Migration 17.8

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“He’ll be one minute,” the woman at the front desk spoke.

Trickster nodded.

“If you’d like to take a seat…”  The woman trailed off.

“I prefer to stand.”

“As you wish.”

“Can I smoke?”


“If I open a window-”

The woman at the desk frowned.  “My employer is… particular.”

“I’ve heard.”

“If you leave the cigarette butts lying around, or if this room smells too strongly of smoke after you’ve left, he will be upset.”

“I understand.”

“It’s your funeral,” she said.

Trickster stepped over to the window, found the latch, and swung it open.  He rested his elbows on it and leaned out, drew a cigarette and lit it, being sure to hold it and exhale outside of the window.

The Boston skyline stretched out before him, with the ocean in the distance.  Over the last year and three months, he’d picked up on how things were subtly different in this world.  It wasn’t explicit, wasn’t overt, but he couldn’t help but notice that all of the newer constructions were sturdier.  Buildings were more reinforced, just a little thicker where supports were required, as though disaster was always at the periphery of the designer’s attention.  At the same time, windows were often larger, and many apartments had floor-to-ceiling windows for a wider view of the world beyond.

How had Jess put it?  This world was sublime.  A world that was awesome in the truer sense of the word, greater in so many respects.  In a metaphorical sense, the peaks were higher, the valleys lower, works of art more artful, extremes more… extreme.  It wasn’t a good thing.  Make the mountains twice as tall and the chasms twice as deep, and things start crumbling.

He missed home, but every day, every week, home felt a little further away.

“Accord will see you now, Trickster.”

Trickster nodded, crushed his cigarette against the outside of the building, flicked it over the ledge, and then stepped away to close and latch the window before entering the office. He was sure to remove his hat.

Supervillains were weird.  Every one of them had different rules, different aesthetics, different goals.  All of them, himself included, had their own issues.

Accord wasn’t the most influential figure in Boston.  That was why Trickster had approached him.  He didn’t even look like a supervillain.  He looked like a CEO.  Only an ornate mask with curling, overlapping bands of dark metal trimmed in silver marked him as anything more.  His hair was oiled and neatly parted, and his white suit had been brushed clean with immaculate care.  Trickster doubted there was even a fingerprint or a glimmer of tarnish on Accord’s silver tie pin.  For all his presence, Accord was barely over five feet in height.

For his part, Trickster had taken care to clean his own clothing and comb his own hair.  It was becoming a ritual, entering a new city.  One typically had to find the meeting place.  Virtually every city with ten or more supervillains had one, a neutral ground for the villains to meet.  He would then find the people in the know, pay some of the money he’d held on to from the last city to get the necessary information on who was who and how they operated, and move on from there.  He’d been briefed thoroughly on Accord.

“Trickster, was it?”

“Yes,” Trickster stepped forward.  He offered his hand.

Accord shook it, his grip strong.

“What can I do for you?”

“I’m observing formalities.  My team, as you may know, tends to move from location to location, city to city.  It’s a bad idea to settle down for any length of time in an area owned by a local power, so I wanted to ask permission first.”

“I see.”

“If you saw fit to grant that permission, I would then ask if you’d let us engage in some minor activity.  Robbing low-level stores, primarily.  Possibly a bank.  All in your area.”

If I granted that permission, Trickster,” Accord raised a warning finger. “I would not be doing so for free.”

Trickster nodded.  “I understand, and I wouldn’t expect you to.  We’ve recently passed through Richmond, Paine, Baltimore and Philadelphia.  Each time, we paid a modest up front fee to anyone that hosted us in their territory.  We also offered up a twelve, thirteen, twelve and ten percent share, respectively, of our take.  For you, if you’ll allow me to make an opening offer, I’d suggest ten thousand dollars up front and a fourteen percent share of anything we gain.  We’ll be saying for ten days.”

“So you’ll give me fourteen percent when you offered less to others.  You think you’re flattering me.”

“Yes.  We’re staying a little bit longer here.  We looked into it, the heroes don’t have a strong presence here in your Charlestown territory.  We can get away with just a little bit more.”

“Don’t think I won’t look into the amounts you just gave me.”  Accord was using a stylized fountain pen to make a note on a pad of paper.  Trickster wasn’t entirely sure, but the paper didn’t seem to have lines, and Accord was still making them meticulous, with neat, tight, flowing script.

“I wouldn’t lie,” Trickster said.  “That’s a good way to get killed, and I rather like being alive.”

“It has its moments,” Accord said.  He wiped the end of the fountain pen and snapped the lid into place.  The pen joined all the other objects on the desk, arranged with explicit care to even spacing and hard right angles.  It was almost artistic, the way things were arranged for both size and utility, and the uniform nature of the aesthetics, with the colors and materials seeming to flow from object to object.  Silver and wood in dark cherry.

Accord looked down and corrected the position of the pen on his desk before turning back to Trickster.  “Fifteen thousand dollars, and fifteen percent of any take.  The heroes don’t have a strong presence here because they don’t need a strong presence here.  I maintain the peace.  It will cost me if I have people here, active and causing trouble.”

A little steep.  “I’ll have to discuss that with my teammates.”

“Before you do, let me make you an alternate offer.  You do mercenary work?”

“We do.”

“I’d like to hire you for a task.”

“What task?”

“I’d like certain items stolen from a rival.  I can describe them to you and show you photographs.  Do this for me, and we’ll waive the fee for entering my territory.  Also, I’ll concede to have my share cut down to a mere ten percent.”

“Which rival?”

“Blasto.  A tinker.  Not quite the destructive personality his name implies.”

“I read up on him.  Blasto from the latin prefix, meaning bud, germination or seed.  Tinker botanist, grows walking, sentient plants in giant glass tubes.”

Accord gave Trickster an approving nod.  “Yes.  Tinkers are… bothersome.  Tinkers who work wet are especially bothersome.  They build, they learn from past research and past projects, each thing is created more elegantly or faster with the tools they’ve designed and amassed over time.  A tinker designs a better welding torch, to use an analogy, and that allows him or her to build a better power drill.  And so the cycle continues.  Steal Blasto’s tools for my trophy case, it will set him back weeks or months.  I’ll give you a further bonus if you destroy any other projects of his, as well as any computers or blueprints.”

“Dangerous, to attack a tinker in his lair.”

“Ah, you want more than just the waiving of your hospitality fee?”

Trickster was careful to be diplomatic.  “No offense intended.  If Blasto was that easy to handle, I’m sure you would have dealt with him already.”

“Agreed.  Hm.  As you surely already know, I am a craftsman.  Not a tinker, but I use my power to create quality goods.”

“I’m aware.”

“I will pay you a moderate sum, and I will also supply a set of costumes for your team.  Use your free time over the coming week to make notes on what you desire.  Newspaper clippings, printed images or links to online images each of you individually like.  They do not necessarily need to be of costumes or clothing.  I would meet each of your teammates to assess their preferences.  With that, I can guarantee you costumes that everyone in your group will like.”

And you bring the world a little more in order, Trickster thought.  Accord was a thinker, and the running theory on his power was that he got naturally smarter as the problems he was addressing got more complex.  It gave him an intuitive understanding of groupthink, politics, and convoluted designs.  It also made him a local warlord capable of devastating counterattacks.  The power failed to grant him the same advantages in a one-on-one fight, and he wasn’t quite the same battlefield strategist when it came to direct assaults.

Which was, Trickster understood, why Accord wanted him and the other Travelers to handle the attack on their own.

“Only four of us need costumes,” Trickster said.  “The other can make her own.”

“Only four costumes?  When there are seven of you?”  Accord’s tone made it all too clear that he knew he was admitting knowledge he shouldn’t have.

He knows about Noelle.

“When there are seven of us, yes,” Trickster said, feigning a lack of concern.

The door banged open.  Trickster tensed, his power reaching, even before he saw the threat.

It was Sundancer, with the receptionist following quickly behind.

Idiot, Trickster thought.  I told you to stay back.

“Trickster,” she said.  Then she saw Accord.  “I’m sorry for interrupting.”

“The deal was for a one-on-one meeting,” Accord said.  His tone was strained, indignant.  Accord looked at his receptionist. “You didn’t warn her at the door?”

“I tried,” the receptionist said.  “She charged on through.”

“It’s an emergency,” Sundancer said.  “Trickster, we-”

“Shut up,” he said, and the tension in his voice coupled with Accord’s seemed to clue Sundancer into the gravity of the situation.

She fell silent.  She’s smarter than this, which means the situation’s bad.  But I can’t do anything about it until I finish dealing with Accord.

His heart was pounding.  “Go wait outside, Sundancer.  I was in the middle of a meeting.  If Accord is willing, we’ll wrap up this business quickly, I’ll… offer him something by way of apology, and then I’ll come and talk to you about the issue.”

Sundancer backed towards the door, turned and left.

“Very sorry, sir,” the receptionist murmured.  She closed the door.

Accord stepped over to the window behind his desk and stared outside.  Trickster waited patiently as the man composed himself.  Long seconds passed, and Trickster couldn’t help but imagine the worst case scenarios that would have Sundancer forgetting common sense and crashing a private meeting between supervillains.

“I am something of an oxymoron, Trickster,” Accord said, turning around.  He was measuring his words, stretching out the sentence, as though he were fully aware that Trickster was now in a hurry, and he wanted to apply pressure.

“Is that so?”

“You see, I deal with complicated things,” Accord touched his mask, “And I excel at them, but deep down, I’m a very simple person.”

“I think we’re all very simple when you look past the surface,” Trickster said.

“Quite so.  I like order, Trickster.  Order means everything has its place,” Accord touched his desk, moved his chair a fraction of an inch so it was squarely in place.  “And everyone has their place.  Your subordinate’s place was not here.”

“I understand.  I’m willing to make amends.”

“Of course,” Accord said.  He looked up and met Trickster’s eyes.  “I will be rescinding my earlier generosity.  Fifteen thousand dollars will find a way into my hands within the next twenty-four hours.”

“Agreed,” Trickster said.  There goes our pocket money.

“You’ll do my favor for me and expect no recompense.”


Accord paused, seemed to consider something.  “She’ll have to die, of course.”

Trickster tensed.  Really, really didn’t want to have to fight this guy.  “Let’s… not be so hasty.”

“There are two kinds of people in this world, Trickster.  Some fit into the intricate machine that is society, and they serve as cogs, gears, levers and weights.  I think you’re like that.  I liked you right off.  Even your power… balance, isn’t it?  Move things from one place to the next, but things remain fundamentally equivalent.”

“Well said,” Trickster replied.  His mind was racing.  How to convince the lunatic to leave Sundancer alone?  If he couldn’t, would it be better to fight and kill Accord now or wait until he could recruit the others?  Accord wouldn’t have invited him to a meeting if he didn’t have some kind of safeguards.  Traps?  For all Trickster knew, there was a pitfall in the floor or dart traps in the walls.  Accord’s power, his knack for complexity, would make it trivial to weave such things into the architecture of his home and office.  If he knew, he could use his power, time it to put Accord in the way of his own trap… but it could be something else entirely.

Accord was still talking.  “Others aren’t so accommodating.  They are freefalling, careening elements, bouncing off any and every surface, damaging everything they touch.  Pyrokinetics so often fall into this category, I’ve found.  Rest assured, it’s better to eliminate this disordered element before it does too much damage.”

Trickster couldn’t find the words to reply.  Think, Krouse, think!

“What a shame, such a young girl,” Accord sounded genuinely upset.

“What if…” Trickster started, his mind racing.


“What if I told you she was an agent of order in the universe?  That this situation, it’s not her that’s causing the discord?  Like us, she’s just reacting to another force?”

“You don’t know the details any more than I do.”

“True.  But I know her.”

“You’re biased by virtue of being her teammate.  I see no other way than to act decisively.  Would you like to do the honors, or should I?”

“I’ll show you what I mean.  She’ll show you.”


“Just give me a second to go get her.  Maybe a bit of time to prepare-”

“Ten minutes, Trickster, and only because I like you.”

“Ten minutes,” Trickster answered him.

“And she comes alone.  If she’s truly an ordered individual, she’ll show me for herself.”

Trickster nodded, turned and walked calmly out of the office, counting in his head.

The second the door was closed, he bolted, checking the time on his cell phone.  That’ll be ten minutes exactly.  He set a timer, subtracting the time it had taken him to leave the office.

The entrance that led to Accord’s personal office was set in an alley, out of sight of the streets.  Trickster found Sundancer waiting.

“Trickster, it’s-”

“Stop,” he said, checking the phone.  Seven minutes left.  “Where’s your phone?”

She pulled it from her belt, “We-”

He used his power to swap her cell phone for his.  “No, listen carefully.  You just threw a neurotic, perfectionist supervillain’s world into disarray by intruding on our meeting like that.  He’s now rather intent on executing you for it.”


“And he’s a little guy with some big muscle at his beck and call.  We could maybe deal with them in a pinch, but it wouldn’t be pretty.  So I’m going to use your phone, call another member of our team to get filled in the emergency.  You’re going to fix your mistake, and you’ll do it in… six minutes and twenty-three seconds.  Look at the screen of my phone.  That’s your deadline.  Go, stop by a bathroom, tidy your hair, get it wet and comb it if you have to, but look proper.  Better to look neat than to look pretty, understand?  When the timer hits zero, you’ll walk into his office, then you’ll perform a ballet routine.”

“Ballet?  Krouse, I haven’t done it seriously in two years.”

“Pick a routine you can do perfectly over one that’s fancier or whatever.  Do it, apologize profusely for the intrusion, then bow out and leave.  If he gives any sign he’s not satisfied, or the second you fuck up, set the place on fire and scram.”


“Call me Trickster when I’m in costume,” he corrected, his voice hard.  “Don’t worry about burning him alive.  He’ll have escape routes.  You have five minutes and forty seconds, now.  It took me three to get from his office to here.  Go.”

Sundancer rushed to get inside.

Trickster called Oliver.

“Marissa?” Oliver asked.

“It’s Trickster,” he replied.  Need to talk about being more secure with our names.  “What’s going on?

“It’s Cody.  He touched Noelle.”

Trickster froze.  “How bad is it?”

Three times, Krouse.”

“Three,” Trickster said.  “Fuck me.  I’m on my way.”

There’s no way Cody’s stupid enough to make contact with Noelle.

There’s no way anyone would do it three times.  How?

Throwing caution to the wind, Trickster moved through the crowd of people by swapping with them, zig-zagging from one side of the street to the other, scanning the crowd.  People ran to get away from him as he appeared, but he didn’t care.  Just needed to minimize the damage.

Minimize the damage.  It’s becoming a running theme.

He found his target not by spotting him, but by seeing the reaction from the crowd.  People were hurrying to get out of his way, running away.

The guy was naked, covered in gnarly, tumorous growths, and was moving at a limping run, attacking anyone he could get his hands on.  One of his arms was larger than the other, and a fluid-filled blister covered his entire stomach, sloshing with the contents.  His jaw didn’t fit right, and had dislocated on one side, giving him a lopsided yawn.

A man shoved him and ran, sweeping his two children up in his arms as he fled.

Three seconds later, the man snapped back into the same position, in front of the creature.  Perdition… Cody.  Except not quite.  The man carried through the shoving motion, but Perdition wasn’t there any more.  Shoving empty space, the man stumbled and was clubbed over the neck and shoulders with a massive, misshapen fist.  He hit the ground with enough force that Trickster doubted he’d rise again.

The two children had fallen to the sidewalk when the man disappeared.  Perdition advanced on them.

Trickster crossed the street, swapping himself for one of the people who was fleeing the scene.  The children were running, but Perdition wasn’t one to let his targets slip out of his grasp.  The six year old didn’t get more than three steps before getting reset to his original position.

“Hey!”  Trickster called out.  “I’m the one you want!”

Perdition spun around, and Trickster was already swapping himself for someone else, not allowing his opponent more than a glance.

Hide in the crowd.  Can’t allow him a chance to get me.

“Kroushe!”  Perdition screamed.  He couldn’t completely close his mouth, and slurred the words.


“Keell you!  Mehk it shlow, mehk you beg an’ crah and sheht yershelf lekk a baby!”

The little kid was getting away.  Trickster allowed himself a sigh of relief.

“Shheh wush mine!  An’ you ruinn herr!”  Perdition screamed at a volume that distorted his voice even further, left it ragged.

Trickster winced.

“Muh cahreer, muh frenndsh, my guhll!  You ‘ook hem!  Yer a ‘hief!

Some of the time, the powers would be different.  Most of the time, going by precedent, they were stronger.  Trickster was left to wonder how Perdition’s powers had changed.  Duration?  Range?  The amount of time reversed?

Then his surroundings flickered, half the crowd disappearing.

Trickster didn’t waste a second in swapping himself elsewhere, moving across the street.

Perdition was only just turning in the direction of where Trickster had been.

He doesn’t need to see me now?

Trickster saw everything shift again.

He’s got a lock on me.  Not as strong when he does it this way, but he can track me, force little jumps backward.

Perdition charged, and the crowd scattered.

He reached for his belt, saw another shift, and Perdition was suddenly twenty feet closer, a few steps away.  With no time to follow through, Trickster swapped himself out of the way.

-And only belatedly recalled that he was putting another person in Perdition’s path.  Perdition knocked a young woman to the ground, grabbed her, and then slammed her into a wall.

She wouldn’t have survived the impact.

“Kroushe!” Perdition roared.

Another shift hit.  They’re about ten seconds apart, and he’s hitting me for anywhere from one to five seconds each time.

Perdition was halfway across the street.  With the way the crowd was scattering and the number of available people to swap with was dwindling, he was running out of options.  He could run or he could stay and fight, virtually powerless.

He stayed, reached to his side, and unbuckled the largest pouch on his belt.

Perdition was getting closer.  He seemed to have only a general sense of where Trickster was, wide, mad, bulging eyes roving over the crowd.

Trickster swapped himself for someone else, waited until Perdition started to turn, then did another swap.

Perdition paced from one side of the street to the sidewalk, between the last two of Trickster’s chosen destinations.

Only one or two seconds were left before the next automatic time skip.

Trickster swapped himself for the body of the girl who Perdition had thrown into the wall, drew his gun and fired it, all in one smooth motion.  Screams of alarm erupted in the wake of the gunshot.

He stepped closer, then emptied the remainder of the clip into Perdition’s head and chest.

He swapped himself for someone in the lingering crowd, grabbed the closest person.  “I hope you own a car.  Because you’re going to lend it to me.  Fast.”

Krouse pulled the car into the driveway.  Oliver was outside, and hurried to Krouse’s side.

Oliver was taller than him, now.  The baby fat was gone, and he was fit.  Krouse had wondered at times why Chris had been so attractive to the ladies.  He didn’t wonder with Oliver.  Oliver was attractive in a way that meant he could model, he was naturally athletic, he was even smart.  It was scary how fast he was picking up new skills.

But he was still Oliver.  Whatever gradual transition his power was offering, it hadn’t changed the person at the core of it; an insecure, socially stunted teenage boy.  In a way, it had made it worse.  Oliver’s face and body changed according to his basic perception of attractiveness, and that changed a little every time he saw a new face.  In little ways, his face changed day by day, to the point that it wasn’t always easy to recognize him.

Fuck you, Simurgh, Krouse thought.  They’d all been forced to deal with their individual tragedies.  Noelle’s went without saying.  Jess hadn’t gotten to walk, Luke hadn’t gotten to fly, Oliver got a physical and mental overhaul without any fixes for the real problems, and Marissa had been thrust into the situation she’d fought so hard to escape, where she was forced to pursue a life she didn’t want.

Krouse’s tragedy was waiting for him inside.

As for Cody’s…

Oliver helped Krouse move the body out of the passenger seat.

They grunted as they carried it through the front door.  Krouse double checked nobody was observing.  He’d parked briefly to remove his costume, then swapped himself and the body for people in another car before continuing en route to their current hideout.  It was the middle of the day, and virtually everyone in this neighborhood would be at work or at school, but he feared some college student or elderly person would just happen to be outdoors or walking a dog.  It would make things complicated.

Accord wasn’t so wrong on that subject.  Things were better when they were simple.

Krouse and Oliver dragged the body to the middle of the living room.  It joined two others.  Each was different in the mutations, in the distortions and impurities.  Each of the three bodies was Perdition. Was Cody.

He looked at Ballistic, Jess and Oliver.  “Three?  You’re sure?”

“Sure enough,” Ballistic said.

“How’s she?”

“Upset.  You’re going to have to talk to her, calm her down.”

Krouse winced, nodded.

They all stared at the bodies.  This would be the third incident.  Or incidents three through five, if he wanted to count it that way.

“How much damage done?” Krouse asked.  “Anyone hurt?”

“A bunch hurt but nobody got killed by the one I went after,” Jess said.

“Yeah, a few hurt,” Ballistic said.  He paused.  “One dead.”

“Fuck,” Krouse said.  “At least two dead at the hands of the one I stopped.  Not as bad as last fall.”

Ballistic shook his head.

“We… we can’t let this happen again,” Jess said.

“That’s what we said last time,” Krouse noted.

“She’s getting stronger,” Jess said.  “And more volatile.”

“We’ll fix her,” Krouse said, his voice a touch hollow.  “We’ll fix her, and we’ll get home.”

Just words.  How can they believe me when I don’t even buy it?

“Where is he?” he asked, breaking the lingering silence.

Ballistic pointed in the direction of one of the ground floor bedrooms.

“What happened?” Krouse asked.

“We don’t know.  Neither Cody or Noelle are saying.”

Fuck.  Okay.  I need a smoke, then we’ll resolve this.”

“Krouse-” Luke said.  But Krouse was already out of the living room, pushing his way through the front door.

He stepped outside, sat on the front steps, took his time in getting his cigarette and lighting it.  He finished the first, started on the second, and gave serious consideration to having a third after that.

He shut his eyes.  Just need a moment of calm, a few minutes to organize my thoughts.


He resisted the urge to sigh.  Marissa was there, coming down the path from the driveway.  “Mars.  Glad you did okay with Accord.  Sorry to leave you like that.”

“It’s okay.  It was better that you went to deal with the situation.  I couldn’t have.  I don’t have it in me, even knowing they aren’t real.”

Krouse nodded, closed his eyes.

“He said I wasn’t perfect.”

Krouse froze, turned to see her leaning against the railing just beside him.  She’d changed into civilian clothes.  “You burned his place down, then?”

“No,” she said.  “He said I wasn’t perfect, but that he saw what you meant.  He said I was trying, despite myself.  I… I don’t know if that was a compliment or not.”


“Um.  He wants you to see him tonight.  Nine sharp.  And, um.  He said that if I’m not the problem, he fully expects you to bring the real culprit.  Did he mean Noelle?”

“Cody,” Krouse said.  “Shit.  Not the way I wanted this to go.”

“What!?  Krouse, he’s going to kill him.”


“We can’t!”

“We may have to.  If we don’t give him a scapegoat, he’ll send assassins and homicidal underlings after us.  We need someone to blame, not just for intruding on the meeting, but for the three very violent scenes that erupted in his territory earlier today.  Not to mention that we can’t afford to pack up shop and move right now, not while Noelle’s as upset as she is.  Between the two of us, I think we’ve charmed Accord enough that I’d bet we can get away with giving him Cody and paying him a fair sum.  We do that, we can stay for ten days.  We’ll gather some funds and give Noelle time to quiet down.”

“You’re talking about killing a teammate.”

“He was never a teammate.  He was one of us, yes, but he never cooperated, never worked with the rest of us.”

“We made a pact, a promise.  To stick together, no matter what.  To do what it took to fix Noelle and get home.”

Krouse shut his eyes.  “I know.  Not an hour goes by that I don’t think about it.”

“You’re breaking that promise if you give Cody up.”

Krouse sighed, took a drag of his cigarette and blew smoke out through his nostrils.


“Mars.  There’s no reason he’d enter her room and intentionally touch her three times.  You know that, I know that.”

He turned around to glance at her, saw her frowning.

“What do you mean, Krouse?”

“I mean he waited until the rest of us were busy, then he entered her room and he enraged her.  Because for there to be three points of contact, three uses of her power, she’d have to be the one making the contact.  She’d be using her power on purpose, and she wouldn’t do that if she wasn’t berserk.  I’m guessing he was badly hurt?”

“Broken arm, broken leg.”

Krouse nodded.  He took another drag of his cigarette.

“Why?  How?”

“He had a goal in mind, only he didn’t anticipate how fast she moves, how strong she is.  He was trying to do one of two things.  Either he did something general, said something, with the aim of making her go berserk… or he tried to kill her.  One way or another, Cody wanted to end this.  End our mission.  Free himself.  He doesn’t give a fuck about the promise, so I don’t see why the promise should protect him.”

“I don’t- I can’t believe that.”

“You can’t believe that Cody is that self-centered?  Did you just come from an alternate universe with a different Cody?”

“No.  I… I can almost believe it.  But you’re talking about killing.  Or giving him to someone else so they’ll kill him.”

Krouse finished the cigarette and tossed it to the base of the steps, crushed it under his toe.

“Tell you what,” he said.  “Let me talk to the others.  Maybe Cody too, just to confirm suspicions.  We’ll see if the others come to the same conclusion.”

“Krouse, you’re talking about sentencing Cody to death.”

“He knew what he was getting into.  And whatever else happened, three innocent people are dead because he fucked up.  So we’ll talk to the others.  We’ll come to a consensus.”

“This is ugly.  God, Krouse, it’s still Cody.”

“Yeah.  It’s not pretty.  So why don’t you take a break, clear your mind?  Maybe go do a food run for Noelle.”

Marissa frowned.  “Hate these runs.”

“We have to, and your turn’s up.”

“I know, I know.  But people look at me funny when I bring a cart of meat and only meat.”

“Tell them you’re buying for a restaurant and the wholesaler dropped the ball today.”

“It still looks weird.”

“Maybe find a butcher?  We’ve got a backyard here, if you want to get maybe two whole pigs, you can tell him you’re throwing a party.”

“Fuck it,” she muttered.  “Keys?”

Krouse fished the keys and the carton of cigarettes from his pocket.  He tossed her the keys and tapped another cigarette out of the box.

“And stop smoking.  You’re killing yourself, Krouse.”

“I know,” he said.

She was all the way at the car when she turned around and hurried back to the front steps.

“What?”  Krouse asked.

“I almost forgot.  Accord.  He wanted me to pass this on.”

She handed him a piece of paper.  There was a number printed on it.  Different area code.

“What is it?”

“He said someone was trying to get in contact with you.”


Marissa shrugged.

“For the record, Marissa, with guys like Accord, you can’t almost forget to pass on messages, and you don’t waltz in on a business meeting.  Things could have turned out a lot different today.  They still might.”

“I… I don’t want to interact with guys like him.”

“We have to.  Only way to go about it.”

“I know.  I just… next time we run into someone like that, I’ll stay hands off.  Keep my distance.”

“Alright.  Go, shop.  Take your time.  Give yourself a break, buy an ice cream or something.  You have my permission and my orders to go distract yourself.”

Marissa retreated to the car.

Krouse puffed for a minute on his second cigarette, pulled out his phone, and dialed the number.


“Accord gave me this number.”

Then this would be Trickster, I presume.


I have a business proposition for the Travelers.

“Well, things have gone a little south with Accord, here, so I’m not quite sure where we stand, but I need to do this job for him before I take on anything else.”

This is more of a long-term job.

“We don’t really do long-term.  We don’t stay in one place for long.”

I’m well aware of your circumstances.

Trickster took a long haul on his cigarette.  “That so?”

I know Accord through a mutual acquaintance.  Through this acquaintance and my own resources, I’ve gathered a fairly robust set of data on you Travelers.

“That sounds vaguely threatening.”

I suppose it might, to individuals trying to avoid scrutiny.  Rest assured, it is just the opposite.  I know what issues you face, Trickster, and I am offering you a solution.

“A solution?”

I’m offering three things, to be precise.  Work for me.  Help me achieve my goals and I will allow you to achieve yours.”

Krouse leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees.  he held the cigarette in one hand and the phone in the other.  “What do you know of our issues?”

I know what the PRT knows.  I know you appeared out of nowhere, that a Luke Casseus and a Noelle Meinhardt were admitted for care to St. Mary’s hospital, yet there are no such students on any high school rosters.

“We’re not from there,” Krouse said.

Then why did Luke Casseus put down Madison, Wisconsin as a place of residence?

Krouse suppressed a groan.

Rest assured, Trickster, there is no need for any alarm.  The fact that I know these things is an asset to you.  A contact of mine in the PRT has taken over your case file and requisitioned all details on your encounter with Myrddin.  That case will not be pursued further.

“And why are you doing this for us?”

Because I have goals of my own, and I believe one can’t be too careful.  When hiring expert help, I prefer that help to be loyal.  I will get that loyalty by giving you what you desire.  Everyone has their price, and my research into you Travelers has been done with the goal of discovering what that price is.

“Yeah?  Let’s hear it.  What’s our price?”

All the money you require, for one.  So long as you’re in my employment, I will pay for whatever you require.  Even if it is nearly one thousand, five hundred dollars in groceries per week.

“How generous.”

Number two?  I will send you home.

Krouse stopped, the cigarette dangling from his lips.

A man in power like myself has contacts.  Through one of these contacts, I have access to a man who can create doorways between worlds.  The caveat is that I won’t have the power, funds or leverage to request assistance from this individual until my own goals are met.

“So we have to help you for you to help us.”

Exactly, Trickster.  As for your other problem, well, that is a more daunting task.


“You said you could help.”

I can’t guarantee anything.  I can offer all of my resources, which are considerable, and all of the resources I will have, which are even more so.

“Sounds pretty wishy-washy.”

Perhaps.  But when making an argument or making a sale, I find it’s best to lead with the second best offer, move on to the weaker ones, and then close with the best.  I am offering you one more thing.


The man on the phone told him.

It was another minute before Krouse hung up.

Krouse spent fifteen more minutes sitting on the front steps of the house.  It was the first time in a year that he’d had a moment to stop and think and he didn’t reach for his  cigarettes.

When he stood, he was in something of a daze.

He stepped back inside.

“Krouse,” Luke said, “We need to talk about what we’re doing with Cody.”

“Later,” Krouse said.

“What’s going on?”

“Going to go talk to Noelle.”

“She’s pissed, Krouse.  She’ll flip out on you, and I’m not doing this again.  I won’t fucking hunt down deranged mutant clones.  Especially not yours.”

“Not an issue.  She’ll like what I have to say.”


After, Luke,” Krouse said.  He spun around, faced his friend. “I think we’ve got what we’re looking for.”


“A way home.  Maybe even a fix for Noelle.”

“How?  Who?”

“Some supervillain in Brockton Bay.  Wants us to work for him for a little while.  There’s more, but…”


Trickster met Luke’s eyes, “I want to tell her first.  Everything that’s happened, I have to.”

“We deserve to know too, Krouse.  We’ve been working at this as long as you have.  We’ve had our hopes up and had them dashed too.  Too many times.”

“I know.  I know.  Just… I’ll tell you after I’ve told her.  I think this is it.”

He caught a glimpse of Luke’s expression as he turned away.  A look of deep sadness.  Krouse hesitated.

What was he supposed to say?

“Just a few minutes,” Krouse said, “I’ll be back, then I’ll explain.”

He made his way to Noelle’s room, knocked.

Go away.”

“It’s Krouse.”

There was a long delay.

“What do you want?”

“I want to come in,” he said.

“No you don’t.”

“I do.  Please.”

There was a long delay.  He took that for assent.

Noelle didn’t meet his eyes as he entered.  He noted the mangled bedframe, the splintered wood from the boxspring, and the mattress torn in two.  An oak cabinet had been demolished, and both bedside tables were in ruins.  There wasn’t a single intact piece of furniture left.

He turned towards her.  “I-“

“Don’t look at me,” she said.

He stopped, then he seated himself on the floor with his back to the remains of the cabinet, his back to her.

“Come to talk?” she asked.  “Keep me company?”

“I was planning on doing it a little later. Things are kind of a mess out there, you know.  The Cody situation.”

“Nobody keeps me company any more.  Only you.”

“Yeah.  But that’s not why I’m here.”

“You want to know what happened with Cody.”

“I know what happened with Cody.  He tried to kill you.”

There was a long silence.

“I can’t die, Krouse.  I’ve tried.  Tried to end it.  Spare you guys from looking after me.  I can’t.  Nothing works.”


“I’m one of them.  Or I’m becoming that way.”


“An Endbringer.”

He felt a chill, and it wasn’t the early spring temperature.

“Maybe.  Or maybe you’re more like those monsters that were dumped on the street.”

They could die.  You told me that you killed one of them.”

“Probably.  But I saw another one die, you’re right.”

“And my power, if I get stronger, if I get more out of control-“

“You won’t.”

“I’ll be just as bad as the Simurgh.  In a different way.  I touch someone, and then I spit out copies.  Uglier, stronger… meaner.  I can’t control them.  If I got my hands on one of the major heroes?  Someone like that Myrddin guy?”

“You won’t.  Listen to me, Noelle.  I was just talking to someone.  We may have an answer.”

He heard her shift position, flinched despite himself.

“You’ve said that before,” she said.

“This sounds like it.  He’s not saying he might be able to make something that can get us home.  He’s saying he already knows someone who has a way.  Someone who goes back and forth.  And he knows people.  Scholars, scientists, this one girl with powers he didn’t explain, who knows stuff.  Like Accord does.”

“The guy you saw today?”

“Yeah, the one I told you about,” Krouse was getting excited, despite himself.  “The way this guy described it, there’s a solution out there, and he can get it.”

“Krouse, it’s- it’s not that easy.”

“I know.  I know it’s not easy, but there was a third offer on the table.  A third thing he was giving us.  He said we should consider it a bonus.”


Hope, Noelle.”

“I don’t understand.”

“He just got someone working for him, and this person can see the future.  And she says there is a way to help you.  Definitely.  Chances are low, but he says he’s confident he can maximize them.”

“He could be lying.”

“No, listen.  The Simurgh?  This guy said she has a weakness.  Two ways where she can’t see the future.  Two ways to break free of her cause and effect.”

Noelle didn’t say anything.

“The first way, you’ve got to be basically immune to powers.  Scion is.  He’s immune to precognition, throws everything out the window when he shows up.  I saw it when he fought the Simurgh.  She couldn’t automatically dodge his stuff, because she either couldn’t read his mind or she couldn’t see the attacks before they happened.  So he hit her, a bunch of times.  I saw it.”

There still wasn’t a response.

Krouse was getting more excited, had to press his hand flat against the floor to stop it from shaking.  “And the other way?  There’s thinker powers that mess with her ability to influence events. If another precog gets a hand in events, the Simurgh automatically shuts them down and vice-versa.  The way this guy said it, the precogs get overloaded with the second-guessing the other precog, on top of having to figure out all the quantum possibilities and split paths.  And this guy?  He has a power that messes with precogs some, and the precog working for him has a power that will help circumvent the Simurgh’s power.  Get it?  So long as we work for him, we’re free of it.  No more cause and effect.  No more feeling like we’re doomed no matter what choice we make.  We go from that kind of safety to home.  To our world.

Krouse turned around, and despite himself, he was smiling.  He had to blink rapidly to clear the tears that were collecting in his eyes, threatening to run down his face.

Noelle was perched on the ruined bed.  Her fingers were clutching a sweatshirt, with no shirt beneath.  Still the Noelle he’d always known.

From the waist up.

Around where her pelvis should have been, she’d changed.  The mass of tissue left her tall enough that she had to hunch over to avoid hitting her head on the ceiling, and she was lying down.  Half of it was angry, red, wrinkled or blistered.  The other half was smooth tissue, dark greens, dark brown and pale grays.  The head of an animal, half-bovine and half-canine, extended from the front, large as a horse from the back of its skull to the tip of its flaring nostrils.  Another head was in progress, emerging just to the left.  Two forelegs extended to either side of the heads, rippling with powerful muscle, ending in something that fell between claw and hoof, massive and easily capable of tearing through steel.

There were the fingers and thumb of a hand, extending from her right hindquarters, each digit thicker around than Krouse was, with another, smaller limb extending from the palm.  Her rear left hindquarters featured only a mess of tentacles, some bearing partial exoskeleton, some long enough that they had to encircle the massive head and numerous limbs, or wind in a wreath around her as she lay down, lest their coiled mass fill the master bedroom of the house and leave Krouse nowhere to sit.  Despite the apparent lack of bones, the tentacles were capable of supporting her weight.

She didn’t expel waste.  She only grew, or she reinforced what had already grown.

She’d tried to starve herself, to die of thirst.  It had turned out badly.  She’d gone berserk and killed forty people in one autumn night.  Their tissues had played a large part in building the massive fingers and thumb that extended behind her.

The others didn’t know quite how bad things had gone, then.  He’d managed to shield them from the news reports, the total body count, had kept them moving from city to city until the story died away.  They knew people had died, they didn’t know it was forty.

It was bad.  A bad situation overall, one that had Krouse retreating from the house in the dead of night, just to find the most remote location he could reach, to weep, to scream his frustration, rage, shame and guilt and not worry about the others hearing it.

But with all of that, with her sheer intimidating presence, he was nonetheless able to look up and meet Noelle’s eyes.  Hers were welling with tears, too.

“I believed what he was saying,” Krouse said.  “I think this might be it.  Our best chance.”

“You think so?  We can hope?”

“We can hope,” he repeated, whispering the words, as much to himself as to her.

A wave crashed against the beach.

He hurt all over.  His body wasn’t listening as he told it to move.  His hand slipped on the pavement as he tried to push himself up off the ground.  There was sand filling the cracks in the pavement, denying him traction.

He flipped himself over onto his back, instead, then sat up.  He wobbled as he stood.

The first thing he saw was Jess.  Jess in her wheelchair, at the edge of the grass, where it dropped down to the beach.  She was staring at the ocean.

“J-” he started to shout, had to force more air into his lungs before he could.

“Jess!” he hollered.

She didn’t move.

Sundancer was lying beside him.  He raised her mask and checked that she was breathing.  She was just unconscious.

His eyes roved over the empty lot.  No people.  No soldiers.  No other parahumans.

His eyes settled on a dense cluster of seagulls.

Krouse nearly fell as he made his way towards them.  He didn’t miss the tracks Jess’s wheelchair had made.  She’d been here.  She’d seen.

The seagulls scattered as he approached.  He saw a white feather that had been left behind, ground it under his toe as he might one of his cigarettes.

The birds had been gathering around a mark.  A stain.  There wasn’t a better word to sum it up.

It was blood.  Enough blood that whoever it had belonged to wasn’t alive anymore.  Drag marks extended off towards one side of the lot.  The soldiers had taken the body, and the seagulls had taken much of the remaining gore.  All that was left were bits of skull, and little fatty blobs that might have been brain.  The bullet would have passed through and shattered the cranium, by the looks of it.

He had no doubt as to who had died here.  Could remember the scene as it had been just before he’d been knocked unconscious, could remember where people had been standing.

Another wave crashed against the beach.  He heard the seagulls cawing angrily, wanting the morsels that littered the ground in front of him.

Krouse spent a very long time staring at the stain.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

312 thoughts on “Migration 17.8

    • Still an appropriate response. Noelle’s power, Noelle, the stuff the Travellers had to do for her, Trickster’s reaction to Coil’s death…okay, mostly Noelle.

      So many things answered. So stupid of me to have wanted to finish this chapter right before bed.

  1. Well, I made it. 8 chapters in 8 days.

    So… I like the stats. Viewership reached record highs with 696 unique viewers in one day.

    Hit record total pageviews in one day, yesterday, at 3654 views (5 pageviews per visitor).

    Topwebfiction, went from 3rd place to 1st (with an apparent margin of 100 votes).

    52,525 words written in total. Nice number with the repetition, until I edit or fix some lingering typos.

    If the Slaughterhouse Nine arc is any indication, I can probably expect a permanent bump in numbers. Whee.

    Thanks for putting up with me. Hope you enjoyed. Now I’m gonna go sleep until Friday.

    • HOW THE HELL IS THIS STORY NOT MORE WELL KNOWN? So freaking sad and scary. Noelle is berserk, there is going to be an army of freaking mutants of people running around and killing. The heroes are going to respond and then we’ll have an army of mutant heroes running around. Squads of mutant Miss Militias, gangs of hunchback Vistas, and lets hope they don’t send in the big guns. So we also found out the Smurf’s weakness, but now we know why Leviathan attacked. He wanted to replicate himself into an army of mutant Endbringers. Damn, she really can end the world if the Endbringers ever touch her. Their only hope is keep their distance, warn the heroes, and wait for Dragon. I doubt she can die, but maybe they can cover her in containment foam and lock her up. If the likes of Alexandria are replicated, nuke the site, it’s the only way to be sure. But I am predicting so much body horror in this next arc. Imagine an army of mutant Taylors who can send EVERY bug to attack people.

        • Quoth the author:

          [Coil] turned to Dinah, “The chance of survival if we were to give him what he wanted? Give him access to Noelle?”

          “Hey, no,” Trickster said.

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

          “A start,” Coil noted.

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

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

          • Trickster was manipulated by the Smurf. ANYONE else would have long realized just how freaking dangerous she is/respected her wishes to die, and told the heroes, who would have spent every waking minute united to figure out a way to kill her. Seriously the world could freaking end in the next hour depending on if she touches certain people.

            • That requires her to be able to be killed. I understand Trickster’s viewpoint that curing her would be easier. Especially when you consider the emotional side of it–remember how Noelle was Trickster’s girlfriend?

            • Don’t forget that Noelle has been shown to lose control and go beserk if she is put under stress. As much as she may want to die to end her personal misery and much more the danger she is to anyone around her when she is thinking clearly, she won’t passively let someone kill her, she would go beserk the moment someone starts to hurt her. You would need a method to kill her instantly, which could be at least as difficult to find as a cure would.

            • I dont’ think it was, I think people are thinking of when the doctor tells Alexandria that the transition will go quicker if she drinks the vial quicker.

            • You don’t screw with dosages on normal meds. Every drug either over the counter or prescription ALWAYS says to only take the recommended dosages. Even if that isn’t included in the official stack of papers included in the superpower case (which I can’t imagine considering their lawyer-like stance on this thing) I think it’s pretty much implied not to screw with dosages when dealing with serums that grant SUPERPOWERS. Best case scenario with a regular dose is good powers. Acceptable most likely scenario is okay powers with not TOO many side effects. Bad scenario is horrible death. Worst scenario is disturbing crippling mutations/side effects. Even assuming that explicit instructions for use is not included considering how Cauldron operates these contracts are very likely to include all those odds clearly stated. It may not be shown to the audience since all characters have skipped over the boring parts but it’s got to be in there and Jess at least seemed to read most of the documents. In what world HALF DOSE a good idea?! Krouse is a damn fool and it is a shame that Noelle paid the price.

              • In what world? A world where they don’t have any idea how the super serum (or superpowers in general) works, and they’ve never heard of Case 53’s. Earth Aleph is such a world.

                And it does seem a bit needless to say in the documentation “Don’t drink half a vial” when you aren’t supposed to get the vial except under controlled circumstances where there are Cauldron employees telling you what to do right there. Cauldron doesn’t exactly answer to the FDA, so it’s not unimaginable that this little detail would have slipped Doctor Mother’s mind. (Or maybe they’re afraid that it would give away some hint they don’t want people outside their organization knowing.)

            • We should note that the other part of her power would be what Oliver got, i.e. control over appearance. Presumably that power would counteract the deformity and maybe give her some control over the power as well.

    • First of all, agreeing with everything TheAnt said.

      Now for honest feedback. I think this was a bit shaky at points, but it built up really well. 6 and 8 were incredible, and most of it was at least good. I think it might actually have been slightly too long (or at least too many chapters) but that’s hard to say without counter examples. This is an area that I would suggest rewrites in a revision, but considering the sheer volume without a chance for editing that’s not really a criticism.

      • I don’t have a problem with the length of the arc, or the content of the chapters. The emotional resonance for each chapter is there. My only concern from a writing/editing standpoint would be to look for unnecessary repetition, telling, or slow points that can be taken out if you ever do a print version, as it is lengthy — but not once did I feel like it was taking too long.

    • 52,525 words written in total.

      You know that’s what they expect from people during NaNoWriMo, don’t you? People struggle for a month to push out that many.

    • 52k words in 8 days. There’s a new superhero involved with this story and his name is Wildbow.

      I don’t agree with WyldCards ‘too long’ sentiment. I will gladly read every word you write.

      Epic. Buckling my seatbelt for the next arc.

    • Huh, I’m currently studying in Madison so that was eerie to read. You wouldn’t happen to be living here? I’d have to buy you a pitcher at the terrace for writing such an excellent story.

  2. Jeez, Noelle is not a pretty girl anymore. I’m pretty sure their’s some Greek monster that’s kinda like her, the name escapes but it looked like a human woman from the waist up but from the waist down it was all kinds of wrong, with animal heads and snakes all over the place.

    I also get the feeling that the Undersiders are going to receiving Dwarfish levels of FUN in the future if this is any indication.

      • No, it was Echidna. Scylla was the long tentacled monster that snatched sailors as they passed close to her cave to avoid Charybdis which was the whirlpool that sucked ships to their doom Odysseus had to pass in Homer’s Odyssey.

        • I know who Echidna was, and while she had monster children(Fathered by Typhon) she doesn’t really fit the description as well as Scylla or Sin.

          Before she started snacking on sailors, Scylla was a nymph who was transformed(by a potion, no less!) to have dog heads growing out of her waist and tentacles and animal tails growing instead of legs.

          A similar description was used for Sin in Paradise Lost, except that she was also constantly giving birth to monsters.

          • Echidna was the first mythical monster to pop into my head. Although I’ve never heard of this Sin person.

    • By the way, I only know this due to some Second Life Roleplay that’s going on. It has to do with an apocalypse caused by the return of godly powers to 100 people on earth, with the remaining getting stronger based on the number of humans around and the number of “gods” left.

      Tiamat, primordial goddess of chaos and truer mother of monsters.

      One interesting aspect of her is that it could apply as well to the Two Beings. After all, Tiamat mated with another old god to create the lesser gods.

      Plus, take a look at her apperance section from Wikipedia:

      “Though Tiamat is often described by modern authors as a sea serpent or dragon, no ancient texts exist in which there is a clear association with those kinds of creatures, and the identification is debated.[9] The Enûma Elish specifically states that Tiamat did give birth to dragons and serpents, but they are included among a larger and more general list of monsters including scorpion men and merpeople, none of which imply that any of the children resemble the mother or are even limited to aquatic creatures.”

      And some other mention of her offspring: “These were her own offspring: Bašmu, “Venomous Snake,” Ušumgallu, “Great Dragon,” Mušmaḫḫū, “Exalted Serpent,” Mušḫuššu, “Furious Snake,” Laḫmu, the “Hairy One,” Ugallu, the “Big Weather-Beast,” Uridimmu, “Mad Lion,” Girtablullû, “Scorpion-Man,” Umū dabrūtu, “Violent Storms,” Kulullû, “Fish-Man,” and Kusarikku, “Bull-Man.”

      Welcome to the Chaoskampf, people.

    • FUN indeed. They should start building that magma-safe pump stack already.

      I’m surprised nobody mentioned Nub-Shiggurath.
      Sure, Noelle doesn’t look too much like her now; but feed her a few hundred cultists and find out.

      Noelle Ia!! Ia Ia!!

    • Um, I think the Greek monster on your mind is Kampe, who appeared in The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson). Her description is as follows: “Kampê has a human head, with snakes for hair, like Medusa. She has a half human body, like a centaur, but with reptilian skin and a dragon half, with gigantic claws.[2] Her dragon half is said to be black with white stripes down her back. She has huge scaly wings, a huge scorpion tail (that is extremely venomous), and at the point where her halves meet, her skin “bubbles and morphs”, occasionally producing ferocious mutated animal heads that constantly change shape (bear, tiger, crocodile, wolf, etc.) like a gruesome, monstrous belt. Hundreds of violent vipers are sprouted from her legs.”

  3. Hmmm. Scion is immune to Simurgh. Very interesting. I guess that either makes him God (or in some such way related, such as being created directly the Dancers or whatever), an Endbringer in his own right, or perhaps a time traveller. Or a precog that simply hasn’t let on.

      • “My ring doesn’t seem to be working. Maybe it needs to be charged with a battery.”

        He hooks some cables up to a pickup truck with a gun rack that’s covered in mud and gives the ring a jump. After he’s done getting knocked off his feet, he stands up and brushes himself off before noticing he’s wearing a skintight camo uniform with a Confederate flag on the chest. “Huh, look at that. Thanks to that battery, I’m a Redneck Lantern.”

        Using the ring, Psycho Gecko forms a double barrel shotgun in one hand and a chainsaw in the other. He looks between them with a grin, “Groovy.”

  4. Jesus Christ.

    Well, I guess that Oliver’s powers we’re intended to control Noelle’s meat absorption thing, but even with that her powers are pretty extreme. If Cauldron is trying to put out Endbringer level powers and it can go that wrong, that easily then I’m not exactly feeling their world saving skills.

    And sorry Krouse, Coil really didn’t give a shit about helping Noelle or sending you home, else he wouldn’t be using her as a final revenge gambit. Hope he realizes that before he tries to fuck with the Undersiders.

    • Coil has to be one of the biggest, self-absorbed, idiots ever created if he honestly thought he could keep her on a leash. So now we now why Coil’s plan was important to Cauldron. They don’t give a shit about Brockton Bay, they only cared about the woman who can create an army of supers with even stronger powers than the original. I guess their plan was to copy Noelle’s power to someone more controllable to create a neverending source of powers to copy and/or create an army of powerful, mutant, supers to kill the Endbringers. I doubt they could cure her, they would probably just dump the Travelers back home, giving the other earth their own Endbringer to deal with.

      • He was keeping her on a leash. She was just more like a cow or a horse. Sure, you can keep them around easily enough if they’re fed and looked after. But when they get too hungry and no one’s around, they could easily get out.

      • To be fair to Coil, Noelle’s leash held exactly as long as he wanted it to. This was presumably helped by Noelle not wanting to escape. The only reason it failed in the end was because of Coil’s spite.

    • I thought Coil was pretty frank about not giving a shit.But he is a bussinesman,he excanges what they like for what he likes.When dead,it doesn’t matter to him anymore.

  5. So…

    That vial, I think it was Division/Balance, either turns you into a super attractive, super smart person or into an Endbringer-like vaguely centaur/chimera-like thing.

    Talk about luck of the draw.

    Although the whole copy, improve, paste power is pretty amazing. It would make it nearly impossible for any of the Brute class or Striker class people to fight, unless they really want to meet their evil zombie twin.

    • I don’t think what Oliver or Noelle got represents what t the full power would be- it was broken by splitting the formula- if both the control and and meat of the power had been combined it would have been something very different; they were meant to go together to make something else. Noelle essentially has super cancer from the broken dose.

      • Hm, it seems reasonable to speculate on this…

        Oliver’s powers, Thinker, Changer, and possibly some Brute, depending on how you define it. He reacts to outside mental influences and desires.

        Noelle’s powers, Changer, Brute, and what’s probably defined as Master, though the term is way too broad.

        So, how do these powers interact?

        First of all, the controlled shifting probably counters Noelle’s flaws pretty well, if not perfectly. Perhaps it interacts in a fashion where her own desires/self image are impressed on her changing body. Perhaps it also gives some control/influence over her clones. There’s a good chance that the divided serum gives powers that the whole wouldn’t, and the full dose might give other abilities.

        Anyway, this was probably ALWAYS going to be a really powerful cape. Combine the different pieces here and we’ve probably got a potential Triumvirate member here.

        • They both react to outside influence. One to touch, the other to something else. Thoughts about him.

          So two thoughts. If she had a whole dose, she’d look like someone’s ideal, attract them close, then spit out a possibly idealized copy of them. Anyone else get the idea that you could fill a harem that way?

          Now, the other idea sounds more like it though. What if Division was meant more as a military term? We’re talking about someone who could spit out supersoldiers if she ran into just one ideal soldier. Or evil twins who were possibly better than the original.

      • If you remember, every vial contained 15% ‘Balance’. This is probably the portion of the dose meant to control the power, keep it ‘Balanced’ (must be a reason Cauldron felt it needed to be added to every vial). Now, If you mix two different liquids (Division/Balance) sometimes they can settle out. Imagine if the Balance settled to the bottom. Krouse pours the top 50% into a cup (all Division) and gives it to Noelle. She gets the power, but nothing to keep it in check.

        Meanwhile, Oliver gets 35% Division and 15% Balance – not enough of the power to be really spectacular.

        Just one theory 🙂

    • Lokking back at the interlude where Battery got her powers from cauldron we got this explanation:

      “No sample provides the exact same powers every time. The bullet points note examples of the powers gained when the sample was tried on a human subject or a client. There’s typically a common thread or theme connecting powers from a given sample. One sample might have a tendency to work with the production of acids and a tendency for physical manifestation. This might allow an individual to turn into a living pool of acid, to secrete acid from his pores or to spit streams of corrosive venom.”

      I think the reason that Noelle is so fucked up by her powers has less to do with powers and more to do with how fucked up she was before she got them,

      • Do I get any points for bringing up Chimerism and the possibility that another person was growing out of her as what made her hungry?

        That might still connect to the way she felt touching certain clothes too. She might have spat out a mutant killer shirt by now.

        I’m betting it was a turtleneck. Whenever I wear one, I always feel like the traitorous little thing is going to try and choke me. Egads, we need to keep her away from the ties and thongs!

    • I agree as well. Wildbow this story has engaged me from Arc 1(all thanks to TV Tropes). If this was ever in dead tree or eBook form I’d pay for them all! If I had the money I’d be a regular donator….Damned monies.

      Don’t know if its possible but I would LOVE to see an arc or bonus’ where we see when each Endbringer came, and maybe an origin story for Scion(unless that will be revealed later….I want to see a story from his PoV).

      As for what was revealed here…..I never suspected No’ would be spitting out malformed clones of people who touched her, sure I suspected that the things in here were…..less than human, due to the yellow eye. My question is…..would Scion be immune to her, and could Amy be able to help her any.

      • I think someone asked about Amy on a forum somewhere, a little while back.

        My response after detailing Noelle’s abilities is the same as it was then: ‘If Trickster and his team thought there was a chance of Amy helping them, don’t you think they would have tried’?

        No. That would turn out rather badly, to be frank.

        • Thanks for the fuel to keep my nightmarish imagination going! Who needed sleep anyways?! But if she had complete control of the biology of Noelle couldn’t that mean she could stop the clone from forming……unless the clone ejection is instantaneous from touch.

        • Interestingly, Bonesaw and Hatchet Face working together could have fixed Noelle. As it stands now, I think the only person who is powerful enough to stop Noelle, aside from Scion, of course, is Siberian. She’s basically unstoppable, and since she’s only a projection, there’s no chance of duplication.

          Too bad they’re all bad guys.


          • Actually I think someone said in-story No’ could fight Siberian and win, but yeah Hatchet and Bonesaw could help, if they weren’t sociopaths. As for Grue….eep, not good for anyone……

            • Specifically they said something along the lines of “If Siberian fought the Travelsiders (including Noelle) then Noelle would probably be fine” (in the same way that Crawler vs Siberian would be I imagine, which is to say that neither could kill the other)

          • Ooh, what if Grue’s darkness counts as touching someone enough for it to apply Noelle’s power? Either so he touches her early; or so his clones copy her power again, then everyone their boosted darkness reaches, including Noelle gets copied…

        • Super-body-modifiers tend to disrupt healing, after all. And that’s ignoring the restraints needed to prevent Amy from, you know, being killed. That would also disrupt her ability to heal people.

  6. So now we know what Noelle’s power is. That’s… dangerous. Really dangerous. I can see why she’d be considered an Endbringer level threat.

    Though now I’m curious if her power only works on humans. I’m sure everyone knows what I’m getting at. Of course, People guessed that Skitter’s power would work on Leviathan, and we all know how that turned out. I think we can conclude that either Noelle’s power doesn’t trigger when bugs touch her, or the things it creates are too different for bugs for Skitter to control. Things would be too slanted in Skitter’s favor otherwise.

    Also, who do you think Noelle will end up touching in the next arc? Place your bets now!

    • Give me 1000 schrute bucks on either Skitter herself or her dad and 100 on the other Undersiders. Just picturing Taylor fighting a mutant version of her dad/her teamates would be tragic and horrifying, while fighting a demented version of herself is too awesome for words. Bizarro Taylor for the win!

    • Yeah, I can easily see Skitter having to face down an evil version of herself.

      Ha! Or you know what, now that the Undersiders have shown themselves capable of taking on every threat around, they might have to face the most dangerous enemies left…themselves as a group.

      If it comes down to providing some closure to things, though, I can also see Emma getting touched by Noelle. Skitter getting a chance to beat down a bully again.

      • I don’t think Emma is in the city, but I can picture Taylor being torn on it. On the one hand she is worried that she feels nothing from shooting Coil on the other hand Emma betrayed her and made her life hell. So she’ll take gleeful, absolute joy, as she flays them alive with her bugs, but she’ll feel bad about it afterward. This arc could be the one where everyone realizes just how much she actually holds back and how freaking scary a Skitter who is willing to kill can be. Imagine a giant horde of mutants being instantly swarmed and poisoned/eaten alive.

    • Against Levethan she was mostly an observer, but if she could actually control mutant clone bugs, then Skitter’s monster bugs will be the only ‘front line combatant’ that the city could actually deploy against Noelle. They wouldn’t actually be able to hurt Noelle, so it hardly counts as overpowered when fighting a freaking Endbringer.

  7. On the eighth day of Wormmass, my wildbow gave to me;

    Eight badass chapters,
    Seven creepy thighballs,
    Six super powers,
    Five tagged capes,
    Four thurfan cnapa,
    Three brave friends,
    Two cameos,
    And the start of some origin stories

    I just want you to know wildbow, that we are all so proud of you for this past week.

  8. Interesting and Cody’s end was different than expected (does never found the body apply here?)

    The revelations about Noelle’s powers are something different.

    Monstrous copies of with upgraded powers sound bad. I wasn’t quite clear whether these copies are naturally evil or just berserk and if they are mentally defective or if it was just the mutations that made it harder for Mutant-cody to speak. If the copies are mentally defective that would mitigate the effects on Tinkers and Thinkers. If they retain their intelligence things could go really badly if someone like Tattletale got cloned.

    Now, back on a normal update schedule, we have to wait until Saturday again to see what happens. And I was trying not to get used to daily updates 😦

    • And I probably won’t be doing something like this again until the story’s conclusion rolls around.

      And I may have to ask for more in the way of a benchmark when that time comes. It’s a bit much, and pretty much everyone I know hates me because I’m useless for anything else for a week.

      Except my dog. She doesn’t hate me, but she deserves an owner who takes her on more walks (which I’ve been slacking on this week).

  9. Now let’s examine just how horribly bad this fight can go by looking at who is in Brockton Bay.

    Skitter: This could go pretty bad if Noelle’s power works on bugs. The two of them or a clone working together could get so bad so fast that I could seriously see the world ending just based on that. There’s likely limits involved though.

    Miss Militia, Assault, Triumph, Lady Photon, Laserdream, Flashbang, Brandish, Bitch, Regent, Spitfire, Faultline, Newter, Gregor, : Not hugely horribly dangerous by themselves. Strong capes, but that’s about it. Note the sheer number of them though.

    Weld: Another one not hugely and horribly dangerous, but worth consideration over his lack of a need to do things like eat and sleep. His clone could last a while and be pretty dangerous, more dangerous than usual. His clone is very worrying.

    Kid Win: Assuming his brain chemistry and focusing ability gets closer to normal, he’s supposed to have a tremendous amount of Tinker potential. His clone might be That Bad.

    Vista: Limited by the Manton Effect, but still there are some nasty considerations when you think about a person who clones at a touch having the power to get closer to people.

    Grue: That could suck really badly really fast. A person who replicates powers in the middle of Noelle’s swarm is just worrying.

    Tattletale: Hard to say. A clone with her intuition kind of negates the “cunning plan to take them down” possibility.

    Imp: Noelle, without anyone remembering she exists or being able to track her?

    Shamrock: Seems like there’s some really horrific possibilities here, especially in such a chaotic situation.

    Yeah, things could get really bad, really quickly.

      • I think he mentions in his interlude that he is immune to powers that focus on just organic material/inorganic material. So he and any leftover dragon suits are the best bet for containing her. Give him a backpack full of containment foam, have everyone else try to keep the mutants at bay/stay the hell away from her, and pray a hero/villain isn’t stupid enough to try get close like her teammates.

      • He’s made of metal. His circuits gleam. He is perpetual, he keeps the country clean. He’s elected, electric eye. He’s protected electric eye.

    • This isn’t mentioning the GROWING army of mutant people running around who I will assume are stronger than the average person. I think I might have just gotten my zombie outbreak scenario depending on how they act. The absolute worst case scenario is another Endbringer attack. They are due for the next one, the things are attracted to the potential for mass destruction/death, and there will never be a greater chance to end the world than right now.

      • There’s something about Endbringers not hitting the same place twice in a row, but I suppose they might make an exception for this.

    • I wonder what happens if two people touch her at once. Just two clones, or one mix and match clone with both sets of powers?

      Damn, I wasn’t quite so far off about being able to create superpowered copies of her friends. I just imagined she’d have eaten the others first.

      • Yeah, that’s actually one of your most accurate predictions to date, Gecko. You just missed the part about them being psychotic mutants.

    • Honestly, I think Bitch would be pretty bad, too. What if her clone powered up every dog in the city? And remember, the clones have upgraded powers too…

      • Hell, clone the powered-up dogs. Even odds that the clones wouldn’t “remember” that they were only temporarily beefy. They’d stay big and mean forever, and they’d be extra big and mean from the mutation.

    • Grue is the worst possible thing that can happen. From what I gather Noelle’s produced clones use secondary trigger versions of their poowrs. Grus already had secondary trigger event. Mutated Grue with TETRIARY trigger powers. Who would be spawned in range of Noelle. And will copy HER powers. Perhaps even perfect them. You get that Apocalypse image now?

    • Noelle doesn’t get their powers, the clones do.

      Not to say that your conclusions are invalid, mind you.

    • Noelle’s power doesn’t seem to work on dead things. Maybe. Hard to tell with all the stuff she’s got in her. Like maybe it just tries to replicate the dead meat she eats and that’s why she’s got a weird skull sticking out of her.

      But I was just thinking how much it would suck if Trickster got the idea to flick some of that Coil brain onto Noelle.

        • I’m not sure how insect reproduction works, but I think there’s a limit to how involved a human can get in the process even with superpowers.

          • Setting up the right conditions with certain traits to track is one thing. Working the bug nuts is quite another.

            Now I’m imagining someone who can throw their mind into nearby animals always accidently using that power at the worst times…like fruitfly mating season.

      • Judging by how Noelle managed to hit Cody three times, I’m guessing she doesn’t absorb meat via touch. My guess is that her human head or that weird head eats the food.

  10. Hm…

    As suggested, it might be interesting if Noelle spawns occasional “good twins” in addition to evil ones. This seems fairly plausible, given what we’ve seen. Random change would statistically be bad, but it doesn’t always have to be bad.

    Skitter having the twin seems a bit too much, even if she’s great. Lisa might be good IMO. Imp might be especially interesting, giving her someone to connect with. Good versions of villains could be fascinating. Imagine the good a heroic Bonesaw could do. Simply mass producing heroes might be effective as an anti-Endbringer weapon. Heck, imagine if Scion came out of nowhere next arc, and started touching her, creating an army of the good guys, the best guys.

    Noelle just might redeem the world…

    Nah, this is Worm.

  11. Whoa… Noelle’s lower half makes Fullmetal Alchemist’s Envy’s true form look like a pretty boy. Has she tried using Sundancer’s flame to kill herself?

  12. Congratulations, wildbow! this arc was awesome, almost as awesome as your feat of writing it in just 8 days!

    now, however, we’ll have to wait until saturday for the next chapter. you do love to torture your readers, don’t you?

    ps: I vote for Echidna, though Noelle also seems to have a lot of chimaera, a bit of Scylla, Tiamat and Sin.

    pps: cody sucks

    ppps: seriously, wildbow, we really need some kind of list where the power classifications are explained

  13. Not gonna lie Wildblow, finally knowing what Noelle’s power does scares the hell out of me. Just a terrifying rage-monster factory sort of thing. This was incredibly exciting and I really dig that you gave the Travelers a lot more backstory. I am so excited for Friday it’s not even funny.

    • It could have been worse.

      When I saw that there was a mutant monster, my first thought was that she turned people into mutated versions of themselves who could mutate others.

  14. Amazing how different Oliver and Noelle’s powers are from the same vial.

    I wonder if more food would make the monstrous parts separate entities, kind of like how she mutates copies out of who she touches.

    Skitter killed their hope? Guess they didn’t tell Ballistic about how Coil and Dinah counter Simurgh. The whole “Jack leaving Brockton Bay” prophecy could be as simple as “while jack was in town Skitter was too busy to deal with Coil” since now they don’t have a counter for Simurgh and Noelle is loose.

    Guess Accord dealt with Cody? Had a sick feeling in my stomach ever since Mars entered his office. Excellent writing.

  15. Holy cats, talk about bleak!

    But, as bad as Noelle being loose is, this whole arc has mostly, for me, underscored how screwed up and dangerous Cauldron is. They are playing with matches, times 1000.

    I can’t get around a vague feeling that exactly what’s in those ‘samples’ is ground up parahumans.

    I also can’t help but feel the ultimate endpoint of the Worm storyline is going to hinge on exactly what powers are and how folks get them — there are too many hints about them, and too many folks working on them…

    Cauldron. Bonesaw. Tattletale’s near insight. Armsmaster and Dragon’s ‘recorded breakout’. Panacea’s very real insight that Simurgh kept out of Dragon’s hands.

    It all adds up to Something Big.

    What, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to find out.

    Thank you, Wildbow!

    • Oh, also — did anybody else notice how Simurgh’s gateway that spewed monsters kind of prefigured Noelle’s eventual powers? Two different ways of filling the world with monsters. Maybe the universe those monsters were pulled from was filled with alt-Noelle’s spawn?

      Shudder. Yay, body horror?

      • it seems more likely, given the Cauldron laboratory appearing, that Simurgh pulled in a bunch of early/failed power experiments.

    • “Playing with matches, times 1000”? Son, lemme tell you ’bout numbers. (Said ironically, given your username)

      Compare a match to Sundancer. Reevaluate your multiplier. Take into account that Sundancer isn’t even one of the big guns. Discard attempts to draw an equivalency.

      (I know you were using 1000 aphoristically, and I do not mean any actual criticism. Just thought it bore elaborating on just how ridiculously huge the stakes of Cauldron’s game are.)

  16. Noelle surveyed the soon to be battlefield. her monstrous clones were shambling behind each other in lines, through various lanes of attack. Blasto stood waiting behind ranks of bulbs, plants and flowers designed to pelt the incoming hordes with projectiles.

    “alright everybody, its time for -” trickster paused for dramatic effect ” EPIC PLANTS VERSUS ZOMBIES!”

    • Quick, we need to dispatch Michael Jackson from his game Michael Jackson: Moonwalker.

      His dancing will distract the zombies until he catches a falling star and turns into a flying robot that shoots lasers. This will have the added benefits of blowing the minds of the other zombies which is a good way to kill them since you have to destroy the brain.

  17. Noelle may be the closest we get to having Genoscythe the Eyeraper in the story.

    A man can dream though.

    A man can dream…

  18. Wildblow, that was brilliant, that was legendary, that was sex. I literally got chills once I found out what Noelle’s power was — and then realized just *how* bad things would have gotten if Crawler had reached her. Accord was cool as fuck (and may I say how much I love rules-based “equivalent exchange” powers like his and Trickster’s) and their loyalty to Coil now makes such complete and absolute sense; between his power, Dinah’s and hell, Tattletale’s influence on Coil’s decisions, they were safe from the Simurgh’s Causality Geas of DOOM.

    On the plus side, that means they’ll have to latch on to Tattletale in order to stay safe.

  19. There are so many different ways this next arc can go. But almost all of them involve liberal amounts of body horror, and fear/desperation. If this next arc was a comic book cover it would Skitter fighting mutant versions of regular people like her dad, Piggot, and Emma. I doubt the Undersiders will get close but who knows. It’s horror story time boys and girls.

      • Mine is an evil laugh!

        I think it’s chilling that Wildbow felt we couldn’t just be TOLD how big a threat Noelle is. We needed a truly epic feat of storytelling to force-feed her backstory to us just to set up the reveal, and that’s after months of hints and foreshadowing. Shit is about to get REAL, son. [/fakeurban]

        • Zehahahahahaha! My favorite evil laugh would probably have to be Mark Hamil’s laugh as the joker. Skitter needs to work on her evil laugh through her swarm speak. I kind of doubt she will be the one to kill/stop Noelle on her own, but she needs to laugh if she somehow personally beats her. Dr. Horrible can recommend a good voice coach.

    • I’m personally not a muhaha guy if it’s a hard mu. If I do it that way then I soon wind up saying “moo goo gai pan” instead. Mwahaha isn’t so bad. I prefer cheesy over something like hehehe or kekeke which comes across as sneakier or Snidely Whiplash’s dog respectively. I’m guessing in Spanish it would translate to mwajaja.

      And now, another evil laugh from me to join the ranks of Iori Yagami and Shawn Michaels. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CyZoe-r9qb0

  20. Also, question to wildbow: how long have you had noelle worked out (both appearance and power)? because I’ve had a character pretty much just like that worked out about a month ago for my story.
    now I need to make a new one. again T_T

    • Hard to say because I don’t have access to one laptop with a lot of stuff on it.

      But I do have one document that basically covers the same events of this arc, and I last touched it on May 29th, 2009.

    • Ideas are worth about $0.008 (a dime a dozen). What matters is execution. You got an idea? No need to throw the idea away, just write about it!

      Your execution is bound to be different than anyone else’s. Hell another person will probably have a hard time even figuring out that there’s a connection between the two characters unless you’re actually ripping off chunks of text from another writer’s work. Just witness how shockingly different characters turn out in shared worlds where you’ve got multiple authors *trying* to write the same people.

    • I was actually thinking of this. If Coil can make two worlds… and each clone is ‘better’ if misshapen and psychotic… then Coil touching Noelle a dozen or hundred times would create so many alternate realities that in at least *one* of them there’s salvation no Endbringer no bad stuff. Sort of the monkeys banging on keyboards and coming up with Shakespeare thing.

      Alternatively, Noelle touching Dinah and precog^precog^precog etc to the nth power until the Simurgh brain explodes trying to figure it out…

      Which is one other thing. There was a mention at some point about Cauldron being able to ‘take away’ powers…

  21. And on the subject of donations – raising one idea I had while discussing the bonus updates with someone via. IM…

    The ending is approaching (not imminent, but on the horizon), and the way donations are rolling in, it seems likely that we may have overrun – that is, interludes extending beyond the point the story ends.

    Do you guys want…
    * Character epilogues post-ending?
    * Donation leftovers to go towards another bonus week like this one (only for the pre-conclusion), with a higher cap? (That is, 600 dollars or such? 8 bonus updates for the price of 5)
    * Refunds?

    I mean, as it stands we’re close to having enough donations to have a bonus week for every week in Feb, and January’s not even halfway over yet. Just trying to think ahead.

    • Refunds? These are DONATIONS you are talking about. I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but when I donated, I didn’t EXPECT anything. I gave because of how much I have enjoyed what you have already written.

      My vote: Do whatever you like, whatever works best for the story. Don’t feel obligated Wildbow, you have earned any money you have been given.

      All that said, I’ve always liked epilogues because I like things all wrapped up nicely 🙂

        • Take it as incentive to write another book. 😀
          Speaking of which what are your plans after you complete Worm?

        • I’m thinking that when Worm draws to a close, I’ll spend a few weeks throwing samples for story ideas out there, see what captures people’s imaginations, maybe get some polls going, then go from there.

    • Wildbow, if the story is coming to an end, please make sure it is suitably epic. I just hope its not a Downer Ending. Bittersweet is okay, but a story without some feeling of accomplishment for our main characters always hurts too much. I’ve made this suggestion before, but after the end, could the Wormverse be passed on to another author, with your input/consent, or become an open universe for people to play in? This could be especially possible given the canon multiple universes.

      Just don’t let Psycho Gecko get control of one of those universes, eh?

      • Why do people keep asking for this?

        No. I’m going to try and make the ending suck. Things are going to wind down and peter out without any threads resolved, and it’ll be realllly boring. And it’ll sort of be a shaggy dog ending, too. With just a bit of gainax ending thrown in for shits and giggles. Because I’ve put in literally thousands of hours towards planning/drafting/writing Worm and I want it to turn out as badly as possible. /s

        More seriously, as far as passing on to another author, I don’t think I’ll be doing that, for a lot of reasons. Primary ones being that it wreaks havoc with my IP rights and puts me in an ugly spot if I happen to want to return to Worm or do something non-writing related with it.


        • And after my disastrous attempt to come up with a way of ending Behemoth, I agree I shouldn’t try to write it. I did consider a character or two that could be written in universe, but when things started to tie together more thoroughly, I realized there’s no way I could do that or I might discount or miss some part of the setting you have. Like if I had them use $1 bills.

          The reason why we all think you’re going to have a downer ending to this is because you’ve written some pretty dark stuff in this. Taylor handed over for Bonesaw’s experimentation just after seeing Grue cheating on her with Tattletale, Regent, Emma, and a Shadowstalker clone spit out by Noelle who just joined up with Cauldron to divide the world into halves between their group and the Endbringers would not be a stretch for you.

          You know, that gave me an idea. Maybe the reason why Taylor had limited access to her powers when incapacitated was for the same reason she thinks so much better. The bugs. Just like she hijacks their processing power to help herself think without realizing it, she was perhaps tapping into the portions of their brains that affect powers in small enough amounts to exert a little control.

        • Your worldbuilding looks decent enough that you might be able to publish an RPG book on the Wormverse. If you’re not interested in writing it, you might be able to talk someone else around here into doing that, and splitting the royalties.

        • @ PG: My issue isn’t with people thinking there’ll be a downer ending. That’s ok. You can have a downer ending that’s still a good, appropriate ending. Or take the other route and have the ending be one of triumph.

          My issue is more with people pleading for me to have the ending be good/tie up loose ends/be climactic/be interesting. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into the story. A lot. So why wouldn’t I try to make it as good as I can get it?

          @ Kim: I know someone on the rpg.net forums was working on something, but not sure how far they got.

        • Sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. I just wanted to make sure enough time and effort would be put into the ending, even if you have to get it out a bit late. Quality over quantity/schedule, I guess. Whatever happens, though, I’m sure it will be great for the storyline.

          My biggest concern had to do with having such a colossal collection of colorful characters means that some have never (and may not) get much spotlight or get a suitable ending without seeming dragging the story itself. For just one example, how did Emma and Sophie meet, and what happened that led to the change in Emma’s treatment of Taylor? In other media, such information would likely go into databooks without much thought. Here, we have a chance to see you give us an actual glimpse into the scene via interlude. In this case, I guess, character epilogues would work best. I’d even look forward to a day in the life of the average PRT member, seeing the capes work from that perspective.

          Again, sorry for the offense. Readers always hope that a good story can go on, especially when it comes with such a beautifully-crafted world. Case-in-point: Harry Potter fanfiction. No matter what happens, I’ll continue reading, and I’m sure it will be fantastic.

        • It’s ok – I’m not really offended. I just… don’t really understand the perspective of ‘Wildbow could let the ending suck’ or the fact that this keeps coming up. Trust me, I love the story as much as you do (or more) and I want it to be good too.

          • Well, Lucas probably wanted the Star Wars prequels to not suck too. Not that I’m saying you’re nearly as bad at writing dialogue as Lucas.

        • Epilogues, part 36

          The man who helped Taylor against Mannequin went on to live a full life for three weeks after the story until he was randomly hit by chihuahua dropped out of a skyscraper window by a distraught and suicidal heiress who decided not to go through with it after letting her dog go first. His last words were reportedly, “Man I hate cats. Cats will eat you as soon as you’re dead if they didn’t kill you first.” He is survived by his wife and his mistress, her sister.

          Epilogues, part 37

          Circus went on to portray Varsuvius in the live screen adaptation of Order of the Stick until brought down by scandal when it was determined that he or she had a kid…by an equally ambiguous high school crush. In an attempt to get to the bottom of the matter, prom photos were extensively combed to determine whether Circus wore a tuxedo or a dress. In the process, they discovered Circus just never went to prom. So they made something up and started writing about Snooki’s unholy abomination of a child being the next superstar of reality TV despite being born with a tanning lotion addiction.

          War…war never changes.

        • wildbow,
          A LOT of endings suck. Fushigi Yuugi’s ending sucked (author got sick of the main character, so made the villain into the good guy). Evangelion’s ending sucked (author suffered major depressive episode…). Some people fail to stick endings, and when you see something AWESOME like this story, it’s only natural to want it to turn out /right/.

          Meh. I do want you to have an awesome ending. But I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that asking you for an awesome ending makes it any likelier.

          • I think you just didn’t understand Evangelion’s ending. Which is okay, it was very heavy on the high theory post-modernism stuff. It made sense to me – vastly more sense than the authors he was invoking, actually. And strangely enough, I prefer the series end to the movie.

            • You know I don’t even think ANNO understood Eva’s ending…I can see why you prefer the series end though. It’s happy, if utterly mindtrippy. The movie is…well almost as far from happy as possible while still not being a Downer.

    • I love character epilogues, but I’d hate to see you close out a character that you might want to do more with later on too.

      Ultimately I’d be fine with my donations going towards a beach house rental and some drinks with little umbrellas in them for you to relax with and recharge your batteries for your next effort.

    • I think that a good portion of us (funds pending) would support the first two items, namely character epilogues and bonus weeks.

      However, this should be reasonably checked by how much fuel the Wildbow has ‘in the tank’ as it were. If a week+ of intense story-telling destroys the author (even with the work being amazing!) that is not a fair exchange.

      Any thoughts on an RPG setting (more the world than Brockton Bay)? Has this been brought up before?

      • As stated above, someone was trying their hands on working out a RPG system that would encompass the kinds of powers in Worm. Harder than it sounds, and it sounds hard.

        They got to a certain point and then thought of another system they might alter to work it out, and that’s the last I’ve heard from them.

        • I think the Simurgh got them. Occupational hazard of dealing with multiple realities with such world-ending telepathic precognitive monsters…

        • Thinking about Worm as an RPG is interesting because a lot of the CHARACTERS in Worm are rules lawyers. Taylor is obviously one character who’s managed to squeeze a lot of mileage out of comparatively weak powers, but Coil, Tattletale, Trickster and others do similar, too.

          Systemwise, I’d say use a very simple, freeform system. Something like FUDGE/FATE maybe. Don’t even *try* to balance the powers against each other. “What matters is what you do with it” might as well be Worm’s tagline and the RPG should capture that.

    • Personally if there is anything that I would want at the end of Worm, it would be a back story on Sophia and Emma. What changed with Emma that would make her want to do these things to Taylor, and what is Sophias problem with Taylor to begin with. This is the one thing that has been gnawing on me since I started reading worm. Their hatred especially Sophias toward Taylor just strikes me as something more than, Well we can pick on that girl really easily! It seems more direct than that.

      It will be sad to see worm go, but I get the feeling we haven’t seen the last of Wildbow anyways, so I will wait patiently for your next story once you are done.

        • Is there any reason not to publish it as is on Amazon once it’s finished? A million or so words up already, it seems a waste not to get some sort of return for them over and above donations. It’d be more likely to make actual money than an RPG setting IMO.

        • I do intend to get it thoroughly edited, to fix the beginning some, and maybe tweak the weaker arcs, over a longer period of time, and then publish it as an e-book (and if there’s interest, as a long series of print books).

          But I don’t want to take a break from writing in the meantime. I’ve got a rhythm going, and I feel like stopping for a few months before I start the next story would do more harm than good.

          • Aw, you keep saying that. The beginning is what sucked me into Worm in the first place. I don’t think it needs ‘fixing’.

      • Well, having spent part of my existence being the one being picked on, I can tell you with some certainty that there doesn’t have to be any particular reason why it starts. Bullies ‘cast their net’, so to speak, quite wide, testing the world around them for weaknesses. If someone reacts to these tests (insults, strange looks, loud voices, whatever), they notice, and probe deeper. Bullies tend to very quickly home in on those most vulnerable to their attention.

        Taylor is (was, actually) prime bullying material: naturally uncomfortable and awkward in social situations, emotionally fragile (due to her mother’s recent death), and acting in a manner that was different from ‘normal’ (i.e. looking sad or mopey, not laughing when everyone else laughs — also due to her mother’s death). Unless there had been someone else who attracted her attention first, Sophia was pretty much guaranteed to start bullying Taylor.

        Once a bully finds a victim who continues to react as a victim, they rarely stop of their own accord. Since bullying is all about power as a way of assuaging the bully’s own insecurity, they have no reason to stop without external repercussions, and every reason to continue. It makes them feel good.

        Almost inevitably, certain other less secure individuals are going to be drawn into the bullying cycle as “henchmen” or supporters of the bully. This is for the same reason why many people joined or worked for the Nazi party: it’s safer that way. And then, of course, there is also an attraction for lesser bullies as well — beta bullies emboldened and empowered by the presence and activity of the alpha bully.

        It’s hard to say for certain which of these categories Emma falls into, but I would guess that she was not a beta bully, instead just a scared girl who pushed the boundaries against Taylor to prove her “loyalty” to Sophia, and therefore cement her place of security in the gang. She pretty much would have had to, to prove that she was no longer aligned with Taylor (since such alignment would leave her open to similar attacks by association).

        Once the bully has developed a following, the situation is exacerbated even further. The alpha bully feels validated in her actions, since she “clearly” has such strong support. She receives very little criticism about her actions (mostly now by proxy via her followers), since she now has enough power that others are afraid to criticize her for fear of reprisal. Worst of all for her main victim(s), since her power base comes solely from her mistreatment of these individuals, she not only cannot cease her victimization, but must actually “up the ante” and increase the frequency and severity of the bullying to maintain credibility and interest among her power base. Of course, since the leader is pushing harder, so too must the followers if they want to remain part of the group.

        The worst part of all this is that none of the people involved in the bullying ever wanted it to get like this. Unless they are conniving psychopaths (who are extremely few and far between, especially at the teen-aged level), the entire progression is completely unplanned, and out of their own control before they even realize they might have had a way to stop it early on.

        This is not to say that all of the people involved even want to stop it — most bullies have lower than average emotional intelligence and stunted introspective capacity, and end up revelling in the power, and even building their core sense of self around the dynamic. Bullying is essentially an addiction. It doesn’t matter how much it ruins your life in the long term, because it feels good right now, and it feels worse when you stop. The worst part, though, is that society is structured such that some bullies can go their whole lives building power and external success, and never “get caught” — leaving hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of victims in their wake.

        Case in point — if sociopathic Alec hadn’t been directly involved, Sophia might have gone years as a “superhero”, treading the boundaries of what she could get away with, and every year feeling more and more secure in her “right” to behave that way.


        • Oh I completely agree. Don’t get me wrong I understand the usual case is a simply convenience for the bully, but remember. Emma was a good friend of Taylors, not just friends but BEST friends. Is it possible she was merely a target of convenience? Of course. Yet it just doesn’t seem that way to me, from what I understand, (And tell me if I am wrong,) But Taylor went to camp, (Or Emma and Sophia did I don’t remember which side went to a camp.) During this time, Emma found out about Sophias power, and they became best friends.

          Now I can totally see Taylor being left behind, or even ignored by Emma now, but this isn’t what we saw, instead we saw a very powerful campaign instigated by one of the two to destroy Taylor. I just think something about it is a little strange. Why would Emma choose Taylor? Why does Sophia? Something instigated it, either a meeting between Taylor trying to meet up with Emma once everyone is back and instead runs into Sophia or something, I just really want to see how this came to be, especially since it shaped Taylor so drastically.

          Hell I just want to see what sparked the bullying. Whether it really was Taylor just being a perfect target or if there is something between Sophia and Taylor that was never explained. Just my viewpoint as a reader.

        • I just kinda figured it was like Lu Bu. Dong Zhuo gains power in Luo Yang, the Imperial capital at the time, and either he sent treasure and a famous horse to tempt Lu Bu or Lu Bu just got it in his head to serve him, but he convinces the famed warrior Lu Bu to betray his lord Ding Yuan and bring Dong Zhuo the severed head. Dong Zhuo held him in great esteem and even adopted him (or made him a foster son, I admit to having trouble seeing the difference in this instance).

          Except Emma is Lu Bu, Skitter is Ding Yuan, and Shadowstalker is Dong Zhuo.

          Don’t worry, eventually Lu Bu betrayed Dong Zhuo too. After a bit of wandering and making some more enemies, he betrayed Liu Bei and took over a city. Then he was going to form an alliance with this one major figure, Yuan Shu in the area, but he turned on him too. And then, finally, he was attacked by another powerful warlord named Cao Cao.

          During the siege that wore Lu Bu and his men down for a few months and involved flooding the city, Cao Cao finally won out when, so they say, some of his own men betrayed him, tied him up, and opened the gates for the enemy. Or some combination thereof. The romantization of it is what I’m most familiar with, unfortunately. He pledged his loyalty to Cao Cao but was reminded by Liu Bei about Ding Yuan and Dong Zhuo. And probably about Liu Bei since he was bringing it up. So Cao Cao had him hanged.

          See, I suppose the moral of the story is that anyone willing to become your best friend by betraying their last best friend should only be kept so close because you already know they’re willing to betray their best friend to someone more powerful.

        • Also, sometimes bullies are just emotionally stunted, generally bad people who don’t even think of the other person in any human sense. When you don’t relate to others as actual people, you can do horrible things.

  22. Another amazing arc (I waited till it was all done before reading, as one per day would have just been agonising ;)), fantastic job Wildbow!

    Although the description has strong differences, the first thought I had on reading Noelle’s description was the Magic the Gathering villain Sheoldred: http://blog.buymorecards.net/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Sheoldred_Whispering_One.jpg . The chimera, the amalgamation of something human and familiar and something very much not is a potent source of terror indeed.

    Given Noelle’s physiology, and the capability Pancea showed, I do find Tattletale’s assertion that the Endbringer had ‘never been human’ increasingly interesting. In the wildbowverse ‘human’ seems something you can push a very long way…

    • What is the definition of ‘Human’?

      Arguably, if you mix in the ability to manipulate time, the ability to spawn nigh-unto-monsters, and increasing power capability of said monsters, one could conceivably argue that Noelle is the Endbringer Mama. It would fit the criteria of ‘never were human’ for the ‘created children’ while explaining why they only show up at certain intervals–not enough mass built up for a new one…

      The other thing to be noted is that Tattletale’s ability to ‘read’ can be fooled, and it is known that she has the potential to ‘betray’ the rest.

      And ‘human’ also included Crawler and Mannequin. Which should be a bit of a chilling thought since they used dirty, dirty stuff on them which Noelle may wish to go try and die in.

      After all, what *is* her motivation at this point? Hunger? Rage? Depression? Suicidal ideation?

      • I differentiate between the terms “person” or “people” and the term “human” despite most people using them quite interchangeably for those kinds of situatiosn where you’re talking about nonhuman sentients like aliens or elves. If you want to be strict about it, humans are members of homo sapiens. Some might narrow the definition further.

        Some might make a case for expanding it to include close enough offshoots of our evolutionary line that we could still have offspring with. It’s one of those cases where to be properly educated is to know how little you actually know. I find a lot of things are like that. It’s fun.

        How you define human may mean that Superman commits beastiality any time he hops in the sack with Lois Lane.

          • Greater physical and mental capability, more advanced culture and technology, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound… humans are the beasts to his society. But apparently someone thinks they’re a great people, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way. For this reason above all, their capacity for good, they sent him to them… their only son.

            The Nazis would probably have called him the Ubermensch if it wasn’t for the time he flew over, carried Hitler and Stalin to the League of Nations for trial, and then was declared a Jew by the Nazis. That’s right. Before there were space Nazis there were…space Jews!

          • With Simurgh’s powers in particular and then Accord and how he works, it looks like we’ve hit upon the whole Order vs. Chaos thing again. That’s why I mentioned Chaoskampf up there in regards to Tiamat. The struggle against her is reminiscent of that fight against chaos.

            It’s there somewhat with the heroes versus the villains, but then even between villains. The supervillains tend to be somewhat chaotic due to their nature as criminals, but mostly organized and pushed out the Merchants, who were mainly a bunch of druggies held together by one guy whose power was rather chaotic. Compare that to Kaisers metal control, Coil’s timeline control, and Skitter’s bug control. The undersiders and Travelers were about as chaotic of groups as they would accept and that was because of Coil’s orderliness.

            The major threats tend to be the most chaotic. Much more dangerous to society, which itself always has a reliance on order. ABB on their bombing spree, Endbringers, the Slaughterhouse Nine.

            After a brief warmup fight against order in the form of PRT Director Thomas “Coil” Calvert, it’s going to be Noelle, Simurgh’s ticking timebomb. And after that, we get to flip the entire thing on its head for real. Cauldron is very much into order. They’ve been using it to further their own means. So we’ll have Dragon, who has thrown off some of her strict adherence to orders with the help of Armsmaster, who has likewise shown a certain distaste for it at times, and the Undersiders, who are organized somewhat but still rather chaotic when compared to society.

            What am I, some kind of philosophizer now?

  23. I saw an interesting Youtube video, given Skitter’s battle tactics. A guy discovers this new species of spider that makes fake spiders and sits at the “head.” I don’t know how to embed things in the comments, so I hope that I get this right. If not, the channel is destinws2. [URL]http://youtu.be/RrWnZ7VySac?t=43s[=URL]

    • I had yet another stupid idea where I classify things according to how wrong I’m going to be, or something like that. If you were to classify them based on powers, the 7 members of this merry band fit another pattern as well.

      Trickster-Envy, swaps places with someone else
      Ballistic-Wrath, accelerates objects at high velocity aka throws things around
      Noelle-Gluttony, has to eat excessively as part of her powers
      Genesis-Sloth, must sleep to use her powers
      Oliver-Lust, what he desires physically, he becomes somewhat.
      Sundancer-Pride, strongest/most powerful ability offensively
      Perdition-Avarice, a little bit of a stretch here but the way he controls one of the most valuable things of all, time, if only briefly. He always wants just one more shot at things. And the fact that time is money.

  24. I can’t help but wonder why nobody’s suggested the codenames Lilith or Grendel for Noelle. Grendel’s a bit more villain-ish, but Lilith is so… unassumingly ominous.

      • My memory could be shoddy, but weren’t both Lilith and ‘Grendel’s Mother’ mostly humanoid entities without the extra oddball parts?

        Pandora wasn’t mentioned, either, I don’t think?

        • Pandora doesn’t really fit; Noelle didn’t do it to herself. While what remained in the box was, indeed, hope, I can’t imagine Noelle kept it up as much as the group did.

          I don’t know that Lilith needs to be a perfect -visual- fit. She’s simply the mother of monsters.

  25. Wildbow, just for the record, I have complete faith that the ending will be EPIC. I’m continuously impressed by both the quality and quantity of material you produce. You sir, are full of WIN.

    – Can anyone recommend a Methadone clinic in the Dayton area? I’m going to need it when Worm finally finishes.

      • I’ve always found that the real suction of MMOs tends to be habit & the social world one builds, less than the game itself. You get used to signing on to check on how your online friends are doing, then you keep playing because you’re whiling away the time waiting for a response and you get caught up in something, or you have a regular habit of doing some regular quests or pvp any time you sign in, and it keeps you going.

        City of Heroes never really grabbed me though. I had a villain I called Murder Rat (who does make a cameo in Worm), but I didn’t see much to it beyond the 30 day trial or whichever, and the only MMO to really seize me was Guild Wars.

        • It probably helped that when I started playing CoH another real-life friend of mine started as well and we fairly quickly drew in a third as well as various online friends. Given the way I hopped around other MMOs though, there was something about CoH that clicked for me and always drew me back.

          Out of curiosity, have you tried Guild Wars 2? I played a little of GW1 but not enough to really say how the two differ apart from obvious new elements like the Dynamic Event system.

          • As an avid player of Guild Wars, I bought the ‘Eye of the North’ expansion pack the day it came out. I was disappointed on a lot of levels, and it led to me basically boycotting Guild wars 2.

            I know it’s common to the point of absurdity, that people who play video games will say they’re boycotting X, only to cave at the slightest pressure/excuse. Like how on the day Left 4 Dead 2 came out, more than half of the members of the ‘boycott left 4 dead 2’ steam group were listed as online and playing the very game they’d professed to be boycotting.

            But I’m sticking to my guns, here.

            Long of it short, Guild Wars had two expansions that added a considerable amount of content and (in my experience) months of play value, at the cost of a full game. Then they released ‘Eye of the North’ for 80% of the price, only for players to quickly discover it had maybe 30% of the content of any of the prior releases, much of which was rehashed (old armor sets mix-and-matched with recoloring, an intro sequence taking place in pre-existing maps, etc.) and it wrapped up the entire series in what worked out to be a fairly blatant ad for Guild Wars 2 (That final boss you just killed? Noooo, that’s just a fake. This is the real one, and it’ll be in the sequel! And here’s a preview of one of the races that’ll be in Guild Wars 2, as part of the ending cinematic).

            As a game without a subscription, it struck me as a last-ditch cash grab with advertising attached, all for the project they’d already started working on (the sequel). And I got the distinct impression they did it because they knew that their fanbase would largely forget by the time GW2 came out (or they thought they could market GW2 well enough to make up for any sore feelings).

            So no, haven’t tried GW2.

          • Boycotting GW2 sounds perfectly reasonable to me, especially in response to a cash-grab like that.

            I’m guessing that’s helped with your story writing productivity too no?

            At my best I can do about 5-6k words per day, with 2-3k being much more comfortable and the only way I can get anywhere near that is if I focus just on writing and skip logging in to any MMOs.

          • Honestly, that was a while back (2007) and I haven’t really played video games as seriously since. When I do play ’em, it’s mainly the ones I can play in smaller stretches. These days, it’s Binding of Isaac, FTL, La Mulana (remake), Super Meat Boy or Dustforce. No major time investment (maybe a bit for La Mulana, but I only do a few rooms or part of a puzzle at a time).

            30 minutes spent on a game doesn’t cut too deeply into my writing time.

  26. Idle thought, Wildbow: I imagine the notion has probably crossed your mind at least once already, but I’ll phrase it this way anyhow–have you considered a graphic novelization of this, as opposed to pure print? Ignoring the possibility of content being removed and all that, does the idea of your writing + somebody’s artwork grab you in any way?

    • It does, but my past experience with such things suggests that artists tend to be unreliable.

      A long while back (8-10 years ago?) I put a story up on a small forum, and people liked it, and I asked around for an artist willing to work with me, got a strong response… got concept art and all that, first few pages…

      And the artist disappeared.

      Another artist contacted me, we got through the opening stages…

      And then they disappeared.

      Looking for banner artists for Worm wasn’t much better. It’s hard to find artists with the commitment required.

      • I sorta figured it would be kinda like that. I will confess that I fall squarely into that stereotype, too, or I’d offer myself. (I also sort of suck at drawing women.) Oh well. I can dream anyhow.

      • Just as a matter of interest, what sort of prices were you offering the artists?

        I’m surprised you couldn’t find an artist to do the banner, though – doing *one* banner isn’t exactly a major commitment.

  27. Well, that was a terrifying storyline. Crawler’s dead and so just when we think the world’s safe from getting a fourth Endbringer, the truth about Noelle’s power is revealed. I’m guessing that however Jack ends the world it will involve Noelle.
    Also, spelling mistake. “We’ll be saying for ten days” – should that be staying?

  28. Super quick belated continuity note:

    Krouse puffed for a minute on his second cigarette, pulled out his phone, and dialed the number.

    This is his third cig. He was just finishing the second when Mars got back.

  29. > Krouse leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. he held the cigarette in one hand and the phone in the other.

    “He” should be capitalized, since it’s starting a new sentence.

  30. So, this wraps up what I think is my least favorite part of Worm. Not because it’s bad, just because I love the protagonist and like the Wards, who are the only other group that really gets center stage outside of Interludes. As for the Interludes, I love them all, and they all seem to be pretty plot-critical or provide a brief and excellent window into characters. That said, I think it is very interesting to get the inside look at the Travellers and how they got to where they were when the story began. It’s interesting to me that they all started out as a social group who were then thrown together by circumstance, and have pretty much disintegrated in terms of group cohesiveness and friendship, whereas the Undersiders began as a collection of random young villains-for-hire and have grown far tighter over the course of the story. I guess that’s what happens when you have Trickster in one group and Skitter in the other, in part. Each has a tendency to act quickly in difficult situations, but where Krouse is abrasive and nearly antagonistic in the way he seizes command, Taylor can get away with a certain directness because her actions and attitudes the rest of the time consistently show how much she cares about her teammates, even if they’re difficult like Rachel. Granted, she hasn’t really forged a relationship with Alec, but he doesn’t want one, so it’s okay. I know the Travellers two big problems also drive them further apart, as well, but I can’t help but wonder what might have happened to them all if Trickster was a little more of a human being towards the rest of his team. I think someone else said this already, but it’s amazing how Trickster seems to spend so little time on guilt compared to Skitter. What did she say when she finally freed Dinah? “Sorry I took so long.”

    Yeah. Trickster has never made a sincere apology that I recall.

    In line with some things a few other commenters said, Wildbow, you may want to go to more effort in terms of describing the Travellers’ ages earlier in the story, I think – or at least how Taylor perceives them. All of the other villains in Brockton Bay at the beginning seem to be adults, for the most part. I get the impression that Cricket is a bit younger because of how she relates to Hookwolf and his group, and I figure some of the Merchants might be a bit younger too. I’m not sure about the independents like Circus. Bakuda, I figure, must have been in college or graduate school. I sort of unconsciously assumed the Travellers were also significantly older than the Undersiders, and now I’m wondering a bit. If you want us to wonder (or if Taylor has no reason to or way of noticing) then that’s fine, of course. Just something to consider for any future revisions/edits.

    Generally speaking I don’t mind the lack of physical description of people in Worm, largely because you characterize people so well and it makes sense; Taylor isn’t overly obsessed with how most others look that way. Besides, a lot of people are wearing costumes most of the time. When you get right down to it, we tend to note people’s physical traits subconsciously (how many people’s eye colors do we even remember?) and focus more on their emotions in a given moment. It tells us what we actually need to know in terms of who the characters are and what they feel, which is the main thing.


  31. I really enjoyed this whole story arc, I’ve read the entire story tli now in under four days so I can really appreciate how far everything has come.

    Honestly, if anything, I enjoyed Traveller’s psyche far more than Skitter’s story. Maybe I prefer Byronic heroes to a bildungsroman, but the tight plotting just leaves less room for error than the sprawling epic Worm takes place in, and I can only expect wildbow has learned a lot in the sheer amount written.

    I look forward to the remainder I have yet to consume.

  32. I started reading this on the first week of January 2014, slowly (but surely!) progressing through this gem of a story.

    I never really expected to comment – I’m more one of those silent lurker types, content to enjoy from a safe distance.

    But I feel like it needs to be said just how downright entertained this story has been making me. You have a WAY of establishing a believable world with likeable characters and gripping story lines that very few others, in my not inconsiderable experience, have.

    All culminating in this, my favourite arc thus far. I’m not gonna lie, before this arc, I didn’t much care about the travellers. They were of mere passing interest, with undoubtedly something big in the works for Noelle sooner or later, but every time there was a scene with them in, a small part of me wanted to know more about the endbringers, or the upper working of the protectorate, or cauldron, or dragon & arms master or… Or…

    But now, in the space of 52525 words, you turned them, with just a little focus on their history, a group of characters I pity, am intruigwd by and – most impressive of all – even care for. I can’t wait to see where you go with this.

    I can’t wait to see where you go with this.


  33. I liked this arc however i feel like you could have easily condensed it to a four or five chapter arc. For me personally, it seemed as if some info could have been left out

    • I disagree, I think it was all necessary to more understand the Travelers, to really empathize with their situation.

  34. O.o
    They really are in for an interesting arc, aren’t they?
    Can’t stay calm.
    But, on the, er, actual insight front… does this mean that Noelle just keeps growing? If they’re feeding her that much meat, she’s gotta be going pretty fast. I can definitely see her getting on the same level as the Endbringers. Can’t think of any way Skitter would be able to effect her, like… at all. Would the bugs turn into mutant monsters? Oh snap, would the DOGS?!

  35. Walking sentient plants?!?! OH MY GOD I LOVE THIS GUY!!!! Please let Blasto survive! Please!

    Hmm I have quite a bit more respect for Trickster from his interaction with Accord than I did before. That was seriously quick and accurate thinking. Then he has to go and blow any good feeling by casually thinking about how he let forty people die horrible deaths for his girlfriend who is actively trying to kill herself and didn’t even have the balls to tell his team.

    Cody is either suicidal or homicidal or both. Noelle is…scary. Screwed up clones? Grown from her own body in extremely short order? And practically Crawler levels of disturbing to said body? Ugh gross. Hell she’s more disturbing than Crawler. At least he didn’t even resemble human anymore whereas all I can envision with poor Noelle is a blob of Lovecraftian flesh topped by a woman. Like one of the arachnes yet worse because at least spiderwomen are creepy but visually make sense while she is just…wrong. I’m guessing if she had gotten the rest of the dose that Oliver took she probably would’ve been able to control it to some degree though since Oliver can at change his form so they both got half the effect without the control associated with the other inherent half. That does imply strange things about what is in the superserum though. Multiple Passengers blended together maybe?

    I’m feel really bad for the Travelers now. I mean I felt bad for them before but this whole situation has just fucked them over so bad. Hopefully at least some get a happy ending. No way do things end well for Noelle unfortunately and Cody is already dead (hopefully) and I am leaning towards Krouse not deserving a happy ending either but at least the others should get one. Mars and Jess in particular.

    • What?He didn’t let 40 people die,he could do nothing for it so he just lied to the others to spare them from grief

      I find Krouse really interesting,though.He is not quite evil,in a conventional sense,in other stories he could be the protagonist,or the good guy.He only has one flaw,but its massive:he is egocentric.No,not egotist,he has done quite a few altruistic actions,including taking the blame from Jess for not telling,nd going beyond call to help all his teamates when his arm was hurting like hell because they were worse off than he is.

      No,he thinks everything revolves around him.He thinks he is the ultimate hero,the ultimate villain,the one at fault,the one who saved the day,the one who keeps the group together etc.He never thinks other people’s opinions are worth much,and he acts for other people’s own good,he thinks in extremes and he is willing to take the blame for everything bad.He is really not that different from ,say,the much loved by his community Lelouch Lamperouge of Code Geass fame,other than the fact that Lelouch was,well,effective,while his plans tend to backfire horribly (or not,and its just a side effect of the Smurf).This type of character is,curiously enough,often judged on competence alone,by fandoms:if he is incompetent,people hate him and call him”selfish”despite acts of altruism,if he is competent,he is loved and you’ll find tons of people defending him.

      • I got the impression from here that he all but fed the people to Noelle. Maybe he didn’t actually lead them into her body mouth thing but he certainly didn’t sound like he put up much of a fuss beyond “oh well, that blows.”

        I agree he isn’t evil and is just self centered. And that yes this is his largest flaw. His other large flaw is that he ISN’T competent or loved at all. His team literally hates his guts which they don’t have any problems sharing with outsiders and everything he comes up with seems to fail spectacularly. He doesn’t really appear to be doing anything for altruistic reasons unlike Lelouch or Taylor. He is doing it for utterly selfish reasons: to save his girlfriend. I can sympathize but it is still selfish. Even more so when they understand how she keeps killing people and she can’t stop and all she wants is for someone to kill her so she doesn’t hurt anyone else anymore. He doesn’t really care about the team. They are means to an end. Saving Noelle and keeping her somewhat sane.

        In another story yeah, he’d be a flawed protagonist. Here he is simply a totally incompetent jerk who can’t understand how he screws everything he touches because of his “more important than thou” complex.

        • I mentioned 2 altruistic things he did that wouldn’t help Noelle at all,overworking himself with a pierced hand and taking the heat off Noelle.Tricster seems to give the impression he doesn’t care,due to not noticing other people,but his actions are pretty moral…he just doesn’t think them through.Most of the goofs he did would seem like a good idea for someone in his place,but would have been averted if he talked to others,or stemmed from him not paying attention to others (e.g. endangering Vista,dodging the clone thus letting the person behind him get crushed)rather than actual malice or selfishness.Sure,the 40n people thing could be his fault,but based on how he thinks it was at wost another goof,most probably he tried to prevent it to the point he thought was best,failed,didn’t really pay so much attention to the people as he did to the damage control because,well,thats the way he thinks.He only pays attention to Noelle,but his actions to others are,as far as hiss motivations are concerned,peerfectly moral,if usually not thought through.

        • First of all, sorry if my English is poor. It’s only my second language, and I don’t get many chances to practice it nowadays. Even on the Internet, I prefer to keep things to myself.
          Chances are you’re never going to see this, and if you do, you probably won’t care. But I felt the need to comment because many Worm fans seem to hate Krause for no reason, and cling to many misconceptions.
          I do this without the expectation of changing your mind or that of people who think like you, but at least hope you will see this and give me the benefit of the doubt.
          It would be nice if you had changed your mind over the years, however.
          For starters, what you say about Krause not caring about the death of forty is really not a matter of opinion, it is totally wrong.

          The others didn’t know quite how bad things had gone, then. He’d managed to shield them from the news reports, the total body count, had kept them moving from city to city until the story died away. They knew people had died, they didn’t know it was forty.
          It was bad. A bad situation overall, one that had Krause retreating from the house in the dead of night, just to find the most remote location he could reach, to weep, to scream his frustration, rage, shame and guilt and not worry about the others hearing it.

          Really, I don’t understand how your mind works, how you were able to twist these two paragraphs until they told you Krause does not give a shit about the victims of Noelle or the rest of the Travelers.
          It’s obvious that he suffers because of it. That he tried to protect others so they didn’t have to go through the same thing. Sharing his pain.
          Again, it’s not a matter of opinion; it’s there in the text. Wildbow tells us directly. So your arguments have no basis, are born of a … mania without meaning. I guess you know a person like Krause, you hate him or her, and so you have projected your prejudices about that person in the character.
          Since I’m on it, I’ll address the usual criticisms about Krause in this comment, because they are as bad as this one, although somewhat more substantial.
          Although, of course, it’s not difficult.
          I will open this with a little doubt that has been bothering me all the years that I have been following Wildbow: Why are people who desperately try to pigeonhole characters into good or bad people attracted to a writer who writes dark, complicated stories, full of nuance, of characters that are like real people?
          Fucking ridiculous.
          Krause is competent. Maybe he is not a born leader like Taylor, maybe his plans fail as often as he succeeds, but remember that he and only he is the person who has kept the Travelers afloat. If it were not for him, the others would have been killed years ago or they would have separated forever. The Migration arc leaves that more than clear, but in the main story there are many examples that support the idea.
          Reread the conversation he had with Accord in this chapter. There Krause shows that he is intelligent, knows how to negotiate, does his homework and is able to react appropriately to unexpected situations. That is to say, in this case, the emergency with Noelle and Cody, and Marissa barging into the office.
          The rest of the Travelers are still children, despite their present circumstances. They aren’t willing to get their hands dirty, to make and carry out difficult decisions. To reach a compromise between how they think things should be and their current situation, which is anything but normal.
          And even then they only complain. They only release their anger, their frustration and their fears on Krause, turning him into a scapegoat that allows them to continue having a clear conscience without having to do anything that could hurt them emotionally.
          They even do everything they can to forget about Noelle. They don’t visit her, they think she’s terrifying and disgusting. Krause is the only person among the Travelers, except perhaps Oliver, who sees the real her, even though she now looks like a monster.
          Despite that, years later Sundacer uses the promise to stick together, to help Noelle and go back home, as as excuse to not help Dinah. To watch her suffer.
          So yes, Krause may not always make the best decisions from a moral or ethical point of view, or the most optimal ones, but he is effectively leading a team of six people that is really only of one: himself.
          You would not have done a better job. He is doing his best with what he has, and he is no more than a teenager who was forced to grow up too fast, in circumstances which simply are too hard.
          It’s very easy to spew shit on him from a sitting position, typing on your keyboard, but at least try to think a little about the character’s circumstances before doing anything. You and anyone who reads this. Please.
          There’s also the simple fact that … Krause accepts Cody in the group, even though that assholes favorite pastime is, apparently, doing anything and everything to him while he’s under the influence of his power.
          How many times did Cody use his power to beat him, to humiliate him, how many times did Krause become his escape valve for all the frustration and anger that he keeps inside?
          Many times, I bet, and also that Krause knew it, because he’s not stupid. Far from it.
          Can you imagine living with that tension constantly? Being in the same room as someone like that and treating him with a minimum of civility?
          Despite that, Krause was willing to let Cody stay. Why? The text does not give us a clear answer, of course, but I think that it was so as to not cause friction in the group or hurt feelings, and because he thinks he does not deserve that despite everything.
          Not to mention that at any moment he could have groped the girls, spied on them in the shower and things like that.
          Noelle excepted, for obvious reasons.
          Of course Cody would abuse his power that way. Let’s not kid ourselves.
          Anyway, I’m digressing a bit. All I’m saying is that Krause certainly had that in mind, and it tormented him, but he gritted his teeth and put up with it. He gave him the benefit of the doubt.
          He does not mind being trampled, humiliated and spit on or whatever by Cody, so as long as it’s only him.
          Cody tries to kill Noelle and then and at no other time things change. Yes, then he delivers him to Accord, but you know what? That was for the good of the group. Let’s be honest, if the Travelers had not capitulated to Accords demands, they would not have come out alive.
          Well, except Noelle.
          For obvious reasons.
          And … I wanted to talk about the hospital, when he gives Noelle half of the formula instead of the whole thing, but I think I think this is already long enough. And that nobody cares about my opinion. So I’ll end it here.
          TL;DR: Krause may not be a good person, but he is still leagues above Luke, Marissa and Jess. Not sure about Oliver. He’s not even a character outside of Migration, really.

  36. When no one was looking, Noelle ate forty people. She ate 40 people. That’s as many as four tens. And that’s terrible.

  37. I have no words.

    Up until reading this ark, I thought Trickster was a slimy, ruthless creep. But I guess this goes to show that everyone has a story and nothing is entirely any one person’s fault. Now I just feel so bad for him.
    After finishing this ark, I sat in by bed for a few minutes and just processed the tragedy of the whole situation. Why isn’t this book better known? So powerful.
    Such a fucked up situation. Just reading it I feel furious but desperate and just devastated, like I want to scream at the world. And thats just from reading it. Wow.

  38. ” I find it’s best to lead with the second best offer” should be ” I find it best to lead with the second best offer”

    • ”I find it’s best to lead with the second best offer” = ”I find it is best to lead with the second best offer” and perfectly valid. (There’s an implied ‘that’ in there which is frequently dropped).

      Your suggested correction is valid English but it’s quite formal and would be unlikely to be used in everyday conversation.

  39. I find it pretty interesting that the Travelers are pretty much foil to the Undersiders and Dinah.
    “‘”””wall of text ahead””””
    Group of evil but not very, superviillains who become better people thanks to Taylor vs group of good but not very people who become eviler because of circumstances
    no gangs,cape only team
    both employed by Coil,backstabbing him before being backstabbed(even though they did allow themselves to be backstabbed,and Taylor almost died) vs desperatedly being loyal
    hopeful undersiders vs desperate Travellers
    diferent wordls
    Mosly mind,stealth and logistics based powers,with one heavy hitter who is not so heavy,and whose most encountered problem problem is managing to do damage vs mostly heavy hitters with 3 exceptions,two of which (Chris and Krouse) have potentially really damaging powers nevertheless and the last one (Oliver)is useless,whose ost encountered problem is beating their oppoments without killing them
    Taylor:thinks she is uniportant,always tries her best to understand others and fix their problems vs Krouse whose only and central flaw is being self centered and thinking he knows best
    Lisa:smart girl who always gets heard vs Jess smart girl who never is
    Brian:pragmatist who is always vocal in his objections vs Luke who is a glorified yes man who builds things inside him instead
    Rachel:destroyed woman with tragic backstory and mind altering superpowers who lashes to others and yet is not actually evil,just defensive vs Chris,self entitled jerk who detriments his team,even if its not the right time because of some slights done to him by Krouse,moostly harmless ,imagined,ones he imagined ,small or not really Krouse’s faults
    Alec:sociopath who had detrimental influence from his father and ran away, and does not care much about things vs Marissa,overemotional person that was affected a lot by her mother,and “ran away”from her ,and cares overly too much about things
    Aisha:overly plucky girl who likes to stand out, screwed by her mother’s unanteviness who got a power that got her to stand out less,but is really useful in a battle and she ended up standing out more thanks to it vs Oliver an unasuming shy guy mostly screwed up by his mother’s overt attentiveness that got a power to stand out more,which is nevertheless useless in battle and he ends up standing out less thanks to it
    Dinah:girl the protagonist screw unbeknowst to her,whilst doing an evil action,who nevertheless does not hate her,hates to use her power but is forced to,really OP in the mind department,and her power has detrimental effects to her vs Noelle,girl who Krouse screw over conciously(but not really intending to),while doing a good action and whilst the result was partialy her fault for insisting on half a dose,blames him for it,hates using her power but she has to,really OP in the body department and her power has detrimental effects on others.

    • Interesting. You know I saw them as a bit of a foil but not to this extent. I like you’re analysis. Though I would hesitate to group Dinah in like you did.

      • I grouped Dinah because it was the undersiderr purpose to rescue her,just as the Travellers purpose was to rescue Noelle.The fact the Travellers do it out of friendship/love to one of their members while the Undersiders do it out of duty/sense of responsibility/morality to an unknown girl,while in both groups there are people who do not really care but jump aboard anyways,further adds to the foil mentioned.

  40. “Krouse fished the keys and the carton of cigarettes from his pocket”

    You mean a pack. A carton is massive, and contains ten packs.

  41. I like to imagine this chapter like it were a TV episode. Sundancer in the background dancing to ballet music, while Trickster fights the Cody clones thus finally revealing Noelle’s powers. Everything flows so smoothly here, the solom ending of this chapter easily brings a mood that can be duplicated with visuals and music. Great writing wildbow! Can’t wait for the book to come out!

  42. I’ve been binge reading for about a month now… AWESOME! I hope that this story is in the process of being made into a book series.

    I don’t know if anyone will read this comment, but can you imagine if Noelle got a hold of Jamie Rinke??!? Holy Shit!!!!!

    • They are? I can’t see any reason it could have been intentional, so I’m guessing Wildbow simply lost track. Maybe it being an unusual arc through him off?

  43. I haven’t finished Worm yet, I’m only on arc 23. But I think that this arc was my favorite in the entire series so far.

  44. Still can’t stand any of the Travelers. Seeing where they come from just makes me like them less. They’re all self-centered assholes, just like nearly everyone else in this whole story. I’ve yet to see a single hero. Not even one.

    • What of Legend, Miss Militia, or Gallant? I’ll admit that the really clearly decent folks are rare, but they do exist.
      That said, it doesn’t seem like you’re enjoying this story. Having read all of Wildbow’s serials to date, I wouldn’t recommend you keep going if you don’t like what you’ve read so far. It gets better from a technical standpoint, but it hasn’t yet gotten much happier or less morally murky, at least on a lasting basis.

  45. Oh. My. God.

    This is the kind of thing that makes you realize that you’ve been overusing the word “horrible” for mundane things, and now that you need it, it no longer carries the emotional weight that you need it to carry…

  46. I am more interested in why they didn´t transform into monsters when all the Case 53 apparently did.
    Or were they really only using test vials and the result vials are safe no matter for whom?

    • And I don´t get why the others stick with them.
      Obviously everything is less important to Trickster than Noelle.
      I would have gone already.

    • I got the impression that fewer monsters were created from case 53 over time as the formula was refined and perfected. And the Travellers stick together because they want to get back to their home world.

  47. Noelle needed the whole vial, sadly it is too late now as Oliver drank the other half. Leaves me wondering what would happen if she ate Oliver would that give her balance.

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