that immediately leaps out at me is that ‘invincible’ is relative and very, very few capes seem to be tough enough to survive an Endbringer attack for long. About the only ones we can be fairly sure are that tough are Scion and Siberian (who has zero interest in helping). Alexandria *might* be close, but given that Siberian was able to seriously wound her…

  19. Aha. This adds extra levels of meaning to the interaction we witnessed between Genesis and Ballistic where he didn’t remember the word “tinker”, excusing himself saying “I’m not a cape geek like you”, with her retorting “You’re a *cape*!”

    But I’m still quite creeped out by what the Simurgh’s song might be doing to them. Unknown psionic effects are really disturbing.

    One notable missing capitalisation: “No. the back door of the house”

    • I’m guessing at some kind of permanent insanity or mind control. The really chilling question is, what about it is so bad that they have to kill any hero that’s been exposed too long?

  20. Need a bit more exposition of getting Jess into the house here, too. It’s not like they brought the wheelchair from the other building; Krouse is focused on Noelle, but SOMEBODY moves Jess.
    OK, Checkov:
    “[Looks away from self-harming bird] … his eyes caught on something.

    He returned his eyes to the cage. [thinks on fear vs. despair] …
    He found a knife, … [dispatches bird].”

    If the ‘something’ was the knife, say so eventually (reached for the knife he had seen …). If it was something ELSE, explain.
    Self-control is a hyphenated word.
    I’ve read all the comments and I’m still fuzzy on Aleph v Bet and who is where and how and when they moved. I guess I’ll just keep reading, but I’m struggling a bit to hang in there. The idea that what’s unique about the Travelers is an alt-world origin is COOL; I’m just stuck about about the how.

    • his eyes caught on the newspaper.
      taylor says at some point in the first few chapters that she is from esrth bet and that haywire opened a portal to earth aleph.

  21. Something that’s been bugging me on and off: Why do the inhabitants of Earth Bet call it Earth Bet? I mean, an alternate reality opens up. Obviously that reality is reality 2 and yours is reality 1. The people in the other reality will probably think the same way (that theirs is 1) for the same reason that the names of many tribal peoples mean “the people.”

    Maybe Haywire was from Aleph (was he?) and his naming convention stuck, but I’m not sure I buy that. I just don’t see humans choosing to use an identifier that marks their reality as the secondary one without some kind of coercion which we don’t see.

    • Explanation isn’t in story, but I’ve given it before. Bet’s and Aleph’s residents almost came to war, over fear of what would happen if one earth tried to prey on the other for resources. Bet had more firepower. Major players in Bet (some who’ve been named already) offered concessions, and taking the name ‘bet’ was one of several symbolic measures.

      • Ah I have been wondering about this for a while as well. This should really be fit into the story proper if possible at some point. It is really rather disconcerting and strange. The explanation makes sense but without coming across this in the comments I’m pretty much always considering just what is going on behind the scenes (in-story not writing-story) whenever Aleph/Bet is mentioned since something just didn’t sit right with those names.

  22. For a long time, I always thought “Wildbow’s characters are so smart!” But reading more of the Interludes – especially this dedicated arc – has made me realize that they’re not necessarily smarter than characters in other fiction, but the fact that Wildbow takes the effort to show readers characters’ chain of reasoning is just something you don’t see in fiction that often. I can’t wait to see what Pact is like, once I finish Worm!

    • Totally agree that Wildbow does an unusually good job of making character decisions comprehensible. Even when you dislike or disagree with a character you can usually understand where they’re coming from.

      Re: intelligence, I think that Wildbow’s characters actually demonstrate a realistic level of variation. Some characters are very intelligent and those are the ones who tend to punch above their weight class. Others are of ordinary intelligence. A few are of below average smarts. And some may be quite intelligent but are less effective than they otherwise would be due to emotional factors like arrogance, low empathy skills or lack of courage.

      In short, Wildbow writes *people*. 🙂

      • Agreed on the variation. You’ve got Thinkers and Tinkers that have magical chains of deduction and reasoning (aka Sherlock Holmes) but that’s okay because they have super-brains. Taylor’s somewhat more intelligent than average, but it’s her personal tendency to constantly analyze and calculate (within her ability) which still puts her ahead of a lot of people. Characters like Brian/Grue I would call average – not dumb but not brilliant, either. They try, but probably aren’t good enough to come up with the solutions that Taylor does.

        Tattletale is a pretty good example of someone who could be smarter than she is – she has the huge advantage of magical information source, but doesn’t always act on it in a well thought-out way. Instead she relies on her power to clue her in when something goes wrong down the line and come up with last-minute (but sometimes sub-optimal) solutions, which makes her brain *lazy*.

  23. “Travelers”.
    And this explains the unusually strong group bond, too. They don’t just have this one strong shared experience, they have a whole life that they share with each other and no one else.

  24. English isn’t my strong suit. But… this part sounded a bit strange to me.

    Krouse nodded. “You’ll need a weapon. Take Oliver’s.”

    She did, and Krouse handed Oliver the hammer he had in his free hand.

    If she did take the weapon which you said she did, then krouse would not need to hand the hammer over.

    But then another problem was

    Krouse handed Oliver the hammer he had in his free hand.

    Shouldn’t it be more

    Krouse handed Marissa the hammer Oliver had in his free hand.

    In any case, I love your story so far! The world, characters, and settings are so fleshed out.

    • Nah, when they were in the basement, Krouse gave Oliver a hatchet, and took a curtain-rod spear and a hammer himself. In the section you quote, Krouse has Marissa take the hatchet from Oliver, and then gives Oliver the hammer to replace it.

  25. Shit! Okay. At first I think there’s no way you can add more drama and excitement to your story, but then you go throw this into the mix! They’re in Earth B? Holy hell! And we’ve been reading about Earth B all this time? How freaking fascinating. Great twist! I can’t wait to read more about The Travelers and Noelle!

  26. I forgot alternate universes even existed here. Travelers from another dimension? Every time a new answer is given, ten more questions come up.

  27. How is the handicapped one,
    Jess, keeping up as they run and climb over buildings and debris in the snow?

    Also… Shouldn’t the travelers be coming through the dimensional portal rather than be there as the simurgh made it? I suppose I would buy that “she” either was capable of pulling them through with out it, or possibly she was messing with time, but it seems a little convoluted.

    This is the first comment i’ve posted so i’ve also gotta say I love the story man. Thank you, for sharing your hard work and talent. Only caught that on my second read.

    • Jess was being carried by Cody.

      The Simurgh made more than one portal over the course of the battle. Presumably, the one the Travellers were brought through was destroyed by Scion while they were stil climbing out of the apartment.

  28. Nice twist, but I don´t get why they haven´t seen that earlier.
    After all they should really know that there is no Shimurgh in their world…

  29. I’d guessed a while back that the Travelers were from another world, based on their name, Sundancer’s loneliness, their loyalty despite internal divisions, and the Cauldron interlude confirming Cauldron was in contact with multiple dimensions… but my guess for the reason why was entirely different.

    Until the destruction outside Noelle’s vault was revealed, I’d thought Noelle’s ability was indiscriminate, uncontrollable dimensional travel, perhaps with a growing urge over time (the hunger), and they were hoping for Coil to find a method to control it so they could return home. Perhaps even dimensional swapping, which would explain the large numbers the Travelers had killed (disappearance due to being sent elsewhere), and could have triggered Trickster’s swapping ability.

    Despite that this was disproven, I felt like leaving a comment just in case this theory hasn’t appeared before.

  30. I’d forgotten how Wildbow handled the slow reveal that the Travelers are from Earth Aleph, but dang is it good. Nice work, Wildbow.
    The critic in me pointed out that Krouse’s deduction relied on information the audience didn’t have, which is generally bad mystery writing, but his mystery is the opposite of ours. Even if we knew who President Gillen was (was he set up in a prior chapter? I don’t remember that), we wouldn’t think anything was odd about that. Maybe if the Aleph president was mentioned in chapter 1 and we saw the headline in the birdcage…eh, I’m probably overthinking it.

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