Imago 21.4

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Had Tagg done me a favor, by getting me to think along these lines?  For what felt like too long, I’d been overly focused on the now.  Getting through the next few days, surviving, staying sane, parceling out the time I had to relax and striving to find moments where I could feel safe.  That state of mind hadn’t started when I put on my costume.

Odd, to be taking someone’s words to heart, when I had so very little respect for them.

I was in plainclothes, and they were clothes I wouldn’t normally have worn, which was sort of the point.  The idea was to be hidden in plain sight, as I walked in the midst of the crowds downtown.  I’d removed my glasses and regretfully donned contact lenses, slathered on sunscreen and donned a white summer dress and sandals, along with a big, wide-brimmed sun hat that was incongruous enough to mark me as a possible tourist.  Shopping bags and loosely braided hair helped complete the image.

Maybe the sun hat was conspicuous.  The clouds were heavy overhead, and the wind was moving them across the sky at a decent pace.  Hopefully it would brighten up.

If anything would give me away, I suspected it’d be my eyes.  I eyed everyone that crossed paths with me, looking at them without looking directly at them, watching for that glance and that restrained reaction that might suggest I’d been spotted.

Were that to happen, I’d change direction, take a different route to my destination.  If that wasn’t enough to shake the attention, well… I did have my bugs, flowing through my hair, beneath my hat and between the dress and my bare skin.  I had weapons, my costume and more bugs in the shopping bags, beneath the shoeboxes and spare clothes I’d put over top of them.

I stopped at an intersection, and was briefly relieved of the need to watch the people around me, free to look at their movements as a whole.  The crowd was moving like a river, separating into streams of people who moved through the streets that had open shops and restaurants, avoiding the ones where construction was prevalent.

I detoured into one of those construction-heavy side streets, fully aware that I was abandoning the ‘hide in plain sight’ ploy.  It didn’t matter.  Nobody could really see my face, and I had my bugs.

There were a few crude catcalls from the construction workers at the sites to either side of me.  Not because I was attractive in any way, I suspected, but because I was over fourteen, under forty, I weighed less than two hundred pounds and I was wearing a skirt.

This area was the site of the fight against Echidna.  Walls bore the marks of laser blasts and gunfire, blood still marked the streets here and there, and there were divots and holes in the road, surrounded by rings of bright spray paint so pedestrians wouldn’t step into one and break an ankle.  Holes created by blasts of energy, small explosions, large explosions and the heavy footfalls of a gargantuan monster with clawed toes.

Bugs notified me about a change in the wind before the wind even reached me.  I already had my hand on my hat to keep it in place as hat, hair and skirt were stirred by the gust.  The weight of the swarm bugs that clung to the inside of the dress helped to keep it in place.

I found I was tense, as the wind dissipated, the muscles of my legs tight, ready to shift me to either side, to push me into the air with a leap or throw me to the ground.

But it was only a strong breeze.  Rosary was gone, I hoped, or she’d be gone soon.  We’d taken care of Eligos and Valefor yesterday.

It would be so easy to get paranoid over the slightest things, if I let myself.  Parahumans kind of opened a lot of doors on that front.  There was no way to be on guard against every eventuality.  Bystanders could have been manipulated by Valefor before we confronted him, cloth in store displays could be Parian’s work, the mannequins some trap laid by, well, Mannequin.  The ground, the wind, changes in temperature, shadows… anything could be a sign of incoming attack.

Not that I was in a position to complain, but… was it any surprise that capes tended to get a little unhinged as they grew in prominence?

I reached one construction site with plywood strapped to a chickenwire fence, protecting the interior, grafitti painting the plywood with a large face.

Eye on the door, I thought.  I let myself in.

Grue and Citrine were inside, both in costume.  Citrine in her yellow evening gown and mask, adorned with her namesake gemstones for both jewelry and embellishments, a file folder tucked under one arm.  Grue, for his part, was wreathed in darkness.  They couldn’t have been more different in appearance: sunshine and darkness.

But both, I knew, were professionals.  I suspected they were very similar people.

A part of me felt like I should be jealous that the pair were keeping each other company.  Except, rationally, I knew they weren’t.  Rationally, I knew there was no reason they’d be together, or even that they’d be attracted to one another.  Citrine was pretty, but… I couldn’t imagine she was Grue’s type.

Why did it bother me that I wasn’t jealous, then?

“Skitter?” Citrine asked.  She looked me over.

“Yes,” Grue said.  “Hi, Taylor.  You look nice.”

“Thank you,” I said, and despite my efforts, I smiled.  I’d sort of hoped to maintain the contrast between appearance and demeanor.  No major loss.  I looked at Citrine, “You wanted to meet?”

“I have a few points to go over, details my employer wanted to raise.”

“Nothing troublesome?”

“It depends on your response.  I don’t think it’s anything troublesome.  Keeping you abreast of his operations.”

“No complaint here,” Grue said.

“I expected Tattletale would be here.”

“If it’s alright,” Grue said, “We’ll record the conversation and pass it along to her.  She’s occupied with some other matters.”

“The difficulties of being a thinker,” Citrine mused.

More than you know, I thought.  Tattletale was occupied with little more than an intense migraine.  She’d pushed herself too far and was now paying for it.

I cleared my throat.  “Any objection to stepping upstairs?  It’s too nice a day to stay inside.”

She shook her head.

We ascended two staircases to the roof.  It was sunny, and the wind was strong enough that even the long, dense braid of hair at my back was stirred.  I put the shopping bags down at my feet.

The location had seemed incongruous, even inconvenient, given where Grue and I were headquartered.  I knew that Accord and his Ambassadors weren’t anywhere near here either.  Now that I saw our view, I had a sense of why Citrine had asked that we meet here, and the topic of the conversation.

Ahead of us, just a block away, the portal.  A white tower in progress, surrounded by three cranes.  A white tent was framed with a rigging of criss-crossing metal poles, and that rigging was being covered in turn by a solid white building, windowless.  We couldn’t make out the base of the building from our vantage point, but I could make out the ramps that led to the interior, like the on-ramps to a highway or the entrance to an aboveground parking garage.  They curved up around the building, a geometrical arrangement like the petals of a flower, and led into the tent at different heights.  There were signs of construction and recent demolition in neighboring lots.  The adjoining buildings would support the main structure: administration and defense.

It was so complete, considering that so much about the future of the portal was in question.  Nothing had been confirmed yet, as far as the ownership of the portal.  Accord’s design, Tattletale’s construction, the government’s rules on quarantine.  The government had sent people inside, and Tattletale had followed suit.  It was technically her property, they had no evidence it was anything but the curiosity of an invested businessperson, and they hadn’t complained.


It was a mingled blessing and curse.  The portal, the door, as some were calling it, was taking some of the spotlight from us Undersiders.  There was a great deal of national debate over whether the landowner or the government should get the rights to the property.  I almost wished people could ignore it.  Things threatened to get out of control if and when it was verified that this thing was usable.

“Accord is recruiting five new capes to his team,” Citrine said, interrupting my thoughts.

That gave me pause.  Not the topic I’d expected her to raise.  I turned on the tape recorder, held it up so she could see.  She nodded.

I repeated her statement for the tape, “Accord is recruiting five new capes.  Who?”

“We don’t know yet.”

“You’ll let us know who they are as soon as you find out?  Give us a sense of their personalities?”

Citrine lifted the file folder, opened it and handed me a set of pages, neatly stapled.

The entire thing was high-resolution, complete with a picture and lines of text in labeled boxes.  Much of it was neatly censored with black bars.  A young man, in his mid twenties, his hair immaculate, parted to one side, wearing a high quality business suit.  ‘Kurt’, last name censored.  Date of birth censored.  Age twenty-five.

The next page was more details.  Personality tests, psychiatric tests, GPA in middle school and high school, post-secondary education, work history.  ‘Kurt’ had ascended to the role of head chef at a record pace, returned to school to get a four year education in three years, then started working for Accord.

‘Pam’.  Contract lawyer for a major firm, made partner at age twenty-eight, stepped down to work for Accord.

‘Shaw’, ‘Laird’, and ‘Kyesha’ followed the same pattern.

“They are going through the vetting process as we speak.  Experienced members of Accord’s businesses, on board with his plans, and loyal,” Citrine said.

“I’m not sure I follow,” I said.  I handed the papers to Grue for him to look over.

“My apologies for being unclear,” Citrine said.

I waited a second for her to elaborate or clarify, but she decided not to.  She wanted us to draw our own conclusions?

“You don’t know who they are, but they work for you?” I asked.

“She means she doesn’t know who they’re going to be when they get powers,” Grue said.  “Don’t you?”

Citrine nodded once, the rest of the file folder held behind her back.

“Cauldron,” I said.  “Accord’s using Cauldron to empower his employees.”


“Why are you telling us this?” Grue asked.

“This is your territory and we are your guests.  It’s only natural to request permission to bring five new parahumans into the area.”

“Are you a Cauldron cape, Citrine?” I asked.


“So you know something about how they operate, then.”

She shook her head.  “Very little.  We get our powers with Accord serving as the middleman, and I’m not entirely sure how much he knows.  Either I would have to ask him for details, and I have no reason to, or you would have to ask.”

I frowned a little.

“Accord wanted me to inform you that the product has a slight chance of causing physical defects and mental instability.  A possibility of an incident.”

I thought of Echidna.  No shit.  More diplomatically, I said, “And you wanted to warn us, so we were forewarned and forearmed about possible issues.”

“We hope and expect to keep things wholly internal.  There are very few powers I cannot counter, and I will be there to act if something goes awry in any way.”

In any way?  Did that extend to physical deformities?  I couldn’t see Accord tolerating something like that.  I could have stipulated something, warned them to let the deformed ones go… except it would destabilize the alliance.

“They’ve been informed of the risks?” I asked.  “These… soon-to-be capes?”


“Why?” I asked.  “Why leave a successful, ordinary, happy life behind, and go to that risk?  Why work for Accord, of all people?”

“Power,” Citrine said.  She turned her back to the portal to meet my eyes, her dress flaring slightly with the rotation of her body.

“Power isn’t magical,” I said.  “It creates as many problems as it solves.”

“Power is less a thing unto itself than it is a journey.”

“To where?”

Her eyes were penetrating as she gazed at me.  “Not all journeys have destinations.  Power is the ability to effect change, and people who create change ride that tide, with far-reaching effects.  For some of us, that’s something we’re born into.  Our fathers or mothers instill us with a hunger for it from a very early point in time.  We’re raised on it, always striving to be the top, in academics, in sports, in our careers.  Then we either run into a dead-end, or we face diminishing returns.”

“Less and less results for the same amount of effort,” Grue said.

“Others of us are born with nothing.  It is hard to get something when you don’t have anything.  You can’t make money until you have money.  The same applies to contacts, to success, to status.  It’s a chasm, and where you start is often very close to where you finish.  The vast majority never even move from where they began.  Of the few that do make it, many are so exhausted by the time they meet some success that they stop there.  And others, a very small few, they make that drive for success, that need to climb becomes a part of themselves.  They keep climbing, and when someone like Accord recognizes them and offers them another road to climb, they accept without reservation.”

“Which are you?” Grue asked.  “Did you start with power, or did you fight for it?”

Citrine smiled a little, looking over her shoulder at the tower.  “I suspect Tattletale will tell you, if you’re curious enough to ask.”

“And your power?” I asked.

She arched one of her carefully shaped eyebrows.  “Tattletale didn’t share?”

“Tattletale had some ideas, but nothing definitive.”

“I wouldn’t normally share, but Accord told me I should disclose any information you request.  I attune areas to particular functions.”

“To what ends?” Grue asked.

“More gravity, less gravity, more intense temperature variation, less intense temperature variation.  Friction, light intensity, the progression of time… More possibilities than I can count, many so minor you wouldn’t notice.  But if someone powered is in the area, and I find the right attunement, as though I were searching a radio station, I can cut off their powers.  If I’m exact enough, which never takes more than twenty or thirty seconds to narrow down, I can use my power to cancel out the filters that keep someone’s powers in their control.  I can also remove the filters that keep their power from affecting them.”

“Turning their power against them,” I said.

“Yes,” Citrine said.

I could picture my bugs slipping from my control, gravitating towards me in response to my stress, biting and stinging, even devouring me, perpetuating the stress, pushing the cycle forward.

Or Grue… what would happen to him?  Rendered blind and deaf by his own power, dampening his own abilities until they sputtered out, or creating a feedback loop by draining his own abilities, until he was overwhelmed?

“And Othello?” I asked.

“He has a mirror self,” she said.  “Who walks in a world very similar to this one.  This self has a limited ability to affect our world, and can’t be affected by us.  Othello can push himself into that other world to bring his other self into ours, and vice versa.  One leaves, the other enters.  It looks very much like teleportation or invisibility.  It isn’t.”

“Accord buys good powers then,” I said.

“The best.  There would be no point if he didn’t.”

“And there’ll be five more?  Of your caliber?”

“Allowing for variations in results, yes.”

“What else do you know about Cauldron?”

“Very little.”

And Accord is sitting out this meeting because he thought Tattletale might be here, and he didn’t want her to dig anything up.

Which meant Accord would be avoiding us, avoiding Tattletale from here on out.  That made life easier.  It meant he wouldn’t be pestering us or trying to subvert us.  Not to our faces, anyways.

“Five new members is fine,” I said.  “Each of them should meet Tattletale on an individual basis.  She’ll vet them in ways Accord can’t.”

“Agreed,” Citrine said.

“The deal we struck with Accord stands.  He buys no territory, holds only what Tattletale gives him, and he doesn’t get to expand his territory to account for new members.”


“How long until they have powers?” I asked.

“Two days.  We’ll devote a week after that to training their abilities and ensuring they meet standards.  Accord likes to hand-craft masks for us, picking out appropriate colors and names.”

“Would he object to giving them the Teeth as a job?  It can be a collaborative effort between Ambassador and Undersider.”

“I’ll raise the idea with him.  I have little doubt he’ll agree.”

“Good,” I said.  I turned my attention to the tower.

Citrine looked as well.  “The door.”

“You’ve heard the world ends in two years,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“When Tattletale set up the portal, she made an escape route.  Not for us, but for the world.  As much as they’re able, they’re leaving room for mass-evacuation.  You can’t see it from here, but the bottom of the tower doesn’t have a road or a ramp leading into it.  If the city cooperates, they can route train tracks through there.  The trains wouldn’t even have to slow down as they passed through, if there was enough set up on the other side.”

“Many would live here for the possibility of easy escape alone,” Citrine said.

“There’s also the work,” Grue said.  “Making the space on the other side livable, research on the other world, investigating differences in plant and animal species.”

“When I had a discussion with Director Tagg,” I said, “He told me to consider where things would stand in a few years.  The doorway is going to be a big part of it.  I’d like to ensure that we still have a presence here, that there’s a measure of peace, both from heroes and villains, and that the portal remains an escape route.”

“Any particular thoughts on how things should be arranged?” Grue asked.

“Some, as far as our group is concerned.  But I’d have to talk to the others about it before I put any ideas out there.”

“Do the Ambassadors fit into that image of the future?” Citrine asked.

“It depends on Accord,” I said.  “You know him better than I do.  Is he stable?”

“No.  Not in the sense you mean.”

My heart sank.

“But you can trust him.”

“I suppose we’ll have to,” I said, not feeling much better.  “Do me a favor, sound him out on what limits he’d set in terms of bringing others on board.  Other teams, other groups.  Individuals.  We should set standards, hard rules for people in the city and people in our alliance.  I’m not going to mince words.  His response to this is a big factor in how all this plays out.”

“Including his presence in this hypothetical future you’re envisioning,” Citrine said.

I shrugged.  “You say we can trust him.  I’d like to believe you, and I will, until I have a reason not to.”

“That’s all we can ask for,” Citrine said.

“Is that it?  You wanted to meet to address the recruitment of your five members?”

“No.  Here.”

She handed me the folder, and my arm sagged with the weight of it.  I approached Grue and stood next to him as I paged through it.

It was a three-hundred page treatise, complete with binding at the spine and a gray cover printed with the simple words ‘Brockton Bay: Crime and Public Safety’.  I handed Grue the folder and the dossiers on the five recruits to the Ambassadors, keeping the tome.  I paged through it, holding it so Grue could read alongside me.

It was less an essay than a technical manual.  A step-by-step guide to bringing the city in order.  Size eight font, bolded and centered headings, annotations, continually referring to other sections.  It was readable, though, almost seductive in how it made it all sound so possible.  The language was simple, clear, and unambiguous, as though it were outlining little more than how to build a bookshelf, without more than the occasional diagram.  There were branching paths, too, clearly outlined, detailing the routes to be taken if something didn’t work out.  I could only assume that the bulk of the text was Accord’s accounting of all the various possibilities.

No murder, nothing totalitarian.  Not at a glance.  It was merely a very involved analysis on Brockton Bay, the various criminal elements, the various players and how things could be brought into alignment.

“I’ll read it,” I said, “And I’ll make sure Tattletale gives it a thorough looking-over.”

“Okay,” Citrine said.  “Don’t worry about giving him a response.  He already knows.  Nobody ever accepts the proposals.”

“We’ll give it a serious look,” I stressed.  “Who knows?  Tattletale might get a kick out of being able to debate the finer points of the plan with Accord.”

Citrine arched an eyebrow.

“I’ll tell her to play nice,” I said.

“Then I suppose those are the key points covered.  Thank you,” Citrine said.  “If there’s nothing else?”

“Nothing springs to mind,” I told her.

She offered me a curt nod, then headed for the stairwell.  Grue and I stayed put.

The pair of us stood on the rooftop, just out of sight of anyone on the ground.  The portal-tower loomed a short distance away, taller than the surrounding buildings, rippling slightly as the wind pulled at the upper areas where there were only the tent and metal framework.

“So much talk of the future,” Grue said, “And no guarantee there’ll be one.”

“There will,” I said.  “With everything else Dinah said, we know there’ll be some kind of future.  It might not be a pretty one, but people will survive.  We’ll slip away to other dimensions, the best of us will persist, and we’ll slowly make our way back to where we are now, but we’ll survive.  Or maybe, with all the powers out there, we’ll find a way around this, and it doesn’t come to pass.”

“And we establish some kind of stability in Brockton Bay?  Bring Accord’s plan to fruition?”

I didn’t have an answer to that.  I looked down at the book.

“You’re skeptical?”

“Skeptical,” I said.  “Ever notice how every power gets turned to violent ends?  Even the people with powers that could benefit humanity wind up losing it?  Accord, Sphere, there’s Parian on the smallest end of the scale…”

“And you think there’s some ugly twist to this.”

“Accord works out some scenario where it’s possible to establish peace in Brockton Bay by exerting pressure in the right areas, promoting the right people, and allocating resources in the right way, but it turns out like a wish from a malevolent genie.  It turns ugly, or there’s some loophole.  I think Tattletale should look at it.  That’s all.  We need to be very careful.”

“You’re obsessing over what Tagg said,” Grue said.

“I’m trying to see everything through the perspective of what they’ll be in a year or two from now, and maybe what they’ll become ten years from now, if we’re lucky enough to get that far.  What form will the team take?  How will the team run, and how will personalities change as time passes and we get more comfortable with where we stand?”

“There’s time to figure this out,” Grue said.

I frowned.  “Not as much as you might be thinking.  Not nearly enough time.  The Undersiders need to solidify a hold on the city, become a fixture.  It’s impossible to do that by scrambling here and there and struggling to defeat each enemy that crosses our paths.  We needed a reason for the crazier and more reckless enemies to think twice before interfering with us.”

“People like the Slaughterhouse Nine, the Teeth.”

“And the Merchants, Lung and Bakuda.  All of them are very different kinds of villain, with a different sort of momentum.  The Merchants weren’t ever going to maintain a consistent hold on a territory.  It was less a question of whether they’d hold an area for years and more a question of the damage they’d do in the meantime.”

“You may be underestimating what they could have become.”

“Maybe,” I admitted.  “I get that the Merchants had the benefit of being the right people in the right place at the right time, but they didn’t really have any sense of self-preservation.  There’s going to be others like them.  I’m not underestimating that.  There are teams who exist only because they earned attention through luck or circumstance, and those are the teams that have to throw themselves at the biggest targets available.  They have to prove their worth to the world at large, or they collapse in on themselves.  Brockton Bay and the Undersiders are going to remain a target for guys like that if we can’t create a big enough deterrent.”

Grue folded his arms.

“And here’s the thing, there are ones like the Slaughterhouse Nine, too.”

I could see him react.  His arms dropped to his side, darkness trailing after them.  He seemed to realize he’d reacted, that he had nothing to do with his hands, and shifted his weight with his feet instead, leaving them dangling.

“Sorry,” I said.

He shook his head.  After a second, he prompted me, “The Slaughterhouse Nine.”

“There’s the monsters who were drawn to the city because it was vulnerable, because others were already paying attention to it, or because it was different in a way that appealed to their warped sensibilities.  We have to account for all these different people who are going to want to come after us and our city, and each demands a different response.  Can the Undersiders be boring enough to not be a desirable target to take down, scary enough to drive away the troublemakers, and still have the cold efficiency needed to take out ones like the Nine?”

“It’s not impossible.  We’re on our way there.”

“Except there’s a whole other set of checks and balances in terms of the authorities.  Need to play along to a certain degree, cooperate, but also need to convey the right image.”

“A lot on your plate.  Are you going to be able to manage?”

I hesitated.


“When I phoned you,” I said, “I wanted to talk about some things.  Two things.”

“And you wanted to talk in person,” he said.

“In person,” I agreed.  “Um.  I guess I’m thinking about things in the same way Accord does.  Looking toward the future, accounting for the possibilities, simplifying.  If something happens to me-”

“Skitter,” Grue said.

“We know something goes down in two years.  You know we live a high-risk lifestyle.  We’re going to have enemies, I’ll be risking my life.  I’m-  I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there’s no guarantee I’ll always be here.  I need to know if you think you’d be up to taking over.  Becoming leader again.”

“I couldn’t do what you do,” he said.

“What’s the alternative?  Tattletale has her hands full with just the management side of things.  Imp?  Regent?  Rachel?  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  Do you really want the team to work for Accord?”

“I don’t see it happening.”

“No.  I’m just… let’s look at what happens in the future.  If you had to take over, could you?”

“No,” he admitted.

“Okay,” I said.

We stood there for a while.  I reached out and took his hand, my fingers knitting between his, the oily darkness slithering against my bare arm.  We stared up at the portal-tower, backed by an increasingly overcast sky.  So much depended on it, but we wouldn’t hear the verdict for a little while yet.

“I raised the idea of you maybe getting therapy,” I said.  “I could use it too, to be honest.”

“Yeah,” he said.

“Do you think, maybe, if you were in a better head space, you could handle the leadership thing better?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “Maybe.”

“Would you be willing to try?  I don’t want to guilt you into it, but it’d give me a lot of peace of mind, knowing that you’d be there to keep things going.”

“I’d be willing to try,” he murmured, his voice a hollow echo from within his darkness.   “But why are you being so fatalistic?”

“I don’t think I’m being fatalistic,” I said.  “But… but maybe I sort of lost one half of my life.  I lost Taylor, not so long ago.  So I’m thinking about what happens if the other half were to disappear, too, and that’s in conjunction with my focus on the future, on the team…”

I trailed off.  It sounded feeble, but he didn’t call me on it.

“Regent and Imp,” I said, stopping when he turned his head my way.

A heavyhanded way of changing the subject.

“What about them?”

“They’re together,” I said.  “I don’t know if it’s romantic, but… they’re together.”

“I’m aware,” he said.

“It’s a problem.”

“It is,” he agreed.  “But there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Rein them in?”  I suggested.

“How?  Aisha bucks at rules and restrictions.  She’d use her power and run before I could talk to her more seriously.  She was always one for flight more than fighting.  Fitting that she got that power.  Infuriating.”

“Then talk to Regent.”

“Not much better.  He’s never one to face confrontation, but he handles it differently.  He doesn’t run, he evades.  He’d say or do whatever it took to stop me lecturing him, stop me from threatening him, and he’d go right back to what he was doing, in a different way, a different angle, so I’m less likely to catch on.  And if I angered him, or upset him, he’d make me answer for it somehow.”

“I don’t think I’ve really seen him angry or upset.”

“You don’t,” Grue said.  “Because he doesn’t show it.  I don’t think he even fully realizes it, that he feels that way.  But his jokes get a bit more barbed, he pushes back a little harder when pushed.  He makes dealing with him annoying or toxic in a thousand small ways, until you can’t continue to press him.  Then he uses that, goes right back to doing what he wanted to do.  It’s not worth the trouble.  They’re friends.  I don’t like it, but I can live with it.”

“He controlled her.”

Grue let go of my hand, stepped away so he was facing me.  “What?”

“He controlled her.  She let him, because she thought it would be interesting.  It made a difference in us winning against Valefor, yesterday, but… I thought you should know.”

Grue didn’t respond.  He folded his arms, so I at least knew he hadn’t gone catatonic.

“Maybe they’re not romantic now,” I said, “But who knows where they’ll be a few years from now?  Their trust is born of mutually assured destruction, because neither can absolutely control the other, but it’s still trust.  It could go places.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Grue said, and there was a hint of a growl in his echoing voice.

There was a distant rumble of thunder.  Surprising, given the amount of blue to the very north and south.  A summer storm?

Rain started to patter down around us.

In wordless agreement, we ventured to the staircase and into the building, to take shelter from the weather.

I reached up to my face to take my glasses off, ready to wipe them free of moisture, before realizing that I wasn’t wearing them.  I let my hand drop.

Grue was looking at me, his expression hidden by his mask.  I felt momentarily embarrassed, then let the feeling drop away.

I reached up and pulled his mask off.  He let the darkness start to dissipate, his face half-hidden behind a veil of wisp-thin darkness, almost as if he weren’t even aware I’d removed the mask.  He seemed pensive.

“Sorry to be a downer,” I said.  “Bearer of bad news.”

“It’s not that,” he said.  “You’ve been looking forward.  That’s good.  Except I’m wondering… where are we, in the future?  Suppose we made it through the end of the world.  Are we together in ten years?  Do we have kids?  Are we married?  Are we together, king and queen of Brockton Bay?  Have we retired?  Can you imagine a scenario like that?  Like any of that?”

I was caught off guard by the question.  I could visualize it.  Us in some mansion, little kids running around.  Just outside the window, Brockton Bay as it could be, swelled with industry and life and vigor and development, nourished by that portal and all the promise the portal held.  Inside our home, a mess, not so different from the mess that I’d seen on first walking into the loft.  A good mess, the kind of mess that came from life and living.  I could imagine Grue blanketing me in darkness to drown out the screaming, to give us a momentary privacy so he could hold me, kiss me.

Yes, I thought.  Yes.  Please, yes.

But I couldn’t bring myself to voice the thought aloud.

“Me either,” Grue said, his voice quiet, in response to an answer I hadn’t expressed with anything but my expression and body language.

I couldn’t lie and say that the mental picture, the fantasy, was a real possibility.  I couldn’t see it unfolding the same way I could see a thriving Brockton Bay secured with equal measures of fear and fairness.

It had been busy, hard and violent, with too much to do.  It was too easy to see how things could continue down that road.

Was it possible that this relationship could become something?  Yes.

Likely?  No.

“Shit,” he said.  He must have seen something in my expression.  “I should have kept my mouth shut.”

“No,” I replied, shaking my head.  I put his mask aside on a workbench, along with the booklet Citrine had given us, reached out and plucked the folder and papers from Grue’s hands, putting them aside as well.

Taking his hands in my own, I stepped close, pressing my body against his.  The bugs under my dress moved away from the points of contact so they wouldn’t get squished, flying down and out of the way or crawling down my bare legs, making me very, very aware of the bare skin of my legs.

He was cool, between the moisture-beaded fabric of his costume and the darkness, but if I pressed hard against, him, I could feel the warmth of his body where the darkness didn’t sit between us.  I slowly, carefully drew his hands up so his arms were around my shoulders, arranging them.  When I was done, I wrapped my arms around his neck, felt him adjust his hold on me.

“Skitter- Taylor.”

I had to crane my head up to kiss the tip of his chin.

It had been a fantasy.  Two damaged, lonely people clinging to each other for warmth in a dark time.  He’d needed a rock, I’d needed warmth and gentleness.

“There’s no regrets?” I asked him.  “About us, together?”

“No,” he said, and his face was less than an inch from mine, his breath as warm as his power was cool.  I felt his chest rise and fall as it pressed against me.  “It was right.”

It was right.  Then.

“Then let’s make this one place where we don’t have to give any thought to the future,” I murmured.  “Focus on the present.”

He lowered his head and kissed me with surprising tenderness.

I hated to do it, but I broke the kiss, pulled away a fraction.  I murmured, “Besides the usual precautions.”

“Mm,” he murmured his agreement, an inarticulate, wordless sound that vibrated through his body and mine.

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334 thoughts on “Imago 21.4

    • A white tower in progress, framed by three cranes. A white tent was framed with a

      Framed used twice in two sentences.

    • “I don’t think I’ve really seen him angry or upset.”

      “You don’t,” Grue said.

      >The second ‘don’t’ should be ‘haven’t’. Couple more like that, might want to check this chapter again, but that one bothered me. Great chapter, and I’ll try to comment more often🙂

      • I think it works as is, if you interpret Grue’s statement to mean that one doesn’t ever see Regent angry in a general sense. Grue went on to elaborate as much. Alternately, “You wouldn’t” could express the same sentiment. Or we could look at it as the characters themselves not having perfect grammar (with the exception of Accord, obviously) and just leave it how it was written.🙂

          • I think she was more of an outside professional retained by the PRT- It seems her main work was at the Asylum, after all. Unless that is a wholly-owned operation of the PRT, and if it is- I doubt she’d have left just to abandon her wards.

          • I could see her helping if the Undersiders could help her patients in away the PRT couldn’t/wouldn’t. My personal fantasy is the team busting out Garrote and having her join.

          • Busting out Garrote would almost be reasonable if Skitter had gotten Panacea to join. I mean, Amy has a sort of poor track record at messing with people’s minds and bodies, but Garrote doesn’t really have much to lose by gambling either.

            • Honestly I think Garrote would almost be happier in the state that Victoria was left in. She wouldn’t be able to game online anymore but she wouldn’t have to worry about hurting anyone by accident anymore.

        • I now have this image in my head of the Undersiders and the Wards all sitting in a waiting room as Jessica calls each of them in for their sessions.

      • I agree, she did come off a lot like Vista. Both have given up hope of a happy ending. Not that either are really all that wrong from what the Wormverse has shown us of the chances but still. They both need to sit down and have a nice long talk with Yamada.

    • Citrine does have a few weaknesses though. She might only be able to deal with one parahuman at a time, might be useless against tinkers, and there is always the possibility of being attacked by a regular person. It ironic that she is so strong against the most powerful of capes but a regular mugger with a gun is probably more dangerous to her.

        • You know how Citrus specifies she never takes longer than twenty to thirty seconds to attune to a power? If that’s the longest it takes, the average would be ten to fifteen seconds. So, whatever countermeasure takes her out of any fight, it’d only have a few seconds to work, with half a minute at the most. And Citrus removing any cape from a fight in 5 seconds is just as likely as in 25 seconds.

          • 2 cape tag team. Two hornets stinging right in the eyes. Two guns firing at once. Hire coil’s old sniper. Use her range advantage to have a swarm deliver a grenade.

          • Citrus also isn’t very specific of the size of the area she affects. If somebody had enough mobility, range, stealth, or a combination of the three, she might be more or less helpless against them.

          • Bah you even got me saying Citrus instead of Citrine. I wonder how often people make that mistake with her, and how batshit insane it drives Accord.

      • Citrine does have a few weaknesses though. She might only be able to deal with one parahuman at a time, might be useless against tinkers, and there is always the possibility of being attacked by a regular person. It ironic that she is so strong against the most powerful of capes but a regular mugger with a gun is probably more dangerous to her.

        Yep, that and it seems she has to target a location, not an individual. Sufficient mobility and ranged attacks should be enough to do for her. On the other hand, she’d be murderously effective when playing defense.

  1. Okay, I’m beginning to see more clearly how Accord could see Skitter as being a similar person. That frustration that Citrine describes is very like Skitter’s.

    • I’m betting Accord’s organization has a lot of problems. It’s entirely made up of ambitious power players, and will soon have 7 such power hungry people with extremely strong superpowers.

      • A bunch of type A personalities together are going to cause problems but Accord’s power should be able to handle it. But I predicted during his interlude that he is going to misjudge someone and be killed for it. He thinks/reads people in terms of numbers while TT thinks of them psychologically. It never occurred to him that the Undersiders act like they do because they are friends for example.

        • So, why doesn’t Accord use his problem solving ability on the problem of getting his proposals implemented? Both the hunger proposal and the Brockton Bay proposal require persuading many entities to implement many things. If he can’t achieve that with the very first step, then the proposals aren’t actually realistic, and his power isn’t a real thing. It’s almost as though it was just a fiction!

  2. Meanwhile…

    Imp, walking up the stairs to a familiar rooftop: Well, guess I’d better go talk to Brian before he gets up in my face about Alec, because I know Taylor’s gonna tell him as soon as she has the chaOH GOD I DID NOT NEED TO SEE THAT THE FIRST TIME, I DEFINITELY DON’T NEED TO SEE IT AGAIN

    • Well I guess we can safely conclude how far they have gone. But I somehow doubt they’re going to get a happy ending. The wormverse doesn’t seem like the kind of place where that happens. Taylor wants to have kids. There’s what a year and half to the apocalypse? Considering the pace of the story, I am genuinely curious how the Undersiders will be a year down the road.

      • I just thought of way for a happy ending. IF the apocalypse is so bad that billions die and the human race is almost destroyed then I could see the Undersides getting a pardon depending on their actions. The government is going to need every capable hand they can get and the Undersiders are arguably morally better than many heroes. So while two villains retiring and living happily is far fetched, two heroes with protected government identities can live happily somewhere.

          • Well depending on how bad it is, quite a bit of the country would be completely on their own. Reminds me of the fanfics Polarity/Transistor where a romero zombie apocalypse hits the marvel universe. While the zombies were stopped at the beginning of the sequel, billions have died, and quite alot of places have no government at all/on their own. Quite a few villains are given a pardon as long as they follow certain rules. So if its bad enough, the Undersiders could become the government.

          • That implies the government can give pardons and have ANYBODY AT ALL give a fuck either way, which seems pretty optimistic for a “billions dead, collapse of civilization” scenario.

            Or I guess it’s possible the pardon has no actual bearing on what the villains are doing, and the government simply uses it as an excuse as to why they’re not trying to stop villains from taking some places over. When, in fact, the real reason is lack of manpower and resources, since, you know, collapse of civilization.

        • Let’s say, theoretically, they manage to stop the apocalypse in a very obvious way. To quote Bonesaw: “are we supposed to clap?”
          Were such a scenario to occur, they would pretty much be permanently under the treaty as far as the heroes are concerned (more of a what’s-the-public-going-to-think kind of thing than actual law-logic here), and definitely on the too-scary-to-be-messed-with list as far as everybody else is concerned. There’s your happy ending. Also, means this book could be finished up before that deadline, and means the Undersiders fight another theoretically unbeatable force. ThE ENd!
          That or they take down Scion. One or the other.

          • Unless Behemoth is actually filled with an unknown species of worm that can mess with him, I don’t think they could do anything to him. We already saw how they affected Leviathan, but the Smurf could be interesting depending on how Taylor’s telepathic signal affects hers. If Taylor ever somehow got a true gamebreaking power and killed an endbringer than they could get a happy ending. Like you said, the heroes wouldn’t mess with them, the populace would probably want a truce/treaty as long as she agreed to help against future attacks, and there is always Dragon defending her in court and a presidential pardon. But I think Taylor has a better chance of being hit by lighting while winning the lottery than she does of killing an Endbringer.

            • This is Worm. We are talking about Skitter. You are the one who seems to have started the Skitter Facts. She is far, far, far, more likely to kill an Endbringer while being hit by lightning than she is to win any lottery. Fanfic aside.

              • Oh noooo, it turned out Behemoth was actually a pinata full of bugs, and now Skitter is in complete control, and Regent took over Leviathan, and Tattletale is riding the Simurgh!

      • Sometimes Skitter reads too much into things.

        “It was right.”

        “What was?”

        “That thing we did once.”

        “So you used was because an event occurred in the past?”


        “That was a good usage.”


        “It’d still be if you did it again. No matter what, it was still something in the past.”

        • Well she still has her insecurity issues. She probably would benefit from a therapist. Considering the sheer number of villains there have to be normal people who see money to be made catering various services to them. I remember in the arkham games that gotham city actually has a realtor that specializes in villain lair and a carpenter that fixes them up for them. There have to be black market psychologists who work for alot of money.

          • Who wants to hire a black market psychologist for anything other than obtaining blackmail material?

            Nope, this is one more reason not to out a villain. If you do so, you leave the potentially homicidal person of mass destruction with no way to seek help for the very common mental health issues that go along with having powers.

          • Thank you for seeing me doctor. I know you might have a few reservations for seeing a “villain”. So what should I call you?

            You can call me, Dr. Lecter.

          • Even getting a legit shrink is going to be a nightmare with her identity public. She’ll find one perfectly happy and eager to work with her, only to find that he’s diagnosing an infamous villain for the academic cred.

            All kinds of nastiness like that makes Dr. Yamada the only choice I think would work.

          • I know Wildbow hates repeating interlud perspectives, but I really, REALLY want to see more of Doctor Yamada. She was my favorite interlude, and a hell of a good way to see how things were going for a lot of characters at once.

            Plus it introduced Svetlana. I LOVE Svetlana! Poor kid’s awesome, just has to find a way to keep those damn tentacles in check…

          • Wouldn’t having your identity public actually make it better in a way? Not in the sense that it makes it easy to get therapy, because obviously there are plenty of problems with that, but in the sense that the therapy could actually be useful then. I mean, if you’re going to the shrink in your secret civilian identity, then you can’t actually talk about the important stuff, can you?

            I wonder how popular a specialty it is for psychologists, dealing with criminals. In real life, I mean. The wormverse has the added complexity of dealing with a parahuman AND dealing with a criminal mind.

        • Unfortunately I agree with Skitter on this one. That was a breakup scene. A heartbreaking breakup scene since neither really wants to leave but still a breakup scene.

    • … ummmm… Naw.

      Not so bad.

      I can’t count the number of times I’ve been certain that it was over/nothing would happen/ there was no hope, and then, I was wrong.

      Now it just seems like a normal part of the process. Sometimes you have certainties, sometimes you feel doubts. Sometimes you’re almost 100% sure that the crap has officially hit the fan. But only sometimes are you right about that. Most of the time, despite your panic (or your partner’s) it’s just another day. And soon enough you’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about. That’s how relationships work.

    • Ha! You know it’s a shame that Accord will eventually betray her due to his power. I honestly think both teams would benefit from each other. You know technically the can use Accord to purchase some Cauldron formulas. So if she ever wants some more firepower then there is the possibility of getting a few people that everyone trusts and Tattletale vets to expand their team. Though Taylor probably will have a few reservations. But they do need to start recruiting. The ambassadors are going to outnumber them now.

        • I wanna see his reaction if he got the thing back and all they did with it was edit it into Turabian style. No comments or annotations for the whole thing.

        • Half the edits in ties new roman, the other half in arial?
          We have a secretary like this here, once returned a process and made a professor loose the refund money from conference because the professor had not included the right address of our institution in the INTERNAL document sent to him.
          And, the official documents within our center have to be written in Tahoma 12. I believe that the official rule for the rest of the university is arial 12. I am lucky that not all documents come back because of this.
          But once a process came back from the capital to a campi in the country (200 Km) because the signature was done with a black ink instead of blue.

  3. Interesting chapter. I’m really happy you decided to do a regular chapter, as im so ansious of more plot! I know you said this is a few arks before the beginning of the end, and I can feel how many things, like Grue and Skitter being a couple, are being taken off from the back burner. I guess this explains why we haven’t seen more of the portal, too. Would like to leave longer review, but need sleep. Seriously, I don’t even drink on coffee, so I’m about running on fumes and the occasional chocolate here.

  4. OOC: Wildbow, I do want to thank you for the nice chapter. Not necessarily full of moving imagery, but just a nice, plain chapter with no liver-sucking hellspawns trying to eat people. Nothing jumped out unexpected at the end to announce that they were once again being dropped headfirst into a shit well. Nothing like that.

    Also, good characterization of Regent generally making himself more unpleasant to be around. It reminded me of someone I used to RP with. Specifically the reason for using the past tense.

    But mostly, just thanks for it being a pleasant chapter. Sometimes we need that. And that’s about the rarest thing of all in Worm now.

      • It says something when “light-hearted” means a formal operations report, followed by fatalistic “savor the now” sex.

          • Where the local justice league analog are guilty of crimes against humanity.
            Where a reasonable authority figure is immediately suspicious to reader’s eyes.
            Where its not a question of if things go wrong, but when they go wrong.

          • Where fatalistic worrying about the future counts as pillow talk for the main character. I mean, seriously, that’s two for two on the “let’s talk about how we’re screwed before necking” count.

        • My bad, I feel pessimistic today because even the basic gun safety stuff that had a 90% approval rating was completely killed off. Though I guess the wormverse probably needs more firearms due to how outgunned civilians are.

          • OOC: Not been a good day for me either, but that has more to do with the last 3 years or so, as well as some lingering sadness from my birthday. That’s why I was so glad for the nice chapter. Don’t worry, I won’t drag it all out. If there’s anything I’ve learned by now, it’s that most of you want jokes. Except for Reveen, who would like you all to know he thinks I’m a dick.

          • It’s birthday time again I see;
            Another year’s gone by.
            We’re older than we used to be;
            The thought could make me cry.

            For getting older is not such fun,
            When there’s hurting in your back,
            And it’s agony if you have to run,
            And a pleasure to lie in the sack.

            Yes getting older is quite a bore,
            But to not get old is worse.
            So “Happy Birthday!” let’s shout once more,
            And to heck with our ride in the hearse!

            Hooray for getting older! Happy Birthday and many more.

            By Karl Fuchs

          • OOC: Birthday’s happened before today, so no need to wish me a happy one. Just that there was some damn sad things about it, even worse in retrospect due to something to happen later.

  5. -“And you wanted to talk In person,” he said.
    Lowercase the `I`

    Also, thoughts, some from the last chapter:
    -It seems likely that Taylor can direct her bugs in a similar manner that Valefor used his powers, if she put forth the effort to try.

    -She can seemingly only control creatures with simple nervous systems, these are the ones she can sense; it has been stated that she can just /barely/ sense Atlas, since his nervous system is more complex than regular bugs, but she can deftly control him just with a lot more concentration required. So maybe she does have the ability to manipulate creatures with more sophisticated nervous systems (read: Scurry & rats) but a) it requires a lot more concentration and effort on her part (im thinking a la Regent, but the magnitude of difficulty rises drastically with each level of complexity) and b) she has to actively attempt to manipulate said creature, even though she is unlikely to sense/understand it as she does with bugs/other creatures within her domain.

    -Regarding Citrine, I had two thoughts:
    1) I imagine taking her out to be something as simple as just not accessing their powers, which Taylor/Grue shouldnt have any issue with; more Taylor than Grue, since I imagine his power is more something held back most of the time and hers is an active effect she creates.
    2) The way her powers work, I wonder if she could team up with Faultline (anyone, really, but she came to mind first) and attune to her frequency to allow her to bypass the Manton effect; alternatively, and on a larger scale, I wonder if she can allow any capes to bypass it.

    • She has greater control than just “cutting powers off from capes”. If they don’t access their powers she still has other possibilities in her arsenal.

          • Not really. She just needs to ionize the ground and air to funnel the lightning directly to them. Remember lightning comes first from below, and then the return stroke comes from above.

          • You guys are thinking small.

            I’m guessing she has some kind of handle on fundamental laws. If she can alter the thermodynamics laws, then… Say, what if friction produced more heat? It would only need to be a tiny amount – but frankly, many of your bodily processes rely on friction, so boom! Instant human pyre. How about setting up an area so that hydrogen bonds don’t connect as well as they do normally? All of your DNA would collapse, mRNA and tRNA wouldn’t be able to do their jobs, cellular respiration would fail and you would probably die within seconds. Or just be mightily f’d up. Speed of light – every time you produce or use ATP (trust me, you do this a lot), photons are given off. Most in the longer wavelengths. If they didn’t, then the energy would not be transferred and the chemical interaction would not take place as designed, ultimately leading to a horrifying death. And it would only need a really small change, given how rigid electrons are about their orbits and the energy required. A really, really tiny change would mean all kinds of things fell apart.

            Really, the only thing I could see stopping Citrine from being an instant murder machine (just add water and wait 5-30 seconds) is the Manton effect.

      • Referring to the backfire inducing aspect? Or the other various effects? I mean, I admit she is tricky to deal with, but if the only way she can affect the powers if if they are used (didnt specify either way) then it could be a lot easier than expected.

        Totally ignoring how she escaped from the S9 with Accord, so she is probably able to hit hard as well. Wishful thinking.

  6. Loved the storm coming in just as Grue spoke. the end was refreshingily nice compared to what’s been going as of late.

    • ‘“I’ll talk to him,” Grue said’
      Oh dear. Grue can summon ominous thunder with his big brother rage. Start running, Regent.

  7. Loved the chater, Wildbow.❤ Thanks once again for a great read, and clearing up some of the topics of discussion in the comments😛

    I really hope, in the end, that Taylor and Brian do get their peaceful home with children, happy and loving together. They deserve it.

  8. Also, I totally thought Wildbow was sending Taylor in to fight the Teeth in a white sundress and a wide-brimmed hat. I laughed so hard when I realized I was wrong. Thought she went completely off the `fuck it` cliff.

          • Well the ONE time things turned out well for her at school she was so new the experience she briefly thought she was hallucinating. But that act was a catalyst for something bad, her identity being outed, later on. Now when something good happens, we’re going to wait for the catch.

    • “Evacuate in our moment of triumph? I think you overestimate their chances.” -everyone who ever fought the Undersiders
      “Aren’t you a little short for a supervillain?”

      “If this is Accord’s lair, where is are the Ambassadors? — Tear this lair apart until you’ve found those plans.”
      “And bring me the passengers, I want them alive!” -Bonesaw

  9. I liked this a lot. I’m agreeing with Taylor that Accord’s plan will probably have consequences- I doubt that NOBODY receiving the things have ever read them. I wonder if Accord publishes anything to the internet- unless the idea of not tailoring his message to the audience gives him too much of the heebie jeebies.

    Hrm, Citrine seems pretty scary. Makes me wonder what her range and area of effect is. Whether it is persistent, or concentration based… It also strikes me that she could be particularly useful against the leader of the Teeth, if she can suppress the transmigration of whatever the power source is upon death. Of course, with such a broad spectrum of abilities it might be that Citrine can’t suppress all of them…

    “was wreathed in” Extra space.
    “opened it and” Extra space.
    “No muder, nothing” Murder.
    “Tattletale does too.” Maybe a comma after does?
    “that far. What ” Extra space.
    “sense or self-preservation.” Not sure if that should be ‘of’. It kinda works either way, since they really didn’t have much sense either.
    “what I”m trying to” Quotation mark instead of apostrophe there.
    “Tattletale got her hands full” Has, or has got?

    • I dunno. I can sort of believe that nobody’s read them, or at least, nobody in a position to implement them (as opposed to writing a report on his plans) has ever read them. There’s no hard reason why nobody would, nothing that would say “of course they didn’t,” but if he’s given them to like 60 people in positions of power, it’s easy to imagine that 25 were lazy, 20 distrusted Thinkers on principle (because they invoke insecurity; out of fear of capes; out of fear of being corrupted by spiritual evil; out of echoes of the Simurgh’s mode of operation; because of distrust of the concept of heightened intelligence), 10 distrusted nerds (before his fall) or villains (after) on principle; and 5 were acting in bad faith and had motives incompatible with his.

      I mean . . . based on our peek in his mind, it seems like his plan is intended seriously and the only downsides are on the order of “implementing his plan implements his damaged moral perspective in ways that won’t be immediately obvious” or “his plan might be hubris rather than an accurate and useful guide.”

      But a random government official or villain isn’t even really going to know that it’s safe to *read* the thing.

      (There are a lot of reasons this doesn’t apply to Skitter, from her own small Thinker classification to Tattletale’s presence to her rejection of absolute paranoia above, but if I were a random administrator or warlord I’d be kind of hesitant myself.)

      • I don’t think Skitter’s Thinker classification comes into it at all — the key points are:

        1. Taylor loves Brockton Bay and wants it to become a shining jewel of a city.
        2. Tattletale is the single best cape in the universe to check Accord’s work. Might take her a couple weeks to go through the whole thing, given its length, but her power is practically designed to complement Accord’s.

        That said, I think the knee-jerk-rejection-of-villainous-plots would actually be the primary obstacle to anyone considering his plans.

        I wonder if he gave a copy to Coil.

  10. Well damn Citrine’s power is insane. 30 seconds is plenty of time to fuck some people up. I’m a bit surprised at how calm Taylor was when it was revealed that Accord and his people are dealing with Cauldron. Is it Friday yet? I cant wait for another chapter.

    I’m on the West Coast so its like 10pm when I get new chapters. Love it.

    • That’s actually my 2nd favorite ship after Taylor and Brian. But for it to happen they would either have to break up or have one of them die, which would give me a bad case of the sads.

      • i think that dennis and vista would make for a good couple in ten years time or so if by some miracle they manage to survive that long.

    • I’m fairly sure the bank job would qualify as the least cute Meet Cute in the history of romantic subplots.

      …but yeah, that ship occurred to me as well.

      • Well I keep wondering how the Wards would have acted toward her if she had joined them. Taylor does try her hardest to help people which has had a noticeable effect on her teammates. Considering all of the crap the Wards have had to deal with only 3? members left I think she could have been clockblockers best friend considering their personalities.

        • Well all the Wards knew eachother unmasked and Shadow Stalker was a part of them during the time where Taylor would have joined. So I think that reveal would make for some fun reading. But I do agree that Taylor and Clockblocker would probably get along pretty damn well as allies.

        • I think she would have gone to meet the Wards if Armsmaster had offered to let her visit the Protectorate building on her first night in costume. If he had, and Shadow Stalker had not been around at the time, I could imagine her joining. I could even imagine her staying despite Sophia’s presence.

          (Plus, Armsmaster wouldn’t be one-hundredth as ticked off at her if he brought her in, because she would have warned the doctors what venoms Lung had been dosed with, avoiding that whole disaster.)

          In such a case … well, I actually see Vista as being Taylor’s best friend in the Wards, not Clockblocker. I don’t have a good sense of Taylor’s sense of humor, but she tends to be a very serious person, and Dennis is habitually irreverent. And in Scourge 19.7, she found his joking around irritating, not charming.

          • To think that Taylor could have been a reasonably nice super career only if Colin wasn’t such a socially crippled numbskull.

            Though it might be for the best, Skitter had to hit the ground running to come into her own as a cape. I feel that with the safety net of the PRT she wouldn’t have strayed too far from her comfort zone and would’ve ended up unprepared for the Nine.

          • @Reveen: Indeed — given the kind of arms restrictions the heroes act under, and trying to develop without the mentoring of the Undersiders, she might well end up in Kid Win’s tier, rather than Jack Slash’s. She’d still be clever, but the PRT is not the kind of organization in which (for example) a cape with a creepy power can take advantage of the creepiness.

          • I also think Grue would have made a pretty good hero, like a Batman type.

            His power is excellent for crowd control and easy takedowns, and he’s a pretty rock solid leader who’s also easy to get along with. He’s pretty much acts like the man Armsmaster should have been.

            Not his fault the S9 were so completely out of his depth.

          • “And in Scourge 19.7, she found his joking around irritating, not charming.”
            He came off as more frustrated/annoyed than j/k in a buddy/buddy manner.

          • …I almost want to try to write this, now. I’ve already come up with an alternate-Taylor’s superhero name: Spiderweb (because seriously, the spider-silk trick is probably going to be the first tool she puts in her arsenal if she goes the hero route).

          • If the Undersiders were heroes huh. Hmmm, I think Grue should keep his name for the whole dark vigilante thing. They would keep calling Rachel hellhound, and imp still works for Aisha. Tattletale and Regent wouldn’t really work as hero names though.

          • I support your writing of an alt Wormfic

            I have been thinking of writing one but I keep getting bogged down by detail after detail when I suspect I just need to start writing (like our esteemed Worm-author)
            So, if I can get a power and age, I think I shall be able throw something out

      • Clockblocker x Skitter and Tattletale x Skitter aren’t mutually exclusive😉

        OT: How the hell are you supposed to represent a 3 person relationship while still keeping the Seme x Uke formula?

        • Isn’t seme and uke used for gay relationships? You don’t necessarily have a uke in the same sense.

          I’d say that you’d have seme, uke and shubi. Attacker, defender, and fielder. The latter case running damage control for the relationship triad as a whole.

          • Usually, but the whole Seme x Uke thing is still used for hetero relationships. I guess you could also say it’s Dominant x Submissive or Top x Bottom, but that brings in BDSM connotations.

            In my mind (we’re getting into ridiculous headcanon territory now), Clockblocker x Skitter and Tattletale x Skitter would be two separate relationships with the only uniting factor being Skitter. Clockblocker and Tattletale would hate each other, but would have a truce over Skitter and try to avoid each other as much as possible. Hijinks ensue.

            Now I’m picturing Taylor logging on to Parahumans Online and reading this exact conversation with a disgusted look on her face.

        • Ooooh I like that. But instead of two separate relationships why not just make it one triway? Clockblocker and Tattle would probably get along smashingly anyway so either a full on polyamory thing or polygamy Skittercentric relationship would both work!

      • When I saw this comment, I started wondering if I could come up with a good crack pairing for Taylor. Taylor/Chris (i.e. Kid Win) is practically boring, Taylor/Weld doesn’t work because Weld/Garotte is infinitely better, Skitter/Accord wouldn’t last five minutes even if you ignore that Accord is too old for her … geez, even Taylor/Panacea doesn’t work, because Taylor is too obviously The Unfettered to Panacea’s The Fettered (if you’ll forgive the TVTropisms).

        *looks at cast page*

        Oh, duh — Taylor/Bryce.

        *checks “Taylor” of the “Needs a crack pairing” list*

  11. Awww… Have fun you ki-

    *Dragon suit busts through the wall, Tagg riding it in his underwear, mickey of rum in hand*

    One of those new guys is going to turn freak and run to the Undersiders, and Accord’s gonna go downhill because of it, bet you anything. A posh, intelligent Hank McCoyesque character coming in would be interesting for the character dynamic.

    The guy just seems more and more like a total munchkin about this stuff. I bet he has the powers tailored specifically to the Undersiders. This would probably be a good time to bring in some mercs

      • Can’t say I trust her on that. For all we know he’s setting up a special order behind their backs. If there’s anyone in this story to be paranoid about, its this bastard.

          • I would point out that Accord’s last lineup was almost completely annihilated by the shattered remnants of the Slaughterhouse 9 (who were already fighting Dragon and Defiant at the same time). The Slaughterhouse 9 in turn ended up getting their teeth kicked in by the Undersiders. What was the toll? Burnscar, Cherish, Crawler, Hackjob, Mannequin, and Shatterbird all directly taken down by the direct and indirect actions of the Undersiders? I’d count the Siberian in there as well since the Undersiders figured out exactly how to kill her. All this, and the Undersiders didn’t lose a single member of their team. The Ambassadors ended up running from that which had already fled from the Undersiders. If Accord chooses to betray them, even if he has all the counters in the world and a numerical advantage, the smart bet would be on Skitter’s team.

          • Downside there is that fights often aren’t a case of “A” beats “B”, “B” beats “C” so therefor “A” can beat “C”. Often it’s more a matter of who sets the terms of the battle.

            Given the way Accord works, I wouldn’t expect an easy or painless win for the Undersiders if it came to a fight.

          • You make a point about it not necessarily being true that “A” beats “C”, but I would point out the different methodologies present between Skitter and Accord. Accord relies on advanced, intricate planning in order to meet his goals. Skitter is a master of improvisational tactics. I think the primary reason the Ambassadors were massacred in Boston is because they were attacked in a way that Accord hadn’t accounted for. Without the ability to draw up plans, Accord’s team was soundly trounced. Meanwhile, the S9’s attacks on the Undersiders were foiled by the ability to improvise and adapt. If Accord attacks, he essentially has to win in one fell swoop. I would rate the ability to adapt as a much more effective skill in the Wormverse than being able to draw up plans ahead of time as powers and trigger events tend to be x-factors that cannot fully be anticipated. For example: is there *any* available intelligence out there on the extent of Grue’s expanded powers? Does anyone besides Taylor understand the increasing range and depth of Skitter’s control? How much of the intentional misinformation that the Undersiders have spread been taken at face value? Unless Accord has some unknown means of finding out this information, he will be facing many variables that he cannot possibly plan against. If there is a fight, Accord will almost certainly strike the first blow, which may be painful indeed, but whether he can press the advantage against unknowable factors would be the biggest question.

  12. I would like to point out that Skitter doesn’t know about how Accords power is constantly making him ax-crazy, still a reason to look over his proposal but i would not say that it is a happy helpful power when he is always using it to find ways to kill people. I also hope that Accord doesn’t try to screw them over, he totally will but I would still like to see the Undersiders gaining more followers/allies cause they definitely have enough enemies.

    Concerning the break up of BrianXTaylor its kinda sad but this has been a long time coming they are really just the two nice ones and found solace in each other through all this crap they have been through they were never gonna last long. Overall these two seriously need some therapy though I doubt they are gonna get any. I mean Tattletale could do it but she kinda lacks the tact needed to really be helpful, you know considering that only people with problems get powers you would think their would be like some therapy hotline or anonymous therapy centers they would make a killing.

    btw here is a pic of an adorable hedgehog

    • Er, where are you getting them breaking up from? What I see is her aking him if he had any regrets, him stating that it was right, her thoughts echoing it and adding a sarcastic, “Then.”, and then them cuddling up closer and focussing on the present, on each other right then and there, only stopping to mention ‘the usual precautions’. Woven silk condom, sealed with beeswax, perhaps- Or just a regular condom, seems like Brian would have a supply of them just to be on the safe side.

  13. I love a good white paper or tech report. The idea of Taylor having a lucid, long, and well-written one precisely on topic to her current research and endeavor is a source of surprising joy to me.

  14. Oh man, these two sections make me worry.
    “It depends on Accord,” I said. “You know him better than I do. Is he stable?”

    “No. Not in the sense you mean.”
    “Ever notice how every power gets turned to violent ends? Even the people with powers that could benefit humanity wind up losing it? Accord, Sphere, there’s Parian on the smallest end of the scale…”

    “And you think there’s some ugly twist to this.”

    Can you imagine if the Simurgh got a hold of Accord? Made his violent tendencies a bit worse- twisted his goals a bit? Accord has one of the most incredibly overpowered abilities I’ve ever heard of- if he turned to destruction it would be BAD.

    • I’m worried that the next attack will be Simurgh, and because of the agreement he made Accord goes to help out.

      That would be awful.

      • Once Accord gets his new minions he’ll be able to satisfy the “1/2 your forces, minimum 3, for the next Endbringer attack” without entering the battle himself.

        Why anyone would want him there for the battle is beyond me too. Maybe in a trailer in another state providing coordination and planning but there’s almost no conceivable benefit to putting him up close and personal against any of the Endbringers. Leviathan drowns him without noticing, Behemoth irradiates him in passing and the Simurgh just laughs at him.

        • Or worse the Smurf decides to use his power to it’s full potential. I still say the only reason a organization like cauldron which was so big, so influential, and had so many loose ends was a secret for so long because wanted she wanted them to be secret for her plans.

          • And/or their own Thinkers and precogs, with Contessa and their mind-wipes to shut down leaks, and control of at least some governments and media to limit how far leaks get.

            If the Simurgh wasn’t around I can see them remaining hidden, but if the guess of her power is right then she definitely hasn’t been TRYING to reveal them.

    • > I never addressed this before, but I should have: maggots don’t chew. All the information I’ve gathered on maggots and addressed in other posts regarding how they consume dead flesh illustrates this, but apparently no one in this thread of thought bothered to read them They have hook-like mouth parts that they use basically to siphon up the necrotic fluid that their enzymes have dissolved dead flesh to.

      I apologize — that’s important data. It sounds like the problems associated with leaving the maggots there for too long relate to either the enzymes having a weaker but nonzero effect on living tissue or the hatching of the maggots into flies.

      • That is indeed the issue. They basically sweat their stomach acid onto the necrotic tissue, and then suck it back up after it’s dissolved some flesh, and gain nutrients from that. The enzyme is a protease (one that induces proteolysis), and that will eventually dissolve the protein bonds of the unwounded flesh. There isn’t much threat for them to pupate though, as that process takes about two weeks. Here’s some more information on the subject:

        Note that I, personally, think the idea of a dozen maggots inside the eyes emitting what equates to stomach acid into the inner eye, which will most likely damage if not completely destroy the retina if not IMMEDIATELY dealt with…

        And I think I’m actually incorrect on being unable to feel pain inside the eye, considering the optic nerve. I know most of the pain you feel in regards to your eyes is more reflex and pressure within the socket which does have nerve connections, but within the eye itself? Plus, there would definitely be the feeling of pressure from all the maggots writhing inside.

        • Gah, just realized I didn’t properly finish my thought there. “…Immediately dealt with… to be far worse.”

        • “And I think I’m actually incorrect on being unable to feel pain inside the eye, considering the optic nerve.”
          All nerves are not equal. Nerves with nociceptors (pain receptors) at one end are wired to whichever part of your brain deals with pain. Nerves with photoreceptors at one end are wired to your optical center. Even if you bypass the receptor entirely and just dissolve the optic nerve with stomach enzymes, that would send freaky visual signals (and probably lead to, you know, blindness), but I don’t think it would actually make you feel pain.

          • 1) It was late and I thought it obvious that I didn’t mean the optic nerve directly, but 2) that I was using the optic nerve as a reasoning that there are likely to be other nerves inside the eye, not just surrounding it in the mucosa.

            Looking into it further, this is an unverified quotation (in that there is no reference, other than the dubious attribution to a prestigious visual neuroscientist by the name of Dr. Simon Grant ( ), which may or may not be true but seems to be legitimate enough to mention), but it may shed some light on the actualities of what Valefor is experiencing.

            “Yes, there are nociceptors in the eye. They are located mainly in the uveal layer (choroid, ciliary body & iris) with a few also extending forward to innervate the inside of the cornea. The receptors are attached to the ends of the long ciliary nerve, which exits the eyeball posteriorly and joins up with other peripheral nerve branches inside the orbit to form the nasociliary nerve. This, in turn, enters the
            ophthalmic division of the trigeminal nerve &, via the trigeminal ganglion. sends pain information to the spinal nucleus of V. I suspect – although this is largely conjecture – that pain associated with bright light is probably due to extreme contraction of ocular tissues, especially the iris as the pupil constricts, and maybe other mechanical deformations of the uveal layer.” – ( )

            Looking even further into what this indicates, if we look at a diagram of the eye ( ) we can see that the choroidal layer backs the sclera and in fact is sandwiched between the sclera and the retina. If, as the good doctor indicates, ‘other mechanical deformations of the uveal layer’ are what actually cause the stabbing pain that your eyes feel due to light sensitivity, then the pain from maggots writhing within the eye cavity must be truly immense, let alone the likelihood that Valefor is actually going to become permanently blinded because the retina is going to be dissolved first and foremost should the maggots remain overly-long.

            Even then, this is all potentially moot because psychological pain activates the same pain centers within the brain ( and this is most definitely a source of suffering, in… Valefor’s eyes. ;P

      • There is a known condition of having ‘floaters,’ bits of opaque material inside your eye that are visible, hugely magnified, by the person who has them.

        • Those bits of ‘opaque material’? Those are (most commonly) protein structures and discarded cell waste floating within the vitreous humour of your eye. Normally it is perfectly transparent, but damage and age causes it to alter from its slightly gelatinous state to one more approximating jell-o. There’s also cases where injury causes detachment from the retinal wall, which is a whole heap of trouble otherwise, and can cause similar effects, but for the most part that’s not what is the cause.

    • Posted a reply to previous thread before reading this one, copy-pasting now.

      You’re right, Rika, they don’t chew. But their little mouth-hooks scritching together *sounds like* chewing. There are many accounts of people infested with botfly larvae (a type of maggot) near their ears complaining about the sound of it chewing their flesh They are mistaken, as you say, it does not happen, but I’ve heard recordings ( ‘ware, phobics), and the sound of them clicking their little mouth-hooks together does indeed resemble that of mastication.

      • Actually, that sound that you’re hearing is the fluid displacement that the maggot uses to move, known as peristalsis, which is directly shown within the video you linked (maggots start around 2:30). They do indeed use the mouth hooks to assist their movement, which is why they move so much more easily when there is a soft surface to grip or something to hook their ‘teeth’ into versus crawling over glass or a similarly hard flat surface, but the sound is minimal- microscopic puncturing added to the waves of the body.

        It’s a similar principle behind why a shell to the ear sounds like the sea, because of how the resonance of the shell picks up both internal noise such as your blood flow as well as external sound (vibrations against the shells outer layer) and echo them into your ear.

  15. This sum’s up what’s been bugging me the last few weeks……….

    @Rika Covenant
    Loved the chater, Wildbow.❤ Thanks once again for a great read, and clearing up some of the topics of discussion in the comments

    I don’t if it's just me but it seems that a lot of what is being discussed is finding its way into the wormverse or rather, a lot to the speculation gets cleared up one or two chapters. Feels like I can just read the comments to know what’s coming. Yes, I suppose I could just stop reading the comments but I usually look to them for clarification and insight…the speculation of what’s to come and getting the answers laid out so neatly just doesn’t sit well.

    …really curious as to just how much influence the comments are having on the overall shape of the story you’ve been trying to tell.

    • A lot of the speculation in the comments revolves around where the story is going, so it naturally ends up getting clarified later on. Notice the gap in time before we found out what was on the notes that Dinah gave Skitter, and we were speculating on what it was for quite a long time anyways- It’s not usually an immediate clarification, like it was here, and really the only reason that it had an opportunity to be was because it’s relatively slow action-wise, which is usually when relationships and their metrics are actually looked into and explored. The last time we had a truly calm period of time was when they first got together, after all. (You could have editted my typo while you were at it, btw! >_>)

        • typos*😛

          I also present the argument of Lisa being bi or lesbian that was a long-held theory because of how chummy she was with Taylor since they first met- which was revealed to have been because she knew Taylor needed the closeness to help her steer clear of being suicidal, and doesn’t swing that way at all. We only found that out a short while ago when Tattletale was speaking to Parian, specifically that “there are no girls on the team who bat for the other side” (meaning is there, not actual wording).

    • I generally don’t try to address the comments. If it happens, it happens. It’s less that I’m addressing the comments and more that I’m aware the conclusion (not necessarily the ending, but the final arcs) is approaching and I want to tie up loose ends, and those loose ends are stuff that’s going to come up on its own.

      So it makes sense that there’d be connections, but really, there’s enough comments and enough unresolved stuff that it’s inevitable and unavoidable.

      I’ve had the general shape of these arcs in mind for a while now.

      • I think the sheer volume of comments that each chapter gets is a part of that too. With several hundred posts per chapter, many of which are analyzing the story in one way or another, it would be impossible for there not to be some overlap.

      • Exactly. It’s just there’s so many of us nowadays that we actually DO call into question (extensively) various topics that end up already planned to be clarified, instead of just a few points of interest that end up being clarified eventually such as those I noted above as examples.


    I haven’t teared up like this for any other chapter, heck; for any other thing I’ve read. The dream and the ideal versus the awful truth and the reality seems to be a recurring theme, though part of me still holds out hope that Worm will pull an Unforgiven at the end. Not putting any money on it though.

    It is also the first time I’ve been actively angry at Taylor too though, for interfering with Imp and Regent’s thing, whatever that admittedly probably fucked-up thing may be. I’m not sure what part of it is a problem, besides the possibilities for awfulness could arise from a tiff between them. Their personalities seem to mesh well, though possibly in a mutually reinforced spiral-of-self-destruction kind of way, maybe.

    In other news, Accord hands over one of his Rube Goldberg Essays and the response is “we might be able to use this” rather than “get back to work, crazy”, spends next three hours staring at a metronome out of sheer glee.

    • Sixteen. Monarch 16.7, she turned sixteen a week before the chapter. This said, she’s been through so much hell that she’s matured far beyond her physical age. If she was your typical kid in high school and she was having sex, I’d probably be more on your side, but the fact remains that shes been through enough and had to deal with enough to be more mature than most adults. Some times, you have to grow up fast.

    • If you think fifteen or sixteen year olds don’t have sex in the real world, then you might want to sit down for a bit, because you’re about to get one hell of a shock.

      No, seriously, it’s a fade-to-black before anything other than some smooching happens, and it actually has relevance to the story and the characters. That you’re reacting as if it was porn implies the problem is in your own deviant mind.

        • Deviant.
          1. deviating or departing from the norm; characterized by deviation.

          Synonymical with pervert.
          1. to use wrongly or badly
          2. to interpret wrongly or badly, esp. deliberately; distort
          3. to lead into deviant or perverted beliefs or behaviour; corrupt
          4. to debase
          5. to turn to an improper use.
          1. a person who practices a sexual perversion.

          I don’t see anything wrong with the analogy. There is some light kissing and romantic feeling/closeness, but no actual anything going on. To imagine it going further, while lead there by the perverted mind of Wildbow with his leading writing, is still a perverted (deviant/debased/debauched) thought process. A pure one would assume that that’s where it ended, or they just cuddled, or something of the sort.

          Note that being a pervert is common and not really a bad thing. We all have our kinks after all.

    • Honestly I have to keep reminding myself these are still teenagers. To me they stopped reading like 16-18 year olds when they started cutting eyes out. I have no issues with reading about the sex though because let’s face, they’re teenagers and teenagers are going to have sex. It’s nice to see them taking precautions though. A pregnant Skitter would make the story a bit harder to write…

  17. The ending! :c You made me sad, Wildbow. My feels are dead now, thanks! I really do wish there was hope for those two. Their kids would’ve made the cutest/most terrifying grubs ever! Bugs and Darkness! That’s like crude oil and fire! PERFECT!
    (OH and in the worst case scenario: Skitter gets preggers!😀 Not very likely but heh….seeing the look on everyones face would be hysterical.)

    Overall this chapter was great, can’t wait to see the bugs they have on the other side of that portal, though. Citty is dangerous and Othy is cool, though I wonder, is his clone from the Travelers Earth or somewhere entirely different?

    • Skitter would be a great mother though, look what she did for her territory, how strongly she fought for dinah, someone she didn’t even know.

      • I agree Clarvel. Taylor would be a great mom. I see her being worst than Purity. Imagine the entire city with fleas, lice and other parasites. ._. I suspect her range would increase 1000x if the kid got stolen. But alas I don’t think Wildbow will include teen pregnancy with Taylor, maybe some other character but I don’t see if happening to Taylor. She’s far too careful.

  18. Something occurred to me last night, but I wasnt coherent enough to voice it then; Taylor is still suffering from the effects of brain damage.
    Shell 4.11, after the attack from Bakuda:
    “You’re probably going to be a little wobbly for a few days. Your, um, brutal honesty just now was probably the concussion at work. It’s going to influence your mood, maybe loosen your inhibitions as if you were a bit drunk. Your memory might be a little unreliable, you might be more disorganized, or you might have extreme mood swings, like crying jags. You might have a harder time reading social cues. You work on getting through all that, we’ll shrug it off if you say something you normally wouldn’t. Just… try not to let anything private slip around your dad, so nothing slips? All of this should pass before too long.” – Tattletale

    Which seems iffy, but alright, until you get THIS line in Extermination 8.6:
    “You have a brain injury that’s not fully healed.” – Amy

    And with all thats happened since then (we all know that she has taken quite a few lumps, especially factoring in the entire Coil debacle) it isnt unreasonable to assume she still has some dissonance as a result of lingering brain damage. So her moral compass flittering about and some of the sketchy things she has done over the course of the story can be (partially) attributed to Bakuda. OR, i am reading too much into things and Scapegoat healed that as well. *shrug*

    • She had regeneration since then.

      Of course, she was in the fogged area after that, so her brain meats probably aren’t all that 100%, but I think the bomb effect is past.

          • Just the villains who manipulate people. Bakuda’s lesson on how to use fear, Jack Slash on the ability to use confidence and manipulate a situation, and Coil for his management style except for the whole child solider thing.

          • @TheAnt: She also swiped Tattletale’s habit of lying about what her power is/does, Grue’s use of his power to create decoys and to obscure his outline … both of whom are villains manipulating people, now that I reread those examples….

          • Well she IS a villain. On a side note, did you get my return message on TV tropes? It kept logging me out for some reason whenever I tried to reply. Sadly mad genius isn’t a trope yet, but I’m not sure how else to classify Wildbow’s idea to turn a shifter who can only make words appear on any surface into a hitman within moments.

          • /Wildbow’s idea to turn a shifter who can only make words appear on any surface into a hitman/

            What is this gloriousness you speak of?

          • Ah, I added a bunch of tropes yesterday and I mentioned mad genius based on something wildbow did in a previous thread. I can’t remember exactly where, but someone asked him a few questions about power classifications and gave him a hypothetical parahuman who could only make words appear on any surface and asked him how he would rate. Wildbow, very quickly, declared him a weak shifter and came up with a way to turn him into a hitman by using it to drive people crazy. Which a few people commented on how wonderfully demented his brain thinks. Packbat cleaned up the tropes and wondered where it was as well. Can not remember where it is, as it was when I just observed the story and never commented. But there are a few occasions when wildbow gave some word of god info like the time he clarified how much damage the endbringers have done to the world, how many attacks america has had, and implied that nukes have been used against the terrible trio in the past.

          • More glorious than imagined
            If at all possible, if this thread happens to turn up, please please place a link
            Also, I am laughing, hard

  19. Well!

    Nice to see Taylor can still go about undercover when she needs to.

    Also nice to see Accord coming clean on Cauldron. Though not on the WHOLE thing, of course. He’d have trouble explaining five new capes out of nowhere, and the Undersiders would have come to the same conclusion eventually, and with much less goodwill.

    This is seriously setting up for a throwdown with Faultline’s crew. I imagine a later arc will be the Undersiders having to choose between their new evil buddy Accord, who’s good at making those trains run on time, and the folks that Cauldron turned into freaks.

    But before that, will come the crumbling of the PRT. The Undersiders seriously have a chance to change the paradigm, here. They’ve got a master blueprint on an orderly city, and a rise to power, from the guy who makes master blueprints his SUPERPOWER. They’ve got the power, the experience, and the motivation to do it.

    Hell, if they CAN become the lawful authorities, Dragon can even hitch her star to THEM. (Assuming Dragon’s not totalled. I’m hoping her backup and restore function reverses the code damage from Colin’s REBEL.EXE.)

    I see the Undersiders taking in the local heroes once the PRT crumbles. The ones that are left still want to do good things, and Skitter can both enable that while treating them with respect, probably more so than past PRT directors ever did.

    And yeah… Though Taylor and Brian get some sweet hibbidy-jibbidy time here, it very much feels like “goodbye” to me. That line about precautions is also pretty much confirmation that we’re not going to have an “accidental pregnancy” plot twist. (THANK YOU WILDBOW!)

    But yeah. For now, at least, Taylor and Brian is no longer a thing. So Clockblocker’s free to Foe Yay at her all he wants, and she’s free to be completely oblivious to him. 😀

    (Foe Yay? Foe-mo-erotica? Foe-moric-acid, since she’s a bug chick? Eh.)

    There’s still a lot of stuff to go. Dragon’s dilemmas, the Bird cage, dealing with the PRT, the eventual assault by the Plot-terhouse Nine, Scion, the Endbringers, Panacea, Lung and Marquis…

    Honestly, I could see several more arcs here. If Wildbow can wrap it all up in ten or less, I’ll be amazed. But then again, she/he/hir/shir/they/blender/radish doesn’t have to. There’s always room for future stories, after all, and spin-off tales. Hell, a working dimensional gate is a good excuse for any type of story you want to tell, really.

    At any rate, kudos to Wildbow for an awesome chapter, and I’m eager to see what saturday brings! It is SO GOOD to have an author who is both TALENTED and posts their stuff REGULARLY! That is true joy that I do NOT take for granted, and when I have money again I am gonna have to donate, to show my thanks.

      • Well Skitter touches on the fact that there will ALWAYS be capes that come to the city to attack them for pick a reason. Faultline’s crew staying there gives them some more firepower, though TT will probably suggest they keep the cauldron thing on the down low. If worse came to worse, they could always buy formulas and use it on loyal minions. So Sierra, Charlotte, and Forest could get an upgrade. Though knowing Cauldron’s stupid nemesis program I wouldn’t be surprised if they give a big discount to Greg, or Emma. I am really curious what happens if Skitter ever drank a cauldron formula.

    • Just wanted to note: Mussolini didn’t actually make the trains run on time. The previous regime did that, and he just kept the relevant policies in place after he had them killed. So Accord = Mussolini isn’t necessarily a good comparison on that count.

  20. It seems that it would really be in the Undersiders best interest to attempt to implement Accord’s plan for Brockton bay. He seems honest and it would be a good way to get him to be your friend by showing him kindness and respect that nobody ever had done before. I don’t even think that Accord would actually be capable of faking a plan in such a way that actions would lead to somewhere else than he outlined. His ego would probably not allow him to create a trap that way. I just have the feeling that Accord is the sort of person who would not walk away from Omelas and that at the heart of his utopic vision there might be something that Skitter could never agree to.

    Maybe they should start small. The most efficient way of routing of evacuation channels through the portal seems like the sort of problem that is made for Accord and the sort of thing that he would do just for the hell of it. Make him create plans on how to best set up humanity on the other end and it would keep him busy and out of everyone’s way.

    • Assuming Tattletale does look over the document Accord provided, I’d expect any “child of Omelas” type gotchas would leap right out her.

      Actually the way it’s described, it sounds like the document is written in clear and easily readable text so any morally objectionable elements are probably right there in the open too. For a long term plan to work it is helpful that people not discover hidden truths about it part way through implementation.

      It would almost be funny to discover that Accord’s power produces plans that are more moral than he is simply because being its the most effective way for long term projects to function.

    • I seriously doubt that Accord’s plans are even close to realistically workable. Sure, they may work if absoutely everything goes according to plan. But this is Worm we’re talking about here, and Accord’s power is a Murphy’s Law lightning rod. The more complex a plan is, the easier and more spectacurily will it go to shit.

      It feels to me like he’s working by the logic of “everyone but me is stupid if only the did things right!” with no regard for basic human behavoir, competing interests, and people deviating from his vision.

      His thing about solving world hunger left a bad taste in my mouth, honestly. Because it’s another middle to upper class first worlder looking at the problems of “poor people” and deciding he knows what’s best for them.

        • I thought his plan was specifically intelligence that increases the more complex a situation is and being able to put out rube goldbergesque plans like this is only a product of that.

          Remember that a smart complex plan is not necessarily a good one. There’s a reason people say Keep It Simple Stupid.

          I’m pretty convinced that the last sentence is what he is until he proves otherwise.

          • > Also, fuck this fascist dickwad. Just throwing that out there.

            Oh, but of course. Be his plan good or not, he’s a murderous basket case who should probably be locked up for his own good.

          • His power, as I understand it, is that he is basically a tinker who doesn’t work with technology. He thinks of a problem, and then his power supplies potential solutions. That seems to have been what was happening in his head as he was walking to the meeting with the Undersiders during his interlude, at any rate.

            Also, how is he fascist? From what we know of the plan, he’s not expecting to make the state the focus of the society. He’s not ultranationalist or necessarily authoritarian. He just has a plan drawn up that arranges things so that everyone starts getting along. Aside from his murderous impulses, Accord seems like one of the few people in this story actually focused on improving the world. The best place for him, in my mind, would be in a sterile environment where he can be mined for ideas and won’t lash out and kill anyone.

          • Yeah, sure, he’s not literally a fascist. But I don’t see the point in specifically differentiating between one piece of domineering, authoritarian trash and the other. Not worth the mental effort.

            “He just has a plan drawn up that arranges things so that everyone starts getting along.”

            Yeah, plans drawn from his experiences and worldview. Even if his power works on “How to solve this problem” basis he still processes the information through his arrogant attitude.

            He’s not going to meet with people actually living in the countries he wants to solve the problems of. I don’t care if his plan would work if people would listen to him, it’s still a load of patronizing bullshit based on imposing his own vision on other people for “their own good”.

            “Accord seems like one of the few people in this story actually focused on improving the world.”

            I dunno if we interpreted it differently, but I didn’t see anything that suggested he actually gives a damn about people starving overseas.

            He just sought to “fix” the problem out of arrogance and because his power drives him to, and he got indignant when people didn’t think he’s as smart as he think he is.

            Though you got a point about using him as an information resource. Maybe they can cut out his brain and plug it into a computer with a thought to speech program so people don’t have to put up with his dickhead stench.

          • Jesus, dude, you really seem to hate this guy.

            I was viewing him as pretty much the complete opposite of how you’re looking at him. Instead of using his power to make himself rich and/or rule the world, he immediately went towards how he thought he could do the most good–thus the binder on how to solve world hunger. From there, yes, arrogance came into play; Accord is an arrogant creature. But I can’t entirely condemn someone who’s immediate reaction upon being given the ultimate problem-solving power is “How can I help the greatest number of people with this?” In this respect he’s no different from the current foundations and activists working to solve the same problems sort of problems that he’s worked out solutions to. He’s not asking that he be put personally in charge of everything, he’s not imposing his own views on the rest of humanity, he’s just another guy trying to fix some of the problems that have plagued the world for as long as people have been on it. To put it another way, he’s not saying “My way is the right and only way we should be doing things;” he’s saying “Hey, I have a solution here that I know will work.”

            That’s the difference, I think. It’s not arrogance when he knows that his plan will actually work out, thanks to his power. I really can’t see it any differently than, say, a charitable foundation trying to help the homeless. The fact that the charity happens to be run by a man who has near constant visions of the best way to murder everyone in the vicinity is troubling, I will admit, but I can’t say they’re imposing their will on the homeless people by giving them shelter and food. They’re just trying to help.

            @Packbat: I had read about that guy. Interesting character. I think my favorite bit about that story is how the dictionary people assumed he was a doctor at the asylum–I would have loved to have seen their faces when they found out he was a patient.

          • To put it another way, he’s not saying “My way is the right and only way we should be doing things;”

            Uhhh… were we reading the same interlude? this is entirely what his entire mindset amounts to. It literally drives him nuts to look at something that doesn’t conform to his own arbitrary standard of order. I really don’t see how you can read about this guy and see an altruistic bone in his body.

            The difference between this guy and most (non-shitty) charity organizations is that the latter focus on helping people solve their problems from the community level up, on the people’s own terms instead of presuming to tell people who actually have to deal with this stuff firsthand what they ought to be doing. That’s something that’s very important for not slipping into colonialist horseshit.

            Also, I don’t think it needs to be said that history books are full of people who thought they knew how fix the world, and decided to start pulling together resources and armies to make it happen.

            Remember that Accord was personal friends with Coil. Assuming that he knew about Calvert’s profiting off of disaster zones and employment of child soldiers, he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him if he actually cared abut the worlds problems.

          • I think part of the source of this disagreement is that Accord has a deliberative interest in moral goods (I have the power to make plans that let me solve any problem? Let’s start down on the list: world hunger, disease, population control, energy sustainability …) but lacks the empathetic functions on which the entire concept of ‘moral good’ is (in my opinion) based.

            *leaves to add “Well-Intentioned Extremist” to Accord’s entry on TV Tropes*

          • “Uhhh… were we reading the same interlude? this is entirely what his entire mindset amounts to. It literally drives him nuts to look at something that doesn’t conform to his own arbitrary standard of order. I really don’t see how you can read about this guy and see an altruistic bone in his body.”

            Fair point, actually, about his mindset there, and how he reacts to what he perceives as chaos. However, I would very, very much argue about him not being at least somewhat altruistic, because if that were true he wouldn’t be trying to solve world hunger, or bring order to a city in chaos, or any of that. If he were really that selfish, he would be using his power to bring order to his immediate surroundings as fast as possible. Instead, he did something that he honestly thought would help people. Solving world hunger doesn’t necessarily bring people into line with his way of thinking, after all–people are still people. Just not hungry anymore.

            “The difference between this guy and most (non-shitty) charity organizations is that the latter focus on helping people solve their problems from the community level up, on the people’s own terms instead of presuming to tell people who actually have to deal with this stuff firsthand what they ought to be doing. That’s something that’s very important for not slipping into colonialist horseshit.”

            Except that’s what we see him doing in this chapter. You can’t really say he hasn’t had to deal with problems like law and order, the SH9 and everything else–he’s been a supervillain in a major city for a long time, after all. He kind of is one of the people on the ground in this case. I think this is kind of a minor point, really, as his power straight-up tells him what will work and what won’t, but for the sake of addressing the argument I would say that he’s someone with firsthand experience in keeping order in a large section of a major city.

            “Also, I don’t think it needs to be said that history books are full of people who thought they knew how fix the world, and decided to start pulling together resources and armies to make it happen.”

            This is very true! However, you can apply that description to Ghandi as well as Hitler. It’s not really a convincing argument; anyone who tries to change the world, for good or ill, has done that. I’m not saying that Accord is in any way like Ghandi, but I don’t think he’s too much like Hitler either (or the imperialist nations of the 17-1800s, or the various other dictators of the 20th century, or any president or prime minister of any country in history). Hell, that’s what Taylor has been doing in Brockton Bay for the past five or six arcs, and we still root for her.

            “Remember that Accord was personal friends with Coil. Assuming that he knew about Calvert’s profiting off of disaster zones and employment of child soldiers, he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him if he actually cared abut the worlds problems.”

            This is also true, and is where I should point out that I’m not painting Accord as a completely good person. He isn’t. He’s a complicated and deep character. He’s arrogant, he’s murderous, he has poor impulse control and he doesn’t understand people that well, but he’s also the guy who wanted to solve world hunger, and who got brushed off as though that was nothing. He’s stolen, lied and schemed in order to put himself in a position where he might be able to enact his solutions, and in doing so has started working with people who are horrific criminals, but he has done all of this in order to bring about a better world. How is that different from what Skitter has been doing? Because he’s been rejected so much that his immediate reaction is passive-aggressive dickishness? Because he can’t really connect with the people he wants to help? Because he’s not the viewpoint character?

            I’m not saying Accord is completely a good guy. I’m just saying he doesn’t deserve to be dismissed out of hand, or thrown into a Bonesaw-style brain-extraction contraption. He’s trying to make the world a better place the only way he knows how, which is all I think we can really ask of him.

            Last minute thought: Well-Intentioned Extremist describes him really well, actually.

          • I’d like to step in here and add that Accords power ITSELF is what sees things as chaotic and then FORCES HIM to immediately formulate a plan to fix the chaos and make it order. It isn’t his own personal perception of chaos and order, but one of geometry and waste. A u-shaped irregular figure with one arm longer and thinner than the other would be an abomination to him, for example, regardless of it having an even or odd number of units of measurement because it being even or odd is still orderly. Glass scattered across the ground is chaotic, while that same set of glass shards instead tastefully arranged into a form of tiling for the floor, or a stained glass window, or whatnot, is orderly- it is purpose given form, rather than wastefulness.

            In the case of world hunger it wasn’t “oh, everyone just cinch their belts a little, eat less, then there’s more food”, it’s a comprehensive analysis of why there is a food shortage, the steps involved to generate enough food for everyone to eat without starving, and the costs involved through wages, manpower, and reduction of waste (such as the many, many food chains that generate so much waste food that if you aren’t averse to dumpster diving can garner you and five friends enough FRESH food to feed yourself to enough of an excess to induce vomitting from overeating- from a single store).

            I would also like to direct you to the fact that his plans SPECIFICALLY -account for human error-. This is huge. if something happens to prevent something form occuring on schedule, there is detailed instructions of how to progress from there. His plans are not just checking percentages of things occurring, they deal in definites- How to usurp chain of command appropriately, who you need to lean on with whom to get them to then advise someone else to get them to then view your project favourably, for example. When he detailed how to fix world hunger he just planned for that, NOT planned “How to get people to accept my plan to fix world hunger”, which would have been far greater a problem and would have then resolved how to have his initial plan work- BUT he didn’t think of it that way thanks to his ego.

            Lastly, when a view of what is orderly and what is chaotic is imposed upon you and forces you to go through plans to FIX the “problem”, you get a little leeway in being unhinged. Skitter herself admits that fear for respect simply works. It is the simplest, most effective way to gain power. If you show you’re soft, then you lose respect, and people do not listen. Thus the problem of going the route of fear, but if you can maintain it, then it works- and the costs of going the route of fear are actually lower than gaining respect the hard way- which also involves concessions to chaos that he would go insane going through.

            Yes, he’s an arrogant, egotistical bastard, but he’s not all that bad.

          • “They claim their labours are to build a heaven, yet their heaven is populated with horrors. Perhaps the world is not made. Perhaps nothing is made. A clock without a craftsman. It’s too late. Always has been, always will be…..too late.”

  21. I really don’t see a problem with two young people having sex… For me it only gets bad when there is an age difference. I think these two are more mature than most people I know my age (25ish)

    Hell I met my (now) wife at 16…

  22. “And others, a very small few, they make that drive for success, that need to climb becomes a part of themselves.”

    This is a really complex and fascinating syntactic construction, but the simplified version of it would read, “Others make that drive for success becomes a part of themselves.” I’m not 100% certain I’m parsing it correctly, but if I am, it should read “And others, a very small few, they make that drive for success, that need to climb, become a part of themselves.” “Make” is the main verb of the sentence, and “become” is some sort of bare infinitive… I think. “That need to climb” is a non-restrictive appositive, so it should be set off with commas on both sides. I think you have some kind of double displacement happening at the beginning, as “others,” “a very small few,” and “they” are all the subject. “A very small few” might be an appositive, though.

    This is so interesting that I’ve entirely stopped reading the chapter at this point and am just thinking about how this sentence functions.

    • “And others, a very small few, they make that drive for success. That need to climb becomes a part of themselves.”

      Probably makes a lot more sense when you read it like that.

        • Hey, I recognize you too🙂
          “Elaborate” is my default screen-name, whenever it’s not already taken – I mostly reserve “Elyandarin” for when I’m posting something clever, using “Elaborate” for everyday things like submitting typo corrections.

    • Person talking. a.k.a “dialogue”

      When you think about someone saying it, especially if they’re talking about something important to them, that they are passionate about, then it sounds okay. It is spoken with pauses at the commas, but not extended pauses, a la ellipses (although it could have been if Citrine was being overly dramatic).


  23. This really echoes the tone of Taylor’s feelings towards walking cliches/tropes. Multiple times she mentions about hating the way things are handled in movies or books (e.g. people not talking to one another). This feels more like her acting on that maturity rather than telling us through narration, “I always hated it when the lead character felt obligated to stay with the first person s/he had sex with.” It’s been a long time coming and I think even we could have seen it coming; both Skitter and Grue have been slowly drifting apart despite the fact they still care deeply for one another’s well-being.

    That or all of this is wild speculation on my part because I’m a hard Skitter/Clockblocker shipper. Foe-yay indeed.

    • Yeah. Assuming that they’re breaking things off, Taylor and Brian are separating while still being close friends. They both know that the other will be there for them and they don’t need to snog every hour so to know that, and if they want to get back together, they can. It’s a remarkably mature and down to earth way to approach a relationship, especially for genre fiction. Though honestly it’s on a maturity level that might be beyond Clockie, unless he did some growing up offscreen.

      I think I can see a mirror of the Dragon/Colin relationship here to, who kinda seemed joined at the hip and preoccupied with their relationship. Sure, it’s sweet, but when a partner says that you trying to claim basic human agency and freedom of choice isn’t worth losing you it seems like a bad sign.

      • > Sure, it’s sweet, but when a partner says that you trying to claim basic human agency and freedom of choice isn’t worth losing you it seems like a bad sign.

        Two things:

        1. The hack Defiant used to unchain her from Andrew Richter’s “must obey lawful authority” rules was dangerous — literally brain-surgery dangerous. It’s not something to take lightly, and that’s the point Defiant was trying to emphasize with her.

        2. He still did it, despite his worries.

        • True. I’m probably still running off my character interpretation of Colin as kind of a manchild (or manteenager, whatever) who approaches things from a kinda immature mindset. I was also kind of put off by their behavior in the Blasto interlude where they thought they had time to hold hands and shoot the shit while Bonesaw was running for the hills.

          • Might be a difference in how Tinkers think. Not excusing him, I think he does some pretty dumb things too. Like staying inside the strange cloud Bonesaw made rather than moving outside of it before it solidified on him. And then giving not a fuck that Blasto and his work got taken. Just idiotic that they’d take a break from hunting down the Slaughterhouse 9 at such a critical time, allowing them to set up that base we saw, all to talk to a teen girl that has a high chance of being that decent supervillain Skitter.

            But we already know powers mess with people’s brains and they seem to have some preoccupation with their work. With Dragon’s body literally being a part of his work, like that jetpack having additional parts inside her body, that could be part of it too.

            He is also known for his arrogance. Luckily, RL has a lot of precedents for people making boneheaded mistakes. No offense to any Minbari among us.

            Though, if you think about it… Accord thinks he’s got the plan to save the world. Alexandria too. Eidolon is obsessed with reaching the high power levels he knows he’s capable of because he feels he’s the strongest hero after Scion. Shadowstalker thought she was the apex predator. Jack Slash gets off on being the grand manipulator of the monstrous Nine. Mannequin was solving the world’s problems too. Panacea ignored Tattletale because she knew she could make Glory Girl even better.

            Arrogance seems to be a bit of a theme here, though certainly not affecting all of the parahumans. Now Skitter’s been forced to throw off the Taylor part of herself and has to be the kind of person no one would dare attack. She’s shown some frustration that people can’t just look past their differences to do what is necessary.

            Possibly just a side effect of having powers beyond most people…possibly not.

  24. Just started a new part time job. I am the front desk clerk for the night shift of a small motel till about 3 am, usually. Decent pay, cheap rooms from the company that owns it, free coffee, plenty of time to study for class, but its so dead I can’t fathom why they hired me. I can count on one hand how many people I see every few nights. I AM SO BORED. The only guest I’ve had so far is a weird old guy wearing WAY too small bicycle shorts when he checked in. So in response to finding that old thread that Pandemonious Ivy and Packbat wanted to know about, I decided to look up any other factoids Wildbow made in the comments. So here is
    Wildbows WORD OF GOD
    Interlude 3: Some stuff on how the Wards attend school and some background of Newwaves
    Timeline of when each arc covers what dates
    Shell 4.1: A few things on how society/the PRT encourages capes toward certain roles
    Shell 4.3 a little bit on how fairly nuanced Taylor’s power is
    Shell 4.7: Mentions the city is in the Northeaster States and the lack of bees in the city
    Hive 5.2: Some exposition on how many dogs bitch can hulk out
    Hive 5.4 describes the high school circumstances of Brian, Lisa, and Taylor’s options
    Hive 5.8 what Lung’s name means and wildbow getting ninjaed
    Hive 5.9 Personally discovered that Packbat and others are commenting on old chapters.
    Hive 5.10 Wildbow discusses his writing
    Interlude 5: Might have been joking but Newter probably has a full body condom for sex
    In-depth explanation of Manton Effect. Mentions that skitter could affect a bugmans mind depending on brain makeup/chemistry but would be an ethical concern for her.
    Tangle 6.1 Taylor owns the katana of the ABB member who was stupid enough to fight he.r
    Belial discuss 3 options regarding school and Taylor with Wildbow including termites tearing it down and faking her death Confirms she can’t quite hear through her bugs except for the one time with the moth.
    Tangle 6.5 A bit on the tinker foam sprayers and how an emp effects it.
    Tangle 6.6 Some description on the armor Skitter’s armor design. Touches on the economics of keeping bugs in the armor including body heat/waste. Kind of Gross.
    Tangle 6.8 No one earns a cookie from wildbow for guessing Coil’s destiny powers. So sad.
    Tangle 6.9 Some discussion on what Taylor has earned so far as a villain.
    Interlude 6 He describes where the term Rouges came from and goes in depth on how much of a shitty deal they have/their status further down. Made small talk with short shorts. His name is Terry and he just drove in to see some family. Has insomnia. Nice guy. Hates coffee- put like 6 sugars/alot of cream in it to make it bearable. Good Info Dump on BIRDCAGE further down. Wow the wormverse sucks. Skitter needs to bust out Canary.
    Buzz 7.2 Wildbow comments on terrifying story of a cat at the vet told by Belial. Discusses superhero names. Clockie is a rebel. Only at 500 hits at the time. HA.
    Buzz 7.3 Reread for Bitch bonding. What the hell does verisimilitudinous mean Wildbow? Link to article on spidersilk.
    Buzz 7.7 Character creation process for Bakuda. Need more coffee. Out of Cream? Damn you Terry. Now I have to get more. Describes the justice system with capes. Now I need to pee.
    Buzz 7.8 WB clarifies Skitter didn’t give cricket a killing blow when she cut cricket’s thigh.
    Buzz 7.9 Belial has started her own superhero stuff. Should read afterward depending on time.
    Buzz 7.10 Describes creating Night/Fog. They killed the cameraman. You bastards!
    Buzz 7.11 Describes health issues of addicts/kidnap victims. Poor Dinah. Numbers had suddenly changed from 46.6235% to 12.3133%. It was the exact same question – how likely was it that the Undersiders would come back with nobody dead or arrested? Coil really should have learned not bet against Skitter. Tropes page first created.
    Buzz 7.12 Packbat mentions a lot of people respond more to polls than comments. We need more polls. Got a call from my boss saying I need to stay a little later. Joy.
    Extermination8.2 Legend doesn’t know crap about Geology.
    Interlude 8 Bonus For dinner Wildbow had chicken breasts in a marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, onion, paprika and ground pepper. Sides were baked sweet potatoes, broccoli and corn off the cob. Now I’m hungry. They never put as many potato chips in the bag as they used to. Cheapskates.
    Extemination 8.3 Dragon really needs to make a Scion Signal. Some comments on the name Skitter from WB.
    Extermination 8.4 Confirms Taylor is telepathic with some discussion on telepathy. Hey I just noticed Taylor saved Armsmaster from bleeding to death from the lack of an arm. What an ungrateful dick.
    Extermination 8.5 Several Info dumps on power classifications. Confirms 9/11 never happened in the wormverse thanks to Scion.
    Extermination 8.6: Sophia was required to join the track team as part of her probation.
    Sentinel 9.1 Weld was found in a junkyard. Large discussion between Packbat/Wildbow about Weld’s alignment considering he is secretly saving his money since he doesn’t need clothes/food. Stuck here for another hour. Can you overdose on coffee?
    Sentinel 9.2 The city has very mild winters. Do they have global warming?
    Sentinel 9.3 Wildbow Birthday is APRIL 10! It just happened a week ago.
    Sentinel 9.5 Justin Beiber exists in the wormverse, but might not be a singer.
    Sentinel 9.6 Some discussion on Regent’s power.
    Parasite 10.3 No visiting hours at PRT hours during crisis hours.
    Infestation 11.1 WB mentions he would like to have a dream sequence that turns the tables on the audience by actually turning out to be reality.
    Infestation 11.3 Range increases are never permanent. Sort of confirms she has a higher pain threshold than normal.
    Infestation 11.7 She CAN control snails/slugs, can’t control dust mites as they’re too small, and she can’t control squids. So much for swarming Krakens.
    Interlude 11h WB is a Massive Franken-Fran fan. Figures. Forgot theres a Facebook page.
    Plague 12.5 Grue hasn’t explicitly displayed an upward limit as far as how much darkness he can produce at once, but it has been said that the darkness only lasts for about twenty minutes to half an hour if he doesn’t replenish it.
    Plague 12.8 The three brothers who join were part of the O’Dalys clan.
    Interlude12 WB admits he is a sadist who enjoys being mean to his characters.
    Interlude 13.5 Bonus; New sad moment to add to tropes page. WB: “Someone else commented on how thinky she is here, but one has to consider that Aisha’s been alone for much of her life, with only her thoughts for company.”
    Snare 13.4 LOT of discussion with readers on powers/sample parahumans. Want to see number 2 of Castronauts possible powers at some point. 2) A parahuman with the ability to anchor herself to any object she can see, fixing their relative positions. This would let her, say, hitch a ride with passing cars, arrest herself when in free fall, and all sorts of other interesting things. Dragon is NOT a Tinker in the Parahmuan sense.
    Prey 14.1 Good info dump on Dinah-3rd most powerful precog in setting and other precogs. Most aren’t that accurate. Some info on the 9’s habits on the run.
    Prey 14.3 Clarifies Narwhal’s power. New moment of awesome. Legend warned Bitch not to fight the 9, due to the bombing raid which Piggot dickishly didn’t tell them about, and was told to quote, “Suck Shit”. Bitch has her moments.
    Prey 14.7 Endbringer shelters have to be constructed on government owned land.
    Prey 14.8 Large amounts of old story drafts with familiar characters considered before worm.
    Prey 14.11 Clarifies what happens to Siberian and Cherish.
    Colony 15.5 Huge info dump on Endbringer’s damage to the world
    FOUND IT INTERLUDE 16 Tieshaun created a parahuman with an extremely weak word writing power. Within minutes Wildbow makes him a hitman. Mad Genius fits right? To quote:
    “That’d be a shaker-level power, pretty low level. But it wouldn’t fit into the Wormverse, I don’t think. Not as described. But if you were to force my hand, I’d basically make him Eulogy, who stalks his victims and writes in their surroundings (spying through open windows of their apartment, onto the dashboard of their car, using cameras if that sort of means qualifies for the writing power). The power is used to gaslight the victims, and he writes fragments of their suicide notes, complete with lurid and grotesque details that don’t fit the individual. Then in their weakest moment, when they’ve been pushed to their limit and are wondering if they’re truly going mad (as are their loved ones) he frames them for whatever crimes and depravities he alluded to and stages their ‘suicide’. Operates as a hitman for people who want their enemies to suffer, barely known outside of that circle.”

    • This is amazing. I’ve been meaning to go through my old comments and catalogue them so I can keep details straight with what I’ve mentioned elsewhere.

      Verisimilitudinous… Verisimilitude is the realism, truth, and probability of something… I like to use it when referring to the ability of a passage to allow a reader to maintain suspension of disbelief. Believability is another word for it, but it’s more philosophical than that.

      I also have a bit of a sadistic streak as far as my readers go, not just my characters. Which isn’t to say I’m not fond of you guys. Just that there’s a little bit of enjoyment mixed in there with the validation when you guys bemoan a cliffhanger.

      • You sadistic? Never. I learned a new word. Suck it word a day calendars. Quick question on the precogs. Is it usually like how you described Dinah? That most don’t like their powers and would probably never use them if given the chance? If they really aren’t that great at predicting the future, I can see why some people would keep it to themselves.

    • Wow. This is impressive as well as a great refresher. The Wormverse is so rich it’s easy to forget some (read: MOST) of the subtle details.

      • Never seen no country for old men. But I am a HUGE horror movie fan and there are innumerable movies about small motels and trouble that follows. Though it is in the middle of the city, and usually full. Its just that it’s a bit out of the way and everyone is usually checked it and helped before my shift even starts. The last blockbuster in the world isn’t too far away, and I have the movie pass that lets me take out two at a time. I just rent a movies, usually crappy b horror movies, and play it on my laptop. I just close it when a guest arrives and my boss doesn’t care since I’m always on top of things, and NO ONE freaking comes during my shift.

        • No Country for Old Men plays like a atypical horror film, to be honest. Definitely worth watching if you ever get around to it.

          • Might as well. I need something to keep my mind occupied so I don’t end up like Jack Nicholas in the shining. ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE ANT A DULL BOY!

    • 1) Typing my name out is fun, eh? ^_^
      2) I love that you did this, I have been thinking about making a list of WoG mentions in the comments because THERE ARE SO MANY and now I shall copypasta this into Word
      3) If you ever get bored at work again (congrats, btw) feel free to go through the other chapters as well, no?

      • Very fun. Off till sunday, but I just might. Though I don’t think there is too much more word of god statements.

    • Well, that list is certainly useful!

      I spent the better part of my work today browsing the comments of Wildbow based on your list and one point really made me curious.
      Dinah is the third most powerful precog of the setting. I am guessing The Simurgh is the top?

  25. Also, Wildbow, I might have noticed a small discrepancy regarding Elle/Labyrinth; in her Interlude during the S9 arcs, her power is established as requiring some time to `soak` into the surroundings, wherein she isnt allowed to leave from that spot. Not only that but it seems to take an achingly annoying amount of time for her influence to grow large enough to effect any significant amount of change (in terms of area).

    Yet at least on two instances before then (Fight with Lung/Oni Lee and Merchant attack are the ones first to mind) she has performed fairly large/complex displays of her spatial alteration ability with supposedly little time to prepare. Now I may have read a bit wrong (which is why I am reading back through the archives), so does this just mean the speed at which her influence spreads depends on her mental state? i.e. More lucid = slower influence and vice versa?

    • Yes. The mental state affects the creep of her power over the surrounding area, and the speed with which objects can be brought through, as well as her ability to search for objects in question.

      In the Merchant fight, they were on the roof for a little while before they attacked. In the fight against Lung/Oni Lee, she wasn’t very lucid at all.

  26. Quick one-shot that came to mind, I am so sorry:


    Daniel quietly prepared the room for his guest. Removing some garbage here, a light dusting there, maybe readjusting this or that. When he finished, he gave a quick glance around to assure himself that all was in proper order. He stood in the middle of a moderately sized living room beside two couches arranged perpendicular to each other with a glass table separating them. Between the gap the couches provided, a small path led to a dining room empty of everything but a single chair and a door leading outside.

    He nodded once as he deemed the sparse setting appropriate and made his way opposite of the dining room to the kitchen. As Daniel stared in the refrigerator debating between soda or water he was tapped on the shoulder twice just before the front door opened. /Great, company is here./ He quickly grabbed two bottles of water before making his way to the living room to greet the newcomer. Alexandria stepped carefully inside of the house while eying her surroundings suspiciously. The dozen silent men and women Daniel had lined up along every wall in the house eyed her back, hands placed carefully on their weapons.

    “That is far enough,“ Daniel smiled and raised a hand. Of course she could not see the smile behind his face mask, but it was the thought that counted nonetheless.

    “Who are you and what do you want?“ Alexandria replied tersely.

    “Wow, you seemed nicer on television,“ he murmured thoughtfully. “Honestly? I just wanted to talk.“

    She looked at her `escorts` to her left and right before gracing her host with a sardonic tilt of the head. “Right, with two capes holding themselves and me at gunpoint. Definitely believable. Who are you? That is the last time I will ask nicely.“

    With a good-natured chuckle, Daniel tossed an object on the table between them and motioned for her to pick it up. The sharp clank of the impact still reverberated through the room as Alexandria carefully examined the metallic item. Behind the visor, he imagined the pieces clicking together and then… She abruptly dropped the helmet and faced him again, every line of her body tense. Her `bodyguards` pressed themselves closer to her, in order to impede her movements and discourage any sudden attacks; all around the room the silent bystanders stepped forward for the same reason, ready to sacrifice themselves to spare their leader.

    When she spoke again her voice was filled with steel. “Sleeper.“

    Daniel didnt respond immediately as he sat down on the couch furthest away from his guest, taking a quick moment to run a hand through his slowly thinning hair. /Really hope I dont go bald, that would be so embarrassing./ He shuddered as a quick thought of his father ran through his head. “Yeah, I never liked that name,“ He said conversationally. “The Sleeper. Never quite fit.“

  27. I’m noticing the little things. Back when Skitter first started hiding bugs on her person, she took measures to make sure they weren’t touching her skin. Now?
    “I did have my bugs, flowing through my hair, beneath my hat and between the dress and my bare skin.”
    I wonder if Taylor’s noticing these little changes or if she’s too focused on the big ones.

  28. I really can’t bring myself to care about their relationship after I stopped sympathizing with Taylor (Grue never really held my interest).

    >> There was a great deal of national debate over whether the landowner or the government should get the rights to the property.

    That is preposterously unrealistic. The rhetoric would be the capitalist or the people (managed on their behalf by the government).
    Industries are frequently nationalized of far FAR less strategic importance.

  29. What happened to the real copies of Circus/Leet/Uber/Chariot/etc I know 4 people died inside Noelle but what’s his name said they were heroes, so seems like Circus and co should have been saved?

    • When the capes were trapped in the timebubble during the Leviathan attack, they were all called heroes, quite possibly because of their sacrifice during a hellish situation against a deadly common foe. (At least one was a confirmed villain beforehand) . So I believe its a courtesy extended to the dead, regardless of orientation in life.

    • Uber and Circus, at least, get mentioned later. Chariot wasn’t mentioned after the incident where Coil’s double died; he might not have even been at the attack, although it’s possible. Leet and maybe Chariot could have been among the dead.

  30. Something for future editing:

    At one point, Taylor says: “And here’s the thing, there are ones like the Slaughterhouse Nine, too.” This causes Grue to react, presumably because of the events with Bonesaw. I find it a little odd when Grue already brought up the S9 just a bit earlier, when he says: “People like the Slaughterhouse Nine, the Teeth.”

  31. I just had an interesting thought: with only the resources available to Skitter as of this chapter, I think she could actually beat Superman under certain conditions.

    The scenario is that because of some sort of dimensional mess, Superman (the Post-Crisis, not new-52) finds himself visiting the Wormverse. Now, anyone who knows Superman’s basic psychology will know that once he finds out about them, his first action will be to get rid of the Endbringers. (Which, for Superman, won’t be that hard; I don’t want to go into it in this post since it’s gonna be a bit long anyways, but if someone doubts me on this point, I’ll be happy to explain.) The Slaughterhouse 9 would be next. (Ironically, if Siberian wasn’t already dead, Superman would probably have more trouble with the 9 than with the Endbringers.) He’ll probably then start trying to get his bearings, consulting Dragon and the like for ways to get back home and doing good in the meantime. This will likely bring him to Brockton Bay at some point, giving the Undersiders and allies reason to bring him down.

    So in order for this to work, Tattletale needs to have some time to observe Superman, but that’s probably not an issue since there are factions in Brockton who are more violent than the Undersiders, so Superman will probably save the Undersiders for last when he cleans up the city. Tattletale observes him at work, deduces a lot of his mindset and also gleans two things about his powers: a) they work off of sunlight and b) he can’t absorb power from light from a red star.

    So the Undersiders, armed with this knowledge, set a trap. Citrine, as their ally, should be willing to make an area where yellow sunlight behaves like red sunlight. (If she had the time, she might be able to just cancel out Superman’s powers directly, but this is a much faster route.) Skitter gathers all the bugs she can get, Rachel boosts her dogs. Then Regent takes a hostage, Skitter plants deadly spiders or whatever on several people, and Imp takes a hostage somewhere else in the city.

    They get in long-distance contact with Superman somehow. They can spell it out with Skitter’s bugs or just call out for him, it doesn’t really matter. They explain the situation and Superman’s in a bit of a bind. He can’t save all the hostages without going so fast he’d create a sonic boom that could hurt quite a few people in Brockton. And even if the Protectorate gave him enough info for him to know that Skitter probably wouldn’t follow through, he’d have enough info to know that there’s no guarantee for Regent or Imp. So when the Undersiders demand he surrender at a given address, he’s basically forced to agree. Of course, the address in question is the area that Citrine has changed, so when he enters it, he immediately stops gaining power the way he constantly does in red sunlight. (There is a common misconception that Superman outright loses his powers in red sunlight; unless someone doubts me on this, suffice it to say that even in red sunlight, he can easily have enough yellow sunlight stored in his cells to operate for a while. Think the difference between a cell phone that’s plugged in and charging to one that isn’t. Both work just fine, but the unplugged phone will eventually run out of power and the plugged one will not.)

    So Superman’s stopped auto-charging, but he still has enough solar energy in him to be dangerous. That’s where Grue comes in. He immediately uses both of his powers on Superman. His darkness seems to block several forms of energy, so it might lock down some of the sunlight Superman has stored up, making him even weaker. Even if it doesn’t, Grue is still draining Superman’s power reserves even more. Superman’s losing his powers at a quick rate, and Grue will eventually become strong enough to actually hurt him.

    Now, Superman might not fight back, fearing that the hostages will be killed. If so, Grue simply needs to keep draining him until Superman can no longer withstand a blow from either him or one of the dogs. If Superman does wind up trying something, though, Tattletale will be there to help coordinate efforts. Skitter can slow him down with silk threads or bugs in his eyes, and the dogs can disrupt any plans he has by knocking him around whenever Tattletale says he’s about to try something. Either way, Grue will probably strike the finishing blow with Superman’s own power.

    Voila, the Undersiders (plus Citrine and a few hapless hostages) have defeated Superman.

    (Now, I’m sure people are about to shudder in fear at the thought of Regent controlling Superman. Rest assured, Superman has had extensive training in resisting mental domination. Once they figured that out, they’d probably just kill him; it’d be too much trouble trying to get past his mental defenses and take control, and either way, the rep they gain from having beaten the guy who took out the Endbringers will probably set them up as practically untouchable. Who would dare fight them? So not having Superman under their control is only a problem if Scion decides to take back Brockton Bay.)

    • There’s a few weaknesses in that plan: Superman has been known to move fast enough that the air in front of him should explode without issue, he’s probably not going to suddenly be afraid to abuse his superspeed out of concern for collateral damage. And assuming Grue can block OR copy his powers is really optimistic. However, I can see them use hostages – a large number spread out over several cities probably – to simply keep him under red sunlight until he loses his powers and then shoot him in the head from far away. The way no comic book villains ever do because it’d be patient, uncreative and effective.

  32. I…honestly have serious trouble imagining Taylor/Skitter in a sundress…absolutely perfect disguise…

    Citrine and Accord are being FAR more open than I had ever expected. Especially considering the known difficulties with Cauldron and the Undersiders. It’s refreshing to see two groups actually working rather well together. Othello seems like he’d be an annoying person to fight with but with good planning not the most difficult fight. Citrine is another matter since you’d have to take her out quickly and before she truly expected a fight. Or just use long range weapons like Legend. And I almost wish we could quickly dip into Accord’s view when he hears that they are actually looking at his proposal. I imagine pure mind crash for a moment as he hears it’s being taken seriously followed by either dismissing it as “Nah, it won’t last” or sudden utter devotion to this group of kids who finally listened to him. Either way it would be awesome to see.

    Well now, THAT gives quite a bit more insight into Alec. Even more so than his own viewpoint did which actually makes a lot of sense. We can know a lot about ourselves but looking at us from others’ perspectives puts things into focus which we never even really think about. It actually gives a hell of a lot more impact to the stuff with Shadow Stalker. Regent may not have realized it himself and may have been acting mostly because it felt he should but Grue’s comments really do give a lot more credence to Regent actually feeling on some level extremely pissed at SS and protective of Skitter. We’ve already been shown peripherally that she is pretty much one of the only people who can actually keep him and check and who he defers to. It’s cool to think about things that way.

    Haha thunder rumbles at the exact same time that Brian goes into protective older brother mode! Perfectly appropriate environmentals lol! It’s kind of sweet that Taylor can sort of see an actual romance between Alec and Aisha. I totally think those two are perfect for each by the way. So glad this is more of less canon now!

    Well it’s nice to see that she fully acknowledges she badly needs therapy!

    Okay so if there was ANY question about how far those two kids have gone that was totally dashed! Good to know that I was right in my earlier assessment of the situation. God that conversation was so bittersweet though. They were halfway between breaking up and loving each other and admitting that at least one is likely not going to survive things. That was so heartbreaking.

    On the up side, it frees me up to fully explore my Skitter/Clockblocker, Skitter/Tattletale, Skitter/Charlotte, Skitter/Flechette/Parian ships. There is always a bright side in everything if you look hard enough!

  33. Taylor and Brian are starting to grow on me as a pair. I also really doubt that any couple could stay healhthy and successful under the pressures of being a big-time supervillain, but it’s so nice and sweet seeing them communicating and supporting each other.

    Jesus christ, Citrine. I’m genuinely fucking terrified of her powers. I should have figured given that she’s Accord’s second in command, but I was somehow under the impression that she had some low level flunky power??? Wtf.

    • The thing that makes me feel a lot better about Citrine is Tattletale’s description of how she acted in the meeting. She was looking around, judging the strategic value of particular spaces within the conference room. That implies she can’t hit the whole room at once, or even half of it.
      She has trump powers, sure! And their effects are pretty scary! But they affect spaces, not people, and the spaces affected are small. You can run from her attacks. The only tricks will be keeping your movements unpredictable (so she can’t hit where you’re about to be) and remembering where she’s already hit (so you don’t dodge into an existing effect). And of course, a competent opponent (especially an informed one) will start modulating their power as soon as they’ve seen hers, so that if they get trumped it doesn’t put them out of action.

      But yeah, Accord doesn’t really seem the type to buy flunky powers.

  34. It seems like Citrine is ridiculously strong, if what she implied is true (that she can take away someone’s powers in 20-30 seconds without even needing to touch them). All Accord has to do is direct his subordinates (which he is apparently extremely good at) to occupy the Undersiders’ attention for a minute so Citrine can disable their heavy hitters (Skitter and Bitch).

    I’m not sure how I feel about this arc so far. I get how a “the Undersiders have to deal with running things in post-Coil times” arc is a sort of natural direction for the plot to take, but I’d rather there be more focus on the overarching plot with Cauldron, the PRT, etc than having the Undersiders deal with some new random villians (a couple of which – Butcher and Citrine – seem to have kind of ridiculous powers, even compared with some of the other stuff we’ve seen). I’m also a little disappointed that the events of the last book apparently haven’t lead to Skitter finding more common ground with some of the heroes, though it makes sense for the PRT to have outted Skitter as a result and for said outing to have driven her off the deep end.

    • I disagree. This kind of arc is much more interesting than what you are calling “the overarching plot”. It’s interesting and novel, while the whole end-of-the-world and super-conspiracy things are hopelessly cliche and trope ridden, to the point of being boring.

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