Scourge 19.4

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“I was perfectly happy,” Scapegoat said, “Being able to tell myself that hey, the news is blowing things out of proportion.  There’s no way Brockton Bay is as scary as they’re making it out to be.  Dragon suits get sent in and are promptly forced out, but really, the mayors telling Washington it’s safe enough.  The media got something wrong, or they’re making little problems sound bigger than they are.  See the piles of dead bodies where this girl-”

“Echidna,” Tattletale supplied.

“Where Echidna spat out clones.  Okay.  I can live with that.  An unusual power and strong parahuman.  Could be an exaggeration.  See the destruction, the ruined buildings and the streets that still haven’t drained a hundred percent.  More or less what I expected from the news.  The girl with the mutant dogs?  Bug girl?  Still manageable.  But she opens her mouth,” Scapegoat pointed at Tattletale, “And pop goes my bubble of happy self-delusion.”

“You want to tear a hole in reality?” Tecton asked Tattletale.

“I do.  I want to use Scrub’s power in conjunction with another power that draws heavily on accessing other worlds.  It’s why I contacted Faultline’s crew.  They’re our best bet.  Myrddin might work, but he’s unlikely to cooperate.  Scapegoat could work too, but I think it’d take too long, and it might need a human sacrifice, having Scrub hit someone who was heavily affected by the goat’s power.”

Regent nudged me.  “With Grue gone, it’s your job to lay down the law.  No human sacrifices.”

He’d mimicked Grue’s tone of voice, with a forced lowness.

No human sacrifices?  Did I really want to veto any possibilities, when we were faced with threats like the Endbringers and Echidna?

“You’re not saying no,” Regent commented.

“Tattletale,” I said, “What’s the point?  Why open a hole like that?”

“It’s a place to put Noelle, for one thing.”

“We can stop her other ways,” I said.  “She’s not invincible.”

“Yet,” Tattletale said.

“Yet.  We can put her down.  With Legend, Eidolon and Alexandria alone, we should be able to do enough damage that she can’t keep regenerating.”

“Maybe.  It was hard enough before.  We’ve got big guns, now, but it’s going to be rough.  It’ll be a lot easier if we have the Travelers on our side, and we’ll have that if we can give them what they want.  A way home.”

“A way home?” Tecton asked.

“Cauldron’s the group responsible for plucking people from their realities, wiping their memories and leaving them changed, marked with a tattoo,” Tattletale said.  She glanced at Gully.

I did too.  Gully’s eyes were wide behind the curtain of braids.

“And the Travelers, far as I can figure, are the same.  Only they still have their memories, and they weren’t altered in appearance.  It’s like Noelle got her entire group’s share,” Tattletale said.

Gully slammed her shovel into the ground, but she didn’t say anything as seconds passed.

“You want to tear a hole in reality to send them home?” Tecton asked.

“It’s the best bargaining chip we have, short of a cure for Noelle.”

“How do we even know which world it is?”

“We don’t, but we can ask,” Tattletale said.  “What I’m getting at is that this is our best weapon, our best bargaining chip and our best tool.  If I’m right, if Im close to right, then this is a way to shut powers off at the source.”

“Assuming you have a way to kill or break the connection with these things you’re describing,” Tecton said.

“I’m assuming we can get our hands on some weapon of mass destruction,” Tattletale said.

“Too many potential disasters,” Tecton said.  “Listen, I get it.  I’ve been where you are.  There’s a lot of tinkers and some thinkers who’ve been where you’re at right now.  Who’ve had that brilliant idea with the power to change the world, for better or for worse.  Most of us stop at that line.  We have to.”

“This isn’t changing the world,” Tattletale said.  “This is going to the heart of every single damn problem we’ve been facing and surgically removing the most dangerous parts.  We can access the places where the powers are coming from and shut them off.  It’s an answer.”

If you can manage the risk,” Tecton said.  “And I don’t think surgically is even close to being the word you want.  With tears in reality, it’s equivalent to using explosives with a yield you can’t even guess at.”

“I’m a good guesser,” Tattletale said.

“And this is the part where I cut in,” I said.  “We’re short on time, and I have stuff to see to.  Why don’t you guys talk this through, and I’ll collect supplies with Scapegoat in the meantime.”

“Go for it,” Tattletale said.

“I’ll come,” Rachel told me.  “Too much fucking talking.”

“We can’t let Scapegoat leave in the company of two known, dangerous villains,” Tecton said.

“Send someone with us,” I said.

“Gully and Wanton, then,” Tecton said.  “If that’s alright, Gully?  We’ll watch your prisoners.”

“I’ll ask,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Atlas isn’t far from your territory,” Tattletale said.  “Head a little north, and you should find him with your range.”

I nodded.

Gully gave me a thumbs up, her phone still pressed to one ear, and we headed to the van.  Wanton was the only one who could fit in the driver’s seat and who had a license.

With Gully and Bitch both in the back, I figured it would be safest to ride with them.  Rachel was managing better these days, but a fight between her and one of the heroes could spell disaster.

It took a minute for all the dogs to climb into the back of the vehicle.  I used the time to gather my bugs in nearby buildings, where I could collect them on my return trip.

Rachel wasn’t feeling talkative, Gully seemed lost in thought, and both Wanton and Scapegoat were in the front.  That left me to get a discussion going, and I was too tired to bother.  I closed my eyes, arranging my bugs into an arrow on the dashboard of the van.  They rearranged themselves into a right turn sign to steer him toward Lord street, and from there it was relatively smooth sailing.

Someone had given the order for evacuation, and people were being directed to the shelters.  We had only two indications that things would get any worse.  Tattletale’s gut, which wasn’t a sure thing, and Dinah, who’d indicated that there was a good chance a large portion of the city would suffer at Echidna’s hands.

Or, even, not specifically at her hands.  With our luck, it would be Tattletale’s plan that leveled half the city and we’d find out that Echidna was permanently trapped beneath the rubble, not even a consideration.

Twice, I nodded off, my head starting to drift forward, before the sudden movement of my bugs stirred me fully awake.  The interior of the van was warm, dim and the vibration was oddly soothing.

The third time I drifted off, my bugs didn’t catch the movement.  My head leaned back against the wall of the van, and I slipped into the twilight state of near-sleep.

It was the appearance of Atlas that brought me back to my senses.  I signaled for Wanton to stop the van.

He was inside a garage, so still I thought he might be dead.  Without ingrained instincts, he had only the barest minimum of processing.  Enough to breathe, at least.

He hadn’t eaten in twelve hours.  I was sure to feed him a supply of the less essential bugs from the area, moving them straight into his open mouth.  I could reach my lair, and drew out every single one of the bugs I had stored there, calling them to me.

He would be weak, I noted, but at least he wasn’t hurt.  Coil had probably ordered for Atlas to be left alone for much the same reason that he’d carted the giant beetle to this area.  Doing otherwise could have clued the other Undersiders into what was really going on.

Wanton opened the back of the van, and I stepped outside.  Gully emerged as well, likely due to curiosity as much as anything else.

Atlas, at my bidding, found his way past the closed and unlocked door, made his way outside and flew to me.

When the giant beetle dropped out of the sky to land just beside the van, Wanton briefly shifted into his other form, and Gully raised her shovel protectively in front of her.

My bugs flowed over Atlas’ carapace, and I used my hands as well, checking there was no damage.  Scrapes and gouges on his underside.  Had they lifted him into a truck to transport him?  My gloved fingertip ran along the length of his scythe-like foreleg.  Maybe I needed to take the time to give him more care, sharpen the natural weapons, tend to his shell…

I blinked a few times.  I was tired, and my lack of focus was dangerous.  Time was short.

“Are your dogs well enough to run?”  I asked Rachel.

She was still in the truck, sitting on one of the benches that were built into the side.  She hopped down to the street, the dogs milling around her.  “Probably.”

“Then let’s go,” I said.  I stepped onto Altas’ back, but I didn’t take a seat.  I let him rise into the air, and I drew all the bugs in the area to me.  I didn’t settle into a sitting position until I was obscured from view.

I couldn’t move too far away from Scapegoat.  I was tethered to him by an invisible, intangible cord, about one hundred and fifty feet long; about half a city block.

Still, provided I was directly above him, it let me fly about eight or nine stories above the ground.  I wasn’t untouchable, but I was safer.

“…Hear me,” Wanton spoke.

My bugs spelled out the word ‘yes’.

“Creepy,” he said.  “I need …rections.”

There were two possibilities that sprung to mind as far as what that last word might be.  I guessed it was ‘directions’ and pointed him back to Lord street.  I wanted as many of the good bugs as I could bring, but I was limited in how many Atlas could carry and I doubted the others would be keen to see them packed into the back of the truck.

Instead, I drew out lines of thread, ferried the slower moving bugs onto my back, and loosely bound them.  Bugs strung out on silk cords, like kindergarteners did with popcorn on thread.  The rest found shelter in the folds, compartments and creases of my costume.

I kept close to the ground as I followed.  Had to stay close to Scapegoat and I couldn’t trust that Atlas had enough energy to carry me until we’d flown a bit and I could see how his stamina was.

My hair and the tatters of my costume flapped behind me as we flew, clumped together in parts with the fluid that I’d been soaked with while inside Noelle.  I had bugs crawl over both to devour and separate the worst of it.  The ones on the threads that trailed behind me with the faster flying insects were surviving, which was key.

The little tasks kept me awake, if not entirely focused. I was caught off guard when I let the van miss a turn.  If a good shot of adrenaline didn’t wake me up, I might be at a disadvantage in the coming fight.

I got that kick of adrenaline sooner than I’d wanted.  We reached the clearing where the others had been and found it empty.  The Travelers, Tattletale, Regent, Scrub and the heroes were gone.

I landed, and the van doors opened.  Bitch stopped just beside me, Bentley at full size and the other dogs standing maybe three feet tall at the shoulder.

“Gully, you have an armband.  Have the heroes communicated anything?”  I asked.


“Can you do me a favor and see if anyone has answers on where Tattletale and the others are.  For now, we should head back to the perimeter.”

“You’re giving orders?” Wanton asked.

“Consider it a suggestion,” I said.  Gully had been pleased at the semi-promotion, with being put in charge.  I could concede to let her call or confirm the shots if it kept her happy.  “It’s Gully’s choice.”

She glanced at me.  “It’s sound.  I’ll use the armband while Wanton drives.”

We reached the perimeter around the destroyed building before she got a reply, and we found Tattletale in the company of some of the major heroes.  Legend, Alexandria and Eidolon weren’t present, but that wasn’t a huge surprise.  They apparently had secrets to keep.

More than one cape turned their attention to me as I approached.  They didn’t shoot, though.  I was relieved at that.  It would be a bad way to go, getting gunned down out of the air by heroes with twitchy trigger fingers.

I had to pause while the van stopped to pass through a contingent of heroes.  Rachel sort of strode through without really asking for permission.

It wouldn’t be winning us any points with the good guys, ignoring courtesy, but the fact that Tattletale and Regent had disappeared from our rendezvous spot and that they were now in the midst of a group of twenty-seven heroes.  They weren’t at gunpoint, not really, but the implied threat was apparent.

I waited until Scapegoat was out of the van and hobbling toward the crowd before bringing Atlas in for a landing.  I rose to a standing position so I wouldn’t be sitting down when the bugs parted to reveal me.

“What’s going on?” I asked.  My bugs passed through the crowd, not getting in anyone’s way, not touching on faces or bare skin where I could help it, but giving me a way to track everyone nearby.

It was Tecton who answered me.  “Tattletale wasn’t willing to drop her idea.  I suggested taking it to our superiors, and she agreed.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Myrddin said.  He stood by with Miss Militia and Chevalier beside him.

“It’s our best option,” Tattletale said.

“It’s a plan that puts everyone involved at an immense degree of risk, and it costs us time we don’t have.”

“We have a little time,” Tattletale retorted.  “I don’t see any movement there, do you?”

“We can’t even guarantee it’ll work,” Myrddin replied.

“Are you saying that because you consider yourself the resident dimension manipulator or because you’re afraid it’ll lead to a big revelation about Cauldron?”

I could have imagined it, but I could have sworn my bugs were aware of a collective intake of breath.  Not everyone present, not even one in five… but people did react.

How far did this reach?

“What are you talking about?”  Myrddin asked.

“No?  I’m not seeing anything from you.  Guess you’re in the clear,” Tattletale replied.

“Tattletale,” Miss Militia cut in, “This isn’t the time for games, making accusations in the hopes of finding information.”

“I agree,” I said.  “Stick to the topic at hand.”

“It’s not a game,” Tattletale said.  She looked at me, and she wasn’t smiling.  “And I don’t see how we can discuss it if we ignore the elephant in the room.”

Try,” I told her.

“What’s going on?” Chevalier asked.  Of everyone in the immediate area, he had the most presence.  He wore gleaming gold and silver armor, but it was the massive, ornate cannonblade that made him so imposing, with a blade that was twelve feet long, three feet wide and capable of growing larger, resting against his shoulder as though it were as light as a feather.

“Rest assured, Chevalier, this is a discussion for another day,” Miss Militia said.  “One I’m definitely interested in continuing, but not when it threatens to distract us.”

“If you’re sure,” Myrddin said.

“Trust me.  Please,” Miss Militia replied.

“Cauldron is led or backed up by the Tr-”

Miss Militia struck Tattletale, cutting her off before she could finish the sentence.  It was only as Miss Militia dropped to her knees, setting one knee on Tattletale’s throat, that I saw she’d had a gun in her hand.  She gripped Tattletale by the cheeks, pinching her mouth open, and slid the gun into her mouth.

I could sense Rachel striding forward, saw Regent moving to raise one hand in Miss Militia’s direction.  My arms went out to either side of me: one to bar Rachel’s advance, another to catch Regent’s wrist.

“Don’t be foolish, Tattletale,” Miss Militia said.  “Why would you risk everything like this?”

Tattletale glanced at me, then mumbled something incomprehensible around the gun barrel.  Her cheekbone was bleeding where she’d been struck.

Miss Militia looked up at me.  A gun materialized in her other hand, identical to the one that was jammed between Tattletale’s teeth, but she didn’t point it at me.  “Do we have a problem, Skitter?”

“Not unless you pull the trigger,” I said.  “We aren’t going to start a fight with this many people around.  It would be suicidal.”

I looked Tattletale in the eye as I said that last word.

“Is she a clone?” Myrddin asked.

“I almost wish she was,” I replied.  “No.  It’s the real her.”

“Can you tell me why she’s doing this?” Miss Militia asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  “Yes, but not in entirety.”  We were tired, but that wasn’t it, it wasn’t all of it.  Couldn’t be.  It wouldn’t account for the almost suicidal edge to her actions in just the last half hour.  There was something else going on.

“Tattletale,” Miss Militia said, “I’m going to remove the gun.  Think very carefully about what you say.  Deliberately attempting to divide our ranks could be seen as a violation of the truce, and I will push for the kill order if it goes that far.”

Tattletale nodded.  She winced as the gun was removed.  “You can’t put a kill order on the other Undersiders.  They aren’t responsible for anything I’m saying.  Heck, two of them aren’t even here.  You’d be killing innocents.”

“I don’t think anyone here thinks any of you are innocent,” Miss Militia said.

“They’re relative innocents?” Tattletale tried.

“Quiet,” Miss Militia said, her voice tight.

“I’ll be quiet when you tell me you won’t punish others because of me.”

“Just be quiet,” Miss Militia said.

“M.M.,” Chevalier said, his voice low, “I won’t gainsay any of your decisions, and with this being your city, you have the say unless one of the Triumvirate supercedes your order… but you’re attacking a girl when she was only talking, and there are a lot of eyes and ears here.”

“You’re saying it doesn’t look good,” Miss Militia said.  Her eyes were fixed on Tattletale.

“Not for your career.”

“I don’t give a flying fuck about my career,” she replied.  “I care about all of us getting out of here in one piece.”

“And you think she’ll put all of us in danger if she opens her mouth?” Chevalier asked.

“Yes.  I think Tattletale can do a catastrophic amount of damage if she opens her mouth,” Miss Militia said.  “You’ve read her file.”

“I have,” Myrddin said.

“Is the information she wants to share pertinent to this crisis?”  Chevalier asked.

“Not immediately,” Miss Militia said.  Tattletale cleared her throat, apparently asking for permission to speak, but Miss Militia gave her a tight shake of the head in response.  “Not as far as I’m aware.  I’ve discussed much of it with Skitter.”

“If I may,” I spoke up.  Innumerable sets of eyes turned my way.  I let go of Regent’s hand and dropped the hand that was still held up in front of Rachel.

“What is it?” Myrddin asked.

“I can try to explain.  You can send away the rest of the capes, I explain to you three, and you decide if and how much information to disseminate to your underlings.  I’ll try to be more delicate than Tattletale was, avoid the more sensitive parts.  I don’t agree with Tattletale’s plan, but it’s too dangerous to make calls without knowing the key details, and some of this stuff is need-to-know, if we’re to have any chance of getting the Travelers or Noelle to cooperate.”

Myrddin looked at Miss Militia, and she nodded.

Myrddin raised his voice.  “I’d like everyone who isn’t immediately involved in this discussion to find something else to do.”

Some people started shuffling away.  Aside from heading straight towards the site where helicopters were still laying down containment foam or walking face first into the containment van Wanton had parked, there were only two directions to walk, and one group of people weren’t moving.

Gully.  One of the twins was tugging on her arm, but she wasn’t budging.

“Gully,” a cape I didn’t recognize spoke, “Get a move on.”

“I want answers,” she said.  “The Undersiders have them.”

“And Chevalier will contact me with what he feels we need to know, and I’ll pass that on to you and your squad,” the cape said.

“That’s not enough,” she said.  “I don’t want the condensed version.  I want to hear why I’m like this.”

A murmur ran through the crowd, and I noted that some of the capes who had reacted before were standing out more.  One was breathing harder, another was fidgeting where she’d been calm before.

“This kind of insubordination is what goes on your file and costs you promotions,” the cape said.

“I’ve been passed up for promotion so many times I’ve already gotten the message.  Monsters don’t get to be team captain.  Your argument doesn’t have any weight to it, Lono.”

Weld approached her.  Their eyes met, and Weld came to a stop, turning around so that he stood just to her right.  He didn’t say a word.

Miss Militia stared at him, and he didn’t even flinch.

“This is a critical situation,” Myrddin said.  “We’re on the brink of another potential conflict with an S-class threat.  If the Undersiders have information we can use, information that could be sensitive, we need you to clear out.”

“I’ve spent years like this,” Gully said.  “It’s not just me, either.  There’re others.  Weld…”

“Hunch,” Weld added.  “Gentle Giant, Sanguine.”

“Weld and Hunch, Gentle Giant and Sanguine,” Gully said.  “And the others who weren’t even lucky enough to find the Wards or the Protectorate before they found themselves in trouble.  It’s not just for me.  We need to know for them.”

“This isn’t the time or place.”

“With all due respect, spend a day in my shoes, Myrddin.  Just one, and then tell me again, that I have to wait one day, one hour, even one minute longer for an explanation.”

The ground shuddered, and I thought at first that it was her, but she looked surprised.

It was Noelle.  Echidna.  She was active and fighting her way free.

“We’re out of time.  Enough of this,” Myrddin said.  “Gully, Weld, join your teams.”

Gully planted her shovel in the ground, put one foot on top of the blade, and folded her hands on the handle.

“We could share with them,” Miss Militia said.  “I know Weld is an exemplary hero, and we could trust him to keep necessary information to himself.”

“I might agree,” Chevalier said, “If it weren’t for the dramatic flair Gully was displaying.  I don’t trust that she will stay quiet on the subject.”

Another shudder.  Heroes were running to adopt battle lines, forming a circle around the construction lot with the ruined building.  The invincible, the power immune, masters with durable pets and forcefield makers were positioning themselves at even intervals around the circle.

“We don’t have time.  Myrddin,” I said. “You and I can both fly.  If we go to a nearby rooftop-”

“Fuck me,” Tattletale said.  “So much wasted time.”

She grabbed for Miss Militia’s gun.  When Miss Militia didn’t let go, Tattletale took one step closer and pressed her forehead against the gun barrel.  “Do it.  Kill me.  You’ve seen a lot of people die in your lifetime.  People important to you, dying because of an idea.  So kill me because I believe this idea should be heard by people who care.  Close the damn circle.”

Why? I thought.

“The Triumvirate,” Tattletale said.

Miss Militia stared at her, but didn’t pull the trigger.

“The… Triumvirate?” Gully asked.

“I’m in deep shit anyways,” Tattletale said.  “For saying what I already have.  We all are.  Sad fact is, I have better chance of surviving if it’s all out in the open.  The Triumvirate is Cauldron.  Eidolon, Legend, Alexandria.  They started it, or they’re so involved in it that it’s incestuous.”

“Fuck me,” Regent muttered.

I couldn’t even breathe.  I was waiting for Miss Militia to pull the trigger.

“They made me like this?” Gully asked.  “Why?”

“Not sure.  A warning, maybe, to people who didn’t pay their bills.  Or they figured that while they were brainwashing you, they’d implant you with a built-in weakness, something a paying customer could exploit.”

“That’s it?  That’s your answer?”

“I’m sorry,” I said.  I wasn’t sure if I was apologizing because it was insufficient or because I’d let Tattletale take things this far.

The ground shook, more violently than before.  The air was filled with the thrum of the helicopters that were flying overhead.

By contrast, he flew so silently that I almost missed him setting down.  I didn’t have bugs in the area, and my eyes were trained in the general direction of Gully and the wreckage of Coil’s collapsed base.

Legend, landing in the midst of us.

“You heard,” Tattletale said.  She didn’t sound surprised.

“Lipreading,” he murmured.  “I can see very long distances.  Put the gun down, Miss Militia.  The cat’s out of the bag.”

“You’re admitting it,” Chevalier said.

There was another rumble, shaking the ground so hard that most of us lost our balance.  Legend stayed perfectly upright, no doubt using his flight to hold himself a hair above the ground.  He turned to check the fighting hadn’t started.

“It’s true?” Gully asked.

“We started Cauldron in the early days,” he said.  “They had a way to give people powers, and each of us were desperate for our own reasons.  We should have had trigger events, but we weren’t lucky enough to have the potential.  Nobody deluded themselves about the risks.  We knew that it was all too possible to die or become a monster.”

“But you did.  You made monsters,” Gully said.

“Everyone who took a dose went into it with their eyes open,” he said.  “They refined the process, and we reduced the chance to a single digit of a percent.  Two, three percent, if that.  And at the same time the numbers were decreasing, we were realizing how badly we needed the heroes that Cauldron could provide.  Capes without traumas to drive them toward villainy.  Cauldron turned it into a business, producing heroes and acquiring funds from the wealthy to redirect to Endbringer recovery and further research into powers.  We knew it wasn’t ideal, that some would turn to villainy, but with the appearance of the Slaughterhouse Nine and the damage the Endbringers were doing, we had to do something.”

“How do the Travelers factor in?” Miss Militia asked.

“They got ahold of a dose meant for another group of people.  They weren’t screened, they didn’t follow the necessary procedures, didn’t get the psychological or physical checkups… and even with that, we had no idea that the formulae could produce anything like this Echidna.”

“But the Travelers are from another world,” I said.  “Aren’t they?”

“The Simurgh,” he said, simply.  “Madison, Wisconsin, one and a half years ago.  She opened a dimensional gate.  You were there, Myrddin.  You met Trickster and Echidna.”

Myrddin’s eyes widened.  “The hospital room.”

The ground rumbled again.  A burned husk of a building at the far end of the street toppled with a crash.

“But… if Cauldron’s not taking people from other worlds,” Gully said.  “What-”

“It’s not Cauldron,” Legend said.  His voice was flat, without affect.  He met her eyes.  “Manton worked for Cauldron, before an incident with his daughter led to a psychotic break and a break with the organization.  He left with samples that he passed on to others.  One of those people sold them for personal profit before Cauldron found him.  Another was responsible for the case fifty-threes.  We thought it was Manton, but it wasn’t.”

He glanced at Tattletale, and she cocked her head a little to one side.

Why?” Gully asked.  “Why do that?  Why make us like this?”

“I’d give you answers if I could.  Some people abuse others for the sense of power it gives them,” Legend told her.  His voice sounded hollow.  “To change someone’s body and mind completely and irrevocably?  It could be the same impulse.  The appearance of the case fifty-threes has stopped or slowed dramatically.  It’s little consolation, but we think the person who did this to you is be dead or completely out of formula.”

“That’s no consolation at all,” Gully replied.  The ground shuddered.

“It’s worth noting,” Legend said, “That we tracked Manton down.  He and Siberian’s master are the same person.  Dragon and Defiant have a bead on the Nine.  They expect a confrontation to start soon.”

But I could only think of when Legend and I had been looking down at the Nine from above.  He’d recognized the Siberian’s master then, and he hadn’t told me.

Was he omitting facts now, in the same way?  Was he lying like he had then?

“The Siberian is Manton?” Myrddin asked.

Legend nodded.  “And Manton is ultimately responsible for the case fifty-threes.  I know it’s not the explanation you each hoped for, but it’s the reality.  Understood?”

There were nods all around.  I wasn’t sure if anyone else saw, or if they knew her well enough to say, but Tattletale was smiling, and it wasn’t the one she wore when she was being friendly and easygoing.  It was the one she’d had before she’d unloaded on Panacea, back at the bank.  The one she’d had before she revealed to Coil just how she’d screwed him over.

I directed a bug to fly across her face, brushing the skin.  She flinched and looked at me.

I only stared at her, willed her to be quiet.  Saying anything would be disastrous here.  I wasn’t sure how much of what he was saying was truth, but Legend had just stepped in here, pacified the situation.

Tattletale shrugged with one shoulder, a fractional movement that only my swarm really noticed.  The smile disappeared from her face.

“Sure,” she said, a little belatedly.

The rumbling continued, steadier now.

“Is that the essence of what you wanted to tell us?” Myrddin asked me.  “What Legend said about Cauldron?”

“Only thing I’d have to add is that the Travelers came from another Earth.  Except for Trickster, they’re more or less on our side here.  Tell Ballistic, Sundancer and Genesis that we can get them home, and they’ll help.  They have the kind of firepower we need.”


My bugs sensed Echidna clawing her way to the surface.

“Armband!”  I interrupted Chevalier.


“Warn them.  She’s here!”

It was too late.  The Grue that was accompanying Echidna emerged from the hole she’d dug.  He raised his hands, and I could see the wave of darkness rolling out from the entrance to a parking garage to sweep over the assembled heroes.

She wasn’t beneath the fallen base.  With her shapeshifting and the teleporting Grue’s help, she’d found her way through a side tunnel, clawed or punched her way up into a nearby parking garage, a place where she could stage her attack.

Echidna materialized out of the darkness the Grue had created.  She was nearly twice the height she’d been before, to the point that the human body on the top was miniscule, a speck by comparison.  A human figure atop a broad three-story building.

Her legs were more robust, now.  There weren’t any feeble limbs like the ones my bugs had glimpsed or touched.  Her lower body was plated in a crust of bone, and two more heads were just emerging from her front, one with the beginnings of a mouth, the other with two large eyes and a lump that would become a snout.  She’d developed.

There were no less than ten capes within range of her claws as she appeared.  Ten capes that were caught in her flesh the very instant the fighting began.

I’d placed bugs on Legend to track his movements, and they went with him as he took to the air and fell into formation with Alexandria and Eidolon.  Those same bugs allowed me to sense the smallest movement of his head, as he directed a slight nod toward his longtime comrades.

If I’d been suspecting that he’d been lying before, that clinched it for me.

In his shoes, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have done the same.

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156 thoughts on “Scourge 19.4

  1. Fuckin awesome Wildbow! 😀

    Why couldn’t they have just listened to Lisa?! Heroes Y U SO STUPID?!?!?! Soulpelt is going to sleep now to think on these developments….

  2. Once again Tt comes incredibly close to getting a kill order put on all of them. Is it a hobby of hers or something?

    • Probably. Knowing her she’s probably using her power to get as close as possible to getting one without crossing the line on purpose.

      • I don’t know. Something seems to have changed in the last arc or two. She is pushing things a lot further a lot faster than before. Maybe she is getting suicidal though I can’t see why since before Echidna they pretty much had things in the bag.

        • I suspect her passenger is influencing her decision making. Her power is for finding people’s secrets, it wants her to expose them.

    • She’d just revealed to the Triumvirate that she knew about them and Cauldron. If she didn’t let more people know that she had accused them for it, she and her team would /definitely/ be killed by Cauldron. C very interested in keeping its secrets.

      Skitter should trust TT more. She has these moments of brilliant battle tactics, but she also has these moments where she doesn’t see the obvious.

  3. And once again everything that comes out of the Triumvirate’s mouths are lies. There are no heroes here look elsewhere.

    • Actually, I think Legend is telling what he thinks is the truth. Remember that he had Kid Win make the lie detector for him for a reason. I’m guessing he is telling things he was told by Alexandria, only that he is the most innocent of them all.

      • The things he says here are exactly the things Doctor, Eidolon and Alexandria told him that he confirmed were lies using Kid Win’s detector. I don’t think he knows the truth about the case 53s but he knows the story he told isn’t it (and so does Tattletale, hence the smile.)

      • He really doesn’t seem to believe it anymore though. Nobody rattles off facts like that in a monotone unless they are repeating lies they see as lies. I like Legend but and I do think that he succeeded at calming things down for the moment but if he doesn’t explain the real truth soon I’m worried about the repercussions both for him and the rest of the group.

  4. Ah, Legend, this is a dangerous step to take… And the inside of Tattletale’s head is looking terribly interesting right now.

    “relatively smooth sailing” Missing period.
    “but the but you’re” Chevalier is trying to rap! …Or there’s a typo.

  5. Legend can`t fall in formation with Legend and Eidolon, unless he replicated himself.
    Tatletale must learn to stop when it is needed.

  6. ” bare skin where I could hep it” – should be “hel”
    “but the but you’re attacking a girl” – extra “but the”

    So we finally see Tattletale get called out on her mouthing off. Why she’s doing so is still a mystery, and may continue to be if she doesn’t survive this ordeal, whether by accident or design.

    As for Legend, I had hopes for him, but it seems like he’s converted to the dark side. Dammit. At least we can put our hopes in Dragon; the Triumvirate don’t seem to suspect her plans against them, yet.

    Once again, less of a plot-oriented chapter and more of a characterization chapter, with reiterations of plans. The reaction from Gully got the most visceral reaction from me, and it really shows her priorities, how she handles things, especially in contrast with Weld’s Lawful Good tendencies. What’s scary is that Skitter actually considered sacrificing someone for the greater good. I hope she realizes she needs to watch herself, now.

    The opening lines from Scapegoat was wonderful. It hit the right note of humor, darkness, and “back from commercial break” summary of what happened so far. This, to me, opened the most like a chapter would from a novel rather than a web serial. If you make any modifications for publishing, Wildblow, please leave that in.

    Quick question, though, how could Skitter compare Echidna’s legs before and after? When she used bugs for sight on Noelle, they immediately got absorbed. Shouldn’t she not really know how they looked?

    • Yeaaaah, today’s a bad day for typos. Came right down to the wire in finishing the chapter, had other stuff to do (and wasn’t feeling 100% after lunch didn’t sit well with me yesterday). But excuses are excuses.

      Re: the legs, She had a sense of the shape of them from her more accurate bugsight-while-inside-Echidna flashes of reality.

      • “It wouldn’t be winning us any points with the good guys, ignoring courtesy, but the fact that Tattletale and Regent had disappeared from our rendezvous spot and that they were now in the midst of a group of twenty-seven heroes.  They weren’t at gunpoint, not really, but the implied threat was apparent.”

        Feels like there’s a sentence missing here

        “is be dead or”
        Don’t think I need to point out the issue

    • I don’t think Legend is lying so much as bending the truth to prevent an immediate confrontation. Remember that he’s being kept in the dark about alot of stuff himself as we saw in his interlude.

      Or I might be missing something? Is there something here that he said that flat out contradicts what we know he knows?

      • Yeah, keep in mind that although Legend knows that the case 53’s aren’t Manton’s fault, Eidolon and Alexandria think he thinks that it’s true. He’s keeping up the facade of believing it because he’s not ready to make his move yet.

        • Yeah, hoping that’s the case. Really hoping.

          On the bright side, if it is, his play is freaking brilliant – as far as the other Diumvirate are concerned, he simply told the fake-up story that they’ve always had on the back burner in case Cauldron got outed, but the fact that he told the story where *Tattletale* could hear means that TT can give the full brief on all the bits he was lying about to all the people who can be trusted to oppose Cauldron.

          • Yeah. This assumes a moderate degree of intelligence on Legend’s part. But I think it’s likely. He ought to know how wicked Tattletale’s ears are.

          • Unfortunately, Alexandria and Cauldron (possibly Eidolon, can’t remember if he was there for that part) also already know he suspects or knows that they’re lying. Wow, that is a surprisingly tough sentence to put into words. Shown at the end of his interlude when it cuts to Alexandria explaining he knows/suspects, which she presumably found out using her knowledge of kinesics (I think that’s the word?).

      • His interlude shows that he found out that Manton is NOT the source of the case 53’s, and that they have probably done their fair share of atrocities.

    • I agree the Scapegoat lines are fantastic and need to stay in in any final edit of the story.

      I also liked Weld’s move towards more of the Neutral Good rather than Lawful. Lawful would’ve stepped back but Weld seems to be edging more and more towards doing what is right over what is ordered. Poor Gully.

      It is scary how ready Skitter was to sacrifice someone without even a second thought. She has progressed so far from her origins it’s scary. Badass but scary. I’m interested to slip into Regent’s head for a moment there to see how he feels about Skitter becoming a ruthless pragmatist even more than before.

  7. That was some intense shit right there. I’m not even worried much about Echidna now that this eggs has been cracked.

    Sorry Noelle, the Cauldron plot coming to fruition means you’re going to get your shit thoroughly ruined.

  8. hahaahahahaha. Great chapter, and all the past speculation by commenters was right. Tattletale IS the single most dangerous being to the heroes by simply figuring out all their dirty little secrets. So any bets on how long before the surviving heros agree to try TT’s plan? I’m guessing after either Legend or Alexandria gets taken. I wonder if Legend has fully committed to Cauldron’s side or he intends to spill the beans about how Alexandria, and Eidolon are lying about Manton being the source of the 53’s after this fight. Either way, nothing is ever gonna be the same for the heroes. Option One: Cauldron’s activities become public. How much gets out into the open is debatable, but at the very least the public loses trust in the Big three, and there will be even less trust for the heroes. The government might make a change in the PRT, make an investigation, something. How this will affect the truce against the Endbringers and the Case 53’s remains to be seen. Option Two: Cauldron’s activities don’t become public. This would only work if quite a few heroes are killed or convinced not to spill the beans for fear of losing the public’s trust. But this will severely weaken the heroes, probably backfire, and there will be a huge loss of trust/heroes now being aware of Cauldron now. I have a feeling the Undersiders reputation is somehow going to change after this. Can’t wait to see what happens. I’m hoping for Karma to kick a few heroes teeth in.

    • You talk like she needs their consent. Hell all she has to do is convince Skitter and then we have our awesome hole between universes! The heroes are too busy now to try and stop the master evil plan.

  9. “Legend to track his movements, and they went with him as he took to the air and fell into formation with Legend and Eidolon.”

    Two Legends

    “I could hep it,”


  10. Hm…

    I think Tattletale has to know something WORSE than what we know for her behavior to make sense. Even knowing everything we know about Caldron and the Triumvirate wouldn’t justify her sudden shift towards lunacy.

    Alternatively, she has guessed very, very wrong about something really important.

    • It might simply be guilt and horror. Dragon thinks Cauldron are as bad as the Endbringers. My guess she starts to figure out/realize the scale of the crimes against humanity they have perpetrated, how long they have been doing it, and how they have largely gotten away with it. We still do not know Tattletale’s backstory, and considering what she witnessed with the 9, she may simply refuse to let another monster get away. In other words she decided to stop them however she could and to hell with the consequences.

    • Well, almost everything Legend said was half-truths designed to massage the message. Blaming Manton, whom he likely knows is already dead and makes a perfect scapegoat. Blaming unnamed third parties like the Dealer who were probably responsible for a few atrocities but nothing on the scale of Cauldron. Saying that they founded Cauldron, rather than that Cauldron founded the PRT. All backed by an emotional appeal that the heroes are likely to be sympathetic to, “we had to do SOMETHING!”

      Tattletale gets the real story while Legend spins shit so fast Karl Rove would be left spinning. And then Skitter shuts her down, after all that shit about doing the right thing and not letting vile, disgusting things pass because it’s inconvenient. Probably an unpleasant moment for TT, when she realizes that she’s not only pulled Skitter down to her level, but that Skitter’s sliding in the same general direction that the Triumvirate and Cauldron occupy.

      • Yeah, Skitter was the person who disappointed me most in this chapter. She finally did something wrong without even good motivations to salvage it.

      • I’m pretty sure Skitter shut her down because she remembers the *last* time Tattletale blew the whistle on a conspiracy *in front of the conspirators*. A whistleblowing which, if you remember correctly, got Tattletale’s face cut in freaking half.

        If anyone here ever reads the webcomic “Dicebox” by Jenn Manley Lee, they’ll know what I mean when I say Tattletale has the same problem Griffin Stoyka has. To quote Griffin’s wife: “You always over-clever it, go more than enough. Gotta make *sure* people know you’re clever and not miss it. Even when they need to.”

        • Might be a compulsion due to her power, like Rachel’s dog-like brain. She calls herself Tattletale after all, maybe she just hasn’t realized yet that her power is making her into more and more of one even if revealing secrets will get her in trouble.

          All that information coming in when the walls are down needs a release valve.

        • You could be right, it could be the right call.. for a lot of reasons. I’ve heard it suggested that Tattletale is [i]compelled[/i] to unearth dirty secrets and air laundry, and that’s perfectly plausible. And maybe hushing up about Cauldron and letting Legend tell his lies is the only [i]survivable[/i] move, the only one that lets everyone think the matter is settled, and leaves the Undersiders in a position where liquidating them would look bad.

          • Hard to go against Tattletale when she, by definition, knows more than you.

            How can you be sure she’s wrong?

          • How can you be sure that the person you always assume knows more than you isn’t lying because she knows you’ll believe her?

          • Same way you can be sure anyone who’s telling you something isn’t lying. Trust and verification. The fact that Tattletale knows more than you indicates that you may have a harder time finding counter-verification to her claims, but ultimately it still boils down to those two things, same as with anyone else.

  11. Legend nodded. “And Manton is ultimately responsible for the case fifty-threes. I know it’s not the explanation you each hoped for, but it’s the reality. Understood?”

    There were nods all around. Then Legend continued, “And just to be completely honest, yes this means we were responsible for a band of supervillains that took over half this city, as well as their S-class friend there. We’ve been acting as super drug dealers to the rich and powerful. But only when we had thoroughly tested the serum on humans. I don’t want you to think there was anything immoral there, just lots of testing on people.”

    “Also, my name isn’t really Legend. It’s Guerrero Hart Von Erich, former Olympic gold medalist in the wrestling, 100 meter dash, diving, weightlifting, and freestyle gymnastics. Also, I was on the team that got a bronze in the Men’s Gangnam Polo. This isn’t my real hair. Neither is my pubic hair. I bought it off a kid from Colorado named Scott Tennerman.”

    “Legend-” started Miss Miltia as the ground rumbled. He waved her off.

    “Not now, I’m on a roll. Let’s see, I was born a poor black kid in Mississippi before discovering I was actually adopted. My dad once started a fight club and my mom wanted to abort me. I once masturbated to a picture of Larry King just to prove it could be done. Oh, and if anyone around me is eating any soup or cereal or anything really in a bowl and then gets up to leave, I have this OCD that makes me teabag it while they’re gone.”

    “Legend!” yelled Miss Militia.

    “Sorry for ruining your pudding, MM.”

    “Not that. Giant monster coming out of the ground to skewer our hearts with her tongue and feat on our hopes and dreams.”

    “It was just so refreshing to get it all off my chest.”

    “I’m sure it was, and we all felt the first revelation was real important, but there might be a better time to discuss such critical information than in the middle of a fight where it has no bearing!”

    Legend nodded and flew to join his comrades in the Triumvirate. He didn’t get far before he felt a sharp, searing pain in his butt cheek.

    “And that’s for ruining my pudding!”

        • I’m pretty sure she’s been evil for a while now. Or at least I think so.

          Yeah she has REASONS for doing all the villainous things she’s done and the world isn’t completely black and white, but justifying your actions by saying you did “what needed to be done” only goes so far.

        • Skitter’s been evil for a while. She has good intentions and all, but it’s more like social justice is her thing the way mistreating dogs is Bitch’s thing. At heart, she’s internalized the idea that she’ll take what she wants from society by force, and mold it to the shape she feels it ought to have taken in the first place. Not that she’ll be a dick about it, or kill more people than she has to, but ya know.. for an omellete you break eggs.

          • Ah yes…justice. Truly one of the evil concepts, that one. Just like that lady associated with our courts, Skitter was also blind. Yes, it all goes to show just how evil justice truly is.

        • Eh? Skitter evil? I’m not seeing it.

          About the most evil thing she’s done so far is murder… and I think it’s pretty safe to say that it was warranted if not just.

          Keeping quiet about Cauldron while people are pointing out that Echidna will be free again soon isn’t bad: it’s the practical thing to do. Distracting everyone from trying to find a way to deal with her with something that you probably shouldn’t be broadcasting to everyone? That’s a bad idea. It’s probably even worse than pressing for answers, since without a plan of attack people will likely get killed.

          Evil is more than just doing bad things. It’s about doing bad things for bad reasons: seflishness, spite, greed, and so and so forth. They hurt, steal and kill than that they want to.

          Lung is evil. Bakuda is evil. The Nine are evil. Shadowstalker is evil.

          Skitter is not evil. I think that if she really believed that going all hero would help people more, and if she honestly believed she could turn (possibly by convincing the Undersiders to turn with her,) she would.

          She’s certainly not good, of course, but that really shouldn’t be enough to qualify someone as evil.

          • What was it about hell and good intentions? Forgetting about Skitter for the moment, I do not think that evilness requires cruelty or otherwise enjoying what you do. The villain who arrogantly believes he can decide on the best choice even if it goes against society’s rules and uses the greater good to justify his actions is a classic. An evil person can genuinely be trying to help, they do not have to be selfish.

            Of course, the wise revolutionary who can see through corrupt social mores is also a classic. What was it about winners and the writing of History…

          • @Bobby: The whole “history is written by the winners” meme is provably false. Just look at the American Civil War – there were and are entire libraries of histories written by Southerners about that conflict, and a lot of people’s beliefs about that war derive from their propaganda.

            History is written by the people who are around who can write. That’s about the limit of what you can say.

            As to whether Skitter is evil, I don’t think it’s a productive argument. Like the tagline says, she’s done the wrong things for the right reasons.

            • Ah, but was it the *right* wrong thing to do? Often it was.

              With regard to the ‘history is written by the victors’ thing, it’s a shorthand: Yes, history is written by a variety of people from a variety of perspectives, but it’s the history that agrees with the power of the day that tends to survive and be taught as fact.

              I’d also suspect that a modern democracy with a constitutional right to free speech might not be the most universal example.

              • She’s done a lot of right things – fighting Mannequin on the docks is an obvious example – but that doesn’t really change the fact that Clockblocker’s criticism in the van in 18.3 is true: she doesn’t give due consideration to all the consequences of her maneuvers. He might be wrong on a lot of the specifics – she’s not responsible for Panacea, Glory Girl, Shadow Stalker, or Battery – but she deserves part of the blame for Armsmaster’s fall (her recklessness with Lung and her effectiveness at the gallery made two of the setbacks that drove him to his desperate plot with Leviathan), a lot of blame for the many, many innocent people (including Clockblocker) with nightmares about being violated by bugs, a significant share of the ‘credit’ for the Undersiders becoming the terrifying supervillain team that they are (starting as far back as the bank job at least, when she not only provided a lot of firepower, but also a lot of aggressiveness) … whether you describe it as failing to exercise the necessary degree of caution, demonstrating reckless character, or acting shortsightedly, she’s done much harm in the course of attempting good. That she’s done much good in the same way doesn’t change that.

                That said, you’re right that ‘history is written by the victors’ is the applicable rule of thumb regarding Skitter’s reputation.

            • Eh, not true. History is written by historians. And they heavily Edit it. You as an individual can write anything, it does not matter if historians do not endorse it.

          • I’m amused to no end by the start of your comment:

            Eh? Skitter evil? I’m not seeing it. About the most evil thing she’s done so far is murder…

  12. Maybe if things go right, the hole in reality will somehow allow the ‘passangers’ that were forced into human hosts by power-juice to withdraw, de-powering the 53’s as well as nearby “heroes” with store bought powers and crash a huge chunk of Culdron’s plans.

    What am I talking about? This is Worm, even if that somehow happens things will always get worse.

  13. I think Regent is right Skitter does need to act more like a leader and reign in Tattletale when necessary. She needs to put a foot down when it comes to suggesting engaging in human sacrifice or antagonising some of the most powerful people on this Earth. She needs to do stuff and be seen doing stuff by others.

    One thing in this chapter that I didn’t quite get is the continued reference to Gully not getting promoted because of her status as a case 53 when form what I can tell Weld is in the same boat and leader of the Wards.

    • Weld is attractive. Gully is not. Being a hideous monster is a completely different experience to just looking inhuman, compare Newter to Gregor for that one.

      As such I am inclined to agree with Gully here. Myrddin has no idea what it’s like for her and the Triumvirate are despicable in the extreme to be act like they do with the Case 53s. I get the feeling that there’s some serious promotion bias in the Protectorate. Armsmaster got ripped apart by all their bureacracy and continually screwed over when we know he’s easily one of the most powerful heros in the US. I’m willing to wager that Dauntless was a Cauldron cape. We know that Case 53s get screwed unless they’re telegenic and I’ll just bet they still get glass ceilinged to make sure the Triumvirate don’t have to look at them too much.

      • To be fair, Amrsmaster was completely unfit to take on a leadership role. Tactically? Sure, he’s smart and good at his job. But as the Captain Kirk of his team and mentor to the next gen of heroes? FUCK THAT.

      • “Weld is attractive. Gully is not.”

        Speak for yourself. Rippling muscles and long dark hair? I love a girl that can kick my ass with her hair billowing in the breeze.

        If Gregor the Snail can hook up with Shamrock then anything is possible.

    • Weld was, in his introductory chapter and interlude, mentioned as being the forerunner and point man for the next phase of the PRT’s overarching plan to blend parahumans into society. The test case, if you will.

    • Skitter was acting like a leader. She reigned in Regent and Bitch immediately. She sorta shut up Tattletale though it took a while and she’s been speaking one on one as the de facto spokesman for a while now. Getting Tattletale to shut up is a feat that is essentially impossible from all prior interactions so getting it to simply stay on track is really all anyone can hope for.

  14. And then everyone died except Scion and the Endbringers, thus leaving every single plot hook unresolved and every reader screaming in mad frustration until the end of time.

    • Well, technically if everyone dies, then just about every plot line is actually resolved, with only Scion and the Endbringers tale untold. And really, that’s just Jesus vs the demons. (Wait, if the Endbringers are just demons, then what the hell does the Devil himself look like?)

      (Of course, as we now may speculate, the Endbringers aren’t quite demons — they’re more like golems.)


  15. This chapter adds fuel to the fire of my theory that Tattletale is probably addicted to taking risks. It is very likely that a mental power as potent as hers would change her brain chemistry.
    Also, remember that powers get stronger/more efficient as one approaches the emotional state in which they gained powers in the first place – and that they sometimes push people to reach the same state again in order to grow stronger. it might be that Tattletale got her power while pushing herself into a suicidal situation – and right now, she is getting more and more of a high as she pushes herself further into it!

    • I’ll see your suicidal tendencies and raise you a “walked in on a loved one that had suicided.” Having known people who have survived a loved one’s suicide, I know that the one thing people always think is that they should have known — that they could have saved them … *if only they had figured it out sooner.*

      • I’m not seeing it. Tattletale doesn’t give me that sense of being haunted by failure.

        This chapter made me think that Tattletale knows (either through experience or association) about worse stuff done by Cauldron. Or possible another group or a related one. She seems determined to get them at any cost, which makes her reckless about doing so.

        Miss Militia meanwhile is just stupid and violence inclined. This isn’t the first time she’s made a soldier’s move and made herself look like the villain. It’s just way worse then the last one. I would wager she did worse things to the other heroes morale then Tattletale could have, if only because what she was saying was so hard to believe.

        • Miss Militia doesn’t have the luxury of the reader’s eye view. From where she stands, Tattletale really is that dangerous, and they’re already fighting a S-rank threat besides. I don’t think Miss MIlitia’s response was disproportionate to the threat Tattletale can reasonably be believed to represent, even if it made for ugly scene.

          • You may well be right, however that doesn’t affect my point.

            Which is that MM’s actions just made it worse. I very much doubt this is the first time wild accusations have been thrown at the heroes. But now she’s added a seed of genuine doubt to what they’d probably have laughed off otherwise.

            Also good guys generally don’t like seeing a young girl with a gun in her mouth.

  16. I can’t help but feel that Tattletale got her powers from a Cauldron formula rather than a Trigger Event. She’s always been cagey about revealing her origins and she does seem very keen to reveal more about them, way more than anything else.

    Nice chapter! Noelle is looking pretty angry there. Good luck with that everyone.

  17. Just double-checking: Scapegoat is still feeling all of Skitter’s injuries, right? Shouldn’t he be rasping, maybe coughing a little, speaking so much, here?

    (Also, it might be a little tricky to point at someone you can’t see.)

  18. I wonder what happens if someone who has their powers from Cauldron gets cloned?

    The clones have variations on the original powers, ones that could have arisen under different trigger event scenarios… People who have taken the formula though? They just get what the formula gives them, a clone would inherit what their natural powers would have been – most likely nothing.

    So the big heros getting clones might not be so disastrous, except to their reputation.

    • Same thing that happens to any other hero. Remember Perdition? The dickhead traveler who hit Noelle and got spat out three times, causing Trickster to have to leave his meeting with Accord to deal with it?

  19. “No human sacrifices? Did I really want to veto any possibilities, when we were faced with threats like the Endbringers and Echidna?”

    The heroic answer, of course, is “yes, of course you want to veto that”. Were I in Taylor’s position though? Much tougher call. Whether being open to making sacrifices of that magnitude is right or wrong though, I think this paints a very believable picture of how the stresses that Taylor is under can reshape your moral center.

    That in turn opens the question of what this really looks like from Tattletale’s point of view. The realities that Taylor is being forced to confront that would allow her to consider human sacrifice a viable option may have been in front of Tattletale for a long time now.

    • I always love it when the innocent ones get corrupted. Poor little wannabe hero became a monster who thinks killing a random person is alright if it saves the day, but no one had better lay a finger on her father. Hypocrite. Every person is someone’s daughter or son, or brother, sister, spouse, lover, friend. Would she kill her own father to save everyone else?

      Taylor is going to need to take a long hard look in the mirror and decide if she wants to be what she’s become.

      • She has made no move to run off and save him and him alone except for the Shatterbird thing. Hell, she was told by the heroes that they think a clone of hers is still out there. She also knows that one of Vista’s clones went after Vista’s own family.

        When exactly did Skitter go to protect only her family despite being powerless against Noelle?

        • Fair enough. Doesn’t mean she’s any less of a monster though. Maybe even makes her more of one as she’s completely forgotten about the one person from her civilian life who cares about her.

          • Monster? If she we’re a monster both Triumph and Piggot would be half eaten maggot filled corpses by now. She’s no saint, but the authorities are remarkably lucky considering how they’ve been trying to throw their weight around the last couple arcs. I’m not counting Calvert in her morality scale since I consider his death both an inevitability and a public service. Fuck that guy. I’d save words like “monster” for the neo-Nazis and the guys who kill babies for kicks.

            And Taylor’s dad? She’s kind of preoccupied with being in Protectorate semi-custody right now. Plus trying to go find Danny at this point would both A. Expose her secret identity and B. Lead Echidna right to him. It hasn’t even been that long since we saw him anyway. He’s probably still at the hospital, AKA a Police/PRT priority zone.

          • There’s all sorts of monsters. Only the Grendel types kill everyone they fight just because they can. Taylor’s more of an unintentional monster. She’s gained the power to profoundly change the world around her and she started out wanting to help people. And escape from her mundane problems. Thinking she had a better chance as a new cape she infiltrated a criminal organization intending to be a mole. But she had no backup, no one knew what she was doing when she started, and ultimately she began hurting people more and more. Whose money did she steal from the bank just to give it all away to Sierra and doll girl’s friends? How much damage did she do to the bank’s and insurance companies’ integrity when they had to cover a portion of those millions of dollars and documents that were stolen? Calmly carving an unconscious man’s eyes out isn’t particularly monstrous?

            Certainly we can understand why Taylor’s done all the horrible things she’s done and still see her as sympathetic. But Worm is just one big showcase of how the villain is always the hero of their own story. Reasons don’t make an action morally right. Anything can be justified if we try hard enough, and Taylor went a hell of a long way to justify herself: it was all to save Dinah. She felt guilty so she HAD to save the life of that one little girl. Never mind breaking a girl’s leg, dragging Triumph to death’s door just to strongarm his father, kidnapping the director of the local PRT (who turned out to be the one normal person she couldn’t hope to bully) and finally killing a man.

            Coil deserved to die you say? Who are we to make that decision? Was it really the right thing or the best thing that could have happened? One little girl got saved yes but how many heroes and regular people are dying from Noelle’s rampage? If Coil were alive perhaps the Undersiders would all be dead and Dinah still under his control but if we take the oh so common justification that saving more lives is worth sacrificing a few then perhaps Coil should have lived. There would be no Echidna spewing mutant capes out of her grotesque mouths right now. Order would have returned to Brockton Bay and Cauldron’s plan to bring about the deaths of the Endbringers, vague as it is, would be right on scedule. Two chances of stopping Jack from causing the end of the world thrown away.

            Taylor is in way over her head. The decisions she makes for personal, easily understood reasons have implications far beyond her ken. We the readers tend to think that she is in the right because for the most part we are dealing with her viewpoint and wildbow has done a magnificent job of keeping the supervillainess sympathetic. But no matter her reasons or justifications Taylor as Skitter has done bad things, TERRIBLE things, and even if I can go through the entire story sympathizing with her at this point I cannot say that she is a good person. No one likes to really think of themselves as evil. What would you call the unquestionable hive queen of the city’s underworld though?

            (This rambling rant brought to you by Shark Tuna Halibut.)

          • Triumph wasn’t to strongarm his father. Triumph was unintended, in fact. If she wasn’t distracted by Prism, it wouldn’t have happened at all.

            The money she stole was covered under the FDIC. Everybody in the U.S. who deposits money in a bank has it covered by the federal government up to $250,000. Aside from that, the banks have insurance, which they pay.

            The unconcious man was Lung, a very tough supercriminal who everyone was looking to arrest. Problem is, the villains didn’t have a way to arrest him. Oh, and in his case she knew they’d grow back. Probably made it a whole lot easier to capture him for good too.

            Killing Coil was not an immoral action. Considering his plan, it counts as a moral one. And considering the setup, it was self defense and defense of others. Remember, he tried to kill Taylor instead of upholding his end of the bargain? Teleported her to a building, set it on fire, had guards with grenades, that kind of thing? He even stuck around and used his power to try and make it happen. Then he set up her friends to kill them or at least frame her. Oh, and he had Tattletale and Regent kidnapped. Remember, Regent was still captured when that went down. So that puts Taylor pretty firmly in the moral high ground.

            Also, he had no damn clue on how to cure Noelle. That’s pretty obvious. Tattletale was his best shot and she didn’t know. Noelle’s rampage would have happened anyway. If you’ll remember, the base there was empty. No more personnel for feeding. The Travelers were basically shit out of luck with Coil’s death faked.

            This response brought to you by Ikea Horsemeat Furniture. Ikea, rest your buns on us.

          • STH – any action, no matter how noble, can be condemned and villainized if you try hard enough.

            Use the right words, and Simo Hayha goes from national hero to a vile, reprehensible murder machine who needed to be put down for the good of mankind. I mean, the man did kill a whole lot of sons, husbands and fathers, with no regard to their individual circumstances – only that they wore the wrong uniform on the wrong side of an arbitrary political border.

            It’s human nature to find fault with others, create problems and throw up roadblocks. Sometimes I wish I did it more often – or at least more skillfully. But when that happens, I stop feeling sad and be awesome instead.

          • An americentric example would be differing perceptions of the North and South in the Civil War. War of Northern Aggression, or saving the Union from unlawful rebellion.

    • There’s another angle.. Taylor’s the one currently affected by Scapegoat’s power, so the context is “would I be willing to sacrifice myself to make this end?” Could almost be foreshadowing.

  20. At one point Legend says the person making case 53’s ” do be dead or out of formula”, which is either a typo or a new interpretation of his character. Chapter amazing as always!

  21. – Tattletale, I’m sure you’ve, like, totally never heard this before but: shut the fuck up.
    – Whoa, Skitter! You know you’ve really lubed up the slippery slope when Regent is the voice of moral conscience.
    – Ironically, the best people to take down Noelle are members of her team. Hypersonically-thrown cars and not-so-miniature suns would come in real handy right about now.

  22. Miss Militia deserves to be the woman wearing the American flag scarf. Don’t like what someone is saying? Smack the bitch hold her down and shove a gun in ‘er mouth. AMERICAAA! FUCK YEAH!

    But seriously where can I buy an MM t-shirt?

    • Bah, that flag’s gonna burn. If it is not true to its ideals, then America will burn the same as any other country. Its corpse will be unrecognizable from the others that abandoned their greatness when faced with the pyre. If it is not that great nation it set out to be in the face of any danger, then it is just like any other country that falls. Without its ideals, what is there for America to fight for? What is there left to give one’s life for?

      Onward, Endbringers.

      • Just makes America like any other country in the world.

        Do anything in the shadows to keep power and prestige.

  23. Thought…

    Assault is all racked with guilt and angst over his beloved Battery dying. I’m thinking (and pardon me if this is obvious to everyone else) that this is a result of him and her having been together (as usual) when the Miasma hit.

    Then Paranoia leads to him knocking her out and leaving her, she dies horribly. Oh the self-loathing. Oh the ‘taking it out on anyone nearby’!

    • It was pretty well established in Legend’s interlude that she died from injuries acquired in pursuit of the Nine during the Miasma attack. She was the dark shape Skitter saw moving rapidly then stopping to recharge. Got overrun by Bonesaw’s mecha spiders.

  24. This a little belated buuut… creepy? Really Wanton? You’re calling bug powers creepy in a pitched battle against a walking meat mountain that spits out insane deformed clones of people, one of which bushwhacked you with rads? It’s a little too late for creepy.

    Then I recall one of the wards calling Atlas creepy. Dude, it’s a giant hercules beetle you can fly around on, that’s not creepy, That’s cool!

    And the dimension hole business? Come on! For the X-Men that kind of shit is step one! Don’t start wetting your pants until we get to the tangent universes and time paradoxes.

    Between that and the Protectorates general approach to fighting and tactics I think my problem with the heroes isn’t that they’re dicks. It’s that they’re a pack of goddamn pansies!

  25. “It wouldn’t be winning us any points with the good guys, ignoring courtesy, but the fact that Tattletale and Regent had disappeared from our rendezvous spot and that they were now in the midst of a group of twenty-seven heroes. ”
    I think that might be missing a “for” before “the fact”.

    Tattletale needs to work on making her revelations in less exciting surroundings. Less fun maybe but being shot in the face is no fun either.

  26. I’ve never cared for the attitude that someone’s actions can be judged based on the later unforseen consequences and that they can be held directly responsible for those consequences. Can you blame a Willy for shooting a man? Yes, that’s his fault. Can you blame Willy for the man’s wife going into poverty because of the lost income? Sure, I guess. Can you blame Willy for the wife having the crap beaten out of her by her new shithead boyfriend a year later? No. Screw that, those are different people making different decisions. Holding one person to the indirect outcomes of their actions puts too much stock on the actions of one person in a situation where there are dozens to hundreds of folks making their own decisions and contributing in different ways. If we’re going to be calling Skitter a monster for indirect reasons are we going to start calling Amrsmaster a monster for the consequences of his breaking of the truce and helping drive Skitter to stick with the Undersiders?

    As for all those direct examples, you seem to be ignoring a lot of context and extenuating circumstances. Sure, you could call those excuses. But if we don’t context into account we start doing crazy shit like calling breaking a guy’s nose in a boxing match equivalent to a breaking a guy’s nose during a mugging. First, a lot of Skitter’s decisions we’re made under some sort of dangerous or time sensitive situation. Someone wants her dead, or someone wants something from her and ain’t gonna take no for an answer. if there’s a point in the story where Skitter does something reprehensible in a pre-meditated manner please let me know because I probably forgot about it. We have different degrees of murder for a reason.

    Second let’s go over some of these circumstances.

    Lung: Sure, caring out some guy’s eyes is monstrous. If the guy isn’t an unstoppable fire spewing dragon-man who wants you dead and can regenerate his eyes anyway. Is carving out Lungs eye’s screwed up? Totally! But monstrous? Nah. Context.

    Triumph: The whole mission was more morally wrong than the fight honestly, which Skitter didn’t even start. Yeah, Triumph almost died. But y’know what? Shit like that happens in combat, you go into it with the possibility of taking a bad hit, or falling out of a window or something. I don’t think specific injuries and near misses shouldn’t be held against people, and Triumph himself agreed with that. Also, yeah, Skitter was using Rory to strongarm the mayor. Strongarm him into not blowing her away with a shotgun.

    Kidnapping Piggot: Again, this was action taken in the middle of combat, with a slightly different scope. It was the PRT that decided to reopen hostilities with giant robots. Don’t start none, won’t be none. Piggot started some, and she happened to pay the price directly. Granted, it was in retaliation for the mayor attack, I’ll give you that. But their methods backed the Travelsiders too far into a corner, of course they’re going to try something desperate, you need to leave someone an out in a tactical situation or that’s going to happen.

    Coil: I’m going to ignore the spurious implication that someone who employs child soldiers doesn’t deserve a bullet to the face and instead talk about the “if the Undersiders died, x wouldn’t happen”. Come on. Are we really going to do that? Act like they’re in the wrong for trying to preserve their own lives? Very few people on this earth are going to sit there and let someone kill them with a firing squad for the sake of some lofty greater good that might not even work and nor should they. Not to mention that we don’t even know if Cauldron’s plans would have worked, whether they wouldn’t make things worse, or even if Cauldron is responsible for the Endbringers in the first place. Also, Echidna’s escape was a premeditated “fuck you” gambit in case of his death with no reason except spite. If he hadn’t done that, they could have gotten Noelle on board with the plan Tattle already has in motion to try to help her.

    As for Skitter justifying her actions with saving Dinah? That’s kind of overstating how Skitter feels about it, she said herself that she doesn’t quite buy it. Whatever, what’s done is done.
    In short, Skitter has been the bad guy in a lot of ways, she’s hurt a lot of people. But calling her a monster seems very melodramatic and puts too much responsibility on her shoulders for things that she can’t directly control or forsee. Judging someone morally by hindsight seems dangerous and can lead to a lot of insane bullshit.

    Christ, that was a lot of words. I hope the formatting doesn’t fuck up.

    • People down here in the comments have been treating Armsmaster like a monster for a long time. Or at least a Grade-A Douchebag.

      I don’t believe that there is anything like absolute morality. There is no boundary between right and wrong imposed from above. The only moral systems in effect are the ones we make. Problem is that those are extremely fragile and prone to breaking under stress. Plenty of fiction is dedicated to how regular morality gets thrown out the window when what’s at stake is survival. You could even get away with killing a man and eating his corpse if that’s the only option you had to keep from starving (helps if the other guy was also going to try the same).

      But whatever. Let’s go down that nice list.

      Lung: No reason to carVe his eyes out while he’s doped out of his mind. He only gets more powerful when fighting, which Taylor knew, and it would be pretty easy to restrain even a brute like Lung so he couldn’t start changing for a while. The argument she gives is that she’s worried Lung’s regeneration will overcome Newter’s drug which doesn’t hold water when Armsmaster already told her that his genitalia rotted off from her bugs’ poison from their first encounter since his powers work at a much lower level when normal and he returns to normal when unconscious. Newter’s sweat basically rendered Lung a non-threat and Taylor had all the information needed to know that he wouldn’t be getting up again anytime soon, so plucking out his eyeballs is horribly excessive and unnecessary even in context.

      Triumph: Taylor let someone without regenerative powers go into anaphylactic shock from a huge amount of venom and still shoved her insects down his throat. As his son lying creeping toward death on the ground a few feet away she blackmailed the mayor into moving to keep Brockton Bay from being condemned, holding onto the one hope he had to save his son. Even then she couldn’t know that Triumph already hadn’t passed the point of no return and yet she kept waiting until she had her guarantee. Triumph and Skitter may have been in direct conflict with each other but holding a loved one more or less hostage, their life in your hands until the wealthier party capitulates is monstrous regardless of context.

      Piggot: … Actually this wasn’t Taylor’s call. I don’t feel like going back right now to see if there’s a sentence or two I can nitpick. It was probably Tattletale who said that torture wouldn’t work anyway.
      As for the point about how the PRT “started it,” of course. What are they supposed to do, sit on their hands as some of the last great villain threats in the city are allowed free reign? If you take over a city there WILL be people gunning for your head. That’s politics.

      Coil: Why kill Coil in the first place? They had him at their complete mercy and Taylor chose not to show any. It would have been simple to turn him over to the authorities and explain his dual identity as Calvert. His power only works on himself and he was in no position to change the situation. Call out Miss Militia and a few Wards to a meeting so they can explain without the possibility of a big shootout between the mercenaries and PRT. “He could have tried something later if he was left alive.” That’s the same pointless conjecturing as “If the Undersiders died x wouldn’t have happened.” What gives a sixteen year old girl the right to decide that a man deserves to die? Coil was a dangerous man, and certainly an evil one, but Taylor had him soundly beaten. She chose to act as judge, jury and executioner because of the threat she thought he could pose if left alive.
      “Also, Echidna’s escape was a premeditated ‘fuck you’ gambit in case of his death with no reason except spite.” That’s interesting given your earlier statement. “Very few people on this earth are going to sit there and let someone kill them with a firing squad for the sake of some lofty greater good that might not even work and nor should they.” I’d say Coil unleashing Echidna’s wrath is pretty good revenge against his killers. No reason for him not too just because it would save more lives and be better for everyone right?

      I think we’re having a disconnect on the word “monster” specifically. What does the word “cat” bring to mind? Calico? One of those kittens with “socks?” For me “cat” conjures an image of my aunt’s Siamese, the one feline I’ve had the most experience with in my life. Monster isn’t an inherently negative term. To me at least. It’s more of a basic, unrestrained thing. Monsters don’t act on conventional morals for a variety of reasons. Madness, savagery, or here simply because they think that morals don’t apply. Of course, how can they apply if people choose not to abide by them?

      “Judging someone morally by hindsight seems dangerous and can lead to a lot of insane bullshit.” If you’re still in school, remember that when it comes to history courses. People do it a lot anyways. Characters in the story even do it. Scapegoat begins this chapter talking about how the news is already painting Brockton Bay as a Hellhole ruled over by devious, nigh unstoppable supervillains. Not kids who should be getting really tired of all these attempts on their lives by now.

      On that note it’s time to close this friggin’ thesis.

      • Not just yet. You forgot Taylor would have saved Triumph anyway and that Lung had such trouble with Lung because your buddy Armsmaster hit him with a power suppressant. If not for that, he’d have had no trouble apparently.

        And then Armsmaster got pissed at Taylor because he doped Lung and Lung nearly died from it. Dick move, Armsmaster.

        And what would have happened if they turned in. Coil is the heroes would have attacked the Undersiders in force for kidnapping and holding the Director of the PRT at gunpoint. That’s just obvious. Loom how little the Undersiders are believd

          • Not an Iphone, but a phone nonetheless. Still, I figured people could reasonably figure out the last sentence, “Look how little the Undersiders are believed by Miss Militia now.” So I’ll just keep on talking OOC for now.

            You’re not keeping helots are you? Your response seemed laconic.

            No matter the society, slavery is wrong. As are honor killings, tossing acid into people’s faces, and female circumcision. Doesn’t matter how many societies practice those.

            We are rational beings who can comprehend the effects of our actions on other people. You can have a morality that recognizes extenuating circumstances like self defense against a person who wants to eat you to survive and then having to eat them to survive because, believe it or not, they are pretty darn universal. If anyone in society was in such a situation, it would apply, but most people are simply not in that situation. It’s not like one missed grocery trip is going to lead to cannibalism.

            Objectively, live your life without harming others. If someone tries to harm people, keep them from doing so. And no, I’m not talking about thought control or censorship either. I’m talking actual harm. No one ever had a trigger event from watching George fucking Carlin fucking cuss all the fucking time, the cocksuckers.

    • Kidnapping Piggot was Taylor’s plan, given to Imp before the battle.

      And speaking of pieces of paper, now Taylor can read what Dinah wrote to her…

  27. Hey, if you’re in an answering sort of mood Wildbow, I’m curious about Miss Militia’s power. Is it strictly ‘make types of guns you’ve seen’ or is it ‘make any gun you’ve seen’, i.e. could she recreate Skitter’s gun in the state it was when it was handed to her, and have Dragon scan it or run ballistics on it? And.. if she [i]can[/i] make specific instances of guns, if she sleeps with someone else’s gun under her pillow, might she dream of what it’s seen?

    Also.. as absurd as it might seem, this chapter makes me want to ship Tattletale and Weld. Because damn, seeing her stand up to Miss Militia must have been something. She’s broken the ice when it comes to Capulet/Montegue relationships after all, and god knows they could both use something fun and good after a month of everything going to hell.

  28. “There’s no way Brockton Bay is as scary as they’re making it out to me.” … maybe a typo? “…making it out to be.”

  29. “the person who did this to you is be dead or completely out of formula”

    “you is be dead” –> “you is dead”

  30. “It was the appearance of Atlas that brought me back to my senses.”
    Since he didn’t zoom up, and in fact only Skitter ‘senses’ him, I think the use of ‘appearance’ is awkward. The bit later about the “closed and unlocked” door seems a bit awkward, too.

    But –YEA! Atlas is back in action! (Is she standing on him, or next to him, through most of the ‘hero convo’? She needs a dismount action.)

  31. ” It’s little consolation, but we think the person who did this to you is be dead or completely out of formula.”

    is either dead or completely out of formula

  32. “It wouldn’t be winning us any points with the good guys, ignoring courtesy, but the fact that Tattletale and Regent had disappeared from our rendezvous spot and that they were now in the midst of a group of twenty-seven heroes.” 

    This sentence accidentally a verb, likely a “was”.

    I sure hope wildbow takes some time someday in the far future and makes these tiny corrections that keep popping up years later! FOR THE GLORY OF THE MOTHERLAND!

  33. “This isn’t changing the world,” Tattletale said. “This is going to the heart of every single damn problem we’ve been facing and surgically removing the most dangerous parts. We can access the places where the powers are coming from and shut them off. It’s an answer.”

    Tattletale is very smart. The fact that she isn’t connecting “solve ALL the problems” and “change the world” is an excellent hint of something we don’t know about her.

  34. Hmm. Ignoring all the big bombshells in the conversation… Alexandria is here.
    Alexandria doesn’t have any ranged attacks except maybe throwing heavy things.
    Throwing heavy things really hasn’t worked on Echidna so far. And non-ranged attacks on Echidna are extremely dangerous to the attacker and the overall objective.
    Alexandria is smart enough to have figured those things out already.
    So either she’s power-immune and can risk touching Echidna, or she’s aware that she can’t engage directly and is only here for strategic contributions, like Bitch. That’s interesting. I’m curious how she’ll play that role.

  35. Clearly the power to make deductions doesn’t let you deduce when you need to keep your mouth shut…But I can’t help it, I adore Tattletale and how much trouble she gets herself into.

  36. Tattletale’s immediate plan:
    Ah yes let us banish the raging hell beast using a goat themed human sacrifice procedure that is in no way a satanic ritual.

    • By placing your palm roughly on their chin and using your thumb on one cheek and fingers on the other. From there you force your digits against their teeth through their cheeks. Pops the mouth open pretty well, assuming you have strong hands. Pinching might be better replaced by squeezing.

  37. think the person who did this to you is -be- dead or completely

    need to take off the be wildbow
    also you are amazing 😁

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