Scourge 19.5

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The Grue Echidna had created turned his attention to the rest of us.  His power massed around him and then flowed forth like a tidal wave of crude oil.  I was already atop Atlas, rising into the air.  I couldn’t avoid the fact that Scapegoat was in the truck, and if we were separated-

I flew after the wave of darkness, tracing its path as it met Scapegoat’s van and making my best guess at where it would wind up.

The darkness hit a wall, and the van materialized, solid once more.  More heroes were deposited two or three city blocks away from where they’d been standing.

My heart was pounding in my chest as I blinked a few times and double checked that I hadn’t gone blind.  If the Grue had cut off Scapegoat’s power, or if he’d delivered enough of an impact to disrupt it, it could have left me in worse shape than before.

I could see, and I could breathe.  Scapegoat was safe inside the containment van.

He’d scattered us.  Our tight battle lines were now spread out over city blocks, and people were having a surprising amount of trouble getting their bearings.  One of the team leaders managed to get his squad organized, pointing them in the right direction, before Echnidna’s Grue hit them again.

There was a limit to what I could do.

I gathered my bugs and started working out how to stop the Grue.

I had cords pre-prepared.  I spliced a number together into a hundred-foot long line, then had my bugs fly the cord out.

A minute later, my fastest flying bugs were winding the cord around the Grue’s neck, while others were biting and stinging.  He barely even noticed, beyond swatting at the insects wherever they landed.

I needed something to tie him to.  A telephone pole?  It wouldn’t stop him or even hamper him in what he was doing to disrupt our fighting lines.  If he could teleport himself, then it wouldn’t even hamper him at all in the long-term.

Legend, Eidolon and Alexandria moved into the fray, accompanied by a number of other flying heroes.  They were coordinated enough that they had to have planned it out in advance.  Alexandria went in first, circling around and then swooping down to strike Echidna across one back leg.  She stuck on contact.  Through a combination of her own strength and one of Legend’s lasers, she got free before Echidna could turn and envelop her.

Eidolon was making his move before Alexandria was even free.  He cast out a bubble that swelled as it moved through the air.  By the time it reached Echidna, it was twice as big around as she was, enough to reach from one sidewalk to the other.  The colors around her became muted, and her movements slowed to a tenth of the speed.

It was a time-distortion effect.  Legend took the opportunity to emit twenty individual laser beams.  They each flowed out as a steady, unfaltering stream, and turned in mid-air to punch into Echidna.  Each was meticulously placed to drive through the center of her body and avoid the places where her victims were being absorbed, or even cut her victims free.

One beam turned down and took a sharp right to strike the ground just to the teleporter-Grue’s right.  It slashed towards him and he used his darkness to teleport himself to safety, cutting the cord I’d created in the process.

I commanded my bugs to collect the thread and cart it to the destination he’d teleported to.  It was futile to try to tether a teleporter, I knew, but if I could find a way to trip up his abilities, tie his ankles together at a crucial moment… something, it might help.  Beyond that, I’d have to hope the venom brought him down.

Echidna tried to move to one side, but Legend’s beams followed unerringly, swelling in size and number.  Thirty, forty, fifty… each cutting their way through her flesh as though she were made of little more than snow.  Smoke or steam billowed around her as her flesh charred and boiled.  The lasers might have been affected by the time distortion, but that didn’t matter when the lasers were moving at the speed of light in the first place.

She feinted right, then lunged left, but Legend’s aim didn’t err in the slightest, and Eidolon’s slowing effect drifted after her.  Still, Echidna moved faster than Eidolon’s slowing effect did.  Slowly but surely, as pieces of her flesh were carved away and left to fall to the ground, she made progress toward the effect’s perimeter.

Alexandria flew low to the ground, striking and catching hold of a traffic light.  In one second she was a blur, the next she appeared to be moving as fast as a person did when they ran.  Charging into the effect’s area, Alexandria made a beeline for Echidna.

The swing was slow motion, but Echidna was too.  Alexandria struck her with the metal pole, and Echidna moved like she’d been hit full strength.  Her front claws were lifted off of the ground by the force of the blow, and she reared up, the canine faces contorting in pain and anger.

The lasers moved around Alexandria, passing within centimeters of her.  She didn’t even flinch as she lowered herself to the ground behind Echidna, used her hands and one knee to correct a bend in the pole, and then stabbed it into one spot on the back of Echidna’s leg where a hero was trying to get free.  Legend’s cutting lasers and the leverage of the pole pried him free.  Alexandria caught him before he hit the ground and threw him.

Other heroes saw and positioned themselves before he reached the edge of the effect.  He resumed normal speed and the heroes caught him.

Echidna’s Grue blanketed the area in darkness, and Legend opened fire on the area where the darkness had originated from; the ground floor of a nearby grocery store.  My bugs identified the Grue on the far side, and with a moment to get arranged, they connected the ends of cords.  A little shorter than a hundred feet, now.  If I tied it to a section of a nearby window, and he tried to run, it could maybe yank him off his feet, but that didn’t amount to much.

The Grue teleported Echidna to him, freeing her from Legend’s attack and the slow effect.  The darkness carpeted them and bought her a second to breathe and regenerate.

Had to remove the Grue from consideration.  I tried to visualize what would happen next, anticipate their next move.  Noelle would throw herself into the fray again.  Either he’d use his teleportation to do it or…

I tied the other end of the cord to a piece of bone plate that stood out on Echidna’s side.

Eidolon was pointing to the building that Echidna had materialized behind, pointed two fingers at it with a thumb extended in a gesture much like a gun.  Legend took the signal and opened fire, unleashing countless lasers into the ground floor of the building.

The Psycho-Grue took shelter, ducking to one side of a nearby dumpster.  At the same time, Echidna did just what I’d hoped for: she bolted.  The cord went taut, and the Grue was pulled off his feet by the suddenness and force of her movement.

I hadn’t tied it into a proper noose, but the cord was around his neck.  I’d read somewhere that nooses tended to kill because they broke the neck rather than by suffocation, provided they were tied right and there was enough of a drop.

This wasn’t a drop, but it was a tough cord around his neck, and the creature on the other end weighed no less than fifteen tons, maybe twice that.  She’d accelerated from zero to fifty in an instant, and he went limp almost immediately, dead or completely disabled in a heartbeat.  My bugs cut the cord and held it ready.

Echidna hadn’t used her power yet.  She’d absorbed enough capes, but something was holding her back.  I wondered if her regeneration drew on the same pool of flesh-generation that made the clones and she couldn’t make clones while healing the kind of heavy damage the Triumvirate was dishing out.  Maybe there was some other drawback.

The ‘shoulders’ of her lower body scraped and dragged against the sides of buildings as she stampeded through the back alleyways.  She kicked a dumpster and sent it careening as she ran, brushed against a fire escape with enough speed and force that it was ripped from the brick wall.

She was very nearly out of my power’s reach when Myrddin cut her off.  He waved his staff and a group of heroes materialized around him.  Tecton and Chevalier were among them.

The heroes around me were trying to get sorted into squads again.  I was aware of someone driving the van that held Scapegoat.  Taking him in the wrong direction.

I drew arrows with my bugs on the dashboard and prayed that whoever the cape was behind the wheel, they were aiming in the right direction.

Seeing how the heroes were struggling to get organized, suffering for the lack of armbands to help them navigate and get essential information, I decided in an instant that I needed to guide more than just the van.

I began drawing out arrows and letters.

I drew out an ‘E’ with an arrow pointing in Echidna’s direction, a hundred times in a hundred places.  Above Echidna, I set swarms of insects to flying in formation, tight circles and figure-eight loops, vertical or horizontal.  Letters and words formed.  Echidna, Myrddin, Chevalier.  Did the ‘e’ go after the ‘i’?  Couldn’t remember.  Was supposed to be ‘i before e, except after c’, but there were more exceptions to the rule than there were correct uses.

Shaking my head to stir myself awake, I tried to refocus, paying attention to the primary site of the fighting.

Echidna charged Myrddin and the heroes that accompanied him.  He used his staff to draw something into the air.  My bugs could feel a vibration, see the white blur of a light source.

The sign he’d drawn exploded outward, striking Echidna on her right side.  It was enough to alter her course, and her shoulder slammed into the corner of one building.  Her body dragged against the building’s face until that she had to stop and pull away.

Chevalier pointed his sword at her, fifteen feet long, and pulled a trigger.  A blast erupted down the center of the sword’s mass, and a cannonball caught one of Echidna’s monstrous heads between the eyes.  Through the composite vision of all my bugs, I could get a sense of the damage that had been done, the spray of gore.

I was too tired to be focusing on my bugs to this degree.  My awareness of my real self was faltering.  I was unconsciously updating the positions of the arrows to allow the heroes to home in on Echidna, but I also had to work to keep myself close to Scapegoat, and I wanted to make sure I knew where Bitch and the others were.  Atlas was following my unconscious commands, but that meant I was straying a dangerous distance from Scapegoat.  Had to be safe.

The arrows I’d drawn for each of the heroes were working, though.  Heroes were moving towards Echidna with purpose, now, and the van with Scapegoat inside was moving in the right direction.  I caught some squad captains giving orders.  A cape that could speak over distances was relaying information to Myrddin and Chevalier.

Tattletale was on the ground, but she didn’t advance toward the scene of the fighting.  She had gotten her hands on a cellphone, and was speaking steadily into it, relaying information. I only caught some of it – I couldn’t devote that much focus to her.  It was about Noelle.

Chevalier and Myrddin made an effective duo.  Chevalier’s power had made his armor virtually impervious, his cannonblade massive, each effectively many times as dense and/or many times as large as they should be, but he was still able to treat them as though they were the normal size.  He swung his sword as though it were barely there, and when he found an opportunity to strike out with a gauntleted fist, the effect was always far greater than the hit deserved.

Not so different from Fenja and Menja, only his gear was the focus, not himself, and he was a little more versatile.

Myrddin, for his part, coupled versatility with raw power to devastating effect.  He had a bag of tricks and switched from one to another without hesitation.  Echidna spewed a stream of bodies and gore, and Myrddin drew a dark sign into the air, suctioning the incoming matter into it.  I sensed Chevalier and Tecton slamming their weapons into the nearest surfaces to avoid being pulled in, catching hold of allies who weren’t so capable.  Then my own bugs were yanked toward the crevice and violently crushed against all of the other debris, leaving me momentarily blind in that area.  More of my bugs flowed in, giving me time to see Chevalier delivering a series of powerful sword strikes and cannon shots at Echidna, not letting up.  He paused, throwing himself into a side-alley as Noelle tried to stomp on him, and Myrddin released the matter he’d suctioned in as a condensed bullet of gore, dust, crushed bodies and dead bugs.

Perhaps the strongest thing about the partnership between the two heroes was how well it accommodated others.  Heroes with ranged powers were free to unload on Echidna while the other two fought, and heroes like Tecton could offer further support, destroying the ground beneath her feet.  She was big enough now that he couldn’t trap her, but he could make her stumble, or bring concrete from the nearby buildings raining down on top of her.

The Triumvirate flew straight over Echidna, and Legend opened with a laser beam I could see from three blocks away.  He killed some of the bugs I’d been using to draw words in the air in the process.  That was as much my fault as his.

Echidna was more or less trapped, forced to back away, but unable to fully turn around with the walls of the alley on either side of her.  Eidolon threw down another slowing bubble behind her, and Alexandria dropped to ground level to stand behind Echidna and stab the metal pole of the street light through the knee of one of Echidna’s back legs.

There was nothing for me to do beyond helping to organize the others.  I made sure to draw arrows and words high enough above the buildings that anyone approaching the scene would be able to tell that Alexandria and Chevalier had Echidna flanked.

Atlas carried me above the scene, a distance away from the Triumvirate, but still close enough to see into the alley.

Echidna was sustaining a beating, and there were only four directions she could go.  She could go up, which was the only route available to her that didn’t involve going through a solid surface, but that involved running face first into the laserbeam that Legend was firing straight down from above.  Going down involved tearing through pavement and whatever was below the road.  Even if there was a storm drain or some other underground space to enter, she was doubtlessly sustaining too much damage to take the time to get that far, and she was too big to fit, unless the area was cavernous.

That meant she was bound to head either left or right, through walls of brick or concrete.  I was careful in how I positioned my swarm, putting them on walls so I could tell if she knocked one down on her way through, while keeping the bugs out of her likely path.  Cloned bugs were the least of our problems, but I wasn’t about to contribute to her arsenal.

I’d drawn heroes closer to the scene of the fight with my directions.  Now I had to communicate the danger.

I spoke through my bugs, moving each closer to the capes.  The swarm was spread out, which made the resulting voice thin and reedy to the point that I wasn’t sure if it was audible over the noise of the fighting in the alleyways.

Incoming,” my swarm buzzed.

More than a few heroes jumped at that.

Look for my signal,” I said, “She’ll have to go through the walls to escape.”

Many of the squads were in or around the alleys but not actually participating in the fights.  With arrows and the movement of my swarm, I did my best to indicate the ways to the walls she might head for, and I drew exclamation marks on the faces of the buildings next to her.

It didn’t take her long to reach the limit of her patience.  She tried to advance on Chevalier, only to get driven back by Tecton, Myrddin and one or two ranged capes.  Backing up meant running into Alexandria, who was stabbing and swatting with the pole that had held the traffic light.

One claw ripped through brick and wood, and she plunged into the building to her left.  She was tall enough that she had to hunker down, and she was still shoving her way through the flooring that separated the first and second floors.  Her route put her on a path for where the fighting had originated, where the majority of the heroes were now waiting.

She could wade through brick and concrete and leave a building folding in on itself in her wake, but dealing with a mass of capes proved more difficult.  Forcefields blocked her movements, and a half-dozen heavy hitting capes like Grace were waiting to blindside her.

A heartbeat after the first wave assault passed by, Chronicler’s replicas of the melee assault group tore through Echidna a second time.

Echidna fell over, and was in a position to see Legend, Alexandria and Eidolon overhead.

Some capes had stayed in the fray, including types like Weld and Wanton, who couldn’t be absorbed and couldn’t be affected by the capes with ranged attacks.  They joined in with the Triumvirate’s attacks on the fallen foe.

She vomited, but it wasn’t the same as before.  Her vomit this time was thick with bodies, to the point that it didn’t spray.  The vomit tumbled from her four mouths as a sludge that met or exceeded her total body weight in sheer volume.  Worse, where it had maybe been ninety percent liquid and ten percent people, before, the numbers had inverted.

Legend raked a laser across the piling, writhing, reaching bodies, but Echidna was getting to her feet, throwing herself into the building behind her.  She’d done enough damage with the last maneuver, and her return trip brought a wall crashing down.  Powers of all kinds were brought to bear as the capes on the ground did what they could to save themselves and their teammates.

I could have stayed, helped with the wounded, but the van with Scapegoat was moving on, and I was worried about what might happen if Echidna managed to get away.  She was wounded, but regenerating, and bodies kept pouring forth from her mouth.  It would be best to leave the wounded and dying to the less mobile capes.  I was more useful in the fray, though that didn’t say much.

She was moving at a good pace.  Only the fastest were able to match her in speed, and few of those were also capable of slowing her down so the rest of us could catch up.

A trail of clones flowed in her wake.  All of them were capes, and even though they were unclothed and unarmored, some were taking more than a few hits to finish off.  Worse, at least one of the people she’d caught was a cape in much the same vein as Prism had been.  A self duplicator.  It amounted to scores of bodies, where one in twenty were capable of copying themselves, and maybe three or four in twenty were tough or borderline invulnerable.

I joined in with the other heroes who were fighting to kill or mop up the clones before the psychotic things could get organized.  They were lumped together as a tangle of limbs, heads and torsos, and each was tacky with the fluids of the vomit.  My swarm made contact, and began ruthlessly doing as much damage as I was capable of.

Myrddin caught up and hit her with one of his ‘spells’.  Echidna promptly disappeared in a clap of thunder, and Myrddin went very still, floating in the air.

From his controlled breathing and lack of celebration, I could only assume that Myrddin was concentrating.  Echidna wasn’t dead and gone, only held at bay for the time being.  I was willing to bet it was the same effect he’d used to carry Chevalier, Tecton and his other teammates into the fight in the alleyway.

In the meantime, the rest of us were left to dispatch the clones as quickly as possible.  They were frailer looking, with features missing.  There were clones without ears, clones without noses, clones with missing fingers.  Half finished, their skin was so thin as to be translucent, and most lacked hair or their hair was so sparse as to barely matter.  The skin of most broke and bled where my bugs bit, as though it were little more than wet paper.

If my swarm was made up of countless tiny surgeons, doing strategic damage, Rachel’s dogs were the opposite.  Bentley plowed through the ranks of the clones like a living bulldozer.  He wasn’t running full-bore, but he wasn’t slowing down at any point either.  The other dogs followed, each roughly the size of a pony, chained to Bentley’s harness.  The dogs fought among themselves in their struggles to attack and wound the clones, but I could see Rachel doing what she could to ensure that none of them were killing.

She’d done the same with Bastard.  It made sense, in a way, that she didn’t want them to get accustomed to killing before they were fully trained.

The clones weren’t wholly helpless, though, fragile as they might be.  They did have powers.  Through the bugs of my swarm that lingered on the combatants, I could track the fallen.  Two heroes down, injured or dying, another deceased.

We were outnumbered, and we couldn’t afford to lose one person for every twenty clones that fell.  Echidna had created at least a hundred clones in the course of her last getaway.  She would create a hundred more when she reappeared, if we didn’t find a solution.

Legend found a position to open fire from, and sent a barrage of lasers down toward the trail of bodies, while Alexandria followed the direct path that Echidna had taken, darting left and right to strike out and kill even the tougher capes in a single hit.

In the midst of the chaos, a speaker began blaring at the top of one containment van.  The same voice that had come from the armbands.

The following information has been disseminated, and remains unconfirmed.  Echidna is in a rage state.  The monster is in control, not the girl.  Seventeen capes are currently within her.  Her rate of regeneration and production of clones is derived from a central core within her lower body that produces an endless quantity of biological material.  A body part severed from the core will die.  Destroying the core in entirety will destroy her…”

Tattletale, I thought.  She’d passed on the info she’d gleaned.

Scapegoat was out of the van and shouting.  Weld was among the capes that came to his assistance.  He held a female clone in his iron grip, with one hand over her mouth.

Tecton and Wanton moved to help, and Scapegoat looked up at me, gesturing.

Pointing at the ground.

Would have been easier if he’d just said it.  I found a clear spot on a rooftop and landed.

The second I was settled, Scapegoat laid his hands on the clone Weld had caught.

As before, the sensations hit me.  Phantom sensations of every possible texture and experience rippling across my entire body.

This was why he’d told me to land.  He’d been worried I might lose control of my power, maybe losing control over Atlas and fall.

I just had to endure.  I could control my bugs to some extent, though flight wasn’t so possible.  One of the clones had broken away from the fighting, and my bugs were both attacking her and pointing the pursuing capes in the right directions.  She split off into four copies.  The heroes killed three of the four, only for the survivor to split off into a quartet once again.

If I’d been thinking about containment, I might have set triplines at each of the major intersections, cutting them if and when heroes passed through.  As it was, I couldn’t stop her retreat, and could only try to blind her, choke her and distract while they closed the distance with my direction.

But she was fragile, like most of her fellow clones.  Mandibles tore her paper-thin skin, and more bugs found her jugular.

Just like that, she died with blood spouting from her throat.  She created duplicates of herself, but they were created with the same injury.

The capes caught up to her.  One murmured, “Kudzu.”

“…s not her, Jouster,” another said.

Elsewhere, Regent was dispatching other clones.  He deftly tripped up the more mobile ones and closed the distance, then executed them with a quick stab of a knife.

The sensations kept hitting me.  It was a deeper sensation now.  Tastes, vision, hearing… everything under the sun, fragments of a million different sensations.  Picking through the noise was nearly impossible.  I had to find refuge in my swarm’s senses, disassociate from my body…

If I hadn’t been trying so hard, I might have missed it.  It was more subtle than the first time I’d heard it.  A keening noise that my own ears couldn’t hear.  Even many of the insects were unaware.

Using my swarm, every bug in the four block range, I buzzed out the alert.


Some capes reacted fast enough.  Helmets with visors were torn free, intact armbands and cell phones discarded.  Some erected forcefield barriers.  I was tearing off my mask, bundling it in the fabric that hung around my legs.

There were others too caught up in the fighting, yet others dependent on hardware with silicon chips that they couldn’t shirk so quickly.

It wasn’t as strong as her last big attack; there was less glass in the city to carry the effects.  Still, I could hear the resounding crash of everything glass in this half of the city breaking.  A tidal wave of destruction rolled past us, leaving countless injured in its wake.  The attack was weaker, but not necessarily weak.

Tecton had been left immobile, components of his suit destroyed.  The clone and Scapegoat were down, struck by the glass from the van’s windshield.  Chevalier had been caught by something, a fragment of glass that had penetrated a slit in his visor, and he was struggling to fight three clones and avoid hitting his teammates, all while partially blind.

I checked myself.  I could breathe, I wasn’t blind.  All despite Scapegoat’s disabled state.

Had he transferred the conditions to the clone?  Was I in the clear?

I wasn’t sure, and I wasn’t sure I could afford to take the risk and stray beyond that one-hundred and fifty foot range of his.

The direction the attack had come from…  Shatterbird had stayed behind, used her power from the base.  I’d assumed it was because Echidna had eaten her, but it was all too possible that they’d found another route.  Inducing temporary unconsciousness?  Or perhaps Echidna had eaten her and then spat her out right away, to induce enough weakness that Regent couldn’t use her.  I’d have to ask Regent for details, and that wasn’t an option.

No, there were bigger worries.  Battle lines had broken, and simply by virtue of being more numerous than we were, many clones were still standing.  It made only a small difference, but it was still an advantage for their side: the clones weren’t wearing or carrying anything glass.  An advantage of being naked.

The big heroes were trying to get organized.  Myrddin was still keeping Echidna out of the fight, the Triumvirate were exchanging quick words as they tried to figure out whether they should stay for when Echidna popped back into existence or help with the clones.  Legend shot as he talked, and Eidolon was casting out blue sparks that flew forth.

Clones were advancing on Scapegoat and Tecton.  Weld was there, but he wasn’t quite enough.

I stood on Atlas’ back as he descended to the road, shaking my mask to let the glass fall free before carefully pulling it back on.  Weld glanced at me and nodded as I appeared at his left, helping to form a defensive line.

Weld’s hands started to change into long blades, and with the reach they afforded him, he was able to defend more ground.

I stepped off Atlas and let him stand on his own, his scythelike forelimbs raised.  He wouldn’t be that good in a fight, but the clones were fragile, and two more weapons was better than nothing.  My knife and baton slid free of their respective slots in my compartment, and I whipped the baton out to its full length.  It offered me a little more reach, an excuse to take one more step away from Scapegoat’s body and the frozen Tecton.  In this fashion, Weld, Atlas and I formed something of a triangle.

Being on the ground, it added a kind of reality to the situation.  On a technical level, I was more aware of the bodies when I used my powers, more aware of the enemy numbers.  Here, though, I could see only the crowd.  Hero and clone were fighting, the ground was littered with the dying, the maimed and the dead.  There were countless people who needed help, people who I couldn’t personally reach.

My bugs could reach them.  I did what I could, trying to blind the right people, to injure and maim clones where I could ferret out vulnerabilities.  Most of the vulnerable clones were already out of the fight, leaving us with only the more troublesome ones.  The duplicators, the durable and the mobile.

I was fighting a duplicator.  Another Kudzu, like the one I’d killed earlier, unless there was another Asian duplicator with a Japanese-sounding name.  She was vulnerable, but she knew how to fight.  Better than I did.  My advantage was my weapons and my armor.  Hers was her relentlessness.

My baton crushed one skull like an overripe pumpkin, my knife caught another in the chest, pushing past bone like it was a willowy tree branch rather than anything more solid.  I kicked her in the chest to help pull my knife free, and suffered a painful kick to the side of my knee before I was able to retaliate.  I fell, tried to strike the offending Kudzu with my knife, but she caught my wrist.  A swing of my baton was caught as well.  I got my feet under her and thrust my head into hers as I returned to a standing position  Her face was softer than my mask was.

She fell, and the fourth Kudzu formed three new doubles before I could advance and attack her.  One kicked me hard enough that I had to lean against Tecton’s armor to get my balance.  My swarm had hurt the one Kudzu who’d stayed back, and the new doubles were feeling the same pain, but they were still fresh, weren’t tired or hurt from previous rounds.

Weld fought with an invincible man who was smoking, his hands hot enough that they were heating Weld’s flesh.  The man grappled him, and Weld’s attempts to strike him were having little effect.  The man dug his fingers into Weld’s chest, and white-hot metal dripped to the ground.  He was digging for organs.

I hated to spare bugs when I was fighting the Kudzu-clones, but I sent some Weld’s way.  They coated the man, and found some flesh they could damage.

“His back, Weld!” I shouted.  “His front half is tough, but everything that isn’t facing you is vulnerable!”

A Kudzu took advantage of my distraction to club me.  I retaliated by stabbing her, a nonfatal blow.

Weld pulled one arm free, reached behind the man, and started sawing into the back of his head.  Serrated edges formed on the blade, to allow for a better cut, Weld found something vital, and the man slumped to the ground.

He turned to help me with the Kudzu.

A scattering of Legend’s laser bolts tore through our surroundings, though he was blocks away.  Three of the Kudzu I was fighting were hit by Legend’s shots, and Weld lunged forward to stab the fourth.  The least hurt of them vibrated and split off into a fresh set of quadruplets.

Clones of clones, I thought.  I could only swear in my head.  My lungs weren’t suffering like they had been earlier, but I was short on breath nonetheless.

Overall, our side was winning, but we weren’t winning fast.  Nearly a third of us had fallen when Shatterbird hit, and more were losing in this chaos that followed.

Which made this the moment, fittingly, when Echidna popped back into existence.

Eidolon and Legend had been doing what they could from range, and now they were forced to deal with Echidna, leaving the rest of us to deal with the remaining clones.

Legend started using a massive laser to tear into the piles of clones that spilled forth from her mouths.

One Kudzu-clone shouted.  “Cover me!  I got this!”

Roughly a quarter of the remaining clones broke away from their individual engagements, including the Kudzu I was fighting.

Fuck me, they’re cooperating.

Our side did what they could to stop them, but these clones were still in the fight because they were hard to kill.  My bugs attacked the Kudzu, and I gave chase to stab one, then another in the back, before my hurt knee gave out and I fell to a kneeling position.  Bitch and her dogs threw themselves into the ranks of the clones, tearing and rending, but it wasn’t enough.

Chevalier wasn’t far from me.  His cannonblade detonated, painfully loud in my ear, and four or five clones died with each shot.  Legend’s lasers tore into their ranks, and Eidolon threw down a slowing field to stall for time.

It was too little, too late.  They were making a beeline for Echidna, for Legend, Alexandria, Eidolon and Myrddin.

The Kudzu who’d shouted got close to Echidna, and a tongue circled her throat.  She was reeled in, and stopped herself at Echidna’s mouth, bracing herself in position.

Chevalier took aim and shot.  A miss.

Miss Militia’s rifle shot was on target, punching through the front of the Kudzu’s throat.

But the Kudzu’s death wasn’t instantaneous, and she had time for one last gesture.  Echidna vibrated, and then split off into four copies.

Four copies of Noelle.

My breath caught in my throat in the moment I processed the reality of what had just happened.  I managed to huff out a small shuddering breath.

They were withering and dying like Kudzu’s obsolete clones were, slowly but surely, right off the bat, but there were still four of them.

This was Echidna’s greatest weapon.  Ballistic had talked about her sense for tactics, but that was Noelle, really.  This was Echidna, and she was too gone for much of that.

No, the variations that naturally occurred in powers laid out a range of capes.  Virtually every power was offensive, just about every power had some use.  That was the norm, the standard.

But exceptions existed.  They were the Bonesaws, the Crawlers, the Echidnas, the Legends, Alexandrias, Eidolons and Dragons of the world.  By sheer fortune, they’d stumbled onto powers that set them head and shoulders above everyone else.  Having the right variant, being in the right situation to use that power.

If one in a hundred capes met that kind of standard where they were just that much more versatile or powerful, then Echidna could make a hundred capes, and chances were good that one of those would be exceptional in that way.

An Echidna-double turned and charged straight for us, stampeding through the clones to get to the troops on the ground.  Forcefields went up, Chevalier unloaded cannon blasts to stall her advance, and we all did our best to retreat.  I took to the air with Atlas.

The other two Echidnas, including the original, started fighting the big name heroes.  Tongues lashed out, and Legend severed them with cutting lasers.  The clones vomited geysers, spitting out no clones with the fluid, and Alexandria bore the brunt of the blow.

Eidolon was creating blue sparks that floated around him, but when Alexandria began to lose in her struggles to keep the vomit from reaching her comrades, he switched to using a slowing field instead.  He cast it down around two of the Echidnas.  The one he didn’t catch vomited, and he threw up a small forcefield to ward off the attack.

A narrow tongue was hidden in the midst of the vomit, a concealed attack.  Prehensile, it snaked out and caught him by one arm.

Eidolon was pulled in, and clipped the forcefield he’d raised with enough force that he was momentarily stunned.  The forcefield and slowing fields disappeared, and Alexandria was caught off guard by the sudden increase in her opponent’s speed.  

Caught against its back, she started to tear herself free with the help of one of Legend’s cutting lasers.  A spray of vomit forced Legend to abandon his efforts to save his teammates and retreat for his own safety.  He cleaned up the clones that the original Echidna was still producing.

A second later, one of the Echidna-doubles leaped on top of the other, sandwiching Alexandria between her and the other Echidna-double.

The real Echidna closed her mouths, and the vomiting stopped.  She stepped on the tongue that had a hold on Eidolon, then stepped on the caught Eidolon.

Legend did what he could, but even with the three Echidna-doubles looking more like the walking dead than anything else, he couldn’t do enough lasting damage to any of the brutes.  Miss Militia and Chevalier contributed some ranged fire, as did the heroes on my side of the battlefield, but the Echidna-doubles used their bodies to block the worst of the incoming fire.

Echidna bit deep into her double, tore at flesh until she found the morsel caught between their bodies.  Alexandria.  I could see the muscles in her throat working as she swallowed.

Each of her doubles made a final reckless charge before falling to pieces.

A hush of sorts descended on everyone present.

Two of our best, caught.

Echidna reared back a little, then spat, as though she were coughing out a morsel of food she’d been choking on.

An Alexandria.  Had to be, with that long black hair.  The woman stood, and I could see how she was missing an eye.  She brushed her hair to one side, so it covered half her face, and I could hear a murmur.

“Director Costa-Brown,” someone in the crowd murmured.

The Head of the PRT and Alexandria were one and the same.

I couldn’t bring myself to care.  I wasn’t sure if it was just that I was in shock, that I was more focused on the fight that was looking a hell of a lot less winnable, or a simple lack of surprise that the PRT would have been so corrupt and imbalanced as to have a major balancing factor missing from their ranks.

Miss Militia took aim with her rifle and shot.  The bullet sparked as it clipped Alexandria’s forehead.

Alexandria shook her head.

Another cough, another spit.

Eidolon.  I couldn’t tell if he was unattractive by nature or if it was just mild deformations.  He looked so small, so below average.

He found his feet.  Miss Militia shot him twice, and he fell back against Echidna’s leg.

He flickered, and the wound was smaller, another flicker, and the wound almost disappeared.  Each flicker was stronger than the last in how it reversed the damage.  He staggered to his feet again.

“Go!” Chevalier screamed, breaking the frozen silence.  “Before he’s at full strength!”

We charged.  There was no other choice.  If we didn’t win noweveryone lost.

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262 thoughts on “Scourge 19.5

  1. Sorry for any typos. Came right down to the wire with this one, and proofreading time was limited.

    Please vote on topwebfiction if you enjoyed.

    Also, a side note- if you’ve exhausted the other superhero web serials, I included a new link on the front page, for the relatively new ‘Morpheus reports’. Reviews are mixed (one 4.5 star rating, one 2.5 or something like that). I haven’t read it myself, but one editor on Webfictionguide compared it to Worm.

    • “Even if there was a storm drain or some other underground space to enter, she was doubtlessly sustaining too much damage to take the time to get that far, and she wasn’t big enough to fit, unless the area was cavernous.”

      I think she’s too big, as opposed to not big enough. 😉

  2. “Heroes with ranged powers were free to unload on Echidna while the other two fought, and heroes like Tecton could offer further support, destroying the ground beneath her feet. She was big enough now that he couldn’t…” Cuts out here

    • I’d point out how hard it would be for anything to get worse, but that would probably cause Behemoth to show up. And possibly get eaten by Echidna.

      …Can Endbringers get eaten by her? They’re not really living, as shown by the last interlude, but they’re sure good at faking it.

  3. Hey, Tattletale? We just crossed the Godzilla threshold. If you were planning to rip the universe a new hole, now’s a good time…?

      • The difference between Godzilla and Echidna is Godzilla is capable of dying. He died in the original movie, in fact.

        Somebody get me 1950s Japan in here to fight Echidna!

        • Japan lost to Leviathan though so I doubt they’d help much here. Just goes to show that we need a new name for the Godzilla Threshold in the Wormverse. Maybe the Leviathan Threshold? It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    • Labyrinth isn’t here yet and she is still in a rage state, so they can’t negotiate. If they don’t take those things down in the next few minutes, and keep up the pressure, thats it. Their only option afterward is to try and hold out until Lisa can put her plan into action or Scion shows up. Wheres a Scion signal when you need one?

      • I hope by “negotiate” you mean negotiating Noelle’s ass into an alternate universe sun.

        C’mon heroes. Time to man up and handle this Reed Richards style.

          • Well I don’t know what Taylor’s status is at the end of the story, if she survives at all, I wouldn’t mind her turning into the Wormverse’s equivalent of Dr. Doom.

            • Yeah, sometimes Doctor Doom is a moron. I blame the writers.

              “Hm…what if we had Purple Man try to command Doom to turn himself in?”
              “Nope, he has that mask, remember?”
              “Shit. Well, um…oh, I give up, just make Doom do nsomething stupid again.”
              “Maybe he takes off the mask?”
              “Brilliant! We’ve figured it out and it’s not even lunchtime.”

          • You should see the crap Purple Man did to Cage’s now-wife.

            Though I just remembered that we can go over Doom’s head here. The most powerful hero in all of Marvel, capable of defeating Thanos, Dr. Doom, Wolverine, and Deadpool easily.

            Prepare yourself for oblivion, Noelle!

          • Unfortunately, I don’t like the taste of nuts. Not even deez. I just bring it up because that’s what her lips are supposed to taste like. Probably have to ask Wolverine if you want more intimate details about her.

            I’ve been likened to Deadpool in power armor before though. He is very much not a fan of Squirrel Girl. I don’t care for the implication that I’m something recycled in new packaging. Still, it’s easy to forget my intelligence when the stuff people remember most are the toilet humor and dead baby jokes.

            Take that as an advantage or disadvantage how you wish, but I’ve yet to see anything truly proof against a Fool. The Strength of an Emperor, the Temperance of a Hierophant, the Justice of a Hanged Man, or even the Judgement of the World are of little consequence. I will trick your Magician, debauch your High Priestess, annoy a Hermit, belittle your Empress, separate Lovers, and flee whatever Tower you seek to imprison me in, probably crashing my Chariot in the process due to a messed up Wheel of Fortune. The Devil take me, but can he keep me?

            O how the Stars, the Moon, the Sun itself would gleam down on me forever if not for the one left I fear.

  4. Right about the time I saw the word three copies, I thought oh crap. When Alexandria and Eidolon got caught, I thought OH SHIT. What an Epic and Desperate fight. Reminds me of when she fought Mannequin. But I hope Taylor or the heroes manages to come up with something, otherwise I’d say call the president, and nuke the site. Before a freaking army of Alexnadrias and Eidolons show up.

  5. Well then.

    Tangentially, I’ve been wondering if Myrddin, the magic using hero of Chicago, is a deliberate reference to Harry Dresden or a coincidence.
    Worm certainly seems to have a similar level of relentless threat escalation as the Dresden files.

  6. It’s been a pretty bad day for Cauldron. The organization is now known to be more than rumor. The Triumvirate has been outed. Alexandria has been outed as PRT director.
    If they survive, a whole bunch of non-Cauldron heroes may very well be rethinking their allegiances.

    • That is not all. Remember how the Skitter clone snitched on her murdering Coil to Weld?

      Well the Alexandria and Eidolon clones now need to buy time to give the Eidolon clone the chance to charge up to full power. revelaing secrets in the worst possible light might be just what they need to buy that time…

      There is also the chance that one or more of their powerhouses won’t come out of this alive, which will be bad for everyone if Eidolon’s assesment of his own importance in any fight against an Endbringer is true.

      No matter how shady the dealings of Cauldron are the worlds needs Alexandria and Eidolon for the next Endbriger attack. They might win the battle against Noelle but end up losing the war against the endbringers if they aren’T careful.

  7. Well this is all horrible.

    Looks like people will finally have to start seriously considering Tattletale’s dimensional rift suggestion. Otherwise, everyone’s boned.

    Also, the clones of Alexandria and Eidolon will likely spill the beans about Cauldron, much like Skitter’s clones did about Coil. Coupled with the now obvious corruption/lack of oversight due to Alexandria’s identity, I wonder how they’ll talk themselves out of this one. Sadly, I’m sure they will.

    When Skitter sensed Bitch hurting rather than killing clones, Skitter’s lines seemed like she was just rationalizing Bitch’s work. Seems like she’s sliding further and further down dark paths. I hope that was what Wildbow was going for, cause that’s my impression.

    Thoughts, questions, and speculation:
    We never got to clearly see the offensive side of Scapegoat’s power. I’m assuming he transfers injuries, too, right?
    Skitter is reaching out so much with her swarm, now, that she might really disconnect with her body someday and really be The Worm That Walks.

    • Actually, everybody’s killing clones. It’s a dead clone fest. See this clone? *holds up a clone* This clone is dead. *bangs its head against a wall* It has ceased to be.

    • I don’t think Skitter was rationalizing for Bitch, just observing how she used her dogs. Killing clones, these specific clones at least, is morally neutral. Despite possessing reasoning skills the clones are unreasonable muderbots and have to be treated as such.

      Bitch has to be careful though because dogs aren’t so good at distinguishing “unreasoning murderbots” from “humans that annoy master”. Granted Rachel is doing it because she cares about the dogs more than she cares about the humans, but that makes it no less of a noble impulse on her part.

      As for Scapegoats power, I’m pretty sure we did see it used offensively in this chapter. When he gestures Taylor to the come to the ground, it seems like that was because he blasted one of the clones with her symptoms.

  8. I’m guessing that Apocrypha is Alexandria, though it is interesting just how many of the heros present could fit that- Legend, Chronicler…

    Good to see Taylor coming into her own here. Though she probably has little future as a big name villain left if the heroes actually learn from observing her tactics.

    “building. Her body” Extra spaces.
    “She was big enough now that he couldn’t” Sentence cuts off there.
    “chest to help pull my knife” extra space.
    “Her face was softer than my mask.” Maybe mention her putting her mask back on? The last it had been mentioned was her wrapping it up.

  9. So… anyone have any fancy nicknames for Alexandria or Eidolon clones? I personally am thinking something along the lines of Roma or Athens for Alexandria and either Gary Stu or Shade for Eidolon.
    What kind of hero names themselves after an invasive species? I would have named myself something more generic and less of a biological catastrophe like vine or root. I understand that Ivy is taken, but really, there is no way that Cucumber, Grape, Virginia and Wisteria are all taken if one is going for a vine theme.

  10. Let’s get ready to RUUUUUUMBBBBBLLLEE!

    Cool to get a chapter that’s pure action after the character/exposition heaviness of the last few chapters. I don’t really get that feeling of dread from a combat cliffhanger than I do with the intrigue/character oriented cliffhangers. I’m just pumped to see what happens next.

    Hey! You know would be really keen? If we had some of those neato mecha-dragons that Piggot squandered on the non-city destroying giant monster supervillains. Hindsight’s a bitch ain’t it?

    Also, Chevalier is badass. Plain and simple. Make’s me wish we got more vivid appearence descriptions from time to time.

  11. Potential redundancy with murmur.

    “‘so it covered half her face, and I could hear a murmur.

    “Director Costa-Brown,” someone in the crowd murmured.”‘

    • Was Brockton Bay built on an Indian Burial Ground? Because damn, this city is cursed. ABB bombings, Leviathan, The 9, Coil, Echidna. I would honestly not be surprised if the next Endbringer attacked the city again. It might actually have been a good idea to condemn it.

      • It’s more that a lot of things led to the others coming to pass. The two primary threads are:
        ABB-> Leviathan attacks city in conflict -> The 9 hit vulnerable target

        And Travelers are invited to Brockton Bay by Coil -> Coil provokes/takes advantage of disasters to seize city -> Coil dies -> Noelle goes free.

        There’s crossing-over of threads (Leviathan hitting city in part because of potential of contact with Noelle, Coil causing conflict with ABB that led to disaster)

        • Leviathan was aware of Noelle? I guess that goes toward answering the question of how closely the Endbringers are working together.

          Also, I don’t remember reading Coil as being overtly behind the ABB gang war. I’ll have to go over past chapters and try to see what the fucker manipulated to make that happen.

          • I think Tattletale confirmed a few chapters back that she isn’t an Endbringer and they are something else. I am surprised that the ABB did help to attract Leviathan. I honestly thought it only attacked for the chance to replicate itself with Noelle. Coil really only instigated things by simply winning a lot of fights. He attacked and kept realities where he did better and probably forced the ABB in a corner. Bakuda did her psycho bitch thing and escalated things.

          • I meant more that Simurgh must have told Leviathan about the Manchurian agents she got locked and loaded. Bird-bitch must’ve known that Noelle was going to turn into Echidna and sent over Leviathan to bust her out.

            That tells us why the big guy went after the shelters, he wasn’t just trying to kill people, he was going after underground structures looking for Echidna.

          • Oh, I see what you mean. But after Cauldron and Noelle, the biggest mysteries left are Scion and the Endbringers. Something is controlling/guiding them, otherwise they would all attack at the same time and not bother waiting several months between attacks.

            • As others have pointed out, it’s entirely possible that Endbringer attacks don’t coincide because they naturally move in cycles with little-to-no overlap. Blizzards, floods and sandstorms never hit the same place all at once, but that’s not evidence of planning – it just means the required conditions are different for each.

            • “This’ll be awesome. Don’t mess it up.” Alternatively, nothing. Either way, with the implicit threat of being un-cool (and possibly beaten up by Sophia) in the background.

              And yeah, just wait. Precog messages are scary…

    • This is going to hell pretty quickly, more than before. Unless Scion-Ex machina appears, i cant really see this ending well for anybody (but that would be too easy).
      So, using an old Rpg trope: ” Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies, the end”, ladys and gentlemen, what we have here is the old TPK, enjoy.

  12. Don’t worry, folks, it can still get worse!

    Assuming Scion is on his way, he could also get nommed.

    I find it interesting that Leviathan knew enough about what Noelle could do that he was heading for her when he hit the city. I suppose that could be considered worst-case scenario number two.

    Number three is that Noelle escapes, the Nine meet up with her, and they start feeding her cloned capes.

    On the other hand, I’m wondering if Skitter is finally going to have (or finish having, as the case may be) her second trigger event. Especially if my current theory is right, in that her inability to coordinate and control anything that isn’t an arthropod is the Manton Effect variant that applies to her powers.

    • In fairness, she seems to be pretty good at coordinating and controlling things that aren’t arthropods. Just, not telepathically! ^_^

      Wow. Great chapter.

      • Which is one of those things that makes me suspicious about what her powers really are, actually. Her current ability to read people and situations just does not seem to mesh very well with the way she was so far down the social totem pole in school that she was waist-deep in bedrock; if nothing else, she would have been able to figure out how to simply remove herself from the stupid primate dominance games altogether.

        The other thing is that, unless I’m badly misinterpreting trigger effects and their relationship to powers, gaining the power to Make Friends and Influence People seems a lot more likely as a response to Taylor’s pre-powers situation than the power to Be Aquaman, Except With Bugs. Her current main power, therefore, could be considered training wheels for her real power. When they finally come off…

        • It would be interesting for Skitter being the big gun for once and gaining a bigger reputation. But a big reputation can be both good and bad. On the one hand it will make ruling the city as the queen of the underworld much easier, on the other it will cause heroes to actively plan/prepare to take her out, and there will always be a cape looking to build a reputation for themselves by taking on the baddest thing on the block.

    • Alexandria’s strength and Legend’s lasers keep them from being caught (usually). Scion has both of those, probably more powerful, and more. If he gets nommed, I’ll eat my hat.

      …Once I buy one.

  13. Barring Scion dropping out of the sky to save the day, this really isn’t looking good. The Eidolon clones are manageable, if they’re sniped as soon as they’re created, but if she creates them en masse…? Yeah, this is going to go sour really quickly, especially as the clones are capable of cooperation. One of his weaknesses is that he can’t hold onto many powers at a time, limiting his potential for combination attacks… If two or three of him get powers that synergize well up to full strength, it’s game over.

    Also, Wildbow, while this chapter was enjoyable, it’s very… dry. X happened, followed immediately by Y, then Z ensued shortly afterwards. There’s little description; obviously, that’s partially because of the absolutely huge number of characters participating in this fight, but there might be room for a little more flavor.

    • I found that when Skitter was above the crowd on Atlas her narration was very third-person objective omniscient — and what you’re terming “dry” — and it made sense to me because she’s observing a ton of situations and trying to analyze them.

      It got more emotional / tense / personal when she came down on the ground to help Weld and then sh*t hit the fan — and that made sense, because she was back in action. I like that this story can shift gears and does so in explicable, reasonable ways — whether it’s conversations, planning, vicious one on one action, or battlefield general analysis (and I mean in general and from the perspective of a General).

      • Agreed. One of the things people say about writing is that description should also act as characterization, and damned if it doesn’t here.

        …wow, I just realized: Skitter has basically taken over Mission Control for the fight now that the armbands have been trashed. I wonder when people will start picking up on that and trying to pass information around via insect. Skitter’s basically the best battlefield communications they have right now.

  14. It’s not summer yet, so we automatically know they survive. Somehow. It just might be hard for us to imagine. The problem for Wildbow is that one of these days Skitter is going to be hogtied and strapped to a nuclear bomb on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean with no help coming whatsoever and then WB will have to find some way to write her out of that situation.

    We already know she’ll survive. It’s just a matter of how much worse things will go until someone reverse the polarity of the phase drive and ricochets photon torpedoes off the aft shields.

    • At this point, Skitter can’t go to the bathroom without the toilet turning out to be an eldritch abomination with the power of exploding with the power of a million suns.

      If she went to go rob a convenience store, the owner would turn out to be Scion.

      If she so much as Jaywalked, the Triumvirate would throw out a kill order on her ass.

      I bed Miss Militia would categorize her as an S class threat for picking her nose the wrong way. I mean, we all know nose picking technique is important, but let’s not get too anal about that sort of thing. Unless Miss Militia is into that sort of thing. The anal, not the nose picking.

      • And if anyone can make it “someone reverses” in the first comment, lowercase j for jaywalked in the second, and instead of power of exploding with the power of a million suns, lets go with “ability to explode with the power of a million suns.”

      • Yeah, much as the high-octane action sequences are entertaining, it’d be nice to simply give Brockton Bay (and the readers’ nerves) a bit of respite. Chances to rebuild, let characters interact and go about their business, and so on…

        Whether or not the story Wildbow has planned out will allow for that is another matter entirely, but Cauldron (assuming they make it out of this with the Triumvirate intact) will be in damage control mode for a while.

        • Yeah, I figure I’ll chill out for a bit after this.

          Call it poor planning, whatever. I had a bunch of story threads in mind as I entered into writing the story, and this was one of them. Only thing was, the situation and how it actually played out in tempo & consistent tension wasn’t so carefully arranged.

          But introduction of new main character & changes to setting should allow for a few calmer moments in the next few arcs.

          I’m kidding. (Maybe).

          • I hope you allow for more dialogue and interaction between the heroes and villains after this, especially in a less “holy shit we’re all gonna die” mood.

            Anyways, I found out about your story fairly recently, and ended up reading all of it over the course of a few days. I put IRL stuff on hold for it. Took a huge chunk of time, and I loved every minute of it.

            Out of curiosity, do you have an ending planned? I’m wondering how much longer this story will go on. Or do you plan to just keep writing until you get bored?

            Anyways, thanks for writing. I’ll be making a donation soon (though not under the email I used here).

          • For what it’s worth, I liked the overall effect.. it’s like the Undersiders went to S-rank boot camp, learned how to function against that level of opposition before some of ’em even learned to drive. Those who toughed it out have shared hardships. There’s also a lot of canvas to work with as a result of the evacuations, the big villain groups having been driven out, and the eradication of the Merchants by the NIne.

            That last one in particular is big.. they killed a whole lot of people like Yan and Sugita, and it’d be interesting to see how Brockton Bay functions in the long run as a result. At the very least, it gives people like Sierra breathing room while they try to pick up the pieces.

            A never-ending stream of world-class threats would surely get old, but a few strung together hasn’t seemed unreasonable to me.

          • I’m with Alathon for the most part, but it still feels like some more padding would be good.

            I suppose the ages and time frame limit that but it still feels a little breathless.

            As a serial it’s one thing but I kinda wonder if reading all this as large novel chunks would feel too high adrenaline. There aren’t very many places to take a breath for more then a chapter or so, it kind of gives the feeling of constant reaching the climax of an arc after a while. I suppose that’s perhaps in the nature of a serial’s writing style…

            Just a thought.

        • And so Skitter defeats the evil exploding toilet monster and takes a dump. Uh oh, turns out she somehow dumped a load that will unleash radioactive superflu into the water supply. And when she gets that defeated, she has cancer from the radiation. It makes her ugly. Real ugly. Bruce Campbell grabs an axe ugly. So she tries to go to the hospital. Her phone call to them somehow causes a faulty wire to interact with several tanks of oxygen and the hospital explodes. Heroes respond and recognize her, so they call in the big guns to attack her for destroying the hospital.

          Etc, etc…

        • Well I am interested in future story lines in how the Undersiders will exactly rule the city. Taylor will have to balance things, try to help people/build up her organization, and defend against intruding capes as the Queen of the Underworld. Then there is her relationship with Grue, Tattletale’s past, the fact that Heartbreaker has a tag, her reunion with her bullies, Cauldron’s inevitable attack, a talk with Dragon, a new Endbringer attack, and the PRT dealing with the fallout of Coil, Cauldron, and Noelle. I would LOVE seeing Skitter either gain or becoming an Arch Enemy to someone. A hero is defined by their villains after all. I thought Triumph would consider her an arch enemy for what she did to him and his family but he seems to not hold her any ill will, Shadowstalker can’t get near the city without ending up Regent’s puppet, and Armsmaster will be out fighting the 9 for the foreseeable future. I’m kind of hoping Mannequin pulls a comicbook resurrection and becomes her true nemesis.

          • I still want to deal with the fucking bitch who bullied her. And I don’t throw that word around lightly. Just when referring to Bitch, or female dogs, or bitches.

          • That would make for an interesting storyline if one of the Bullies found out her true identity and she had to kidnap/imprison her to keep her secret from falling out. It would force her into a dark mirror of Coil and be similar to Breaking Bad. She can’t let her go, but she can’t bring herself to kill her and cross that line.

          • Hmm, she’d probably make with the threats, at this point in time. She’s quite good at exploiting her reputation to manipulate others. Honestly, though, how much of a blow would exposing her name/face be? She isn’t Taylor anymore, not really. It’d just limit her options for the future, as she’s currently Skitter full-time.

          • Potential Storyline right there. Will she ever decide to go back to school? Will she keep her Taylor persona only for her dad?

          • She’s developing an Armsmaster-esque mindset of being willing to make sacrifices to achieve the greatest good, for the greatest number. Her Taylor persona is ineffectual, an effective non-entity in the greater scheme of things. She’ll probably keep on going as Skitter because of the responsibility she feels towards the people of her territory/the city at large.

          • If Skitter ever gets her Secret ID outed, I really want it to be shown during an Interlude from Emma’s perspective, the look on her face would be priceless.

          • I think I know why Triumph doesn’t hold a grudge against Skitter.

            1. He’s a goddamn badass.
            2. He repudiated his past as a vindictive little brat.
            3. Skitter did her level best to stop Trickster when he was going over the line.
            4. When Skitter used the epi-pen, she apologized to him personally and admitted culpability for his pain.

            Whatever Weld and Clockblocker thought, I think Triumph knew that Skitter IDed him during the fight, not before (“Ursa or Prism”, gentlebeings?). As he saw it, she basically played by the rules (point 3), and if he almost died, well, that was something he accepted a long time ago as a consequence of volunteering (points 1 and 2). Which means that the way she acknowledged it (point 4) indicates that Skitter is absolutely the kind of villain that heroes would prefer to have controlling territory: one with a moral compass that will stop them from committing atrocities.

          • Oh, we learned he was a decent man and hero in his interlude. But all the reasons you list are reasons why he wouldn’t work as an arch enemy. I really think she needs a true arch nemesis. Joker had the Batman, Superman has Lex Luthor, Spiderman arguably has the green goblin. Someone who she personally has a hatred for or who personally hates her. Mannequin would have worked, he seemed to really want to kill her. The ideal would probably be a hero that is far from heroic/has a good reputation, is a good counter to her bugs, and who has a personal hate on for Skitter. Shadowstalker might have another trigger event or find a way to negate Regent’s control, Trickster will do anything possible to take revenge on whoever takes down Noelle, and Jack said he wouldn’t be surprised if Mannequin somehow survived. On a lighter note, I do find it kind of funny that the Undersiders are probably considered the arch enemies of the Wards now.

  15. Quick survey: what music do you guys associate with Worm? I just reread the chapter playing Fired Earth Music- Man of Steel Remix (Epic Dramatic Dubstep).

    • If it was just this particular chapter, I’m sure I could find some nice epic music for it. However, the song I most associate with Worm is a short little ditty by Dream Theatre called “Misunderstood”

    • I was listening to the Rush album Snakes and Arrows alot when I first started reading, so there’s a bit of a connection for me. Come back to me after checking it out and try to tell me it’s not a bit fitting.

      I read this chapter listening to Rules of Nature from the Metal Gear Rising soundtrack. Makes me wish someone would cut Noelle in half.

    • 2 steps from hell, i think i listened to the Invincible album as I read the Leviathan Arc, and it was badass

      • That group was my idea for the epic music. Can find them on youtube, along with similar bands.

        Action-wise, put on Coheed & Cambria’s “Welcome Home” when she starts to land. For Weld alone, “The Metal” by Tenacious D.

    • This is currently what I listen to while reading Worm. Mostly because there is a fight scene going on right now. I don’t read super fast either so a playlist like this is ideal.

      • And as far as I’m concerned the song at 43:07 (Gloves Off by Sencit Music) is the current Worm “season” theme.

    • I’ve thought about making a kind of “textual trailer” for Worm set to music, but I don’t really have the time. I think each “act” of Worm has a different tone, but for whatever reason (maybe because it’s a good mix of light and dark), I keep I’ve I’ve thought about making a kind of “textual trailer” for Worm set to music, but I don’t really have the time. I think each “act” of Worm has a different tone, but for whatever reason (maybe because it’s a good mix of light and dark), I keep coming back to “Mechanics,” by Juan Deuce.

      If I knew how to play piano or compose music, I think it’d be really cool for Tattletale–and the other characters, I suppose–to have her own piano theme.

      It would operate in sync with her dot-connecting. One power-induced revelation would be a high, lingering note. Gradually, the high, trilling notes would cluster together, mimicking a child’s laughter. From there, as Tattletale used her power more, the score would grow more dense, incorporating complex intervals and lowering in pitch. Perhaps a piano version of “Take a Bow” (by Muse, not Rihanna: could be interpolated in some way, albeit with variations. Same general tone, though.

      The cool thing about this, is that it can be cut off or grow discordant if Tattletale is interrupted while going “full steam ahead,” e.g. by Jack Slash or Miss Militia. It would hopefully convey a sense of abandon and loss of control at points, to symbolize that Tattletale is herself drawn along by her compulsion to “tell.”

      I haven’t thought much about other characters’ themes (namely because I don’t have much musical ability), but Grue’s theme could be some kind of noise jam composed for the cello, with some words with the bass turned up in the background (i.e. so it almost sounds like they’re underwater).

      On a lighter note, here’s Regent walking through Brockton Bay, using his powers to cause slapstick comedy:

        • Let me know if you do and want a sounding board. I have a bunch of ideas re: score, but no ability to see them through.

          • Or I could just post them here, duh.

            Tattletale’s opening piano could be an up-tempo piano version of the violins in Mozart’s Lacrimosa (at the very beginning, when the singers start)…I think the word I’m thinking of is arpeggios, but less peppy and more sinister and Tattletale-like.

            Then add in the hip-hop style sampling of something like Muse, or even just a straight up El-P instrumental. I think El-P and Worm have similar aesthetics, sometimes. Case in point:

            Weld, kidnapped by Cauldron (my theory: he’s an alternate Brian who didn’t trigger and made some bad choices before getting duped), from his junkyard womb untimely ripped…

          • Well, immediately after my last post I sat and began writing, an hour or so later I was very unhappy with the progress, it being completely different to what I’d intended. Here’s what I had in mind;

            Piano up high in A Major, ditty sort of job, slow and descending with increasing pace before an arpeggio alternating between A, f# and E (in that order) in a gradually ascending pattern with increasing swell of strings, abrupt halt in A with a minor seventh – perhaps in horns – for a disruption

            Pacy re-opening in strings for a bar or two when BAM, piano and drums (electronic, I dunno..?) Fulfilling cadences, leading to a short double time part, and end.

            I think the part I went wrong with was that I did it all in Major. Didn’t sound sinister enough. I’ll try again, and what I’ve got now can be reserved for some time I need a happy sounding sad song.

            Actually for Grue I have a half finished tune that (with some alterations) could fit the part nicely, more on that later.

            My really big question is, hat kind of theme does Skitter get? Her character shows so many facets that, to show them all in one go would be a Noelle shaped mess, no single song can be THAT diverse.

          • I can’t really visualize music from notes, as I have no training, but I was thinking she’d have an “intro villain theme,” for when she’s just starting out. That one can be almost peppy, considering she’s also riding the high of having actual friends.

            Then, there can be a dark reprise for things like the S9 and so on. Skitter and Taylor can also have separate themes, which allows for more variety.

          • Seeing as the character ‘Skitter’ develops gradually over the course of the story, in contrast to most other characters who don’t change as much, I think Skitters’ theme would best be a cycle of several songs, that are closely tied to the themes of the story arcs. It is, after all, Skitter’s story.

      • I’ll try to keep from dropping too much on y’all at once.

        Leviathan’s Theme (Beware, may cause rampant headbanging):

        And Simurgh’s Song:

        Although if that’s too horrible and you want something more on the beautiful side, there’s this Song of Simurgh (no really, check this one out for one moment of perfect beauty):

        • The endbringers, seeing what they are, should in my opinion get a horror soundtrack.

          Simurgh: She needs some way to represent her singing, perhaps with, at first, a flute, which then shifts to a soprano or choir of sopranos. The witch’s theme from Left 4 Dead might be good inspiration ( It should also slowly climax over the course of the song, to represent the steadily worsening mindrape. Also, in the later parts it should sometimes very suddenly be interrupted by sad and quiet parts, perhaps on piano, only to just as suddenly snap back, to represent the flashbacks.

          Leviathan: Heavy metal. Add to that thunder from drums, and some way to represent the sea and the rainstorm, perhaps similar to the above idea for Grue’s theme, to give the whole thing a cold, wet, and drowning athmosphere.

          Behemoth: Well, not much I can really say there, seeing as we haven’t seen much of him. Also heavy metal, but more on the death metal side to represent the overwhelming force he brings to bear?

          • The song I posted as Leviathan’s Theme should fit your requirements for it aside from the thunder. The problem with too much emphasis on the storm is that you run the risk going into sky god territory. You need more Poseidon and less Zeus.

    • Generally speaking, Arkasia and dubstep of their style. Though I was listening to the Daft Punk tron soundtrack at the start of 8.1 so I totally remember the lead-up to the Leviathan fight set to Daft Punk – C.L.U.

  16. I’m I the only person who seems to have noticed that Skitter didn’t put her mask back on after the Shatterbird attack? There was no mention of her doing so unless that’s a mistake by Wildbow, than Skitter’s been running around for about half a chapter completely unmasked around the hero’s.

    • Considering that she has now seen Alexandria’s face I guess the quid-pro-quo deal regarding secret identities that was offered when she unmasked shadow stalker could apply here.

      Also keep in mind that except for the heroes who have photographic memory no one will be able to actually do anything with having seen her face. Taylor is not some world famous millionaire that everyone would recognize if unmaked. Shadow Stalker is probably the only cape who would be able to capitalize on having seen her face.

      Alternatives such as taking a picture or an electronic record to later sent it through a facial recognition database are out thanks to Shatterbird.

      Short of someone liek alexadria deciding to browse through yearbooks from local highschools later Taylor’s secret should be reasonably safe.

    • I noticed.. I figure it just doesn’t rate, everything’s gone to hell. Afterwards though? There’s gonna be some serious trust issues to resolve… the several dozen busted secret identities will be one of ’em.

          • “This is the regurgitated slurry of biological material and cloned heroes that will pierce the wall between dimensions!”

        • Point taken.

          Would that mean sixty spirit Kamina’s would pop out, each to bitchslap one evil Simon clone and tell them to be good?

          Hm. Yeah,

          Though the longer I think about it…. they wouldn’t kill Echidna. They would teach Noelle the power of believing in herself and then make her fight on their side.

          • Spoiler warning for this comment

            I recall the creators stating that Tengen Toppan Gurren Lagann itself was Kamina come back to life for a time. As well as confirmation that had Yoko not arrived he would have won that fight at the start of the series with just his sword. So certainly he could handle a little beating sense into his little bro.

            Exactly, she too is a Spiral Being! Heck, the power of evolution is gonna be super charged in that body of hers. A little concussive motivational intervention and she’ll be kicking arse for the good…well goodish. I mean good intentions at least. XD

          • Realised right after posting that that post CONTAINED A MAJOR SPOILER!

            Wildbow if you could delete it or stick a spoiler warning at the top or something.

            I am really sorry if I spoiled it for someone, wasn’t thinking.

  17. “We have one tinker,” Miss Militia said. ”Kid Win. Armsmaster is no longer on the premises. We have no duplicators. The risk is one we can control, either through the organization of our forces or turning any combatants with problematic interactions away. Epidemic protocols are unnecessary.”

    Well that turned out well.

    • They sent duplicators to fight THE duplicator, that’s Government efficiency & military intelligence for you.

      • The sheer idiocy of the PRT continues to surprise me. They should have gathered/used only Tinker based heroes, those that are immune to her absorbing, and masters that can have their minions fight her from a safe distance. She beat Eidolon, so I would have insured that certain heroes would have been nowhere near the city.

        • Well, if they had gone with the all-Tinker force it would’ve been decisively over at Shatterbird’s call instead of “just” kicked into oh-crap mode. Just sayin’.

        • Assuming Kudzu was among the first heroes absorbed, she wasn’t anywhere near the place they thought Echidna was going to surface and the fact that she was taken is really bad luck. Presumably, the plan was for her to stay away from the direct fighting and deal with clones/rescue/whatever. In hindsight (and you know what they say about hindsight), not the most safe plan ever, but I certainly wouldn’t call it “idiocy”. Especially considering that whoever made the call was under the mistaken impression that the situation was less severe that it actually was, thanks to meddling.

          I realize that hating on the PRT is the trendy thing here in the comments, but geez, people, give them a chance.

          • The only ones who should have been fighting her are Dragon, Armsmaster, and their creations. That they are off preoccupied with the Nine, might be the way Jack brings disaster on the world through leaving Brockton Bay.

  18. Welll…..they’re fucked. If I was them I’d teleport out, nuke the area several times and say it was for the greater good.

    Great chapter, though. My God My heart is pounding just from reading it.

    • I’m not sure a nuke would kill Echidna, she’s fast enough to get away from ground zero and her durability combined with a healing factor might allow her to survive. I know it wouldn’t kill Alexandria or Eidolon, and Eidolon’s clone in particular could probably stop it from detonating in the first place.

  19. My bugs identified the grue on the far side, and with a moment to get arranged, they connected the ends of cords.

    “grue” should be capitalized?

  20. tracing it’s path –> tracing its path
    One of the team leaders [point] them in the right direction, Echnidna’s Grue hit them again. –> right direction but Echnidna’s Grue hit them again.
    against it’s back –> against its back

    It’s good to see Skitter back in action again 🙂

    This chapter brought home to me a point about the morality of Skitter’s point of view. I’ve given her a free pass on a bunch of her actions, but you could say the same thing about Noelle and her situation. She must feel that the entire world is against her, basically. I wonder if Noelle is actually in more control than the characters assume.

  21. Phew. Just finished going through the archives in the past few days. Didn’t read all the comments, so I might be doubling up, but I could see SKITTER being the end of the world. She’s already mused on the outnumbering of bugs to people, and everyone she holds dear dying, captured and going through a second trigger… I could see her going nutbars and making all the bugs in the world start hunting humans. God, I hope she never sees Lennigan vs the ants.

    • Noelle put Skitter, Eidolon and Grue all in the same category as people whose smell is as different from normal capes as the smell of a normal cape is different from normal people. That heavily implies they all had two trigger events already.

        • My thought as well. At first I thought that she was smelling trigger versus bottle, but Eidolon is a bottle. UNLESS… we assume that a bottle hero CANT have a trigger event? What if he HAS, but his cauldron powers are in the way? What if his powers are fading because of that, and the booster shots are interfering. What if his actual triggered power will activate once his bottle powers fade entirely?

          • Legend mentions in this interlude that each of them had been in situations where they should have had trigger events, but didn’t. He might be lying, but still… It seems more probable that the parallels Eidolon draws power from are slowly approaching heat death.

          • Or perhaps, with the steadily increasing numbers of parahumans, he is actually losing connections to the worlds which he draws power from. His powers so far as I have seen can be defined as, anything that we haven’t seen other parahumans do. Therefore I believe that he is draining power from unused or unclaimed universes. It would certainly explain dark matter in our universe.

            If this is true, and he wants his powers back, he will have to go on a rampage. I personally would rather have Eidolon responsible for the end of the world than Theo. So I am placing my bets on a combination of endbringer assaults, Eidolon or some combination of the two.

          • I like MrVoid’s thoughts. Also isn’t the scent just her smelling particularly strong passengers. The ones that handle a large amount of stuff (Grue and Eidolin’s ability to copy powers, the latter’s natural knowledge of and skill with them, Taylor’s database of info, multitasking and her bugs surprising independent reasoning) seem to be more potent.

    • Welcome to the comments section, land of the doomed. You might need some brain bleach if you stay for any length of fime. Or a few callouses on your sense of humor. Beware, for below the story itself lies madness.

      Nah, I don’t think Skitter is our Worldender. Just a girl who likes to cover herself with bugs. Get so used to it, she’ll do it in her sleep. Not going to be fun for Grue to wake up to. New meaning to the word cockroach.

  22. “I had cords pre-prepared.”

    That doesn’t quite sit right. ‘Prepared’ already implies ‘having been done.’ The extra pre- is just, what’s the word? Redundant?


    “Oh look Honey, Echidna’s been duplicated and has just captured Alexandria and Eidolon!” Dearest managed to retain her voice’s charming lilt even as she raised her volume to be heard over the hum of the vacuum cleaner.

    “Of course Dearest,” Honey grunted around his finely crafted pipe, “This is Worm. Nothing ever gets better.” He leaned forward in his sensible but comfortable chair and took his pipe in hand. “It’s the fault of those Communists in the White House!” he said, punctuating his exclamation with jabs of the pipe toward the television.

    Winny didn’t know what Honey and Dearest were talking about, but she stepped outside to grab the morning paper in her teeth all the same.

  23. This is a bit out of left field but I didn’t know where to put it. In the comments during the Leviathan fight, you stated that Leviathan wasn’t considered a Brute 10, despite his incredible toughness. With the imprisonment of Lung, he was classified as capable of going up to Brute 9 on the scale. Does this mean that Lung has the potential in a drawn out fight to be as strong and as durable as Leviathan?

      • Dear. Lord. At this point, I shudder to think what a Brute 10 is. Sc(z)ion is only one I can think of. Perhaps Noelle here but she doesn’t seem outright tougher than Leviathan.

          • Ah yes, forgot about him. Know I am picturing a 3 story dragon-Lung arm-wrestling Leviathan with steam pouring out everywhere.

          • Leviathan would still hand him his ass, though. He can’t even begin to match up to him in the speed department; this also assumes Lung would even survive long enough to reach full power.

          • Well we’ve seen that Lung’s pyrokinesis and regeneration increase with his power, so who is to say that a fully powered Lung couldn’t make fire so hot that it would remove Leviathan’s water shadow. This is assuming Lung gets fully powered otherwise there is no point in discussing this. Also, lung can fly.

        • The sticking point with the Endbringers is that they bend physics to the breaking point to achieve invulnerability. Lung can be gibbed if you hit him harm enough and fast enough. Leviathan would probably find a way to come back even if you hit him with an asteroid or something. The Endbringers have survived nukes after all.

          • Thing is, at that point, I think Lung could do the same. Wildbow just said “In terms of sheer physical power and durability, yes.” Now what it would -take- to reach that point is up to the author himself.

  24. Another random comment to Mr. Wildbow. I’m trying to give a good general scale of what a ranked 1 power would be for my game. Would someone with just Brute 1 be on par or above an Olympic Weightlifter or Pro-boxer in terms or strength?

    • Ranked 1 powers mentioned thus far include Shadow Stalker and Brandish (Mover 1 and Shifter 1, respectively).

      For Shadow Stalker, that’s the ability to float or jump a good distance (12-15 feet from a standing position). Somewhat more versatile than an olympic athlete might be able to maintain.

      For Brandish, it’s the ability to become an immobile, nigh-invulnerable sphere.

      • Ah, okay. So Ranked 1 powers could be considered either marginally super human, like the ability to jump10 – 15 feet while standing still, or are not very versatile in their use, like only being able to change into a immoble, nigh-invulnerable sphere.

        • Keep in mind that the classifications originally were used to determine threat level. It’s very possible to have a dramatic power with a very low power level, or a very simple/minor power that would be biased toward a higher classification.

          • I probably should not have used examples that include physical capabilities since those are easily seen/quantified I.E Brute 1 can lift this much, Brute 2 can lift this ect ect.

            This is an excerpt from what I’ve wrote up so far on Rankings:

            “Rankings are not hard and fast rules, but a scale on which to judge the power, versatility, and utility of a power. Someone whose power involves controlling paper who only uses it to make knife sharp paper throwing-knives would get a ranking of 1 or 2 of Blaster or Striker. If that same person got creative and realized they could make a paper dragon the size and strength of a real one would have their ranking bumped up to 5 or 6 and have Master included in the ranking.”

          • This is a very good way to put it J. Especially since the lowest rank cape, in terms of cumulative rank, is Skidmark with shaker 2. His creativity was probably burned off by all of hte meth that he used. His abilities however, making what were essentially repulsor shields as far as I can tell, could have been used for so much more.

  25. Mr. Wildbow, you expressed interest in see what I came up for my game using your world. I have the GM side of it done on Microsoft Word and I’d like to send it to you. Do you have an email address I can send it to?

  26. I pose a question to those of you who have sailed the distant seas of the internet. Could Noelle/Echidna be stopped by the SCP foundation?

  27. Ok, I think that Murphy’s laws are natural laws in the world of worm.
    A corolary of the first law of Murphy is that:
    Nothing is so bad that it can’t get worse.

  28. I’m not really worried about what’s going to happen next. I get the sense, after everything that she’s been thought, that things are going to be mostly okay, at least for her.

    I mean, she’s had her back broken AND been blinded AND been sucked up by Echidna AND had her ability to remember people removed AND been trapped in a burning house surrounded by men armed with machine guns AND faced down Leviathan armed with a (high-tech) spear AND took out a Dragon armor single handed.

    Yes, this situation is bad. But what I’m left wondering isn’t ‘is she going to make it?’, it’s ‘HOW will she make it?’

    Taylor’s ability to not just improvise, but coordinate VERY complicated multi-step plans almost unconsciously, her situational awareness, and her ability to read people and situations all make her not just a survivor, but a constantly surprising one.

    She is a moderately athletic high school girl who can ‘control bugs’.

    But really, that’s shorthand for what she can really do.

    She has a swarm sense. This allows her to both sense the position of all the bugs in her range, but also allows her at least some access to the specific senses of each of those bugs. She can more or less unconsciously map these disparate senses into a near complete omnidirectional awareness of her surroundings — giving her a functional replacement for vision to a point that people in close contact with her didn’t notice she was blind.

    She has a limited range, but as near as we can tell, she has no upper limit on how many bugs she can interface inside that range.

    She can use her awareness and control of her bugs as a way of distracting herself from the sensations of her body — sufficient to continue functioning with pain and impairment such that someone else with identical injuries required two people to assist them in moving around poorly.

    And when she was dosed with a drug that paralyzes you and disrupts the bit of your brain that controls powers, her powers still worked.

    It’s almost like her body is, on some level, already just one more but that’s getting controlled…

    All of which is a long-winded way of saying I’m really looking forward to what crazy combination of plans and events Wildbow will use to get everyone out of the current mess, and what the new status quo will be afterwards…

    • …You just helped me put my finger on why Noelle thought Skitter’s smell was so much stronger than most – I think what Noelle detects is the strength of the *passenger!*

      People like the Chicago Wards, their passengers don’t need to do much at all because they’re dealing with single, simple powers — enhanced coordination for Grace, whatever targeting assistance Raymancer gets, creating the geology maps for Tecton — but Grue’s passenger needs to be able to help him with *any* power … as does Eidolon’s. They need a breadth and flexibility that puts them in an entirely different category of complexity.

      And Skitter’s passenger controls *all the insects*. All of them. Simultaneously and independently. Just off the top of my head, I’d call that *more* work than Grue or Eidolon.

      • That’s always been my assumption, too — what Taylor is doing is an enormous amount of work *behind the scenes*. I mean, just the making a swarm of bugs buzz in a way that emulates human speech is really complicated. She does it almost unthinkingly.

        The person whose powers are most similar to Skitter’s is Regent, I think. Except where she’s interfacing with and overriding thousands of simple nervous systems, Regent is interfacing with a small number of really complicated ones. It takes him a long time — hours — to really get a hold of someone, and it’s an active learning process for him.

        Skitter, on the other hand, instinctively just interfaces with her bugs as an extension of her own body, with no more thought than moving her arm.

        Sometimes it seems like it’s even *less* effort than moving her own arm….

      • Admittedly, yes, but remember that she was named by the heroes.


        “Maggot? Worm?” Browbeat offered, “Stick her with a crappy name?”

        “We don’t want to do that,” Clockblocker sighed, “Maybe if we’d won, we could get away with it, but it doesn’t look so good if the press reports that we got our asses kicked by someone called maggot.”


        Cockroach has a lot of the same problems as Maggot when you look at it from their perspective.

        • I believe that’s one of the preferred names for that ship yes lol.

          While I fully support that ship, my heart always goes for Lisa/Taylor.

  29. Well, one thing for certain, even if they get out of it relatively ok, the political sh*tstorm will be enormous. PRT has just been outed for illegal experimentation on people (and there will be people coming out of woodwork claiming, truthfully, to have been abducted by Cauldron), withholding strategically vital information relevant to the survival of mankind (super formula’s existence), aiding and abeiting a fugitive on an international kill-list (Assault may well come forward with “they wanted to let Shatterbird and Siberian to go free”), abuse of power (Alexandria being the director of PRT in her civilian persona).

    If Cauldron is American-based, then America will face total embargo / huge political crisis on an international stage.

    Heroes are going to start asking questions and, after this, are very unlikely to believe a word of what Alexandria or Eidolion or Legend says, especially if clones start talking right now.

    We may well be seeing the end of PRT.

    And then Simurgh cracks birdcage open releasing all the inmates.

    • Actually, Legend pinned the whole ‘human experimentation’ on Manton. Whether or not that’ll stick, especially if Tattletale lives through this, is another matter entirely.

      • He did, yes, but I don’t think many people will buy it. not after Alexandria being revealed as PRT director (which is a huge breach of protocol and an indication of an inherent corruption). Not after people will come forward (and they will) telling about how no, it wasn’t just one Manton. Not after the experiments will continue after Manton is dead. Not after the Cauldron is forced to go public.

        PRT has problems right now. Tons of them. I don’t see Alexandria not stepping down in disgrace. Possibly going to Birdcage. Or there’ll be riots / schism within the organization.

        • You forget that this is Worm, with a powerful enought PR Machine, an army of lawers, money to buy the politicians, judges, engage in embracery, jury tampering, witness intimidation/tampering not to mention with Contessa and other Cauldron pawns running around to silence detractors, not only will they definately will get away with it, they’ll come out as living Saints in the process.

          • Wouldn’t be surprised if they had Vought-America’s reach from The Boys, complete with a man of their own in the White House.

            Yeah, Wildbow, I would have read a good chunk of The Boys.

          • Given the circumstances, the only people they can snow are the norms, and they don’t really matter anymore. The capes know what’s up now, like.. fifty or more of them. Word gets around, there’s no way to shut it down sort of liquidating most of the Protectorate. Which Cauldron might consider, but I suspect they’d rather just do some sort of managed release of info, and take their ire out on Legend and the Undersiders.

        • The big problem is that the explanation that it was Manton doesn’t withstand even moderate scrutiny. Siberian was active simultaneously with Case 53s appearing very far away.

          • Except he didn’t say Manton was responsible for the case 53s. He said Manton stole some serum samples and those samples somehow got into the hands of the unknown person responsible for the case 53s. An unknown person who might be dead, might have run out of samples, or whatever, but, conveniently, will never be found. That’s actually a pretty good cover story because it’s more or less impossible to disprove (especially with Manton dead).

  30. I have no idea if anyone has speculated this before me (there are a LOT of comments throughout this thing) and it’s probably been disproved already but-
    What would happen if Noelle swallowed Newter? I mean, I suppose she knows what he is, and would smartly not eat him, unless she thinks she’s more invincible than she is. On the other hand, if she could withstand his potency, it would be great arsenal to give herself some of his effects. Or a devastating set of clones.
    Still, I think it’d be kind of great if he was like a suicide pill that she could take.

    • It’d probably affect her, at least temporarily. Noelle doesn’t seem to have much actual ability to resist damage; she’s just big, and heals really fast. Due to the aforementioned size, it might not work well, and she’d probably shake of the symptoms and spit him out quickly. It’s worth a shot if Skitter can convince Newter to be devoured by Noelle.

  31. Man.. after all this fighting, it’s gonna be really obvious to the Wards and Protectorate just how much Skitter has been softballing them. No burrowing into their eyes or through their ear drums, no digging for arteries or veins, no getting in through wounds to consume them from the inside out. Sticking to non-lethal poisons on her bugs when she could easily spread lethal poisons or diseases.

    As well, they’re gonna have an idea of just how much Skitter brings to the table in in terms of battlefield awareness and control.

    • A few chapters back Miss Militia when says to Skitter “you guys don’t pull any punches”, I kind of figured Skitter would correct her, but she never did.

      • While it would be nice to get credit for having held back, in that particular situation she’d probably lose more than she gained by making clear just exactly how dangerous she really is.

      • Unless my memory fails me, Miss Militia once said something to the effect of “you don’t kill people, but apart from that you don’t have a lot of limits”. So, yeah, Skitter pulls her punch in the sense that she doesn’t use lethal force, but that’s true for MOST capes, to the point that it’s pretty much what’s expected unless specifically noted otherwise. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth noting that she’s pretty ruthless, and it doesn’t mean Miss Militia doesn’t realize Skitter could be worse than she is.

        • My point being, you don’t get credit when you follow the rules, you just get treated worse if you don’t. People who aren’t psychopathic monsters don’t need to be patted on the back because they DON’T kill people horribly, even if it would be easier for them to do so. Not killing is just kinda the norm. And people who ARE psychopathic monster, well… they’re dealt with accordingly.

    • Bugs are really good vectors for disease too. Bonesaw’s plague was obvious (though she could almost certainly do “de sottle”) but Skitter could have half the city infected with HIV in a week without anyone knowing for a LONG time.

      …That may just be terrifying enough to classify her as a potential S-Class threat.

  32. 205 comments? Wow! I don’t recall seeing any of the earlier chapters with 200+ comments on them. I’m hoping this means that readership has picked up quite a bit and the word’s starting to get out about how awesome this series is!

    • Only chapter that beats this one for most commented is 15.9.

      Word’s definitely getting out some. Just this past Tuesday, record views for a single day (5,795, up from past record of 4,711) and for most unique views in one day (1081, up from 980 the week before).

      Past few weeks have seen huge increases to numbers. In terms of average daily views, it was…
      Jan28th to Feb3 – 2569
      Feb4 to Feb10 – 2632 (up 2.45%)
      Feb11 to Feb17 – 2933 (up 11.41%)
      Feb18 to Feb24 – 3003 (up 2.4%)
      Feb25 to Mar3rd – 3887 (up 29.45%)

      And numbers so far this week are fantastic.
      Mon (3597), Tues (5795), Wed (3856), Thurs (3842) and currently sitting at 3527 for today with one hour to go. (Average for these past 5 days is ~4273, 9.7% increase over the past week).

      I said it before, but the reviews that went up on Webfictionguide and Packbat’s work especially were a huge part of that. Packbat’s been working his ass off on Worm’s TV tropes pages (connecting no less than 60 relevant tropes pages to Worm’s page, and adding each respective trope to Worm’s page), and it’s made a difference.

      You know those things that make your day? (I hesitate to call them little things because they’re not little to me)

      For me, reader support, reviews and having fans put in that effort to do stuff like fanart, work on the wiki or TV tropes pages are totally that. They plaster a goofy smile on my face or have me pumping my fist in the air in front of the computer. And thanks to donators, reviewers and awesome people like Packbat, pretty much every day for the past couple weeks has been made for me like that.

      Thank you guys. (and I hope the numbers are interesting to see).

      • And I think in time this will translate over to your other story now running: PACT, an occult(?) tale.

  33. The fliers should REALLY have been more sensible than that!
    Eidolon should have made sure he was at several times the tongues range!
    Plot Induced Stupidity?

  34. Again, where was this Japanese girl against the Endbringer? She could simply be held by a flier out of reach and keep spamming the clone button. Sure her clones aren’t doing that much damage, but equip her with some tinker armour and weapons and presumably they’d get cloned too (otherwise she’d be naked and no secret identity for her).

    Also what kind of pathetic tactician is in charge of this? They KNEW Shatterbird was down there, they knew that! Why didn’t they prepare? Also since the mass teleporter died how are they bringing in heroes so fast anyway? Can they teleport across the country? Why not just teleport evil pysco monster into the ocean then? Hell why not do that with the Endbringers? Are they immune to teleportation? Then teleport the area around them which happens to have them inside? What if you tried to teleport the planet would everything move bar the Endbringers?

    I see Daniel has mentioned it, but what the hell is with them repeatedly putting long range fighters in close range?

    • To be fair, that last one is at least partly down to Noelle being *insanely* fast for her size. Yeah, most of the fliers’d probably be okay, but it’d be nigh-impossible for the ground-based ranged combatants to keep their distance.

      Eidolon seemed to need to remain fairly close to use his more effective powers on Noelle.

      Totally agree re: Shatterbird though – she should definitely have been taken into consideration…

  35. Hey also if Noell is cloned so are the dozens of heroes inside her. That’s a bit of a positive right? When you defeat one you’ll get a ton more heroes to help

  36. Wish you could edit comments, but does everytime the passenger create’s new those brain things with powers attached are other passengers having to connect because if so shouldn’t it be like constant trigger events and if not why not since they all seem to get new powers

  37. Reading on iPod at the moment, still catching up.
    But for some reason scattered throughout this chapter there are bits that are weirdly larger in font size. Can’t confirm whether its like this on PC though

  38. New reader here, in the middle of an archive binge after seeing Less Wrong’s recommendation last week. I’ve gotta say, this is one of the best stories I’ve read in a while. All the pieces fit together really well, it’s generally easy to follow (with exceptions where necessary, of course) the sheer originality and detail of the characters and setting are *staggering*, and there’s just enough nerdy physics stuff to keep my whole brain engaged, even while blatantly avoiding actually talking about the physics to keep focus on the story elements and stay very true to one of my favorite genres. That said:

    “The lasers might have been affected by the time distortion, but that didn’t matter when the lasers were moving at the speed of light in the first place.”

    When you bring up the question of whether a time distortion field affects the apparent or perceived speed of light, I can’t help but get distracted thinking about it.

    Now, I don’t expect any real answers to these questions. If they were important, they’d be answered in the story, and if they were capable of being answered fully and satisfactorily, it just wouldn’t be a superhero story. Anyways, these are some of the things that have been bugging me in the Wormverse.

    1. Clockblocker’s power. If he actually stops something in Time, how can we still see it, appearing to be frozen in space? Shouldn’t it be removed completely from existence for the duration of the effect, unable to interact with, say, photons? I first thought it might just be moving very very slowly, but I don’t think that would make it completely ‘inviolable’ with regards to Siberian, and would raise some other questions about how forces and energies would or wouldn’t affect the target in a general sense.

    2. Vista’s power. Explicitly stated to be spatial warping, presumably to distinguish it from telekinesis powers; the way it’s described sounds less like she’s warping Space itself and more like she’s transforming matter: stretching, skewing, rotating, and translating the affected mass relative to the affected Space. Basically a very specific kind of telekinesis applied on a large scale, but still telekinesis as far as I can tell. Again, this goes back to photons: if Space alone was changed as described, nothing would *look* different, because light would follow the curves.

    3. Grue’s power. Grue’s darkness is alternately described to disable the senses of those within, and to physically block data (sound, *radiation* and, again, photons) from entering and/or escaping. However, he can still see and hear through it normally, as if it weren’t there, with no indication that he senses *through* it like Skitter does with her bugs. When he tried to describe knowing where the darkness is, but *not* being affected by it, he noted he doesn’t really know how others experience it, and I wondered if he could watch a tape of himself or something, to see what it looks like. What would the tape look like? The way they treated the darkness in the bank robbery, I got the sense that it was blocking light and sound in the area, even to surveillance, but I don’t recall it being stated outright. Would he see through it on the tape, even if it was recorded opaque to others? Is it more like Imp’s power, strictly affecting observation on both sides? If so, how did it contain radiation a couple chapters ago? Then *again*, that assumption was based solely on Tattletale’s educated guess, and the aftermath hasn’t been fully explored yet!

    In conclusion, I have a strong yet literarily insignificant feeling that light in general simply works differently on Earth Bet (one of the simplest excuses for otherwise impossible superpowers in the genre, all things considered) and I’ll just have to keep reading in any case.

    P.S. If I were to suggest any one change to Worm, it is sometimes hard to keep track of the current time and location just from the narrative. Most of the time it’s probably just me not paying attention, like when I was caught off guard by the mention that Atlas hadn’t eaten in 12 hours, reminding me just how little time had passed between arcs, but it actually gets kind of annoying during the Interludes where I always feel lost for the first few paragraphs. This seems like the kind of work that would benefit from a time/date/location header, as one might find in the corner of the screen after a scene transition in a spy movie. Or something.

    • Ya know,your concerns would be really valid if they were phrased before we understood how the Passengers operate.Not much things you cannot do with quantum tricks,including these abilities…Grue could be seeing an alternate reality,Clockblocker’s victims could simply be transfered forward in time while,meanwhile,being replaced by immovable solid images that are quantum fixed based on the passenger’s perception,altering the point they are fixed too if they would drift,and Vista could plain old channel landscapes from universes where space works differently.

    • These are just examples,with the resources the passengers have,assuming of course TT is correct,one could,with some creativity,find 100 different wauys to pull of these thing…if the powers are intelligent they might actualy work based on perception of the user’s brain.They have the resources to strongarm physics to fit the perception after all.

  39. Our tight battle lines were now spread out over city blocks, and people were having a surprising amount of trouble getting their bearings.

    Snrk. Memo to Skitter: most people only have one set of eyes and ears…

  40. The lasers might have been affected by the time distortion, but that didn’t matter when the lasers were moving at the speed of light in the first place.

    Relativity is a bitch like that. >:D

  41. > “Armband!” I interrupted Chevalier.
    > “What?”
    > “Warn them. She’s here!”

    > Seeing how the heroes were struggling to get organized, suffering for the lack of armbands to help them navigate and get essential information

    Then later:

    > “Shatterbird!”
    > Some capes reacted fast enough. Helmets with visors were torn free, intact armbands and cell phones discarded.

    I think something got reordered here…Skitter notices the lack of armbands immediately after we see Gully and Chevalier using their armbands, before anyone (except the Undersiders themselves) loses their armbands.

  42. So this name, Echidna, the characters took to it pretty quick. And it’s /okay/, but all I can think is “Oh she’s got four heads, like an echidna’s penis” and that’s not a super great association.

    If you ever decide to build a time machine, you should consider the name Asmodeus, the three-headed King of Demons.

    • Echidna was the mother of monsters in ancient Greek myth. I suspect that outside of Australia most people are familiar with that definition before they’re familiar with the animal. If they’re familiar with the word at all.

  43. Reading through this for the second time and something occured to me. I realize now why Grue just happened to need to get taken out of the picture.
    1) Small area filled with capes.
    2) Enemy that spawns autonomous superpowered copies.
    3)Area power that steals a portion of everyone within’s parahuman abilities.
    Grue the Endbringer!
    Even if he only stole a tenth of each person’s power, he’d likely end up a 10+ on every scale! Not to mention what might happen from leeching off a touch of noelle’s power.

  44. Don’t know if I’m going insane, but there’s a weirdly sized and spaced paragraph near the beginning.

    Amazing though
    Love your writing!

  45. I can’t help but wonder where Chevalier got the idea for his cannonblade. It’s not like JRPGs exist in this universe…also it seems like a pretty impractical weapon, especially without tinker abilities supporting it.
    I wonder if he knows Earth Bet’s Monty Oum.

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