Queen 18.7

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“He’s talking to her about Cauldron,” I said.  “And Coil.”  I’d signalled the others to exit the van, and we were gathered around Bentley and Bastard.

“Cauldron?”  Tecton asked.

“Cauldron worked out a formula that could give people powers, and the capes with monstrous features are the failed results,” I said.

“The Case 53s,” Grace said.

Tattletale nodded.

I raised my finger to my lips.  To where my lips were behind my mask, really.  I wound up sliding my hands beneath the sides of my mask to plug my ears.  I’d hoped to shut out other sounds and allow myself to focus.  It wasn’t too helpful.

Tattletale murmured something to Grue, and he surrounded us with darkness, leaving a clearing so we could communicate.  It took me a second to realize why.  Were he and Tattletale hoping to mask us from Noelle’s other senses?

Rachel’s dogs could smell through the darkness, couldn’t they?  It wouldn’t stop Noelle if she really was smelling us.

“…saying he knew them…” Noelle said.  Is that a question?  I was having trouble discerning tone.

“…m saying exactly that, Noelle,” Eidolon replied.  “… … very beginning.  Coil involved … … people who made you like this.”

“I don’t believe… No.”

“Eidolon just said Coil was involved with Cauldron.  And that Cauldron is responsible for Noelle,” I informed the others.

“Another of Coil’s schemes?” Grue asked.  “But why would he make Noelle?  What does that serve, really?”

“He didn’t make her,” Tattletale said.  “But the rest is very possible.”

I’d spoken because I was worried I wouldn’t get a chance later, between fatigue affecting my memory and the possibility of an imminent fight.  I’d missed some of what Eidolon said in the process.  “…help you.”

“I’ve had too many…” she said one word that was too complicated for me to make out.  “…of help.  Can’t get my hopes … …”

I was disappointed in how limited these senses of mine were.  They were useful, but the tactile nature of my swarm-sense left me blind as to people’s changes in expression, and listening in like this, I could only catch the individual speech sounds, working out how they fit together into words while trying not to fall too far behind.  I wished I’d devoted more time to trying to figure out my swarm-sight and swarm-hearing.

Eidolon said something, and I couldn’t decipher the word.  He paused, so I grasped that there was some meaning there.  Ended with -tive or -shiv… prerogative?

Alternative.  It connected just as he started speaking again.  “Do you want to die…”

“Yes,” Noelle’s answer was clear.

“I’m …red to die too,” Eidolon said.  There’d been another longer word in the middle there that I couldn’t afford to stop and work out.  “My danger sense tells me you … alone.”

“No,” Noelle said.  She bumped into more of my bugs as she shifted position, moving one large leg that was likely so thick around that three people together couldn’t have reached around it with their hands meeting.  The bugs disappeared from my power’s senses.

“Why don’t you … us…” Eidolon said.  Introduce.  It only made sense as a question:  Why don’t you introduce us?

“Show my hand…”

“Why not…” Eidolon said, and I missed the tail end of it.  Another question?  I was starting to get a headache, trying to process all this.

Something peeled away from Noelle’s side, and when it bumped into my bugs, they weren’t absorbed.  The stature, the length of the hair… another Vista.

I thought maybe Noelle had produced another clone, but others started to emerge from the surrounding architecture, peeling away from nearby walls as if they’d been inside the surfaces.

And they weren’t all Vistas.  I noted the presence of what had to be a Circus, disproportionate and thin, with a hunched back, using her knuckles to walk.  There was another Vista, two large figures who might have been Übers, and on the second floor of the building behind Eidolon there was a narrow young man, shirtless, with a gun bigger than he was.  Leet.

“…not expect you to … a trap,” Eidolon said.  He hadn’t budged, and as far as I could tell, his tone of voice hadn’t changed.

Noelle didn’t reply.  From her vantage point, she had to be able to see through the open, glass-less window behind Eidolon, see the Leet silently setting up the gun.

“Trouble,” I said.

Grue banished the darkness.  “Trouble?”

“She’s ambushing him.  There’s a Leet with a gun inside the building behind him.  Tinker made, has to be.”

“Eidolon knows what he’s doing,” Grace said.

“And if he doesn’t?” Tattletale asked.  “If that gun just happens to be able to punch through any invincibility or whatever it is he’s given himself?”

“He’s better than that,” she said.  “He’s Eidolon.”

“He’s human,” I said.  “Humans make mistakes.”

“He’s Eidolon,” she repeated.

“I’m with Grace on this one,” Tecton said.  “Too dangerous to go.  She has a vendetta against you guys.  It’s not worth the risk that you’d throw his plan into disarray.”

“Then why are we here?” I asked.

“If things fall apart,” he said, “We can act then.  Eidolon’s powers are weakest just after he changes them.  If she creates a clone of him, the clone will be picking the powers for the first time.  There’ll be a window of opportunity where we can take them out.”

“Assuming we can get close enough,” Grue said.

“And there’s a good half-dozen capes around her,” I said.  “One Circus, one Vista that can apparently hide people in two-dimensional space, two Übers and the Leet with the gun.”

“We compromise,” Tattletale said.  “Skitter, draw arrows on the ground, discreet but easily readable.  Point the way to the Leet, okay?  The rest of us hang back, and we wait to make sure we can get Eidolon out of a bad situation if one crops up.”

I started to draw the arrows.  I was going to ask why, but I realized I was missing what Eidolon and Noelle were saying.

“…think you can win…” Eidolon said.

“I hope I don’t,” Noelle replied.

“… … want to die, why fight…”

“Can’t think straight.  My … wiring is all screwed up.  Won’t let me give up.  Too angry, too …less.”  Ruthless? Restless?

Leet was still setting up.  He’d had to find a point where there was an open door, just so he had enough space behind him that the weapon could be positioned horizontally.  The design was crude, hodgepodge.  It resembled Squealer’s work, just going by what I was interpreting with my swarm-sense.  That meant there was an excess of openings and gaps.  The part that burned hottest had to be the power source.  It was at the very back of the gun, at the point furthest from the mutant Leet.

I sneaked cockroaches in through the gaps in the weapon’s exterior and started them chewing through the wiring.

“… … you so sure that you’ll be any calmer when they’re dead?” Eidolon asked.

“I’m not.  … I’m angry, and it’s like the … have been taken off my emotions.  My anger, my …tion, the pain, the hate, … so much deeper.  … it’s not mine.  Not my emotion, so I can still think … .”

“They’re both stalling,” I said.

“Eidolon’s picked the powers he thinks will win the fight,” Tattletale said, “And is waiting for them to get up to full strength.  Noelle’s waiting for her evil-Leet to shoot.”

“I’m trying to sabotage the gun,” I said.  “But it looks like he’ll be ready to shoot any second now.”

Tecton and Grace simultaneously looked at one another, but they didn’t speak.  What was that about?  Was their faith in Eidolon faltering as I described the situation, or was it more about me?

“Less than a minute,” Tattletale said.

“I’m pretty sure we don’t have that long,” I retorted.

The words had only just left my mouth when Leet dropped to a position at the side of the gun, putting one eye to the scope.  The entire weapon shifted on the tripod mount as he aimed.

Eidolon’s head turned slightly, as if he were looking at Leet out of the corner of one eye.

Leet pulled the trigger.

“There we go,” Eidolon said.  The gun wasn’t firing.  He pulled the trigger again, and an arc of electricity ripped out from a space by the power supply, toasting half of the bugs I’d positioned on Leet and sending him sprawling to the ground.  He was back on his feet seconds later, tearing one panel away to get at the sparking power supply.  Tougher than a normal person.

“Attack!” Noelle screamed.

Her minions started to move on Eidolon, but it was Eidolon who acted on the command.  He swept one arm out in front of him, as though he were brushing a curtain aside or waving away some bugs.  There was a crash we could feel where we were huddled together, making the ground shake.

In that very instant, Eidolon had killed the vast majority of the bugs I’d placed in the area.  It took me a second to process what he’d done.

The bugs that were still alive were unable to move, pressed hard against the ground to the point that they were sinking into the soft earth.  Even the more durable cockroaches had died where the ground wasn’t soft enough for them to be pushed down into it.

Through the few surviving bugs, I could get a sense of what was happening.  Tufts of weeds that had stuck up between slats in the pavement now laid flat against the ground, as though they’d been starched and ironed in place.

The effect only lasted a few seconds.  I tentatively moved more bugs into the area to do an inspection, found the air both dense and strangely warm.  The ground had shifted, and both the pavement and the concrete panels of the sidewalk had cracked.  Chunks of rubble had been pulverized, piles of debris pancaked against the ground.  Plywood, siding and wood paneling had been torn from the faces of nearby buildings, rendered into unrecognizable fragments of wood and plastic.  Each fragment had been mashed flat or shoved into cracks and crevices.

The Übers and the Circus were dead, pulverized against the ground with their limbs broken in multiple places, their chest cavities and skulls cracked like eggs.  The Vista was nowhere to be seen.

Eidolon hadn’t moved, and a tentative search told me that Noelle was still standing.  My swarm noted the presence of blood dripping to the ground beneath her massive body.

Eidolon said something, but I didn’t have enough bugs in the area to hear him.

“He just crushed everything around her,” I said.  “Almost as if he dropped a house-sized, invisible anvil around her.”

“Around Imp?”  Tattletale asked, gripping my arm.

“Around Noelle,” I said.  “What do you mean, Imp?”

“The building where Leet was-” Tattletale started, grabbing my arm, “Did he hit it?”


“Turn the arrows around!  Give every warning you can!  We just sent Imp in there to deal with Leet!”

I did as she asked, using every bug I could to draw warnings, turning the arrows to point to a retreat.

Damn it!” Grue said, “Why did we send her in there!?  We need to get in there, in case anyone-”

Stay,” Tecton warned, “Evacuate your teammate, but don’t get in Eidolon’s way.”

There was another crash.  Once again, the vast majority of my bugs in Noelle’s vicinity disappeared.  Only a small few who were lucky enough to be in the right place and tough enough to endure the pressure survived.  The bugs who had been flying above Noelle sank into her flesh.

Through them, I could sense her advancing, moving one massive leg forward, relaxing and letting the pressure Eidolon was generating slam the limb into pavement with enough force to crack it.  Then she moved another leg forward.

Eidolon floated higher, maintaining the same relative distance between himself and her.

She dropped lower to the ground, as though she were succumbing to the pressure, then leaped in the same instant the last of the bugs who’d sunken into her flesh were absorbed.  I couldn’t follow what happened next.

There was another crash, another earth-shaking rumble, and even the bugs who’d survived before were obliterated, leaving me utterly blind.  I moved a few bugs closer, to gauge if the effect was still active, and they died as though they’d moved beneath a falling hammer, going splat against the ground at the effect’s edge.

Behind Eidolon, Leet had finished fixing the gun, helped by the fact that the electricity had killed my saboteur-cockroaches.  In the same instant he moved to take position by the trigger, Eidolon turned around, raising one hand in his direction.

And Imp was there.  She drew her knife across the psycho-Leet’s throat.  Eidolon froze as Leet staggered and slumped against the windowsill, blood pouring from the open wound.

I felt a momentary confusion.  Leet was dead?  Eidolon seemed to be reeling as well, but he recovered faster.  He wheeled around to strike out with the effect again.

“Leet’s dead,” I said.

“How?” Tattletale asked.

“Throat slit.”

“Imp.  She’s not listening to instructions.  Did Eidolon attack Leet?”

I shook my head.

She released my upper arm from the death grip she’d been maintaining since Eidolon had attacked.

It wasn’t like her to get that upset.  She usually had more information to work with, so she had a better idea of what was going on, but that couldn’t account for her full reaction.  I wished I could read her expression.

Leet slumped almost entirely out the window.  In a dying gesture, he feebly reached out for the end of the gun, gripping the barrel.  When he fell from the window, he kept hold of the gun.

The tripod skidded, and momentum coupled with Leet’s weight pulled the gun after him.

Eidolon glanced over one shoulder at the body falling from the second floor window, then soared straight for the sky.

I was already sliding from Bentley’s back, heading toward the ongoing battle.  The movements, Eidolon’s reaction, everything spoke to something deliberate, something devastating on Leet’s part.

The weapon’s power supply detonated on contact with the ground.  I didn’t have many bugs in the area to track it, only experienced a momentary sensation from the bugs in the area, much like I sensed when they were burned or electrocuted.  When the sensation disappeared, they were gone, dead.

I could see the actual explosion, a flare of white that I could most definitely make out with bug eyesight and with my own damaged eyes, a glow that rose above the buildings around us.

No,” Grue said, just behind me.  The both of us had stopped in our tracks in the wake of the explosion.

My bugs flooded into the area, to give me a better sense of what was happening.  I caught Noelle stampeding toward a tall building. She had been in the blast radius, and she hadn’t slowed down.  I hoped she hadn’t slowed down, because she was damn fast.

She wasn’t in Leviathan’s speed class, but she was moving at the sort of speed I might expect from a car on the highway.  Maybe the comparison wasn’t so apt, because she was a living thing.  Like a predator, she shifted from a standstill to eighty miles an hour in a heartbeat.  She was more like a rhino than a jungle cat, though, and she was ungainly.  My bugs could track the vibrations of her footfalls better than they could trace her outline, and I could sense how her movements weren’t synchronized.  There was no pattern to how her legs moved; rather, it was as if each leg had a mind of its own.

Still, the sheer power of her movement carried her forward, while having six or more legs meant she always had several feet on the ground for balance.

She reached the base of the tallest skyscraper in the area and scaled it just as fast as she’d moved over ground.  Chunks of concrete were pulled and clawed away as each of her feet found or made footholds.  The debris fell in her wake, but her movement was steady and unfaltering.

Eidolon turned her way, laid down that same pressure he’d applied earlier, tearing a full  third of the building to the ground.  A large part of the upper floors cast straight down, torn free of the building’s housing.  The debris moved straight down with such force that it punched through as many as five or six of the floors below.  Noelle was already moving out of the way as the attack landed, circling around to the other side of the building, still climbing.

She reached the top before the dust from Eidolon’s destruction rolled past us.  I held my breath.  I couldn’t afford another coughing fit.

We made our way to the spot where their fight had started.  Where Eidolon’s power had struck, the pavement had depressed until it was a good two feet lower than where we were standing.

“Imp,” Grue breathed the word, stepping down to the depressed pavement and breaking into a run as he headed for the explosion site.  Tattletale gave me a hand in stepping down as we followed.  It wasn’t necessary, but I didn’t turn her down.

The explosion had shattered one exterior wall of the building, and scorched the inside.  My swarm fanned out to search the building’s interior.  It didn’t take long to find her on the second floor; she was so caked in dust and debris that I’d almost mistaken her for a piece of wreckage.

“Second floor, near the back.  Stairwell is this way.”

Noelle, I realized, was vomiting from one of the three mouths on her lower body.  The slurry contained a human being, naked, with ulcerous growths all over her body.  Circus.

And Noelle wasn’t in contact with Circus.

“Fuck me,” I said.

“Is she hurt?” Grue asked.  It took me a second to realize he meant Imp.

I shook my head.  “I don’t know.  I was swearing because… It’s Noelle.  She’s creating clones, and she apparently doesn’t need to be in constant contact to do it.”

“She does,” Tattletale said.  “Everything the Travelers said indicated it, and my power corroborated.  She’s touched people before and hasn’t produced any of them in the time she was with Coil.”

“Maybe it’s a short duration thing,” I said.  We’d reached the staircase.  I was a little slower than my teammates in ascending the stairs.  My stamina was nowhere near where it needed to be, and my chest was aching as I breathed harder.  It made talking harder.  “She absorbs someone and she can create clones for a little while after.”

“Maybe,” Tattletale said.

We reached the top of the staircase.  The floor wasn’t entirely intact at the landing, so Bitch and her dogs hung back.  With the damage the explosion had done to the exterior wall, I could feel the saltwater scented air stirring my hair.

We reached Imp’s side.  She’d slumped against an intact wall.  I worked with Grue to clear away the pieces of wood and concrete that had joined Imp in being thrown against the wall.

“Turn around,” Tattletale ordered Tecton and Grace.

Tecton listened.  When Grace didn’t immediately obey, he grabbed her by the shoulder and forced her around.

Grue took off Imp’s mask.  My bugs traced her, and I could sense the trail of blood running from one of her ears.

“Hey,” Aisha murmured.  “Owie.”

“Are you hurt?” I asked.

“Ear hurts.  Hurt all over where I hit the wall.”

“That ear’s a ruptured eardrum,” Tattletale said.

“Shitty,” Aisha said, “Least I save money, not having a reason to buy surround sound when I get my own entertainment system.”

“You’re not so lucky.  It’ll heal,” Tattletale said.

“Did you hit your head?” Grue asked.

“No,” Tattletale and Imp answered in the same moment.

Grue smacked his sister lightly across the head.  “Idiot!  You’re supposed to listen when we give you orders.”

“I know why you were giving that order,” Imp said.  “You wanted me to clear out in case he smooshed this building.  Except I knew I couldn’t get out fast enough.  I figured I’d take out that gun guy.”

“Leet,” I supplied.

“Leet, yeah.”

Grue cuffed her across the head again.

“Hey!” Aisha said.  Then she cringed, or winced, as if she was in pain.  “Ow.”


In a quieter voice, she said, “Ear hurts when I speak too loud.  Stop hitting me.  It was the right call.”

“You still didn’t listen,” Grue said.  He took the mask from Tattletale and helped Aisha put it on.  “Get up.”

Imp stood, then wobbled.  “Dizzy.”

“Ruptured eardrum will do that,” Tattletale said.  “Let’s go.  We should see what we can do to help against Noelle.”

Grue and Tattletale supported Imp between them as we made our way to the stairwell.  I turned my attention to the fight.  “Eidolon’s holding his own.”

“Told you,” Grace said.

“He’s using that pressure-”

“Gravity,” Tattletale said.

“Right.  He’s using supercharged gravity to try to pin her down and simultaneously take out any of the clones she spits out.  He’s staying out of reach with flight, and he said something before about a danger sense.  Precognition, I guess?”

“Didn’t help him stop the explosion,” Regent commented.

“It let him move well out of the way before it went off,” I said.  “And it’s helping him when Noelle tries to trick him.  She’s… I don’t even know how to put it.  She’s wearing a Vista that can turn two-dimensional, and the Vista is helping keep her other clones alive.  Whenever Eidolon moves like he’s about to drop that gravity magnification on them, she folds Noelle’s clones against whatever surface they’re touching and then pastes herself into Noelle.”

“Can we help Eidolon by taking the Vista out?” Grue asked.

“I don’t know how we’d get the Vista without attacking Noelle,” I said.

“Eidolon can hold onto about three serious powers at a time,” Tecton said.  “If he’s packing flying, danger sense and gravity manipulation, that’s it.  Sometimes he does four, but two or three of them are usually pretty minor.  Enhanced accuracy, whatever.”

“Unless the flying’s an extension of the gravity manipulation,” Tattletale pointed out.  “I’d guess he’s maintaining a kind of power immunity, in case Noelle manages to close the distance or one of her underlings tries to hit him from range.”

I could follow the fight as Noelle leaped to another rooftop.  Being airborne, she might have been vulnerable if Eidolon had been able to devote his full attention to her, given how it wasn’t possible to dodge while midair, but she’d timed the jump to coincide with a killer-Circus’s pyrokinetic attack on Eidolon.

The hero destroyed the Circus with a use of his gravity power, and I could guess that the same power had destroyed any incoming fireballs she’d thrown his way, because he wasn’t even touched by any hot air.  The top floor of the building the Circus had been standing on was still collapsing as he directed another gravity-slam in the direction of Noelle’s landing point.  She was already moving on, leaping to a building face that Eidolon wouldn’t have a line of sight to.

The degree of mobility the pair had meant it was hard to get bugs in a position where I could follow what was going on.  I moved the bugs up through the various buildings, spreading them out as best as I could.

In tracking the movements of the bugs through the buildings, I got a sense of where Eidolon had done damage and where the civilians were.

“He’s doing a fantastic job of avoiding hitting any civilians when he uses his powers.”

“Told you,” Imp said, mimicking Grace’s tone, in the same moment Grace said, “Of course.”

Imp laughed, then winced at the pain it caused her.

“Could be an extension of his danger sense,” Tattletale suggested.

We’d reached the stairwell, and the others declined to go back for the van.  Imp and I got on Bentley’s back.  I sat behind Imp so I could help keep her from falling.  We weren’t broadcasting it to Tecton and Grace, but I wasn’t in great shape, myself.  Even if Bentley wasn’t the most comfortable way to travel with a cracked rib, it still beat running.

I pointed the way, and we headed for the site of the battle.  I wasn’t exactly sure what we could do.  This was a fight between titans.  Eidolon had hit Noelle a thousand times as hard as any of us were capable of, and she hadn’t even slowed down.

I was getting increasingly worried that there was some factor here that would decide the battle, something I should grasp but wasn’t.  It didn’t help that both Noelle and Eidolon had powersets that I didn’t fully understand.  Noelle was apparently pulling clones out of nowhere, despite not having contact with Vista or the other villains.  Getting a sense of any given power and accounting for all the possibilities was hard enough, but Eidolon had a bunch of them at any given time, and they could change.

Eidolon struck at one cluster of clones that were lurking in a half-destroyed building, then hit himself with a gravity attack.  He and his costume were left untouched, but the bugs I had on him were annihilated.  I was left blind.

Why?  The attack was pointless.  There hadn’t been any of Noelle’s servants in the area.

Was he sending me a message?  Did he want us to back off?

Noelle was consistently managing to avoid being struck by any of the gravity attacks, or scrambling out of the way of trouble after sustaining a glancing blow.  She was keeping tall buildings between herself and Eidolon.  He used the gravity manipulation where he could.  He had changed up his tactics, sending chunks of building flying, then spiking them down to the ground with the gravity-slams.  He wasn’t changing powers, though, even though Noelle had adjusted to them.  It was very possible he couldn’t: that if he gave up one power for another one more suited for the situation, he’d be too vulnerable while it grew to full power, or it would be too hard to catch up after the fact.

One of the heads of Noelle’s lower body vomited up a slurry of flesh, with two naked bodies in the midst of it.  A Vista covered in fingernail-like plates of hard flesh and a Leet with one forearm and hand as big as his torso.  The two clones were on their feet in seconds.  The Vista ran in Eidolon’s direction, while the Leet made a beeline for a nearby mall entrance.

I sent a swarm of bugs after them, focusing predominantly on going after Leet.  They weren’t fast, but they would hopefully interfere with his efforts to build anything.

We arrived at the edge of Eidolon and Noelle’s battlefield.  As I drew a swarm together with the bugs in this new area, I found Eidolon and tagged him with some houseflies and wasps.  Best if I knew if he was moving in our direction, so we could clear out of the way.

“Circle around,” I said.  “We keep eyes on one another, but our goal is to clean up clones wherever we can, so we need a broad perimeter.”

“Got it,” Grue said.  Tecton nodded as well.

Rachel signaled, and Bentley ran.  Tecton and Grace moved as one pair, while Regent, Grue and Tattletale formed another group.

The Leet had entered a mall.  The place had been looted, but he stopped somewhere long enough to grab some basic clothes.  He wrenched a piece off a clothing rack and used the ragged end to cut a sleeve off and open up the shoulder enough that he could fit his oversized left hand through it.

The activity bought my bugs enough time to catch up to him.  As they attacked, he started thrashing.  I was in the middle of changing my focus to other things when I noticed something curious.

A rat.

The rat itself wasn’t so unusual.  Large for its size, maybe.  But it had moved in the same general direction as my swarm, and it was wet with fluids.

The vomit?

I’d been flying bugs over surfaces at a height sufficient to catch humans.  It was a waste of energy and bugs to fly them over the ground level, when I generally knew that a road was flat, and any obstacle that was shorter than one or two feet wasn’t worth dwelling on.

Moving my bugs closer to the ground, I found more.  Rats, wet with the fluids of Noelle’s vomit.

She’d absorbed rats?  She wasn’t limited to cloning people.

I made a point of searching the vermin out and killing them with my bugs.  I’d played exterminator once before.  Not over so large an area, but I’d done it.

I pointed the way to Noelle, and Rachel changed direction.  Eidolon was dealing with the last Vista-clone that Noelle had spawned.  The girl wasn’t going on the offensive, but she was using her power to move quickly, using every spare moment to raise lumps of pavement and concrete from the ground, sculpting them into rough images of Noelle.  It would be sunrise, now, but in the dim light, they would be something that distracted Eidolon and potentially drew his fire.

He paused in his attempted murder of the mutant girl and eradication of the statues, striking himself with another gravity-slam.  Again, he killed every insect I had on him.

Was he aware of something we weren’t?

Noelle turned toward a group of people who were evacuating one of the buildings that had taken damage.  Before I could open my mouth to shout a warning or take an action, she lunged into the lobby of the building.

The people she touched were absorbed as quickly and easily as if she were quicksand.  Some were almost drawn in.

It took a minute and a half for her to form the clones within her.  We closed the distance as her body swelled.  When she’d reached critical mass, each of the three mouths on her lower body opened to heave out a tide of blood and gore, along with eighteen or twenty people.  Half of the people she’d heaved out had clothes.  The other half had mutations.  The mutants were on their feet as soon as they could find traction in the sludge, the innocents seemed as though they could barely move.

One of the people was Vista, I realized.  Not a clone – she was costumed.  An extremity, a tentacle or tongue, extended from one of Noelle’s lower mouths to wrap around Vista’s midsection.  The girl was hauled into the mouth and swallowed in a flash.

“She’s keeping them,” I said.

“What?” Tattletale asked.

“The capes she keeps spitting out.  Circus, Über, Leet and Vista.  She’s holding the four of them inside her, so she can keep creating more clones.”

“She doesn’t have to let people go,” Tattletale said.  “Fuck me.  We won’t be able to kill her without killing whoever she’s holding inside her.”

As the mutant clones around Noelle began to thrash and strangle the near-helpless victims, their maker shifted position, stepping on arms and legs.  Her body was oriented more towards Eidolon.  I wasn’t willing to sacrifice bugs to know her exact position, but I got the sense she was looking up at him, despite the fact that there were several buildings between her and him.

She made contact with the bugs I had in her immediate vicinity as she twisted her body to look towards us.

Then she ran in the other direction.

“We rescue the people she just vomited out, clear away the clones,” I said.  I used the bugs I’d gathered near the other two groups to speak to them.  “Then we signal Eidolon and chase Noelle.  We need to get in contact with the heroes.  Whatever Eidolon’s plan is, it’s not working.”

I could track the rats that were crawling out of the vomit.  A dozen of them, and they were homing in on people, savagely biting and clawing into any flesh they found.  I made sure to cluster my bugs in as dense a swarm as I could afford, to keep them contained.  The bugs I didn’t devote to the task worked to disable and distract the more mundane clones.

I might have missed it if I hadn’t had the bugs pressed together to contain the rats.  I had missed it already, countless times.  Wasps, hornets and cockroaches were crawling free of the slurry of flesh that Noelle had vomited into the building’s lobby.  They were attacking my bugs and any people they found.

I couldn’t sense them, and I couldn’t control them.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

129 thoughts on “Queen 18.7

  1. I must say, despite their creepiness I can’t help but be amused by the names given to the copies.

    And there go a lot of the guesses as to how Skitter was going to manage during this fight…

    • Here’s to hoping the cloned bugs can’t fly, due to wet wings.

      Not as bad as it could be, if that’s true.

      I do wonder if Noelle has a limit to how many things she can clone at once, and if so, would a swarm stuck to/in her stop her from cloning anything except bugs?

      • That reminds me of an interesting quirk of ‘swallowing’ mechanics in dungeons and dragons- the number of creatures a monster can swallow is based on their size, and the number increases linearly as the victim size reduces instead of geometrically, so even the legendary Tarrasque can only hold down sixteen flies before it has no room for, say, a human.(I don’t know why it swallowed the flies- perhaps it’ll die).

        However, in this situation I imagine that she could just as easily kill off any excess- she is always hungry after all.

        All told, this is really bad.

      • Noelle has been absorbing Skitter’s bugs on and off ever since she got a lock on her. That is in addition to however many rats and civilians she cloned. I don’t think she has much in the way of limits.

      • Bugs can fly relatively quickly after hatching, particularly wasps and hornets, which come out wet, and can be airborne very fast; they aren’t like butterflies.

        If she’s holding bugs inside herself to clone them, you’d think Skitter could sense the originals to track her; unless they are clones of clones? Not sure how fast that would degrade the templates…

  2. Well.

    That’s about it for Skitter’s utility, then. Maybe this is when things start to go really, really wrong (for Skitter, personally, that is. Things started to go really really wrong for everyone else around the time that Eidolon engaged Noelle without backup), because the heroes think she’s either turned on them or been caught so the truce is broken so every hero except Tecton and Grace is going to be trying to kill her.

    Or not. I’m curious as to how she can’t control the bugs, however. She can explicitly control anything with a sufficiently simple nervous system, so how is Noelle making the bugs she makes immune?

    • Maybe they are ‘corrupted’ like their nervous systems are even more alien than a normal bugs. I wanna see Taylor have a second trigger event and be able to MAKE her own . To counter Echidna’s (what I call No’s lower half.)bugs. Also poor capes stuck inside Echidna. Wonder if Circus COULD kill the others in Echidna to even the odds.

      • Talking about Echidna and Noelle as separate entities reminded me of something I thought of back in 17-8.

        What would happen if someone gave Echidna a Noellectomy? Assume that Echidna is properly restrained beforehand and medical care is on-hand to keep Noelle from bleeding out from the waist, should that be needed.

        Ideas on what would happen to Echidna, from worst to best:
        1. It stays alive.
        2. It begins growing a new Noelle.
        3. It dies.
        1 seems likeliest. Hard to say if 2 or 3 is likelier.

        Ideas on what happens to Noelle, from worst to best:
        1. Noelle, still cursed with her power, begins forming a new Echidna.
        2. Noelle dies.
        3. Noelle retains her mad-side, but some or all of her powers–probably her cloning–are lost.
        4. Noelle retains all her powers, but has removed her mental issues by removing the “corrupted” flesh.
        5. Noelle returns to normal.
        6. Noelle returns mostly to normal, but retains regeneration and other “good” powers without retaining the curse, which was lost with the “corrupted” flesh.
        Needless to say, 1 and 2 are likeliest. 5 is next, followed by 3 and 4, with 6 a hopeful but distant last.

        Out of these, 3-6 would obviously be best but is easily the least likely. 1-1, 1-2, 2-1, and 2-2 seem likeliest. But that’s just my opinion. Thoughts?

        • I think she has a remarkable amount of control over her clones. And that she was saner before she started growing. More specifically, she seems to believe her powers are controlling her, although she never mentioned it in Migration. My guess is the powers are manipulating her in the same way as her clones, and I wonder what would happen if she ate Cauldron vials. Or if she ate Oliver.

    • Maybe they don’t have any nervous system at all? You can’t have a simple nervous system it you don’t work with nerves.

      • Maybe. Echidna is going to kill someone major I just know it.

        I just thought of something…… Wildbow how much of Echidna’s nervous system is still Noelles? If a majority couldn’t Regent take some time to do his meat puppet thing?

    • I think the heroes will notice that the bugs are also attacking Noelle’s creations, so I rather doubt they will just assume that Skitter turned on them. It is easy to rag on the heroes in this setting, but when you see a Leet clone get swarmed with insects and murdered by them it is kind of hard to ignore.

  3. So Vista’s doubles are Scape, Leet’s are Pwn, Uber’s are Unter, and Circus has Carnie.

    If I didn’t care so much about casualties, I’d not only slam her with gravity, I’d reverse it on some parts of her and direct it in other directions on yet another. Then maybe create a small singularity at her core. Tear her to shreds. His flight must be a separate power if he doesn’t have that fine of control. Or at least reverse it under her and carry her off the earth. The Sentry doesn’t have only bad ideas.

    Skitter still has a pretty good chance at taking out Noelle’s bugs in the short term. She’s got the numbers. Not sure how well the clones can survive in the long term. There’s the possibility Noelle’s bugs could outbreed conventional types.

    Some part of how Eidolon is acting almost makes me think Imp was grabbed when no one was looking and replaced with a near-identical clone. Not sure if she makes those.

  4. “Tattletale murmured something to Grue, and he surrounded with darkness, forming a clearing, topped off with a ‘roof’ of darkness It took me a second to realize why. ”

    There should be an ‘us’ before ‘surrounded”, and a period after the second darkness.

  5. I’m betting Eidolon is killing the bugs on him because some of them have been Noelle’s, and Skitter didn’t pick up on it because she can’t sense them as normal insects.

  6. “Maybe the comparison wasn’t so apt because she was an living thing.” Pretty sure that is supposed to be a living thing there.

  7. Happy Chinese New Year’s Eve! Usually, you’d get a red envelope with some money in it. Due to the lack of red envelopes, I used the Donate button instead. Hope everyone has a good Year of the Snake.

    Speaking of holidays, I’ve always wondered how holidays in the Wormverse are different. Is Halloween no longer celebrated due to too many dangerous people already dressing up every day? Is there a new remembrance day for the first Endbringer attack? Is Santa Claus actually a registered superhero? Just want to know.

    Anyways, there were a few mistakes: “stopped in our tracks as the explosion .” should have some description after that; “shifted a standstill to eighty miles an hour” should have a “from” after “shifted”. These and others may have been fixed by the time this is posted.

    The story itself is great. The shift from talking to action was smooth, and the action itself was great. You seem to have gotten the hang of blind, swarm-sense descriptions. Which makes the reveal about the rats and insects made and controlled by Noelle have so much more impact. As someone once mentioned, Noelle is pretty much Skitter’s nemesis, here. In a way, perhaps the bad thing that happens will be partially Skitter’s fault for giving Noelle so many resources.

    Can’t wait for the next installment!

    PS Great job with the clone nicknames. I’m torn between wanting to see more new clone nicknames and being scared of seeing those new clones come into the action.

    • Now I want to brainstorm possible clone names for the Undersiders.
      Tattletale’s would be Snitch. Bitch’s would be a four-letter word starting with C.

        • Grue would be Wumpus, I think. Regent would be Peasant. Imp would be Cherub. Skitter could maybe be Clatter, or Shuffle?

          • Mmm, the problem with a number of these suggested names is that they’re opposites rather than (generally) dark variations on the existing name ( Leet > Pwn, etc.). ‘The C word’ wouldn’t work for Bitch because it loses that additional meaning of ‘female canine’ that alludes to her power.

            Off the top of my head, I’d suggest something like:
            Skitter: Creep
            Bitch: Hellhound or Warhound
            Regent: Tyrant
            Grue: Ur-Grue?
            Imp: Fiend
            Tattletale: Snitch (as per MrMorays’ suggestion)
            Grace: … it seems like there should be a word for movement so elegant and precise that it’s creepy, but I can’t find it…
            Tecton: Shatter

      • For Tattletale, I think I like Stool Pigeon better. Grue could be Implementor. Crawler is already taken, sadly. Imp can be ‘Who?’ because she already wears a scarf. Regent could be Parasite.
        And just going by what people would call out when they see him, Eidolon would be ‘Crap!’

  8. Okay so anyone want to guess if she can only copy people who are alive? Eidolon seems too powerful to keep restrained in her belly. So this implies she can copy the dead, as there is no way she will be able to contain him for too long. The fact that she hasn’t killed Vista implies that she isn’t completely gone mentally just yet. Maybe Trickster can be brought in to calm her down/convince her to give herself up. Noelle can also create a never ending plague of killer rats and bugs, good to know. Too bad Skitter tore up Dragon’s mechs. They would have been a great counter to her. I found it very funny the Grue made sure Imp didn’t hurt her head before whacking her upside the head for stupidity several times. Somebody is getting grounded if they survive the night.

  9. Hmm. Noelle has to vomit back up people when she clones them, but Skitter hasn’t felt bugs popping back into her perception when Noelle creates bug clones. That would seem to indicate that bugs are too fragile to survive Noelle’s insides. So at least Noelle’s clone swarm shouldn’t be increasing in size every time Skitter gives her a new bug, she should only be able to clone each bug a single time.

    • That wasn’t clear. Her clone-swarm increases in size in the sense that there are old clone-bugs already around and she clones new ones, but the amount of clone-bugs she creates each time does not increase.

      Or at least, that’s my theory.

  10. Okay…yeah, Noelle needs a solid nerf.

    I can only presume that the power she would have gotten if she’d drunk the whole vial would have been considerably weaker. Not to mention not so intrinsically awful. Though I guess at least Vista is getting a nice relaxing soak…in digestive fluids.

    Still if she was so desperate to die then she should have just fought Siberian.

  11. Hmm. Tags for hypothetical psycho-clones…

    Mongrel would be a good one for nega-bitch. For regent … Usurp, Tyranny, Liege? Worm would be fitting for taylor. tattletale would be rumour or scandal.
    As for brian’s name… Well, I wasn’t entirely certain what a grue was. I vaguely recall a videogame beastie by the same name. I looked it up and grue means to shiver in fear, as in the word. So yeah, grue’s name makes a lot more sense now. I used to think it was kind of lame but now things are clicking into place. Its much easier to understand how his powers, costume and even name lend themselves to a feeling of ‘this is a scary fucking dude’. Makes sense why he was chosen to be the face when dealing with other villians.
    Anyways, i don’t really have any decent names for evil brian. Something along the lines of horror or fear perhaps?

    • Pretty sure Grue’s name is reference to the monster from the old Zork text adventures that was utterly unkillable in darkness but never emerged from it. Functionally it made any darkness into an impassible obstacle because a Grue would eat you if you went in.

      Given the compounding of this reference when Bonesaw is considering what she’ll do with him (she wants to make him cannibalistic and constantly pumping out darkness) I’m pretty sure Brian just has a nerdy side.

  12. …Did Noelle undergo a secondary trigger event? And can now make clones of all organic life?

    Like bacteria.

    It seems like that.

  13. Called it, Scape is the name for the Vista clones and the other Clone names just prove it.

    Also, am I the only who thought it was funny that the first thing that Pwn did when he reached the mall was put some pants on? I guess some things just stick whether their clone or not, like not walking around naked thankfully.

    • Look, he wasn’t embarrassed. It was just cold out. Yeah. Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in the middle of a flooded cold city. Pants to keep out the cold I mean. Not for other reasons. Not that there’s to cover up by putting pants on. But if there were, just remember, it was cold.

  14. On the bright side, we haven’t seen proof that Noelle directly controls her clones- and a bug doesn’t have much brain power. Even if Taylor can’t control it, a vaguely evil, generally undirected bug is probably not the scariest thing. Especially given that at that scale, the range of physical mutations we’re seeing in humans would me more likely to be debilitating to the insects. Popping out with one big and one tiny wing won’t make a good flier, after all, and generally speaking while insects are very good at surviving mutations they are less likely to be dangerous. After all, most of the physical mutations we’ve seen on the humans were disadvantageous, other than the ones who got armor. And as Garbage Day pointed out, they might not even be able to fly due to soft, wet wings.

    Of course, if the insects are mutated to be more venomous, that is another story- but they’d still need to identify and reach a target.

    Taylor better warn everyone, though… What a pile of toxic mutant insects CAN do very well is serve as a trap to be stepped in by the unwary person who expects them to be their ally.

  15. Now Taylor has to take her bugs from around Noele. I wonder if she will get creative on this one, finding a different way to solve this problem.

  16. – Skitter is in deep doo-doo. She needs that secondary trigger event STAT.
    – I predicted Noelle would be making insect clones. I didn’t predict that Skitter wouldn’t be able to control them.
    – on the plus side, even if she can’t access the No’-bugs with her power, she can still detect them with her own insects. Guess her role in the fight is going to be insect-on-insect warfare.
    – I guess Eidolon must have detected the people she was keeping inside her. Why else wouldn’t he have launched her into low earth orbit?

    • Eh, could be worse. Noelle does not even have Skitter in her stomach yet. She’s survived worse, more desperate situations.

  17. Noelle is starting to feel like a Villain Sue. The type where unreasonable luck is the only way to beat them, and tactical prowess is pointless.

    And Eidolon’s power set, while impressive, seems to have set him at an impasse. Unless Noelle runs out of steam at some point, the only way this can end is if he leaves or if he makes a tactical error and gets eaten.

    I just don’t see a way out of this that doesn’t involve deus ex machina.

    • I agree that Noelle is unreasonably powerful, and a resolution to this seems absurdly out of reach. Even more so one which gives our secondary protagonists (the Travellers) at least some of the happiness they deserve by now. My hopes for Noelle to regain her sanity seem far off.

      But then the Nine were worse if anything. So I’ll be suppressing my scepticism for now. Wildbow’s generally good at finding a way, even if the tone is kinda getting too depressing in recent arcs.

      • Quick hint, the worm verse is borderline dystopia. Bad decisions have pretty serious consequences when the people involved twist the laws of physics like balloon animals. I don’t see this ending well.

        Just for the record, second trigger events are supposed to be fairly rare in the verse. Also please note what it took for Grue to trigger again. Keep this in mind when shouting for Taylor to have a second trigger.

        Great job as always WB.

    • Everything is killable. Part of the problem is determing how much of the area and people around what you want to kill is an acceptable casualty. Cities are bad like that. You have to be willing to kill a lot of other people. The decision would be much easier for the military had they decided to officially abandon the city.

      The rats, for instance. It would be possible to wipe out all rats in the world. You’d also just get rid of most of humanity in the process. Probably all of humanity if you wanted to kill the roaches.

      The whales, on the other hand, are easily thwarted by a large Japanese fishing fleet.

        • Considering they share living space with a 30 ft engine of continental destruction (and massive water screwiness) I’d say probably not.

          Now I’m wonder what effects Leviathan’s presence has on international shipping lanes. HAS to cause something to change with underwater currents at least.

        • Interesting question. Humanity is supposedly slowly losing the battle against the Endbringers which would probably obviate arguments against killing them based on human nature. On the other, factory ships are quite the investment of capital and Leviathan is hard on coastal capital. Hunting using smaller ships is certainly possible – it was the way for most of history – but it’s less economic. We get oil from other sources now, and selling whalemeat is losing the Japanese money already.

          The whales are probably better off on Earth Bet IMO but not certainly.

        • I dunno about whales, but the ecosystem is probably fucked anyway due to the runoff and waste from Endbringer attacks. Especially Leviathan. Imagine all the fission material in a Japanese nuclear power plant being washed out into the pacific, then add on the millions of tons or cars, concrete, and electronics going with it.

          Yeah, I’m pretty sure the Endbringers aren’t environmentalist giant monsters.

    • Let me just find the recipe… ah here it is.

      – one small, inescapable (from the inside at least) enclosed space
      – one large serving of biological waste
      – at least one best friend
      – one Taylor Herbert
      – at least one power infected human
      – have best friend(s) betray Taylor in the most complete way possible given the current situation
      – fill the small, inescapable enclosed space with the biological waste
      – force Taylor into the enclosed space using the power infected human
      – let it sit for several hours regardless of pleading from within
      – ta-da! it is done!

      Now the only real question you have to ask yourself is: where in the immediate area will you EVER find such rare ingredients? Wait no there they are. All in this chapter.

      • Hmmm, so, as long as Grue and Tattletale as willing to betray Taylor, and Noelle plays Jonah and the whale with her, then we’re good to go to see a serious power-up — not necessarily a second trigger, but certainly Taylor working at the absolute peak of her power. In fact, I’m thinking the betrayal part doesn’t even need to happen — just being inside Noelle is going to push Taylor to her peak.


    • I really don’t think that is a fair comment.

      She is a power duplicator, ofc shes going to be a strong foe. Eidolon is also intentionally handicapping himself (like an idiot).

      Thats the subtext here. Its hinted that Eidolon may have caused the low-ball evaluation on Noelle to prevent the other big-leaguers from coming to help so hed get to fight her solo.

      He is kind of gloryhounding in the same manner Armsmaster was. Its almost a subtle theme repeating itself.

      To be blunt, the fact *you* can’t see a clever way out of this is in no way the author’ss fault. That is just suspense.

      There is at least a couple of bricks in the air atm that could land on Noelle just fine. Those are just the ones *I* can recall offhand, and I dont rule out wildbow pulling something I did not see coming.

      That doesn’t mean it has to be a deus-ex-machina.

      • I tend to groan aloud whenever the mary sue thing comes up.

        I’m put in mind of this comic. The label gets applied because one or two traits get pointed out, but not necessarily in context or not the whole picture.

        Generally speaking, the following are possible indicators of Mary Sueism:
        * The Mary Sue derails established plotlines, taking the story in a whole new direction that ignores previously established and planned events
        * The Mary Sue derails characters, making them act in ways they normally wouldn’t.
        * The Mary Sue acts like a jerk and people like her anyways. Tied to the previous point, but on a more fundamental level – every action doesn’t have the appropriate emotional reaction.
        * The Mary Sue gets new powers as the plot demands, and these powers tend to lack standard limitations or break previously established rules about the setting.
        * The Mary Sue has tactical prowess that destroys suspension of disbelief, possessing knowledge of others’ plans she shouldn’t, or her plans depend on random events but those events occur exactly as she expected.
        * The Mary Sue demands sympathy and has angst out of proportion with their issues (or issues out of proportion with reality, or both).

        Just like you can’t call someone a hipster just because they wear a scarf or have an ipod, you can’t call a character a mary sue because they’re strong. If you apply the term with that kind of broadness, every character becomes a mary sue in one way or another.

        You call someone a hipster because they espouse independent thinking, counter-culture, indie art/music, and they have the distinct fashion sensibilities (heavy beards, thick glasses, scarves, goggles, flannel shirts, tight pants, whatever). This happens because it’s a subculture of its own.

        On a similar level, you call a character a mary sue because they are a literary black hole and their gravity is such that the rules of the established setting (or the story-reader relationship) get screwed up when they enter the picture (That is, setting, characterization, attitudes or verisimilitude get borked). This tends to happen because the author’s doing something self serving: the character is really the author inserting themselves into the story, or the author wanted to see something happen in an existing work and wrote a fan piece where things would happen the way they wanted. Or both (The author inserts themselves to change a story to get the result the author wanted, or the author inserts themselves so they can have a pseudo-relationship with a character they really, really liked).

        Do I think Noelle’s betraying any of the expectations the story has laid down to date? I don’t.

        Fun/ironic fact: Eidolon, in my earliest drafts of writing superhero fiction, was a female character called Mary Sue.

        • Mary Sue is a worrying term. I know I worry about it getting applied go me, but then I’ve been accused of being crazy and/or paranoid. I like the idea of derwiling a plan, but more as an Outside Of Context threat.

          But in relevant talk, I don’t see Noelle as any more a villain sue than the Endbringers or Slaughterhouse Nine. We just need to get creative. Bring me a giant blender and 200 gallons of Tabasco.

        • I may have stirred a hornet’s nest with that comment, but I’m glad I did. That take on mary sue-ism is the most thoughtful I’ve ever seen. It should go word-for-word onto the TvTropes site.

          The battle against Noelle does seem hopeless, though. If Dracul’s bricks land, it will catch me by surprise. Looking forward to it.

    • I’m not sure they’re at an impasse yet. Eidolon’s gravity attacks are able to hurt Noelle, just not 1-shot her from the looks of things.

      Now, this being Worm, things will get worse of course, but in theory this chapter could still play out where Eidolon hangs in the air and repeatedly hits Noelle with gravity attacks until she’s a thin smear on the ground.

      Also, I’m left wondering if Skitter not being able to control the Noelle cloned-bugs isn’t a clue in and of itself. The first thing I can think of for that being the cloned-bugs aren’t bugs at all but part of Noelle still. That opens the idea of doing something to the Clones and having it feedback into Noelle herself.

      Also there’s the Travelers in the mix too. They don’t have to be part of this chapter but several of them potentially have the capacity to end this too.

  18. I’d hope that the heroes aren’t stupid enough to see the cloned bugs and assume Skitter betrayed them due to the possibility of SKitter-clones and the Undersiders having no real reason to pull shit like that. The problem is the possibility that Miss Militia WANTS the kill order to go forward to protect the Protectorate and is willing to take a flimsy excuse. I hope Triumph is around to be the voice of baseline human decency if that happens.

    Also, I’m really liking Tecton, he’s like a Professionalism Elemental. Let’s see if Weld can pull ahead though.

    • I didn’t get the sense from the earlier chapter that Miss Militia was thirsting for the Undersider’s blood by agreeing to go along with the kill order. It seemed more like she knew she that in recommending the PTR heroes work with the Undersiders she was proposing something that the local heroes would have serious and well founded reservations against.

      Taking the stance of “I will agree to back a kill order” read as both a warning to the Undersiders not to screw over the heroes and a negotiating chip to help the PRT heroes buy in to going along with the plan.

      From what they’ve done so far, I don’t think Miss Militia would be willing to back a kill order yet given how she set it up.

    • If the heroes are thinking, they have to consider the possibility that Noelle cloned Skitter, and so the bug attacks come ultimately from Noelle, not Skitter. The heroes seem flawed, but not stupid.

  19. I think some of us underestimated just how powerful Eidolon is. He was the guy out there during Leviathan’s attack keeping the city safe from a series of tidal waves. By himself, if I recall correctly. Dude’s not considered to be the fifth most powerful being on Earth for no good reason.

  20. Very interesting!

    Some observations:

    1. Who controls the clones and how?
    The Cody-clone in the Migration arc seemed to be in control of themselves. They were aggressive and perhaps even evil, but unless Noelle secretly wanted them to run amok and bring attention to them she was not in control of them. The vista that supposedly ran of to kill her family was apparently not in her control either (unless that was lie too). For some reason the other clones seems to be more concerned with helping Noelle than with their own welfare.

    Noelle also had to give an audible signal to make them attack Eidolon rather than a mental command.

    Since there does not appear to be any sort of verbal negotiation between the newborn clones and Noelle to establish dominance and hash out a plan, my guess would be that she implant some commands into her clones when she creates them and that is it. Presumably she started to work out how to do it recently when she created the various vista clones and the first one was to independent.

    While there might be some blackmail component with the human clones (I will kill your original unless you fight for me) that wouldn’t work on rats or insects. So the best she probably has are rats and insects with some vague instinct to seek out and kill or something. Which is bad, but not as useful as Skitter’s direct control over her own swarm.

    If Taylor stops relying on her own ability to sense controllable insects and her tactile swarm sense and starts relying on her insects own senses she should be able to deal with the cloned insects. Insects have some pretty good instincts when fighting their own kind and with some vague directions her swarm should be able to kill the deformed clones. similarly seeing Noelle through compound eyes will have to take the place of sensing her by landing insects on her.

    2.How to kill Noelle:
    We have already been told that Noelle doesn’t have the super dense inside of the Endbringers and part of her current battle plan involves keeping powerful capes inside of her alive.

    It take a cape willing to sacrifice themselves by blowing themselves up when being ‘swallowed’ by Noelle to seriously hurt her. A Tinker might just have a bomb with a dead-man’s-switch on them when being absorbed. alternatively Vista might regain enough consciousness to have a second trigger event and overcome the Manton-effect and implode her from the inside.

    3. Chekhov’s gunmen:
    Mrs. Militia has a power based on materializing weapons and ammunition and she took am annoying level of interest in Skitter’s pack earlier. Taylor should really check out her gun to see if something has been done to it like perhaps reloading it. Tattletale said there were no tracers etc on it when it was given back, but that does not have to mean that nothing at all was doen to it.

    4. Fall from Grace:
    Grace has been portrait as having an enormous level of confidence and respect for Eidolon. Seeing her hero fall or fail might make her react in bad ways. Either going berserk to avenge him and getting captured and cloned in the process or perhaps reacting so bitterly when Eidolon is revealed as less than perfect to become a danger herself. In any case there is no way she is coming out of this with her world-view intact (Skitter is likely going to get blamed for that too)

  21. my god. i know exactly whats going to happen. skitter gets a power boost from being trapped. theres a villian that eats people and traps and clones them. therefore noelle will eat skitter, causeing skitter to have a second trigger event, which somehow lets her defeat noelle.

  22. After spending about 2 hours thinking about Worm when I should have been studying for a test immediately after (it was fine anyway, so win-win) I came up with a thought.

    Assault is about to show up. The Undersiders may have removed their armbands, but the operational AI will have noted their near-simultaneous removal. Either the AI or the actually intelligent people (Miss Militia or whoever) realizes that this means the kids have taken off with no way to be tracked. But since they did so immediately after being told not to interfere with Eidolon’s fight they have a pretty good idea of where to find them. Even if the other heroes don’t want to do anything Assault will see this as his chance to screw over the Undersiders, show up, and make things unpleasant.

    Maybe he tries to get Noelle to eat them, or he allows himself to be eaten so that his even more powerful clones are able to carry out his vendetta while leaving him a plausible out (“I was there trying to stop them but was apprehended by the enemy!”). Perdition’s clones retained their hatred of Trickster, so it makes sense that Assault’s would still be angry/enraged at the Undersiders.

    Too many possibilities to really get into specifics, but I think this is a pretty damn plausible development in general. Moreso at least than the repeated cries of “Taylor gets a second trigger event!” Not that there’s anything wrong with the people who think that, but it’s been speculated on every fight for how many arcs now?

    • Besides, this is Worm; things always get worse for Skitter whenever she seems to gain something positive in her life personally &/or professionally.

    • I can’t picture any of the heroes voluntarily leaping into Noelle’s maw so that stronger evil clone versions of themsevles come out. Beyond there being an insanely huge number of things that can and will go wrong with that sort of plan (see: evil Vista clone going to kill her family) , it would also imply that they trust what the Undersiders have told them about how Noelle’s powers work.

  23. Here’s what’s going to happen.

    1) Skitter will get out of this somehow.
    2) Readers talk about how badass she is, what a great story Worm is, etc.
    3) Somehow, things will end up even worse for Skitter. Despite her continued survival, all will lament that she can’t catch a break.
    4) Another, more dangerous threat will emerge, one that is an even better counter to Skitter’s powers/organization for whatever reason.
    5) Everyone will say “The only way I can see Skitter getting out of this is if she has a second trigger event.”
    6) Skitter does not have a second trigger event.
    7) Shit goes down anyway. Or should I say anyways? It is more awesome and intense than anyone was expecting.
    8) While downward activity occurs vis-á-vis shit, Skitter uses her power in a new, more creative way. Very rarely has anyone predicted anything.
    9) Repeat.

    For the chapters of this arc/many intense situations.

    1) Skitter notices something intense. Cliffhanger!
    2a) She tells whoever she’s with at the time, usually Tattletale.
    2b) She thinks a lot, in the process giving us more information.
    3) See previous list.


    1) Psycho Gecko makes a vaguely related comment.
    2) His comment spirals into a nigh incomprehensible morass of references, metafiction, and general chicanery.
    3) [special bonus for Arcs ~14+] Although the story’s principal characters are in their mid-teens, a sophomoric reference to sexual congress, usually sapphic, is nevertheless worked in.
    4) Hydragentium will admit that he would have enjoyed reading Psycho Gecko’s comment but for the comment’s poor formatting.
    5) Psycho Gecko undergoes a bout of existential angst, viz. whether to write or nay, and the nature of serial literature.
    6) Conciliatory gestures are made. Wildbow suggests Psycho Gecko start his own serial.
    7) Psycho Gecko declines, for one reason or another. He throws a smoke bomb and leaves. This phenomenon is known as “bouncing smoke.”
    8) All awake to find money on the dresser, a vague feeling of emptiness in their hearts, &c. &c.

  24. Where the heck is Shatterbird? She’s under Regent’s control and PERFECT against an opponent like this! Heavy hitting, wide area, flexible, ranged fighter with flight!
    Pretty much all you could ask for.
    Attacks like that used against Hookwolf should really fuck up Noelle.

    • I suppose either no-one’s willing to risk her being copied (however unlikely that is when she’s flying), or the Undersiders don’t want to remind the heroes that they have a mind control victim (which might be enough for a kill order, if only it wasn’t one of the Slaughter-House 9).

      But yes, she would be an excellent weapon against Tiamat/Noelle/Echidna. She’d be able to do the exact same thing Eidolon is, flying out of reach while shooting.

  25. “The degree of mobility the pair had meant it”

    There should be an “of” between “mobility” and “the.”

  26. The way I see it, Noelle’s power and Eidolon’s power is somewhat similar. Eidolon simply acquires a bunch of powers whenever they are required. And in a twisted, more disgusting way, so does Noelle.
    And both of them did get their powers from Cauldron, so I can’t help but think Noelle would have become another Eidolon had she taken the entire dosage.
    But none of this explains why Eidolon purposely killed all the bugs on his body.

    • Not that I think you’ll ever read this, but I think he killed the bugs on his body because Noelle’s bugs were swarming him too and he can’t distinguish between them and Skitter’s.

  27. “The both of us … ”
    I have mixed feelings about using ‘the’ here.
    As does this grammarian:
    I feel that just saying ‘both of us’ would avoid any distraction for readers like me who snag at these little grammarish things alot.
    Also, here’s an Alot collection for the Wormverse:
    I think we may need one tearing things up in the comments a bit!

  28. Skitter can’t directly sense the new bugs but it’s a bit weird she didn’t notice that her bugs were bumping into them. Her swarm-sense is fine-tuned enough to pick up the shapes of things – she didn’t notice that (for example) Eidolon was covered with moving, wriggling lumps?

    I wonder if Eidolon is able to invert his attack. Blasting Noelle skyward is a decent way to contain her, even if the fall isn’t sufficient to kill her. You might even be able to just fire her into space…

  29. Noelle was apparently pulling clones out of nowhere, despite not having contact with Vista or the other villains.

    Uh. Taylor. Didn’t you just say she’s wearing a Vista? She might just have had that one pack her arsenal into two dimensions, and be carrying them around that way…

  30. This was really stupid of her. They talked about this before, that Noelle can absorb people and ANIMALS. And she knew it cause she thought that they shouldn’t let bitch with her dogs get near Noelle, so why does she act like she didn’t knew it? Did she forget or what?

    Aside from that i love this story. Really good job Wildbow. But sometimes Taylor acts too mature for a 16 year old girl. She is a bit too perfect for my taste. But still great work. 🙂

  31. Um, if cockroaches are killed by excess g’s, Noelle, being much bigger, would be smashed into a paste, pretty much no matter what she is made of. Why? Because structural resistance is proportional to cross sectional area, while gravitational force is proportional to mass. A cockroach is maybe 10^-4 of Noelle’s length, and thus has about 10^-8 her cross section, but 10^-12 her mass, meaning that materials of Noelle’s body experiences 10^4 times as much stress (force per unit area) from gravity as the cockroach. If you crushed the cockroach, there isn’t anything left of Noelle but a puddle, regardless of what she is made of.

  32. So it seems like the variation in powers from the clones runs on a similar concept to how no two Cauldron power-vials give the exact same result even if the mixtures are identical.

  33. I’m waiting for when Trickster starts swapping clones and heroes, getting the heroes into Noelle’s grasp. It’s not clear yet which side he would take in this sort of conflict, but since he’s a selfish dick I’m guessing he’d take hers over the rest of the world. It’s not his world, so why should he care, even if it’s where he now lives.

  34. um i could have sworn skitter already knew that Noellle could absorb any animals/living things so I was confused about her carelessly throwing bugs around. I mean dogs are susceptible but bugs are fine??? Riiight…

    Also kind of irritated with how she’s starting to get a bit of a swelled head, thinking she’s more qualified to assess the situation than a hero that’s been working for decades, I assume.

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