Scourge 19.1

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The school’s bell tolled, oddly deep, with an echo that continued, unending.  I couldn’t see it through the cloudy haze that consumed my vision, but I felt as though the lockers were straining against their hinges in keeping with the rhythm.  The same went for the floor tiles, and the hundreds of footfalls of the students milling around me.  A pounding rhythm.

I couldn’t keep my footing.  I was blind, still, but that wasn’t the source of the problem.  It seemed vaguely familiar, the way every impact seemed designed to hit me where it hurt, to knock me off-balance and leave me in a state where I was spending too much time reeling and staggering to push back or find safety.

Someone tall shoved past me, and his bag caught on my nose.  It tore at the skin between the nostrils, and I could feel warm blood fountaining from the wound.  I staggered, bending over with my hands to my face, and someone walked straight into me, as though they didn’t know I was there.  My head hit a locker and I fell.  Someone stepped on my hand as their vague shape walked by, and I could hear something break, could feel it break.  The pain dashed all rational thought from my mind.

I screamed, brought my hand to my chest, cradling it.  I was tougher than that, wasn’t I?  I wasn’t made of glass, to have bone fracture or-

“You’re so pathetic, Taylor,” Emma intoned.

No.  Not now.  Not like this.

I could hear Madison tittering.  Sophia was silent, and her presence was all the more ominous for it.  I’d done something reprehensible to her.  I couldn’t recall what it was, but I knew she was here for retaliation.

They struck me, and I fell.  Emma and Madison took turns kicking me, and every effort I made to defend myself fell short.  It wasn’t just that I didn’t know how to fight, or that I was blind.  It was somehow worse, as though every effort I made were being actively punished.

I’d reach out with my good hand to grab one of them and pull them off their feet, and my elbow would get stepped on, forcing it to bend the wrong way.  I tried to push myself to a standing position, only for someone to kick me in the back, slamming my chest and face into the tile, hard.

I tried to speak and a kick caught me in the throat.

And all around me, there was the steady rhythm of footsteps and the bell’s echo.

The point was clear.  I was supposed to give up.  I really should have given up.

If I wasn’t able to do something on my own, maybe a weapon?  Some tool?  My thoughts were confused and disordered, but I searched through them, as if I could remember if I’d stashed some tool or weapon on my person.

No, something else, I was supposed to have another weapon, though my instinct told me it wasn’t anywhere I could reach, and that was normal.  I searched for it-

The scene was visible through a thousand times a thousand eyes, the colors strangely muted in favor of texture, the images blurring except where they moved, when they became oddly sharp.

Tattletale managed to leap back from the metal walkway as Noelle lunged and caught on the fixture.  As Noelle fell, her claws scraping gouges into the concrete walls, the walkway was pulled free.  Tattletale had put herself in one of the rooms that extended off the walkway.  Coil’s room.  There was a doorway to nowhere between herself and Noelle, surrounded by concrete walls that were two or three feet thick at their narrowest point.

Most of the construction of this place had taken place after Coil had found out about Noelle.  He’d known there was the possibility that she would go rogue.

Tattletale stepped up to the doorway, drew her gun, and fired, gunning down a Grue that had been vomited out.  Blood spattered and he went limp.

-and I couldn’t find anything.  I was unarmed here.

One kick caught me in between the eyebrows, and my head exploded with pain.

That spooked me.  I had to protect my head.  If I suffered another concussion…

That was the breaking point.  My brain was more important than whatever else I was trying to protect.  Anything else was fixable.  I stopped fighting back, tucking battered legs against my bruised upper body, drawing my hands around my head.

Immediately, the assault stopped being an attempt to break me and destroy my every effort to stand up for myself.  It became something more tolerable, with periodic kicks and stomps instead.  The accompanying shame and humiliation was almost nostalgic.  Horrible, but familiar.

Then Sophia stepped close, and I felt something sliding beneath my hands and arms, settling around my neck.  A noose.  She used it to lift me, choking, off the ground.

Madison opened the locker, and the rancid smell of it wafted around me.  I would have gagged if I could breathe.

Sophia shoved me inside, planting one foot between my shoulder blades as she hauled back on the rope.  My unbroken fingers scrabbled for purchase, found only trash and cotton that tore when I tried to grab it.  Bugs bit at my flesh and there was nothing I could do to stop them.

Bugs?  There was something I thought I should know, something-

The bugs observed as Tattletale pulled the pin from a grenade.  She waited while it sat in her hand.  It was dangerous and reckless to ‘cook’ a grenade like they did in the movies, but then again, this was Tattletale.  It fit with her nature, and if anyone knew how long the fuse really was, it was her.  She tossed it down to where Noelle lurked below.

The grenade detonated just before it made contact, billowing with smoke and radiating enough heat to kill the bugs that were finding their way into the underground base.  Other bugs could see the shifting radiance of the flames.

Tattletale shouted, “Rachel!  Now!”

-that eluded me, like the water that escaped the ever-thirsty Tantalus.

As I scrabbled for purchase, the contents of the locker shifted, falling and collapsing against me, pressing tight against my body, smelling like old blood and rancid flesh.

My heart skipped a few beats and I felt as though my blood was turning to sludge in my veins, slowing down.  My thoughts dissolved into a slush of memories, speeding through my life in choppy, fragmented, distorted images.  I felt momentarily disembodied, as though the line between myself and my surroundings, my mind and my feelings were all blended in together.

When it pulled back, I could finally breathe.  I let out a deep, shuddering breath.  I could breathe.  I could think again.

I heard the sound of blades rasping against one another, the ringing of steel building with each repetition of the sound.  I blinked, and the blind haze lifted as though I’d only had tears in my eyes.

Mannequin stood in the center of the room.  He had four arms, each ending in three-foot blades, and was sharpening each weapon against the others without pause.

Around him, the factory.  Machinery churned, pumps and pistons and levers moved, and furnaces glowed to cast long shadows, casting Mannequin in a crimson light.  The people from my territory were there too, along with Sierra, Charlotte, Lisa, Brian, Rachel, my dad, and my teachers.  Each of them fought to hide in the shadows and the corners, but there wasn’t enough room.

I carefully assessed the tools I had at my disposal.  My gun, my knife, my baton.  In a more general sense, there were my bugs.  I called for them-

Tattletale jerked toward the doorway, stopped as one arm stretched behind her with a clink.  She’d handcuffed herself to a length of chain, fastening that chain to a rubber-sheathed cluster of wires at the far end of the room.  Tattletale’s free hand gripped her gun, pointed it at something narrow… The bugs who were touching the object in question were being absorbed, dying.  It was one of Noelle’s tongues, wrapped around Tattletale’s waist.

The gunshot went off, severing the tongue, and the chain went slack.  Tattletale dropped to her knees, pressing her gun hand to her shoulder.

The three largest dogs attacked.  Bitch sent three, and the result was predictable.  Noelle absorbed them as they made contact, though each dog was nearly a third of her own size.  Her flesh stretched thin around the mass of each dog, then stretched thinner as they started to swell in size.

Noelle’s flesh crept over them faster than they grew.  The growth ceased the instant the flesh finished enveloping them, and their struggles slowed.  It took long seconds for them to stop struggling, but each dog eventually went limp.

Tattletale and Rachel watched as two figures stepped out from behind Noelle.  Regent and a Skitter.  Me.

Regent whipped his head up in Tattletale’s direction, and she dropped her gun.  As her good hand snapped up to her throat, gripping it, it became apparent that dropping the gun had been quite intentional.  If she’d been holding it-

The perspective of the scene shifted abruptly as the Skitter bid every bug in the area, Noelle’s included, to turn toward Rachel.

Rachel clenched her fists.

-and barely any responded.  A hundred?  If that?  The heat of the furnaces killed many of the ones who were trying to approach.  It left me with a mere thirty-nine bugs.  I might as well have been unarmed.

Mannequin extended one arm with the blade outstretched, pointing at the crowd.  His ‘eyes’ were on me as he did so, moving the blade slowly.  Pointing at faces that were familiar, but who I couldn’t name.

Pointing at my dad.

And there was nothing I could do to save him.  Not saving him wasn’t an option, either.  I drew my gun, fired.

Only one bullet in the chamber.  There was a sound as it hit Mannequin, but he barely reacted as he turned toward my father.

I drew my knife and baton, charging.

Futile.  He ignored me completely, raising one hand and then stabbing down.  I couldn’t even look at what was happening.  Refused to look.

I struck Mannequin, aiming for the joints, the small of his back, his hips and knees.  Nothing worked.

Without even looking, Mannequin reached over to one side and thrust one blade at me.  His weapon penetrated my armor like it was Armsmaster’s special halberd.

I screamed, but it was more rage than pain.  I howled like I might against a hurricane, a storm that was destroying everything I loved, that I was helpless to fight.  I battered him, struck him with my weapons, gave everything I had and more, to no avail.

He folded his arms around me in a bear hug, squeezed, crushed.

More of him folded around me, pulling tight against my head, my throat, arms, chest and legs.

My life flashed before my eyes, every event, every memory and recalled feeling distilled into a single point.

When the crushing sensation passed, I was left standing, disoriented, in the middle of a flooded ruin.

The momentary relief faded swiftly.

All around me, desolation.  Blasted buildings, bodies, flooded streets.  Graffiti covered the walls around me, the letter-number combination ‘s9’ repeated in endless permutations and styles.

I flinched as an explosion took the top off a building two blocks away.  Blue flames roared on the upper floors.

I couldn’t breathe.  My skin prickled, burned, just on contact with the air.  I felt nauseous, disoriented.

Radiation?  Plague?

A fleet of cockroaches scurried over one of the nearby ruins, like cattle stampeding away.

They were fleeing from something.  Multiple somethings.

I took cover.

Where are you?”

The voice might have been sing-song if it weren’t for the filter that reduced it to a mechanical hiss.

“Where are you?” another voice echoed the first.  Younger, female.  A girl’s giggle followed.

“Hush, Bonesaw,” Jack’s voice reached me, like a sibilant whisper in my ear.  The water that flooded the streets served as a surface for the sound to bounce off of, letting it carry throughout the area.

My costume was more tatters than actual fabric.  It wasn’t like there were spiders anymore.  Only cockroaches, and fewer than I might hope.  The water that flooded the streets wasn’t so kind to them.

“What game shall we play today?” Bonesaw asked.  “Did you make anything?  Please tell me you made something.”

I did,” Bakuda responded.  “I borrowed from your work for this one.”

They were close.  Nine of them.  I couldn’t run without making noise.

The cockroaches, then.  I reached for them-

“Regent,” Noelle gasped out the word.  She was far bigger than she had been before.  “Come.”

Regent hesitated, gave her a sidelong glance.

“Come!” she roared.

He reluctantly obeyed.  She raised one massive limb, slammed it into the wall where the walkway had once been attached.  The mutant Regent clambered up her arm to the doorway.

That would be the doorway that leads to the corridor with the cells.

The same cells where Shatterbird was in sound proof containment.

Tattletale had descended to the ground floor and was backing up as two Skitters and a Grue approached, with Bentley advancing to her side.  Rachel was prone, lying at the point where the wall met the floor, with Bastard on the ground and pressed up against her, as if he were using his bulk to keep the worst of the bugs from reaching her.  Her other dogs were smaller.  Big, but much smaller than they could be.

“You take fliers, I take ground?” one Skitter asked the other.

“Mm-hmm,” the other Skitter grunted her reply.

“Have to share, be smart about this one.  Grue, hang back.  She might try pulling something,” Skitter One ordered.  “Harder to make a counter-plan against bugs.”

“Me?  Pull something?” Tattletale asked.  She was cradling one arm, and covered in vomit.  Judging by the body parts that surrounded her, Bentley had taken apart the clones that Noelle had vomited at her.

“Yeah, you,” Skitter One said.  “You’re the type, aren’t you?  Awfully fond of keeping secrets for someone who calls themselves Tattletale.  Keeping secrets from me, even at the best of times.  Even though you knew what I’d gone through.”

“I’ve been pretty open,” Tattletale said.  She retreated a step, and Bentley advanced.  The swarm stirred around the two Skitters and the Grue.

“You haven’t mentioned your trigger event, have you?  Perfectly happy to dig through other people’s sordid pasts, but you won’t get into your own darkest moment.”

“Really not that interesting,” Tattletale said.

Skitter One’s voice was thick with restrained emotion.  “It’s still a betrayal, staying silent.  How can we have a partnership, a friendship, without equity?”

“Maybe.  I think you’re exaggerating.  Does the other Skitter have any input?  Awfully quiet.”

Skitter Two made a growling sound that might have sent a small dog running for cover.  “I’m the quiet type.”

“That you are,” Tattletale said.

“No commentary?  No manipulations?” Skitter One asked.  “Nothing nasty to say, to throw us off-balance?”

“You’re already off-balance enough.  Besides, I don’t think anything I had to say would get through.  How can I target your weak points when you’re nothing but?”

“That so?” Skitter One asked.  “Doesn’t happen often, does it?  You’re not as cocky, now.  Do you feel scared?”

“Just a bit,” Tattletale said.  She’d backed up enough that she’d reached the wall.  The mangled staircase stretched out beside her, almost entirely torn free of the wall.

“Why don’t we turn the tables, then?  Let’s see how I do, trying to fuck with your head,” Skitter One suggested.

“I’ll pass.  Bentley, attack!”

The dog hesitated, hearing the command from an unfamiliar person, but he did obey.  Skitter Two ran towards him, surrounding herself with crawling bugs.  At the last second, she took a sharp left, sending a mass of bugs flowing to the right.

Bentley managed to follow her, struck her with his front paws, and shattered her legs.  Skitter One’s flying swarm flew over him, and began binding him with threads of silk.  It was too little, a distraction at best.

Tattletale fired her gun, and Skitter One went down.  The bullet didn’t make for an instant kill, and the bugs continued doing their work.  Tattletale thrashed as the bugs started to cluster on her, took aim again-

And the Grue swept darkness over Skitter One.  She disintegrated, reappeared as the darkness sloshed against the far wall.

Teleporting things via his darkness.  As divergences from the base powerset went, it was pretty extreme.

“Heroes are on their way!” Skitter One shouted to Noelle, one hand pressed to the flowing chest wound.

I could sense them, observing with the same bugs that Skitter One was using.  Tattletale had left each of the doors unlocked as she’d made her way into the base, and Miss Militia was leading a squadron of Protectorate members and her Wards through the series of rooms and tunnels.

More bugs sought Rachel out, and she kicked her legs at the gap where they were flowing in beneath the left side of Bastard’s stomach.

Shatterbird appeared in the doorway at the end of the tunnel.  She was holding the Regent-clone by the throat.  She pushed him forward and let his limp body fall.  It landed in the heaping mass of Noelle’s flesh.

Shatterbird panted, her face was beaded with sweat, and it wasn’t related to the scene she was looking at, not the underground base filled with flesh and bodies.  Her hand shook as she pushed her hair out of her face.  Emotion?

Miss Militia chose that moment to open the door.  She, like Shatterbird, stared at the scene, but she was distracted as she was forced to grab the door frame to avoid stepping out onto the ruined walkway.

Tattletale’s voice was muffled by the bugs that were crawling on her face.  To actually open her mouth, in the face of all that, I wasn’t sure I could have done it.  I knew better than she did what the result might be, but… yeah.

But she did it.  Tattletale opened her mouth and shouted, “Shut the door!”

Miss Militia moved to obey.  Too late.

Shatterbird screamed, using her power of her own free will for the first time since we’d captured her.

-and the cockroaches obeyed.  They formed a rough human shape, then another.  Swarm-clones, as close as I could get to making them, without a concealing costume for my real self.

And the Nine didn’t fall for it.  Bakuda turned my way, and I belatedly remembered the heat-tracking goggles.  She could follow me by my body heat.

I ran, and I knew it was futile.

Night caught up to me first.  It would have been a simple matter for her to kill me right then, but she had different aims.  Her claw cut at the back of my legs, and I fell, crippled.  My fear pushed the pain into a distant second place on my priority list.

In a matter of moments, I was surrounded.  Night at one side of me, Crawler on the other.  Jack, Bonesaw, Siberian, Bakuda, Shatterbird, Burnscar and Panacea.

It was Weld who seized my wrists.

“Run,” I tried to warn him, but the words didn’t reach him.  Fluid bubbled out of my lips, and it came out as a mumble.  The radiation?  Plague?  Had Bonesaw or Panacea done something to me without my knowledge?

He said something I couldn’t make out.  It sounded like I was underwater.

Then he pulled.

He wasn’t gentle about it.  He threw me over one of his shoulders with enough force that bile rose in my throat and the sharper parts of his shoulders poked at my stomach.  I tried to move my hand to raise my mask, so I wouldn’t choke if I threw up, but my arm didn’t respond.

My head swam, and half of my attempts to breathe were met with only chokes and wet coughs.

Was this another delusion?  A dream?  Could I afford to treat it as though it was?

I was still blind, but my power was waking up.  I could feel the bugs in the area, and I was getting a greater picture of the surroundings as my range slowly extended.

Shatterbird was still perched in that doorway-turned window.  Noelle was beneath her, and I had only the bug-sight to view her with.  Her already grotesque form was distorted further by the three dogs she’d absorbed into herself.

Instinctively, I tried to move my bugs to get a better sense of the current situation.  They didn’t budge.

Instead, I felt the pull of the other two Skitters, wresting control of my bugs from me as though they were taking a toy from a baby, ordering those bugs to hurt my teammates and allies.

Rachel and Tattletale were down, and Imp was crouched beside Tattletale.  Imp had pulled up the spider-silk hood that I’d worked into her scarf, covering the back of her head, and cinched it tight.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was leaving her almost totally protected.

Almost.  Bugs had reached her scalp, and there were spiders working thread around her legs.  I wasn’t sure if she was aware of the latter.

The Wards and Protectorate in the upstairs hallway- some were hurt.  The fallen and the wounded were numerous enough that the heroes had lost any momentum they’d had.  Their focus was in the hallway, now, in saving their teammates.  Maybe they’d deemed the situation unsalvageable.

I exerted a greater effort, trying to reduce the impact the swarm was having on everyone present, but there was nothing.  My doppelgangers had a complete and total override, and the pair definitely noticed my attempts.  They turned my way.

What would I be doing in their shoes?  They couldn’t hurt Weld, but they could hurt me.

Or they’d find another avenue for attack.

“Weld,” Skitter One spoke up.  Her voice was quiet.  “Surprised you’re here.  Did Imp help you get close?”

Do I really sound like that?  I wondered.  And Imp?

Weld wasn’t replying.

Really surprised you’re with her,” Skitter One said.  She had one hand pressed to a chest wound.

Weld glanced over his other shoulder at her.  The other Skitter was a distance away, with shattered legs.

“Did she tell you?” Skitter One said, “She set someone on fire.  Maimed a minor, slicing his forehead open.  She cut off Bakuda’s toes, carved out a helpless man’s eyes.  I can keep going.”

“I don’t care,” Weld said.  He wasn’t moving.  Why?  He was waist deep in Noelle’s belly, holding me…  it dawned on me that he couldn’t throw me to some point clear of Noelle without giving me to the Skitter.

“You should care.  I could tell you about the critically injured man she left to bleed out and die.  She stood by and let people get attacked by Mannequin so she could buy herself time to think of a plan to make a counterattack.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but I couldn’t draw in enough breath to manage more than a hoarse whisper, and Weld wouldn’t have heard me.

“I don’t care,” Weld said.  “I know she’s done bad things.  After this is over, we’ll find her, beat her and take her into custody.”

“You don’t care?” Skitter One asked.  “She murdered your boss.  Shot Thomas Calvert in cold blood, not that long ago.”

Weld froze.  Or he went more still than usual.

“Whoopsie,” Imp said.  She’d appeared behind Skitter One.  A slash of her knife ended Skitter One’s contributions to the discussion.  “Sorry to interrupt.”

I couldn’t say whether Skitter One’s feedback had done anything to change his behavior, but Weld wasn’t gentle when he grabbed me and flung me overhand.  My legs tore free of Noelle, where her flesh had closed firmly around my legs, and I was sent flying.

Unable to move to protect myself or react to the landing, I sprawled where I landed, fifteen or so feet from Noelle.

Weld turned back to Noelle.  His left hand changed to become a blade, and he used it to hack and slash his way through Noelle’s side.  His other hand dug and scraped for purchase as he deliberately and intentionally submerged himself.

My bugs found their way to the others.  I did what I could with my bugs to drive Shatterbird away from the doorway and put her out of reach of Noelle’s tongue.  Once she’d started staggering back, I set about finding and destroying the bug clones who were attacking people and ignoring my powers.

The door where the Wards and Protectorate had been lurking opened.  Miss Militia tested her weight on the staircase, then leaped down to ground level.

She trained a gun on Imp as she noticed the girl crouching over Skitter Two, the taciturn Skitter with the broken legs.  Imp executed the girl, glanced at Miss Militia and shrugged.

I tried to speak, coughed.  I pulled my bugs away from Rachel and Tattletale.

Miss Militia stared at Noelle, her eyes adjusting to the poor lighting.

“You fed her!?” Miss Militia asked.

“Rachel,” Tattletale said, “Come on!”

There was a clapping or slapping noise, and Bastard lurched to his feet.  Rachel stood, and the other three dogs spread out around her.

“You fed Echidna?” Miss Militia asked, disbelieving.

Echidna?  Right.  They’d coined a name for her, then.

“And we’ll feed her more,” Tattletale said.  “Rachel!  All of the spare dogs!  Try not to get in Weld’s way!”

The dogs began to grow, flesh splitting, bone spurs growing, and muscles swelling to greater size.

Rachel hesitated.

“Do it!” Tattletale shouted.

Rachel gave the orders, shouting, “All of you, hold!  Malcolm, go left!”

She slapped one dog on the shoulder, and he bolted.

“Coco, go right!  Twinkie, go right!”

The other two dogs gave chase, stampeding past me as they ran along the right side of the room.

“Hurt!”  Rachel gave the order.

The dogs attacked the closet target – Noelle.  They got stuck in her like she was tar.

But, I realized, that the converse was also true.  Noelle was absorbing them, but she was unable to move so freely as long as this much extra mass was stuck to her.  It was like the way we’d fought Weld, sticking metal to him.

The problem would be when she spat out the dogs.

I tried to move, but I felt like I had fifty pound weights strapped each of my arms and legs.  My face burned hot, and my vision swam.

It wasn’t an entirely unfamiliar feeling.  I felt sick.

With that thought, it dawned on me.  Noelle absorbed living things, and that apparently extended to bacteria.  Where others had bacteria in their digestive systems to help them digest food, Noelle, Echidna, had no need for such.  When she absorbed the ambient bacteria and molds from her surroundings, she was storing them, weaponizing them like she did with rats and insects.  They were used to debilitate her victims, render them unable to fight back while her clones got the upper hand.

It meant I was sick, and I’d have to hope that whatever the illness was, it would be short-lived.

Shatterbird was still thrashing, trying to do something with her glass and failing because she couldn’t breathe or see.  Echidna couldn’t move, as her legs were caught on the dogs.  The other clones had been executed by Imp, as far as I knew.

The sticking point was Weld.  Tattletale had apparently figured out that he was immune to Echidna’s absorption ability, but he wouldn’t be immune to her basic shapeshifting ability.  She didn’t have a lot of control over her form, or she surely would have chosen something without that number of legs, without the three mutant dog heads, but she did have the ability to shift her flesh around, and Weld was limited in how fast he could cut that flesh away.

Rachel had moved to my side.  She put her arms under my shoulders and my knees and lifted me, grunting.

I twisted around to cough and gag.  I managed to move one arm to my face, but didn’t have the strength in my fingers to move the fabric at my neck.

Rachel found it instead, pulling it up and halfway up my face.  I coughed up lumps of stuff that tasted the way raw meat smelled.

“Careful!” Tattletale said.  “Incoming!  Dogs!”

Noelle had apparently moved one of her heads around, because she managed to spray a stream of vomit our way.

There was a pause as her body heaved, my bugs could sense the movement as one of the bulkier dogs was repositioned inside her monstrous lower body, and then she puked up one of the dogs, along with a handful of humans.

It wasn’t large, wasn’t mutant.  Well, it was a mutant, but it wasn’t one of Rachel’s mutants.

“Bentley,” Rachel ordered.  “Kill.”

The bulldog lunged and seized the smaller dog in its jaws in a matter of seconds, crushed it in a heartbeat.

“Yeah,” Rachel said, her voice low enough that only I heard it.  “Feels wrong.”

“Why?” Miss Militia asked.  “Why was it small?”

“When we were hanging out with Panacea during the Slaughterhouse Nine fiasco, she put her hand on Sirius,” Tattletale said.  “And she said that the tissues die as they get pushed out from the center.  They’re more like super zombie dogs, really, with a juicy, living center.”

“And Echidna doesn’t copy dead things,” Miss Militia said.

Tattletale nodded.  “We got lucky.  I was worried it would only be a little smaller.”

Weld was fighting to emerge.  He had his hands on Grue and one of the dogs.  He hurled them out, and Miss Militia caught the dog.  Imp and Tattletale hurried to drag Grue away.

“Did you bring all the stuff I asked for?” Tattletale asked.

“Yes.  It won’t be enough.”

“So long as you’ve got some, it’ll help.  Just need to buy time,” Tattletale said.

Echidna’s bulk shifted.  I couldn’t see it with my own eyes, but with the blurry vision the bugs offered, I could track how she was getting her legs under her.  I could see that there weren’t any distinct bulges anymore.  She was breaking down the mutant flesh she’d stripped away from Rachel’s dogs and she was making it her own.  Six dogs… if my estimates about them being roughly a third her mass were right, she could be three times as big as she’d been before.

“She’ll be stronger,” Miss Militia said, putting the dog down.  “If this doesn’t work, we just gave her a power boost for nothing.”

“We’re saving the people she took,” Tattletale said, “And we’re buying time.  It’s not nothing.”

Echidna heaved herself up to her feet.  She vomited forth a geyser of fluids and flying clones.  Our ranks were scattered, knocked over and pushed away from Echidna by the force and quantity of the fluids.

It was stronger than before.  Whatever the source she was drawing from was, she’d reinforced it with the mass she’d gained from eating the dogs.  No less than fifteen clones littered the floor, and there were another twelve or so dogs and rats in their mass.

Miss Militia didn’t even stand before opening fire.  Twin assault rifles tore into the ranks of the clones as she emptied both clips, reforged the guns with her power, and then unloaded two more clips.  Several clones were avoiding the bullets more by sheer chance than any effort on their part.  One Grace-clone managed to shield the bullets, moving her hands to block the incoming fire.  One stray shot clipped her shoulder, but she was holding out.

Echidna spat up another wave, and I hurried to get my flying bugs out of the way.  I still couldn’t move, but I held my breath.  The wave hit us on two fronts, an initial crush of fluid and bodies, and the bodies from the first wave that had been shoved up against us.  As the fluid receded, my bugs moved back down to the ground to track how many clones she’d created.  It made for a pile of bodies, with snarling dogs and clones struggling for footing as they reached for us.

Bentley and Bastard provided our side with the muscle we needed to shove the worst of the enemy numbers away, bulldozing them with snouts and shoving them aside with the sides of their large bodies.  Miss Militia followed up by sweeping the area with a flamethrower.  She stopped, waiting for the smoke to clear, and Tattletale shouted, “Again!  Weld’s still inside!”

Another wave of flame washed over the clones.  They were Regents, Tectons and Graces, as well as various dogs, and none were able to withstand the heat.  Each and every one of them burned.

But this much heat and smoke, even with this space being as large as it was, it wasn’t an assault we could sustain.

Echidna opened her mouth for a third spray, then stopped.  One by one, bodies were dropping from her gut.

“No!”  Noelle screamed, from her vantage point on top of the monstrous form.

Weld forced another dog free, and Echidna moved one leg to step on it.

Grace and Tecton fell, and Weld dropped after them.  He turned the blade of one hand into a scythe, then chopped a segment of Echidna’s foot free.  With one motion of the scythe, he sent Tecton, Regent and some of the dogs skidding our way, sliding them on the vomit-slick floor like a hockey player might with a puck on ice.

Echidna deliberately dropped, belly-flopping onto Weld, Grace and the dismembered foot that had stepped on the sixth dog.

Miss Militia was already drawing together a rocket launcher.  She fired a shot at the general location where Weld was.  He forced his way free of the resulting wound a moment later, the dog tucked under one arm, Grace under the other.

Echidna swiped at him, but he hurled the others forward to safety a second before it connected.  He was slammed into the wall, but he didn’t even reel from the blow.  He made a dash for us.

“Retreat!” Miss Militia gave the order.

The staircase shook precariously as we made our ascent, one group at a time.  One of the capes had frozen the staircase of the metal walkway to the wall to stabilize it.  They started getting organized to hand each of us and the dogs up to the door, but Rachel barreled past, carrying me and two dogs, with Bastard and Bentley following behind.

As we reached the doorway, dogs were handed to the able-bodied.  Others were helping the wounded.  Clockblocker had fallen, and Kid Win was being moved with a makeshift stretcher formed of one of the chain-link doors that had been in the hallway.  There was a lot of blood.

It was Shatterbird’s power, I realized.  I’d barely registered the event.  Shatterbird was still in the hallway on the other side of the underground complex.  Standing away from the main fighting, perhaps, or waiting for an opportunity.  She’d found the locker where Regent kept her costume, was using her power to put it on while simultaneously fighting off the bugs that were still biting her.

Echidna reared back, apparently gearing up to vomit, and Miss Militia fired a rocket launcher straight into the monster’s open mouth.

It barely seemed to slow Echidna down.  Vomit spilled around her, crawling with vermin and bugs.

The monster was moving slower, now.  The entire structure shook as she advanced on us, sections of the walkway crumpling and screeching where her bulk scraped against it.

But the door was just that – a door.  Three feet wide and six feet tall.  The tunnels the trucks had used were too small for her mass, even if one ignored the fact that they’d been strategically collapsed.

The entire area shook with the impact of her furious struggles.  She was trying to tear her way free.  The violence only ramped up as we made our escape, to the point that I was worried the building above us would come down on top of our heads as we headed outside.

The warm, fresh air was chill against the damp fabric of my costume as we escaped from beneath the building.  I could sense other heroes and trucks stationed nearby, no doubt surrounding the area.

The second we’d reached the perimeter, Tattletale collapsed to the ground, propping herself up with her back to a wall.  Grue and Regent were placed next to us.

We were covered in blood and vomit, half of us so weak we could barely move.  It didn’t convey the best image.

“Vista wasn’t inside Echidna,” Weld said.  “If she’s still in the building-”

“Triumph, phone her,” Miss Militia ordered.

“Yes’m,” Triumph replied.

Miss Militia turned to Tattletale.  She gestured at the nearby vehicles.  “You said you wanted containment foam.”

“I did,” Tattletale said.

“You think she’ll fight free?”

“Almost definitely,” Tattletale said.  “She had a Grue with her.  One with teleportation powers.  He disappeared partway through the fight, lurking somewhere out of sight.  Being pragmatic about the situation.  So unless someone can testify to having killed the guy, we can expect her to pop up in a matter of minutes.”

“Minutes,” Miss Militia said.

“No reply from Vista,” Triumph reported.

“Keep trying.”

“She gets free in a few minutes, and we’ll use the containment foam then?” Assault asked.  I jumped a little at the realization it was him.

“No,” Tattletale said.  “We’ll use it as soon as the dust settles.”

“Dust?”  Assault asked.

She withdrew her cell phone, raised her voice, “If any of you have force fields, put them up now!”

Tattletale started punching something into the keypad.  Miss Militia grabbed her wrist, prying the cellphone from her hand.  “Stop.”

“It’s our only option.”

What’s our only option?”

Buying time,” Tattletale said.  She wrenched her hand free, but Miss Militia still had the phone.


“You could punch the last two digits, one and four, into that keypad, see for yourself,” Tattletale said.  “Or you could give me the phone, let me do it, and then if Vista’s in there, your conscience is… less muddy, if not exactly clear.”

Miss Militia turned her face toward the phone, stared at the building that loomed over Coil’s not-so-secret base.

“Shatterbird-” I started to speak, had to catch my breath, “She’s in there too.  She was talking to Noelle.  To Echidna.  Last I saw.  They might be deciding to work together.”

“I won’t have a clear conscience, no matter what I do,” Miss Militia said.  “But I might as well own up to it.”

Miss Militia touched the phone twice.  Long, quiet seconds reigned.

“Didn’t think you had it in you,” Tattletale commented.

There was a rumble.  My bugs couldn’t reach far enough to see, but they could see the blur.  A cloud, at the top floor of the building.

Another cloud expanded out from the top of the building, one floor down from the first.

The explosions continued, escalating, ripping through the building in stages.  I couldn’t even breathe as I experienced the resulting aftershock, the vibrations as the building folded in on itself, plummeting down to the construction area.

“What-” Assault started.

There was another explosion, muffled, and my bugs were in range for the explosion that followed.  Plumes of earth rose in a rough circle around the building, and then the ground sank.  The entire underground base, folding in on itself.  Even with the debris of the fallen building on top of it, the area seemed to form a loose depression.

Fitting for the criminal mastermind, I thought.

“Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit,” Regent said, his voice reedy.

“He didn’t use it on us?” I asked Tattletale.  “Coil?”

She was staring at what must have been a massive cloud of dust.

“He tried, sort of,” she said.  “His computer was rigged to blow everything up if someone tampered too much.  I found the stuff when I went looking for his files, as I moved in.  Scared the pants off me when I realized that it was already in motion.”

“Before that?”  I asked.  “When we were waiting for the meeting?”

“Couldn’t afford to let ‘Echidna’ loose,” she said.  “And I think I would’ve known.  Can’t say for sure.”

It took minutes for everything to finish settling.

“Containment foam on the wreckage!”  Miss Militia shouted.  “I want cape escorts for each truck and equipped PRT member, do not engage if you see her!”

She was rattling off more orders.  I couldn’t focus enough to follow it all.

“She’s not dead,” Tattletale said, “But we bought an hour, at least.  Maybe a few.  With luck, they’ll upgrade this to a class-S.  We’ll get reinforcements… which we’ll need.”

“She’s stronger,” Grue said.  He didn’t sound good.  “You fed her.”

“Had to.  Or she would have escaped before the explosion.”

“But she’s stronger,” Grue repeated himself.

Tattletale nodded.

“Do you have a plan?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “Not really.  Ideas.”

“I have a few too,” I said.  “Not good ones, though.”

“I’ll take bad ideas,” she said.  She sighed wistfully, “Fuck.  I really wanted an evil mastermind headquarters of my own.  It’ll be years before I can build one for myself,” Tattletale groused.

“So impatient,” Regent clucked his tongue.

Tattletale pushed herself to her feet.  “The next part’s going to be three times as bad.  I’m going to go see if we can scrounge up some healing.”

I brought my legs up to my chest and folded my arms on my knees, resting my head on them.  The visions I’d seen were swiftly fading into memory, but the ideas behind them lingered.  For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t sure I wanted to fight, to step up and save others.  A large part of me wanted to say it was up to the heroes, to take the unsure thing over doing it myself and knowing I’d done everything I could.

I turned to Grue.  “You okay?”

He didn’t respond.

“Grue?” I asked.


I used my bugs to search for someone who might be able to give medical attention.  Everyone was milling around, active, busy.

Us Undersiders aside, there were only two people nearby who weren’t active, trying to contain and prepare for a potential second attack.  Weld and Miss Militia.

They were talking, and they were looking at me.

Thomas Calvert.  My clone had informed them.  And they’d seen our faces.

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155 thoughts on “Scourge 19.1

  1. I thought this chapter would be a lot shorter than it wound up needing to be. The writing of it wound up being just a smidge rushed. Apologies for any (inevitable) typos.

    Hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

    • Whenever I think that a post will be short, I am almost always wrong. I’m not sure whether this means I’m bad at estimating these things or whether it means it’s just hard to estimate.

      Given that this is true when I’m programming too, it might just be me.

    • When asked about plans for addressing Noelle Skitter says “I have too.” shouldn’t it be ‘two’. either that or advanced English has been lying to me. Great chapter by the way, I was wondering when the inevitable reveal would come.

  2. Found a typo. ” She fired a shot at the general location where Weld was. He forced his way free of the resulting wound a moment later, the dog tucked under one arm, Weld in his left hand and Grace in his right.” Not sure what was supposed to be there, but I’m guessing Weld isn’t carrying himself.

  3. I’m not sure why Taylor is so worried about the ‘see our faces’ thing. She didn’t fully pull her mask off when she was spewing chunks and most of the clones tend to be deformed anyway so the heroes only have a vague approximation of what the Undersiders actually look like.

    Although I’m wondering how they’re going to explain that Coil and Thomas was the same person, everyone keeps going on they should tell the Heroes that but it’s pretty meaningless unless they have ample proof on hand.

    • I don’t think the question is how they’re going to explain. The question is, can they get the heroes to believe them?

      Once they get proof that Coil didn’t actually die in the explosion, it should be easier. If they don’t or can’t…well, I suppose that the Birdcage escape I’ve been vaguely suspecting from shortly after I first read about the Birdcage could be coming soon.

    • Problem is they have more than enough proof but Miss Militia is likely going to complain again that it will take too long to verify and in the meantime they go free. Just like every other time that they have dirty little secrets. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Regent mouthing the words along at the same time the heroes say it.

      I doubt that it will be a major issue until the battle is over hopefully and with any luck they will actually believe them without trouble. Ah who am I kidding, Taylor isn’t that lucky.

  4. Darn, I guess no second trigger event for Skitter, but they know about Coil now. Though it will be interesting to see their reaction when they find out his real identity. Well they know Grue/Skitter’s face but its not like they can go to a school for yearbooks at the moment, so their identities are okay at least for a little while. They can always threaten to reveal Shadowstalker/Coils identity to the public for precaution. Then again they might not care.

    • I’m not expected a second trigger for Taylor, mostly because I’m thinking that she had a double trigger event in that locker. Reading back, when she initially got her powers in a panick attack it only gave her mental overload from suddenly being able to sense the insects. To the point that she was delirious and violent when she came out. I’d guess that the finer control and ability to use her bug’s senses were what she got out of it.

  5. It really speaks volumes to your own creativity that you did not cop out and give Taylor a second trigger. This was an amazing chapter with long ranging consequences. Saturday can not come soon enough.

    • I think it speaks volumes that half the fanbase would cheer if she had a second trigger and the other half would rage (or at least be very, very disappointed).

      Congratulations wildbow, in a few more chapters you may well qualify for the Broken Base trope! Which means the base has to be big enough to be broken in the first place!

      • On a semi-related note, I’m pretty pumped that Worm is #1 on the Webfictionguide overall ranking. (Oddly enough, third if you select ‘popular’, but 1st if you select ‘full list’ from that screen).

        I’m grateful to everyone who reviewed/rated the story, and I’ll have to find some way to thank you all. (I’ll make another post after tonight’s chapter goes live, so others catch it).

      • Nah. I know there were different sides on her staying in school or not going back, for instance. While it may provide a good point for a “What if?” story, I doubt it’ll break the fanbase.

        *causes a broken fanbase as people viciously take sides over whether it would break the fanbase for Taylor to get a second trigger event*

  6. -“tucked under one arm, Weld in his left hand and Grace in his right.” – How is Weld carrying himself?

    Anyways, this seemed like quite an experimental piece, with sections unclear about which was taking place in the real world and which was taking place in her mind. I can’t say I completely agree with the method used. What seems to be the third “real world” section is missing a large amount of italics. When it becomes clear that Weld is cutting Skitter out, there’s no clear indication that that is what is happening. Some realization from Skitter may have been in order and in character.

    I noticed, though, that once again the writing tended to be too visual, although good effort was made to try to cover for that. The segments in Skitter’s dreamworld make sense in that regard, but after getting out of Echidna’s stomach, there still didn’t seem to be that much of a difference between a blinded and a seeing Skitter.

    In regards to the story, I see this as a real character piece for Skitter and Weld, with a bit of Miss Militia on the side. Skitter still has all those insecurities despite her massive growth, as evidenced by her dreamworld and her clones. Weld wants to do what’s both right and lawful. Miss Militia is willing to do the dirty jobs for the greater good. It’s this last one that makes me fear for the Undersiders. That mean she’s willing to cover up the inevitable reveal that Calvert is Coil, that Taylor was bullied to mental breakdown by Shadowstalker, etc. This really scares me.

    Pointless speculation: I think Echidna induces these nightmarish dreamworlds to help cause more triggers, which is required for the clones, as each clone needs a power, and as stated before, no power is perfectly alike. Then the powers are transferred to the clone somehow. Could this mean people who were in Echidna will be stronger or weaker, depending on how their passengers reacted to the experience?

  7. So… Skitter’s blind, unmasked, and likely to have a kill order put on her head after the local capes finish up with Noelle. And to make matters worse, Shatterbird has probably joined up with the newly christened Echidna; once she makes it out of the collapsed base, she’ll probably work out her frustrations on the city at large.

    Where’s Krouse in all of this, by the way? He didn’t follow Noelle?

  8. I think the conditions would have to be pretty extreme for Skitter to trigger again, moreso than what she got here. Grue’s first trigger involved beating somebody up, and he had to be flayed alive first to do it again. Skitter’s first was arguably more traumatizing than Grue’s so what the hell would have to happen to set her off again.

    Anyway, I really hope that Tattletale has a big fat file full of good evidence of the Calvert/Coil connection. Though it might have gone up with the rest of the base, in retrospect maybe she should have given Coil a firing squad. It would still have been murder but wouldn’t have put one of the siders in a position where they catch most of the head.

    Also, that thing about Tantalus was, like, the fourth cultural reference Taylors made in this entire series, two of them from Greek mythology. Dork.

    • Well her mom taught English, she probably read her mothers books after she passed. Don’t knock the dorks and nerds, they run the world. Heck, technically Taylor is the ruler of the underworld right now. Tattletale is too smart not to have foreseen and prepared for this, so I think she has their bases covered. I thought it was the perfect time for a trigger event. But unless she secretly became telepathic in Noelle without realizing it, I think the odds of Wildbow giving her a another trigger event have become even smaller after this chapter.

  9. You think this is easy, Wildbow?

    You have a big, action-packed chapter full of drama and one hell of a cliffhanger, and suddenly a lot of people need to lose some tension. Comedy doesn’t work very well on demand. Can’t just go up to someone and go “Hey you, be funny!” Maybe if they’re drunk, but I have never been drunk. I’ve been down the road but never reached the cul de sac before turning around.

    It’s hard to follow something like this, but you just want to keep making puppies cry. I just wanted to punch space marines in the dick, but suddenly I have to think of nubile teen girls being lesbians. You think I, a guy, want to think about teenage lesbians when I could be envisioning my hand moving forcefully towards another man’s crotch?

    Now I have to be funny so all these nice happy people don’t stay up half the night wishing Noelle dead.

    Ok, here goes: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because Noelle was ear raping everything in sight on the side it came from!

  10. “Fuck. I really wanted evil mastermind headquarters of my own.”
    I think you may be missing an “an” between “wanted” and “evil”

        • A case could be made for “headquarters” being plural by itself. Etymologically, it’s not entirely clear where the “s” on the end of “quarters” comes from, but I’d guess it’s a pluralization. These rooms are where you are given quarter. They are your quarters. Something like that. You don’t hear “a headquarters” very often, so I think it’s safe to say that most native speakers treat it at least sort of like a plural noun.

          • After some bemused consideration, I have decided that since “a headquarters” is wrong and multiple headquarters only makes sense if they’re hierarchical somehow (e.g. regional headquarters), “headquarters” must be an uncountable noun like fish and water.

            The things it would never occur to you too think about. Well, now I know for the next time it comes up.

  11. The addition of a tolling bell to the school was a nice dramatic touch- I wonder if Taylor’s read Julius Caesar… Even knowing what was happening, it was hard to read that first part straight faced- poor girl. It makes me wonder if everyone swallowed by her gets those visions.

    I like Chitter for the talky Skitter. She did a great job handling Weld.

    How much of their faces were really seen? Half of Taylor’s vomit covered face(she probably didn’t even wipe her goggles off- a clue that she is blind, right after she actually gets vision!) and whatever was exposed on Grue… Imp and Tattletale kept their masks and Grue was wearing a helmet…

    “two of three feet thick” Or.
    ” rubber length of wire” Rubberized?

  12. Proving that Calvert was Coil is important here. And fast. Also, the undersiders must regroup and rest. Grue must use his darkness.

  13. wow……i feel like i just went through a literary BSDM session with these last few chapters; it scares me that i kinda liked it.

  14. Everyone was making bets on whether Skitter would get a second trigger event. I think we should make bets on what happens after the Noelle situation gets resolved. Now that Coil is dead, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for Skitter to effect the larger meta story of the worm universe (the 9, Calderon, and the Endbringers) as long as she stays in Brocton Bay. That makes me think that the Undersiders are going to be forced out of he city.

    The kill order is the current prime suspect, but there are other options. Skitter was obsessed with fighting Coil, but now that she has no other villains to fight, I doubt she will be contented to be a city warlord. Ironically, I think that this is the best chance Skitter has to finally be a ‘hero’. Joining a real PRT team is never going to happen, but the Undersiders might hire themselves out as mercenaries to Dragon. Skitter really wants to stop Jack, so going the hunt for the 9 with a villain team would be an interesting place to take the story.

    Or I could just be talking out of my ass because I can’t wait until the next update. Come on Wildbow, give us an extra hit of Skittles! ^-^

    • Well Dinah mentioned there are other players involved in the apocalypse, and Cauldron is still largely unknown to the undersiders. There is the big prison break that seems likely to happen, the possibility of working with Dragon, hunting the 9, and another Endbringer attack seems to be due. While I don’t know what Wildbow has planned, the Undersiders did so much to take over the city. If they had a means of securing their rule while they traveled I could see it happening. Wildbow has made a very interesting universe and I would love to see the Undersiders traveling to other cities, dealing with new capes/villains, and their reputation preceding them for once. Taylor would leave if she thought she had a chance to stop the apocalypse, and she might have more reason to stay out of the city if her identity is revealed.

    • The pattern so far has been one of “frying pan -> fire”, repeatedly with (very) brief respites and expect the pattern to continue. I will disagree that the story needs to move out of Brockton Bay. By my reconning, we may to finish off No’, Jack is going to be back to check on Kaiser’s kid, and Cauldron is pretty much ominipresent. Just guessing here but I’m willing to be WB has the rest of the story outlined already and that the action stays centered in BB.

  15. I hate to say it but for some reason this was the first chapter, the very first one in this series that I have not enjoyed reading.

    It’s well written, though I found the transition to Weld rescuing them to be very unclear and not feel as though this was Skitter being confused. She seems less confused then she should be and the writing was off. Heck I even loved that we finally had a large fight in which Skitter had practically no part in the outcome, it was a bit hard to believe that everything kept coming down to her with the last couple arc climaxes.

    Nevertheless I just didn’t enjoy this. I can see what johnwedd meant, it just felt like getting hit a lot then afterwards things are much worse then when you began. After the long slow uphill crawl that has been these characters attempt to accomplish something, this just seems ridiculous. Nothing ever going right is as unreal as nothing ever going wrong.

    Them losing the base and their masks takes it to the point where I’m wondering if a probability manipulator in setting is explicitly targeting them.

    Sorry. I feel like I should have enjoyed this, the writing was excellent (again, other then the final transition which was clunky) and the plot was sensible. But it’s sort of like a coin always landing tails.

    • I suppose it could be that Coil was the only source of their luck and his absence is making itself felt, but he even said himself that he wasn’t always intervening. And even with an explanation it still feels too much.

    • Kind of what I was trying to say too a while back, but got jumped all over. Schadenfreude isn’t one of my character traits, and watching characters I’m invested in get beaten up so damned thoroughly is getting disheartening. That said, the *writing* about them getting beaten up is very good. And the fact that I’m invested in the characters is telling. So… idk. I had a point, lost it.

        • See, and that’s how we differ.😉

          No, you’re absolutely right. And now, if I ever get around to doing my own serial, I can pretty much count on Anzer’ke either coming in and complaining about it excessively to get back at me for my comment, or not coming at all.😛

          I guess I could sum up my thoughts here as, “If I screw it up, please tell me about it. If you don’t like my art, keep it to yourself, or just stop looking at it.”

          The former criticism is constructive. The latter is not.


          • My comment was directed more at how hard it is to entertain y’all sometimes when the story gets like this. Comedy doesn’t always work on demand. You there, HG, make me laugh about tampons, rats, and men who like to wear spandex. I’m not laughing yet!

            Luckily, said comments can also be used constructively as far as making y’all laugh.

            *cracks a used tampon whip over HG’s head* I don’t hear laughter, funnybunny!

          • You see me as rather more childishly vindictive then I’d like to think I am.

            In any case I can sort of see why, I wasn’t entirely sure whether to post that comment or not in the first place. As you say there is a difference between complaining about issues in a piece of work and complaining about the work itself.

            In the end I couldn’t figure which side my complaints fell on, and I would like to point out that I had both praise and a completely legitimate criticism in that comment as well. Thus I posted it, it’s not like every comment has to be entirely positive in any case.

            On a tangentially related reflection, it’s good thing Wildbow seems to either have very little ego or an awareness of it, because with how popular this story has become I (speaking of general behaviour of people who post content on the net) wouldn’t have been remotely surprised if a comment like mine just didn’t get past moderation. Nor would it have been impossible to make a case for that, yet there my comment is. So there’s some more glowing praise for our beloved author, which is kinda circular.

            • Way I figure it, an author needs to have thick skin.

              And, as I’m discovering, one of the hardest things to get, as an author, is feedback. Feedback keeps you from treading down the wrong path, or gives you affirmation that you’re on the right one.

              For example, I’ve always really thought that I didn’t have any talent for humor, but apparently Worm’s ‘Crowning moment of funny’ sub-page on TV tropes is growing. That gives me the push I need to explore that area more. Sometimes I’ll fail, other times I’ll hit the mark, but I learn and I grow as a writer. Feedback is giving me the freedom to keep trying in that area rather than abandoning it as an abject failure with only my subjective opinion to work with.

              Far better than, say, writing a full novel, shooting in the dark, so to speak, and being able to only guess whether my periodic stabs at humor appeal or not.

              And of course, that’s not limited to humor; there’s moments of awesome to tone to pacing and effective dream sequences vs. derivative dribble-drabble, all areas where feedback lets me know if I’m hitting the mark or not. And, heck, even a simple ‘I enjoyed this chapter’ gives me a little bit of a push so I can keep writing without feeling like I’m running against a headwind.

              Truth be told, I joined a writer’s circle because I was hoping for some legitimate critiques- primarily on the early chapters of Worm, where most new readers tend to be busy getting a feel for the story and are not yet posting comments. Takes 2-3 months (and me offering 4-6 critiques) before I get a turn at being critiqued, and even then, only 3000 words at a time. That maybe indicates how much effort I’m willing to go to, considering it’s a 2 hour round trip, and all that, for simple feedback.

              So I -do- want feedback, negative or otherwise. All the better if there’s enough of a sample size that I can find a balance in interpreting said feedback: if Anzer’ke says he hates how dark the story is getting and ten or a hundred people disagree with him, then that gives me some indication that I’m probably on the right track. If I notice that there’s ten or a hundred people agreeing with him, then that’s maybe reason to change something or rethink the part where two major characters die and the story gets 10x darker in the near future.

          • No, Anzer’ke, I didn’t see your response as vindictive, just childish. In light of your reply just now, I can look back at your original post and see what you were kind of trying to say.

            To be clear, I don’t have a problem with people talking about how art made them feel, or about their response to art, or even saying that they don’t like it (in whole or in part). I took issue with how you seemed to be complaining about it. Complaining ain’t constructive, by its very nature. It’s also not a particularly mature response to art.

            And to paraphrase someone (but I know not who): I can’t tell you what art is, but I know it when I see it.

            And this, comrade, is art.


          • Hg,

            I believe that was either a lawyer or a Supreme Court justice in a case involving pornography. They couldn’t define pornography, but they knew it when they saw it.

            And yes, comedy and tragedy have a complex relationship with each other. Take a look at the trope Funny Aneurysm Moment, for example. Really, if you put enough thought into funny stuff, it becomes tragic pretty quick. And if you have a twisted enough perspective when bringing up tragic stuff, you can make it funny.

            “I am become death, destroyer of worlds” -Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita.

            “Get in line, Oppenheimer,” -Psycho Gecko while working on a rocket.

          • about getting comments:
            as a new reader i was uncertan wether you wanted comments on the old stuff, and thought i should catch up before i would comment

            a little sentence befor the first or the first coupple of chapters would change that, something on the line of:
            “comments are approved of and wanted both conserning typos, style of writing and characteristics (like sence of humour / moment of awesomnes / oh fuck moments)”

            sorry for the bigger than normal mountan of typos etc (tired)

          • Perhaps that would make sense, but I’ve already had my writer’s circle go over it, and I’ve made notes on my ebook reader, but I haven’t actually sat myself down to make the (comprehensive) changes. I wouldn’t want to solicit critiques for stuff I’ve already mentally committed to change/rewrite entirely. It’s more the middle-range of stuff, now. Arcs 4-8 that I feel a little shakier on.

            They say you have to do something for 10,000 hours to master it. I’ve written close to a million words of Worm (967,270 at last count), at an average of about 300 words an hour. I’m only about a third of the way there. Maybe closer if you count the time I was writing but not putting it out there for my audience to read. As I get better at writing (and I fully admit I’m not perfect) I find more and more of my early stuff isn’t up to my current standards.

        • 900,000 words? Holy moly, that’s more than Romance of the Three Kingdoms, for one.

          I’m really interested to see what kind of changes you make to the story after it’s all finished. Can’t wait.

    • you are quit the pessimist aren’t you?
      a realy think about this chapter optimistic,
      hell of a lot of good luck and posetiv change in this chapter:

      they all undersiders surive / get out of noel

      they are working together with the heroes (making good impressiom)

      they manage to get all the caps (/ civilians?) /dogs out of her
      –> she can’t create any more clones
      –> no death to be blamed on the undersiders (as unjust as it would be)

      there were clones of some heroes / undersiders
      –> potential for a deal (we forget who you are you forget who we are)
      –> pressure not to get “more evil” / stay in line
      –> possible “hey don’t I know you from …” conversation

      coils death was mentioned
      –> need of an explanation, better for them longterm, excusing their actions (coil forced us)

      put there 3 more points which i have forgotten
      propable all a point of perspectiv^^
      (reminds me of the comedy / tragedy difference someone mentioned not to long ago:
      The difference between comedy and tragedy is perspective. If I get a paper cut, that’s tragedy. The pain! The suffering! But if you walk into an open sewer and die, that’s comedy
      optimists say this is the best of all worlds pessimists fear they are right)

  16. Long-time lurker here, figured I might as well comment for once seeing how much I enjoy it. Wildbow, thank you very very much for writing it, it’s awesome! It’s really become the highlight of the week.

    And, since it seems it’s tradition to always include some baseless speculation, here’s something obviously wrong that I thought of after today’s story with Tattletale not sharing her trigger… what if she’s one of Cauldron’s? Heck, she could be Manton’s daughter for all we know, we were told she took it badly when she got her powers, but not *why*. Suddenly learning your dad’s part of a dimension-spanning murderous conspiracy does tend to create some tension in the family…

    • I’ve thought about her having Cauldron powers, but never about Manton’s daughter. Interesting but I think we’d have some reaction to Siberian from Tattle if that we’re the case. Even if it’s just “daddy, why is your psychic projection of me naked?”

      Speaking of speculation, are the personalities of the Noelle clones warped to be roughly similar to Noelle’s own? Because all the Echidna spawn we’ve seen were all highly self absorbed and prone to blaming other people for their problems. Which isn’t something I’d think would come of a crazy Skitter with her character flaws exaggerated. But it describes Noelle to a T.

      • Yeah, that would be all kinds of awkward… but I can guess why she didn’t recognize Siberian as a ‘clone’ of sorts. Cauldron actually needed face recognition software to realize Siberian (sort of) looked like Manton’s daughter because she still looks quite different. Alexandria didn’t recognize her either, smart as she was, so if Tattletale wasn’t looking for it I doubt she saw it. Besides, she probably wasn’t so much thinking about a possible family reunion, as she was about how to get out of there with all her limbs still attached.

    • An interesting theory but Matryoshka is probably Manton’s daughter since she is described as having a black and white pattern, like Siberian, in the Migration arc and she was dumped from Cauldron’s pocket dimension of horrors; it’s mentioned in Alexandria’s interlude that they had her in custody. I admit, I didn’t pick up on this earlier because her memory had been wiped and I thought she came from a dimension without tvs but this seems to be the most plausible explanation.

  17. Well done sir, well done. One of my favorite chapters, actually. Arguably shouldn’t have been, but I loved every part of this. The mix of Taylor’s Trigger Event and the Slaughterhouse Nine reality was fun.

    How weird is it that I’m kind of sad we’ll never actually see that Slaughterhouse Nine in action?

    • me too. i’m thinking about writing a short fanfic around them. speaking of which, what’s your opinion on fan fiction, wildbow?

        • I remember wanting to write a crazy Naruto fanfiction playing off the common idea of Naruto being able to summon different creatures than mountain-sized yakuza toads. Was going to call it Silly Summons, sort of an anthology piece with each chapter being a one shot with a different universe’s summons. (A lot of this inspired directly by the fanfic The Magic of Friendship. Guess the crossover there.)

          One of my early ideas for it was for Naruto to be able to summon the Nazgul (the point is coming up fast, I swear). Then I got to thinking about calling the chapter The Nine, as in the Nine Riders. Which led to me thinking about including the Slaughterhouse Nine as a summons. Then the idea escalated fairly quickly into its own thing where a demon-possessed child was essentially raised by a “family” of superpowered psychopaths sort of as a direct inverse to the above mentioned Magic of Friendship.

          Might just do it for s’n’g if all you want is a link to Worm (a given, I want more people to read this) and a disclaimer.

  18. ‘Looking after the fallen and the wounded were numerous enough that they weren’t venturing forth..’

    That doesn’t seem quite right. ‘They were looking after the fallen’ seems better.

  19. By the way, Imp is really scary! Maybe the most scary Undersider. You don’t even remember she exists, and then she slits your throat.

    • Yeah, I’m a bit unnerved at how she doing it without much hesitation, even if those are clones. I’d think Regent was controlling her, but that’s unlikely.

      • And she is 14. So, Grue, how did that plan of you taking up villainy to save your sister work out for you? She is certainly blossoming in the new environment you introduced her too…

        • The plan kind of failed when Leviathan attacked and she triggered in the aftermath.

          Hey Wildbow, can you tell us whether different triggers can give the same person different powers?
          Like would Imp always have gotten her current power set once she trigggered?

          • If she’d spent several hours in a small space full of hungry rats I think we’d have gotten a gnawed skeleton and Brockton Bay would have stayed rather more peaceful.

          • If Sophia managed to find and catch enough wild rats to fill a locker just for a prank I’d actually be impressed rather than appalled, docile pet store rats would be easier to find but wouldn’t create quite the desired effect.

            Dammit, I just got off playing Dishonored and wanna see a guy with rat controlling powers! That too much to ask?!

      • “Why don’t you let me aim that for you next time?”

        …Go back and wait in the Lucky 38. Send Veronica back to find me. I’ll be hunting deathclaws. Don’t let ED-E taze you on your way back, asshole.

        • Ooh, what is in this raided farmhouse here? A little ammo and food? Oh look, raiders approaching at night who don’t see me yet.

          *pulls out the incendiary grenades*

          Like the fella once said, ‘ain’t that a kick in the head.’

      • Ditto. But he’s basically the one cop in a department where everyone is either crooked, out for their owns motives, or entirely too political.

        • In fairness, the Wards and Protectorate left in Brockton Bay are alright people. It’s the organization that’s rotten, the PRT that backed up Sophia Hess without properly monitoring her conduct, that over-promoted Armsmaster (probably because they figured Brockton Bay was a safe enough place to stick someone who was hyper-competent but not fit to lead). Legend trusted Alexandria, aka Director Contra-Costa, to do the job right, but as we’ve seen from her PoV piece she has an agenda that isn’t necessarily compatible with running a Hero team.

      • I liked him when he was the ONLY hero to offer Taylor encouragement when they were about to fight an Endbringer, and he became my favorite ward when he saluted Skitter for saving the wards from Mannequin. He refuses to lose hope unlike the other Wards.

      • I got my suspicions about that guy… something about an old mention of how he spends his time, and him being too good of a person for the Worm setting. 8 year old white girl, middle of the night, walking through the ghetto with quantum physics books?

        One of these days we’re going to see him smoking a cigar, swigging booze, and telling people to bite his shiny metal ass.

          • I make this look good. Might even say I’m the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.

            Besides, if a man wears his pants on his head or speaks backwards from time to time, you know it’s all laid out there for you. If he’s friendly to stranges and keeps his home clean, he’s likely done something even his own mom wouldn’t forgive.

      • Amen to that. Cauldron has at least one awesome thing they can point to being somewhat responsible for. Weld should get a medal for his honest hero awesomeness.

  20. haze the consumed –> haze that consumed
    I’m not sure that a high school dropout is going to know who Tantalus is.

    I’m a gonna need some time to absorb this chapter. The only thing that I have to say is that Echidna really knows how to mess with someone’s mind.

    • Taylor didn’t drop out due to lack of smarts. I have to presume that the lion’s share of high school drop outs are victims of abuse and/or bullying, and Taylor has certainly been portrayed that way.

      • Well I assume that she will go back at some point to take an equivalency exam. It looks like she is going to keep her regular identity, especially if she never tells her dad the truth about Skitter. She can do what Brian did and take an online class. Maybe something in Management and Business administration. She will need a cover story for her civilian identity being well off.

    • Yeah, I’m pretty sure I learned about Tantalus in grade 5. And I know I could remember his name in grade 7, since I remember explaining to someone about the origin of the word “tantalize”.

      And besides which, this is literature. Some Muse you are.


      • I knew about it as a pretty young kid, myself, but I was well read.

        I think it’s justifiable that Taylor would know it – her mom was a professor, and it’s been stated that Taylor’s sort of nurtured her geeky side as a way of remembering her mom.

  21. Well written indeed, though some respite from their collective tumbling down the cliff would be very welcome. I guess I feel like Taylor just went through something quite extreme for little reason other than the shock value of the main character being swallowed up.

    Maybe she was healed as a side effect of Noelle-coma? No mention was made of the pain she would have felt from violent coughing… And if Noelle was spewing forth plague bacteria there’s little reason to believe she would in any way be in control of its qualities or who it affected. Being in an induced coma would be reason enough for Taylor’s symptoms.

    And last but not least, if Tattletale doesn’t directly or indirectly reveal Coil’s identity asap I must presume that she has strong motive to save that tidbit for another time.

    • Respite, sure, I want that for them. But really, my favorite part of all of this has been the building up of Skitter’s capabilities… I’d really like to see her having enough breathing space to come up with more effective tools and tactics, like she did with the spider silk, or to expand on her abilities in some surprising and yet horribly effective way.

      {baseless speculation}
      By the way, did anyone else notice that she was seeing through… something? The ‘movement’ vision didn’t strike me as bug vision – it seemed far more like the way a rat would see the world. Either way, she was seeing. That’s new.

  22. You know what surprised me the most about this update? Tecton and Grace are still alive! Even after Miss Militia may well have killed off Vista to buy time. Damn, those Mauve shirts might need an upgrade!

    • As DeNarr pointed out last episode, it’s not clear that Vista is even in there:

      “Each of the three Undersiders, the tinker, and the girl in white.”

      That’s the list Noelle made of the super-powered individuals she stored inside her as she moved through the rubble in the tunnels of Coil’s base.

      However, just before that, she spits out copies of Vista (using her name for the first time, interestingly, instead of calling her the “little space-warper”) until she gets one that will help her clear out the tunnels. Do we know whether she can create clones after she’s lost the original? Perhaps she can, after they’ve been “fully absorbed”.

      Also, there is this part from the interlude:

      “She picked out a selection from those within her and, with her rightmost head, sent a stream of bodies at him. … The ones who did land in his vicinity were on him in moments. One was the little space-warper, another was a copy of the firebreathing acrobat with the rich smell, and three were copies of the unpowered people she’d absorbed. They mobbed the armored tinker.”

      Now, this would suggest that she spat out the real Vista, since the Circus clone was explicitly identified as a copy, but if it wasn’t a Vista clone, they why would she attack Tecton with the others?

      Possibly an edit is required here, when Wildbow makes the revisions for book form.

      Anyway, I like Vista too, and I hope she’s not blown to smithereens. It could be that her power can protect her, maybe even if she’s unconscious.


    • If the self destruct was designed to blow up the above building and bury the base under rubble Vista might survive. Might. It depends on how long she can keep her power going for.

      If the base itself had bombs in it, well… shit.

      • Since she can warp space, she should be able to warp the space between her and the blast, either by redirecting the blast, or simply by making the distance between her and the blast so great that the shockwave is negligible by the time it reaches her.


  23. You know who I think could have gotten second trigger event out of this? Shatterbird. I bet it will let her survive the explosion.

  24. I just realised something and kicked myself for it.

    Noelle’s powers are the result of drinking Cauldron juice which comes from another cape.



    Grotesque creatures.

    That juice was the result of Nilbog. Cauldron has Nilbog’s powers in their collection. Noelle would have normally gotten something like his powers from drinking the whole thing.

    • /salute.

      Much appreciated, Saint.

      Sorry that the spamfilter doesn’t like you. I very nearly missed your post, and it’s not the first time you’ve gotten caught by it. (PG also gets snagged by it on occasion)

  25. just want to compare the time (the next chapter is not updated jet, and i want to see how late it is updated / how many minutes there are as a difference between my clock and wordpress)
    6:04 here now

      • Every chapter gets set for 00:01 on the assigned update day. WordPress lags, I think, because a lot of stuff happens at midnight, so being a few minutes late is normal.

        I’ve had it go up 14 minutes late, through no fault of my own.

  26. Weld was awesome in this chapter. He has a very useful ability indeed. Nice to see the heroes truly being heroes for once.

  27. I love this scene, but
    “She stood by and let people get attacked by Mannequin so she could buy herself time to think of a plan to make a counterattack”
    This really doesn’t sound as bad as the Skitter Clone could have made it out to be. Of course, she could have also just made shit up, but I’ll accept that Echidna clones are averse to that, because a lot of weird things are influencing their heads.

    • Telling lies about Taylor would be great for making her look bad… to other people. In the short term. If she doesn’t get a chance to defend herself. She would know the clones are lying and not care, and could recover her standing with other people by telling them the truth.

      Telling frightening truths about her might not make her look quite as bad, but the bad impression is a lot more robust- her defenses against it with other people won’t be as solid or as effective, and it affects her individually as well, by hitting her with a point she has to concede.

  28. Well this was cool. I love how she can now sorta see through her bugs finally! And she doesn’t even really seem to notice it all that much. So much of Taylor’s power boosts come in the middle of bigger things that she doesn’t ever seem to really think about the huge benefit she just discovered until a day or two later. It’s a neat dynamic that I don’t see very much in other stories.

    As mentioned previously: Weld is epic awesome. Enough said.

    Hmm well Evil Skitter wasn’t as bad as I had worried. I was thinking anaphylactic shock, brown recluse, hornets, eating eyeballs, black widows, crawling into every orifice, suffocation…the works. Good thing she wasn’t totally off her rocker like some of the Vista or Cody clones.

    Hopefully Skitter can convince the heroes of Calvert/Coil without too much trouble or complaining that “of course you know that will take days to verify while you go free AGAIN.”

    Please let Vista be okay. We go through all the effort of showing she is still alive and okay if probably traumatized more and the poor girl still hasn’t gotten rescued. Though if I remember correctly Echidna seemed to have lost her at some point in the last interlude but I read that last night so I will just cross my fingers and hope she shows up soon.

  29. two things i hadn’t noticed on my first readthrough: when taylor being squeezed by the nightmare it coincides with the making of a clone. and grue not being ok at the end there probably means he had some bonesaw dreams.

    also even now i still have no idea where vista went off to, you should clarify that. same thing with shatterbird.

  30. not gonna lie i refused to read this chapter and the one before it….. too many repeats and too much flashback/warped situations….. made me just say fk it and skip them

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