Interlude 21

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How did the others do it?  They entered into a room and people respected them.

Sabah walked through her territory, a black, bipedal unicorn just behind her.  She had muscle, but the stares she got were hard ones, challenging.

Was it that she’d inherited territory that Bitch had controlled, once?  Territory where people had been afraid to go outside for fear of being attacked by dogs?  She’d tried to make it clear she wasn’t that kind of leader, had tried to emulate Skitter, even, but it hadn’t worked.  Gifts she’d brought in were rejected outright, or taken wordlessly, as if people thought she owed them something for being in charge.  She’d saved people from the Teeth… saved them from extortion, threats.

Not even a thank-you.

She couldn’t shake the suspicion that, well, she hadn’t been here when the disasters hit Brockton Bay.  She hadn’t been a line of defense between these people and the Slaughterhouse Nine, the Merchants, the Chosen, or the Pure.

She’d been one of those people, instead.  She’d escaped being the victim, but… she’d lost so many people she cared about.

It wasn’t the first time she’d done this.  Gravitating towards one idea, feeling like she’d finally found the one thing she had to do.  It was never easy.  Always an uphill climb.

High school had been hard because she’d immigrated from Basra with her family.  She’d had an incomplete understanding of English, had been forced to learn the language as she learned the subject matter.  Her parents had been too occupied with their own issues and their own adjustment to help her out, so she’d done it alone.

Sabah was still kind of proud that she’d managed it, even if it wasn’t something that anyone else had ever recognized.  A private, personal victory.

She’d attended university, and had gravitated towards the grittier subjects.  She’d taken math courses, focusing on engineering after her first year, because they had been the subjects she’d found easiest in her transition to an English high school.  She’d been okay with it, not happy but not miserable, but still, she hadn’t had a person to confide in.  She’d stuck it out on her own, quietly uncomfortable with where she was in every sense of the word, unwilling to burden her family with her relatively minor issues.

Being a girl in a male-dominated field, she’d drawn attention from one student.  A boy.  He’d been nice, but he’d also been under the impression that being nice demanded reciprocation, as though every action deserved an equal and appropriate reaction from her.

He was always there.  They had the same classes, because they were in the same program, barely twenty-five of them in all, and Brockton Bay’s college wasn’t that big.  He was always interested in talking to her, and her more demure rejections had had no effect.

She tried a clear ‘no’, and it didn’t work.  He’d gone away for a few days, then came back, making another casual hint about them maybe going out.

She tried a harsh no, laced with all the anger and frustration she’d been feeling, and she got labeled a ‘bitch’.  The other students, friends or acquaintances of her would-be-paramour, wound up hearing and turned on her.  Her schoolwork started to suffer, because she didn’t have the study groups, nobody willing to work with her on projects and presentations.

So, after six weeks of that, she’d caved.  She told him she’d had a bad day, apologized for her attitude.  She’d hated herself for doing it.

It only served to put her right back where she’d been before, dreading going to class and dealing with him.  Always with that vague fear that he’d escalate, that he’d start sending her emails or phoning her.

And because of the way she’d done it, she’d burned a bridge.  She couldn’t defuse the relationship with a statement to the effect of, ‘I don’t like boys.’  He would have seen it as another manipulation, and she couldn’t have managed if she were cut off again.

Her father’s terminal heart attack had been another straw on the camel’s back.  Alone, it was nothing, but in combination with everything else… Sabah had triggered on what was only one in a long string of nights spent alone, stewing in frustration, fear and anger in her dorm room.  She’d glimpsed something bigger, something that was beyond her recall now, and she’d gained her powers.

That had been the push she’d needed to walk away from the boy and the engineering program.  She’d found a new goal.  Success in fashion design.  As far away from engineering as she could get.  Her mom had been disappointed, but she’d felt like she maybe had a direction.  She’d made friends.  Even moved out of a coveted single-bed dorm room to a double to socialize more.

It hadn’t lasted long, that motivation.  Even before Leviathan came and dashed the college to pieces, she’d had doubts about whether it was what she was meant to do.

Even before the Slaughterhouse Nine had killed her mom, her aunt, her cousin, and her roommate, she’d been feeling hopeless, desperate.

She’d taken Skitter’s offer, hoping that maybe, this time, it would be different.  That maybe, if it was something she needed to do, rather than something she wanted, she’d find that direction, find that focus.

She hadn’t.  From beginning to end, it had felt as hollow as each of the earlier ventures.

Sabah made her way to her headquarters, her atelier, and she couldn’t help but notice the way people stared, or the way they didn’t show her the respect that Skitter seemed to naturally accept and respond to.

She hadn’t been here when it counted.  Now they were moving on, and she was rudderless once again.

Always an uphill climb.

She’d just reached her atelier when her phone rang.  A text.

Skitter showed up at PRT office and turned self in.  They taking her to cell right now.

She had to reread it to make sure she wasn’t getting the wrong impression.  Skitter… The ramifications of this… The… What?

Before she could even wrap her head around the subject, there was another text.

You know anything about this?

The heroes seemed as confused about this as Sabah was.


She found Tattletale on the contact list, tried calling.

A busy signal.

A text instead?

Parian:Tt skitter just surrendered to heroes

The reply was almost immediate:

Tt:I know. come 2 meet place from other nite asap.  First floor.

No answers, no information, only an order to meet up.

The unicorn wouldn’t do, put together like it was.  It had to be deconstructed, repurposed.

Her power gave her fine control with lightweight materials.  That wasn’t a problem.  Threads unwound, seams coming undone.

But her control of larger things was an entirely different beast.  Her telekinesis fell apart when she tried to move anything heavier than a half-pound or so, her dexterity and speed in moving those objects that much slower.  Worse, her telekinesis exploded, and not even in a constructive manner.  It got more and more unstable as she tried to move larger things, until it simply… expanded, dissipated over an area in an attempt to extend control to a multitude of tiny, lightweight objects.

She began reconstructing the unicorn into a quadruped.

She’d experimented, after getting her power.  Found that she could contain the telekinesis and keep it from dissipating.  It hadn’t been constructive until she started working with more flexible materials.  Porous materials worked best, because her telekinesis could soak into them, through them, and allow her to move the fabric rather than just the material within.  The gaps in the fabric allowed her to feed power into the ‘shell’ without it building to critical mass and collapsing.  Cloth worked best.  Torn or ripped seams could be mended, any other damage proved easily fixable, compared to the issues sturdier material posed.  It was plentiful, cheap, and effective.  Cloth was her ideal material.

And once the construction was formed, a shell that trapped the telekinetic energy within until it was heavy, she could move it as a collective whole.

The unicorn, at her bidding, bent down to allow her to climb onto its back.  Once she was securely in place, belted onto the cloth animal for security, it took off.

There was no instinct here.  It was all forced, all clumsily hobbled together with a power that probably wasn’t intended for this use.  If powers even had an intent backing them up.

As such, it took time to find the unicorn’s stride.  She had to watch where it put its ‘hooves’, fashioned of work gloves and the scraps of rubber boots.  She could feel with her power, where it was, but she couldn’t see through its eyes, and any coordination it possessed was limited to what she could give it from her current position.

She wasn’t good at this.  Navigating the streets, where they were congested with cars, or making her way through the areas where there was construction, littered with obstacles and pitfalls.  At being a cape, at being an important cape.

The Forsberg Gallery appeared, and she ducked off to one side to deconstruct the unicorn.

The material formed two smaller creations, for a smaller profile, and for some muscle to move a barricade meant to keep bystanders out of the construction area around the gallery.

Tattletale, Regent and Imp were already there when she arrived, along with two of Tattletale’s soldiers and one of Regent’s underlings.  A television was hooked up, standing in the center of the room.

“…not yet confirmed, but sources suggest that the supervillain is within a containment cell, as authorities convene to discuss…

Parian glanced at Tattletale, who was sitting on the stairs, head hanging.  She was wearing full-coverage sunglasses over her mask.  Solemn, staring at the ground, or just resting, with her eyes closed.

“Any details?” Parian asked.

“No,” Regent said.  “Nothing but the obvious.”

Grue entered, and he was a storm of darkness, to the point that his body wasn’t even visible.

“Hey, big brother,” Imp said.  There was a notable, very deliberate pause.  “How’re you doing?”

“I should have known.  Should have put it together,” he growled the words in that voice of his that made Parian’s hair stand on end.  He turned to Tattletale, “Did you know about this?”

“Power’s out of commission,” she said.  “Still have a headache.  Keep voices down, please.”

He didn’t reply, turning his attention to the TV.

“I can’t help but note you didn’t answer the question,” Regent told Tattletale.  “Did you know?”

Grue turned back to look at her.

“Had an idea.”

“Yes, then.”


Why?”  Grue asked.  “Why keep it a secret?  Why is she doing this?”

“I kept it a secret because she asked me to and she’s doing this because she thinks it’s going to fix more things than it breaks,” Tattletale said.  She shifted position with care, as though every movement was painful.  Even after she stopped, Parian could see her clenching her jaw, as if staving off waves of pain.

“Remains to be seen,” Grue said.  “Why didn’t she discuss this with us?”

It was Regent who replied, “She thought we’d convince her it was a bad idea.”

“That’s not a convincing reason,” Grue answered.

This is the team, Parian thought.  Skitter was always at the core of it, a group forged by innumerable challenges, each trusting the others to have their backs as they risked life and limb.  And she just betrayed that trust.

“There’s two major issues we have to deal with,” Tattletale said.  “Accord is going to be one.  The other is-


The girl entered the room, two large dogs flanking her, the wolf cub trailing behind, unmodified by her powers.  The young American bulldog, still not fully grown, an older pitbull that bore the scars of old dogfights.  The wolf cub was comparatively small.  Adorable.  Adorable and capable of turning into a murder machine the size of a pony.

Bitch was imposing in an entirely different way than Grue was.  Grue was intimidating, but he was fair.  Rational.  Bitch wasn’t either of those things.  Her blond hair was shaggy, having grown in, combed with little more than fingers, if appearance was any indication. The glimpses of her face that showed in the midst of the hair were a wary glower.

The girl had her jacket slung over one shoulder, otherwise wearing a simple white sleeveless undershirt with no bra.  She was muscular, but she had to be to control the dogs when they were growing, to exert enough strength to get them to turn their heads or change direction.  Other parts of her bore similar signs of her day-to-day activities.  Her knuckles were scraped and raw, and she had a scratch on one cheekbone, taped shut.  The chain that attached to the pitbull’s collar was wound around one arm.  She was beaded with sweat, likely due to the exertion of the ride coupled with the heavier pants and boots she wore.

I hate being short, Parian thought.  To look at them, few people would have guessed there was a four-year difference in ages.  Or they would have guessed the difference in ages went the other way.

Primal, unpredictable, dangerous.  Bitch was imposing for those reasons, and because she was emotional.  She could and would lash out with physical violence if provoked.  Even if she imagined that someone was provoking her.  If she was really provoked, she wouldn’t move a muscle, which was worse.  She’d whistle and set her dogs on anyone that crossed her.

Parian felt her heart rate pick up as Bitch approached, felt that sense of danger peak as they briefly made eye contact, before the girl moved on.

As unfriendly as the girl was, Bentley was friendly, the young bulldog nudging Parian’s hand for a scratch before hurrying to catch up to his master.

Regent turned off the TV.  Bitch stood there, turning to look at each of her teammates in turn.


“Christ,” Grue muttered.  “Tattletale.  You didn’t tell her?”

“Tell me what?” Bitch asked.  She glanced around.  “Where’s Skitter?”

Nobody volunteered an answer.

“Is she hurt?” Bitch asked.  She didn’t even sound concerned.  When nobody spoke up, she expanded her question.  “Is she dead?”

“Fuck it,” Regent said, “I’ll say it.  Skitter’s at the PRT headquarters.”

“So?  We break her out.”

“She went there on purpose,” Regent said, almost offhandedly.  Carelessly.

Parian couldn’t help but notice the way Bitch clenched her hands, one gripping the metal chain until her knuckles went white.

“Regent,” Grue said.

“What?  You don’t want to deliver the news, you don’t get a say in how it’s presented,” Regent retorted.

Bentley and the wolf cub both planted their feet further apart, while the pitbull was looking around, all of a sudden.

There.  Bentley’s shoulders were bulging slightly.  Bitch was using her powers.

So?” Bitch asked.

“So… that’s it.  That’s why we’re here,” Regent said.  “We’re here to talk about this, to plan.”

“She’ll be back,” Bitch said.

Will she?  Parian couldn’t help but wonder.

“I’m not so sure,” Grue said, echoing Parian’s thoughts.

“She makes plans,” Bitch said.  “She’s smart like that.  I’m not.  I don’t try to understand what she’s doing.”

“She paid me a visit,” Grue said.  “I didn’t realize it until I got the call from Tattletale.  She was saying goodbye.  Not out loud, but… checking I was okay, making sure I’d be able to manage… after she was gone.”

Bentley was still growing.  His flesh split at the shoulder, and he brought one back leg up, kicking at the air as if he had an itch he wanted to reach but couldn’t.

The pitbull and wolf puppy were growing too.  The pitbull looked a lot less comfortable with the process than the other animals, more alarmed.  Bitch tugged the chain absently to keep him in line.

“She visited us too,” Regent said.  “Imp and me.”

“Me too,” Tattletale spoke from her perch on the stairs, quiet.

Not me, Parian thought.  Unless I count that meeting with Miss Militia and Lily.

That served the same purposes, didn’t it?  Getting things settled?  Making sure things would be okay in the future.  Ensuring the heroes could help out with my territory?

Parian felt a sinking feeling in her gut.  Skitter hadn’t been leaving for the short-term.

And that sinking feeling couldn’t even compare to what the others were feeling, here.

Tattletale, nearly incapacitated.  Grue, with his darkness a virtual storm around him.  Regent and Imp, standing back, together.  And Bitch.  Stock still, radiating something more than tension.  Restrained aggression, even.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Bitch said.

“It’s telling,” Grue said.  “She was saying goodbye.”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Bitch said, and her voice was harder.  “It’s a plan.”

Why am I even here?  The thought struck Parian, out of place, out of time, a non-sequitur, yet somehow profound.  As if this point, in the middle of the discussion, was when she realized how out of place she was in the dynamic.

“Of course it’s a plan,” Regent was saying.  “It might not be a good plan-”

Bitch cut him off.  “She goes there, she defeats them, and then she comes back.”

“Um,” Imp said.  “Why wouldn’t she tell us?”

“She’ll have a reason,” Bitch said.

Loyalty, Parian thought.  Misguided loyalty, blinding Bitch to the truth, but loyalty nonetheless.

“Look, it’s not important,” Tattletale said.

“It’s important,” Bitch growled.  “You’re supposed to be her friends, and you’re talking about her like she’s gone.”

The pitbull seemed to take her cue, and began growling steadily.  He was still growing, his body straining against the chain harness he wore.

“She’s not gone for sure,” Tattletale said.  “We don’t know how this is going to play out, not exactly.”

Bitch didn’t seem the least bit satisfied with that, but the pitbull stopped growling.  Had she stopped using her power?

“What do we know?” Regent asked.

“That she wanted to keep us in the dark,” Tattletale said.  “That she wanted to go…”

“And she planned to be gone long time,” Grue said.  “She was asking me about leadership, about whether I was ready to take the reins.  I said no, but she did it anyways.”

“She thought this was important,” Tattletale said.  “Enough to put you out of your depth, as much as you don’t want it, as much as she didn’t want it for you.”

I don’t even figure into this, Parian thought.  I’m not even sure I’m an official member of the group.

“So I’m leader in the interim,” Grue said.  There was a note of something in his voice, behind that haunting echo that his power laced it with.  Not as severe as despair, bigger than unhappiness.  Defeat?

“…Unless there’s any objections,” he said.


Nobody voiced any.

“Then we run damage control,” Grue said.  “Her territory?”

“We can fold it into adjacent territories,” Tattletale said.  “Parian, Grue, me.  Maybe the others take over some of our territories to give us an easier job of it.  She made other arrangements, with her residents.  I can contact them so we can discuss it, put it all into action.”

“Her people aren’t a big priority,” Grue said.  “If they’re not going to riot, let’s put them on the backburner.  I’m more worried about anything that could go up in flames in the next hour.”

“Literally,” Regent said.

“…Possibly literally,” Grue said.  “Accord?”

“I called him just after Regent and Imp showed,” Tattletale said.  “He’ll be here at nine thirty, on the dot.  Would have mentioned sooner, but we got caught up in talking.”

Grue nodded, glancing back towards the TV.  Parian did the same.  A number blinked on the box beneath the screen: nine twenty-six.  “That doesn’t give us much time to organize.”

“The longer we wait, the more upset he’ll be,” Tattletale said.  “And he’s a planner.  If we give him time, he’ll work out some scheme to retaliate against us.  We’re stronger against him if he’s on his toes.”

“Granted,” Grue said.  He sighed, “God, I’m not up to this.  Damn her to hell.”

There was no reply from the group.

How many members of this group were voicing silent agreement?  Parian shifted her weight nervously.  How many people here had taken a life?  All of them?  Most?

Parian couldn’t help but feel out of her depth.  The terminology had never felt so apt, feeling like she was in the water, at that one point where she realized she couldn’t reach safety, the water around her face…

She felt like that now, here.

Taylor had been undercover once, hadn’t she?  She’d immersed herself in this.  It was impossible to imagine.

“Accord,” Tattletale said.

Parian thought at first that Tattletale was returning the group to the topic of conversation, but Tattletale was taking off her glasses, grimacing.

“Undersiders,” Accord said.

“You’re early,” Tattletale said.

“Rest assured, I’m on time.”

“The clock-”

“Is slow,” Accord said.  “I arrived when I said I did, and I’ll ask you once to please stop suggesting otherwise.”

If Bitch was an ‘I’ll punch your face in for no reason’ kind of intimidating, and Grue was an ‘I’ll explain carefully just why I’m about to punch your face in’ intimidating, Accord was something else entirely.

It was really easy to imagine him nonchalantly standing above her while she stood in a pit he’d had dug out, a cement truck slowly filling in the space around her.  Or very politely eating someone’s severed leg with a knife and fork held in the proper manner.

He was the kind of scary guy they made movies about, only he was real.

And that made her think about the Slaughterhouse Nine.

She hated him.  She understood everything about why the Undersiders were working with him, understood that they’d be at the mercy of others like the Slaughterhouse Nine if they didn’t have muscle like his on their side, but she hated him.

He was her height, dressed in a white business suit and tie, his intricate wood-and-silver mask moving to replicate the expressions beneath.

He was joined by his Ambassadors.  Each wore a finished mask, a suit for the men and a dress for the ladies: Citrine in yellow, with gemstones; Othello in alabaster white and jet black, all stark contrasts; Ligeia in a deep blue-green that contrasted her dark skin, with a conch-shell mask that swept back over the corner of her forehead, with an ‘up’ hairstyle to match; Jacklight, with a deep royal purple dress shirt and pocket square, his mask a grinning visage that would be fitting for a child’s jack-in-the-box; and Lizardtail, bigger than the others, with a green dress shirt and pocket square, an ornate mask that looked more like a Celtic knot than anything lizardlike.  Maybe the segments or spiral of it were supposed to represent a cut tail?

He’d arrived with firepower, in short.  Parian didn’t consider herself very combat-savvy, but she was aware of that much.

“I… rather dislike surprises,” Accord said.

“You and me both, pal,” Tattletale replied.

It wasn’t… it didn’t seem like a smart way to talk to the perfectionist supervillain.  Accord was dangerous, so why was Tattletale provoking him?

It seemed to take Accord a second to compose himself and get his thoughts in order.  “It would be polite to stand, when a guest arrives.”

“Feeling a bit under the weather,” Tattletale said.  “Forgive my bad manners.  I take it you caught the essentials on TV?”

“On the radio, while we drove,” Accord said.  “Did you know of this scheme?”

“Of course,” Tattletale said.  “Do you think we’re crazy?  Everything’s golden.”

“Golden,” Accord said.

“Copacetic, peachy keen.”

“I wasn’t informed of any plans.”

“You don’t have to be,” Tattletale said.

“We’re allies.”

“You’re subordinate to us,” Tattletale said.  “If you have an issue with that, I urge you to submit a written complaint and formally declare war.  Twenty four hours notice, if you please.  I know you like rules and regulations.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“Yes.  And you’re letting me mock you for some reason.  You’re making a lot of concessions in our bargain here.  You have a reason to be doing that,” Tattletale said.  “I’m comfortable leveraging that.”

“I made concessions because I was led to believe that Skitter was going to be the one in charge of matters here.  I investigated her, I met her in person, and I decided she fit the necessary qualifications.  Now I’m finding that things are definitely not what they appeared to be.  She’s not in charge, for one thing, there’s the reckless attack against the Teeth that saw one of my very expensive recruits killed…”

“You don’t really care about that,” Tattletale said.  “You wanted to wean out the ones who couldn’t cut it.  Codex couldn’t cut it.  Good at administration, fantastic cook, skilled when it came to managing people, and could even spar, sure, but she didn’t have the wits about her in a combat situation.  Couldn’t switch gears.”

He closed his eyes, and metal shutters flicked into place as the mask mimicked the movement.  “Please don’t interrupt me.”

“I don’t think you’re getting my point.  I don’t bend to your rules, Accord.  If you want to talk about your dead underling, let’s talk.”

“She was shot in the throat from behind.”

“Are you saying I’m wrong?” Tattletale asked.  “About her being poorly equipped for cape life?”

“No.  The analysis is right.  I won’t disagree.  But I have other concerns.  This business with how you murdered Butcher.  The girl at the bottom of the Boat Graveyard… Cherish… it was a risky decision.”

“Not so risky when you’ve done a read on the situation.  I had all the notes on Butcher Fourteen.  She couldn’t teleport free, not into open water.  She still can’t, and I had a crew use a remote control device to lash a cable to Butcher Fifteen’s pod.  They’ve dropped her into a deeper area of the ocean, and the only thing she’ll be likely to kill are fish.  If we’re lucky, maybe Leviathan will float that way and off himself.”

“It was risky nonetheless.  There was no assurance the plan would work.”

“And we shouldered that risk.  Bitch and Skitter, specifically.  If it didn’t work out, it was their lives on the line.”

“And now we have Skitter taking another risk.  This seems to be a pattern.”

“She’s taking the risk on our behalf,” Tattletale said.  “But that’s not your concern.”

“It’s very concerning to me.”

“But it’s not your concern,” Tattletale said.  There was a strain in her voice, and her fingernails were digging into her costume-covered thighs.  “We aren’t partners, Accord.  Let’s get that straight.  Do we work together?  Yes.  Have we arranged a division of labor?  Yes.  But this is our city, and you’re renting a space.”

“Tenants have rights when interacting with their landlords,” Accord said.

“Rights, yes.  But we’re supervillains.  Don’t forget that,” Tattletale relied.  “It’s our prerogative to be assholes.  And right now?  I’m going to be an asshole.  The contract stands.  Your provisions stand.”

“There’s an escape clause.”

“And you’re free to use it,” Tattletale said.  “Take the clause, leave, abandon the investments you’ve already made in this city…”

“Or attack,” Accord said, “And seize everything you have.”

“Or attack,” Tattletale said.  She sounded more tired than upset.  “You could do that.  Or you can take my offer.”

“Which is?”

“Skitter provided your notes on managing crime in Brockton Bay.  I don’t think either of us can agree to implement it, without knowing the exact outcome of Skitter’s expedition…”

“I agree,” Accord said.  His interest was clearly piqued.  Parian could see the way the eyebrows of his mask had raised a fraction.

“But I like it,” Tattletale said.  “And if your concern is about instability within this city, I can read your work, see the solutions you propose and consider implementing them.  We would give you a hand in shaping policy beyond this group.”

“You’d agree to a contract where you implement a set number of my plans?”

Hellll no,” Tattletale said.

Parian felt her heart skip a beat.  She could see Accord bristle, and his Ambassadors had tensed, as if expecting an order to attack at any second.

“But,” Tattletale said, “I can consider them.  And that might be the best offer you’d ever get.  You know your ideas are good ones.  You know there are ideas that would be worth implementing.  If I agreed to read through them, bring the better points up for discussion within the group, across our entire alliance, and I’m hoping we recruit more than just you… well, there’s a chance they’d see the light of day.”

Accord frowned.  “You’re not promising anything concrete.”

“No.  I am sticking to the deal we arranged.  This is a bonus.  It doesn’t have to be big.  It’s fucking generous as it stands.”

“Please be more civil,” Accord said.  “I’d rather you didn’t swear.”

“And I’d rather you didn’t storm in here and act like you were personally offended by our particular way of doing things,” Tattletale said.  “I’ve offered you a fucking nice deal.  Are you fucking interested?”

“Tattletale,” Grue said.  “Enough.  I think he gets the point.”

“You’re in charge, then, Grue?” Accord asked.

There was a pause.  “Yes.  But I’m standing by what Tattletale said.”

“I’ll have to content myself with that, and I’ll give my answer to you, as one team leader to another.  I hope to continue working with the Undersiders, and I very much hope that things don’t degenerate any further, as they have with the situation at the PRT offices right now.”

“There’ll be enemies,” Grue said.

“Yes.  But there won’t be further disturbances?  Nothing further that makes national news about your group?”

National, Parian thought, stunned.  We’re national news.

She couldn’t help but think of her family, of her friends and neighbors.  Her sole remaining family member, her friend from the Fashion program.  The people who’d come to her territory for protection that she’d ultimately failed to provide.

She felt a sick feeling in her gut at the thought.  They’d been surgically altered, and, according to the most recent emails, they were getting surgery to slowly regain their old faces.  Were they watching the news right now, thinking of her?

“I’m on the same page as Tattletale,” Grue said.  “That’s our business, not yours.”

“I see.  Well, I can hope.”

Accord extended a hand.

Parian felt her pulse quicken.  A trap?  A sneak attack?

Grue took the hand and shook it.  Parian could feel the blood pumping in her ears as she watched Accord and the Ambassadors for any sign of betrayal.

Nothing.  Accord lowered his hand, then extended it again, in Tattletale’s direction.

She stood, then staggered.

Trap, Parian thought.

Except it was only Tattletale’s mental fatigue.  The villainess, with her mercenary’s help, made her way to the foot of the stairs.  She leaned on the man as she crossed the room to Accord.

“Injury?” he asked.  “I’m thinking a concussion.”

“Migraines.  I overused my power.”

“Ah,” Accord said.  He extended his hand a fraction further, and Tattletale shook it.  “I… suppose I can sympathize with that.”

“I bet.”

“I appreciate your willingness to meet, in light of your condition,” he said.  “That said, it would be best if we did not interact further.  I’d rather not terminate our alliance by being forced to murder you.  It wouldn’t be polite to say how many times I came close, just tonight.”

“I think we’re on the same page there,” Tattletale said.  “I don’t want you to kill me either.  Just know that if you tried, succeed or fail, I have a lot of questions about your involvement with Cauldron that could start circulating specific channels.”

“Ah, you’re proposing mutually assured destruction?”

“Is there any other way we’re going to manage this long-term?”

“No.  No, I suppose not,” Accord said.

“Great,” Tattletale said.  She managed a feeble smile.

“Then I wish you a good day,” Accord said.  He managed to make it sound like fuck you, the way people in the Victorian era might have.

That done, Accord turned to leave, marching out of the doors with his cadre of Ambassadors.

When he was out of sight, Tattletale sagged.  Her mercenary had to catch her to keep her from falling to the ground.

“Okay,” Grue said.  “What was that?”

“Me doing the best I could,” Tattletale said.  “And speak quieter, please.  My head’s throbbing… I feel like someone’s hitting my eyeballs with hammers.”

In a marginally quieter voice, Grue said, “You provoked him.”

“I dealt with him the only way I could.  Working with old info.  Don’t even have my power, only what I got on our earlier meetings.  Shit, I haven’t even read that booklet Skitter gave me.”

“Well,” Regent said.  “This is fantastic.  Skitter really screwed the pooch here.”

Bitch tensed at the idiom.

“We don’t know what she did,” Grue said.  “Or what she’s doing.”

There was a pause.

Parian had felt lost, in well over her head, since she’d set foot in here.  These guys were a group, an organization, they had their way of doing things, their rhythm.  It was so hard to jump in, to say anything.

But now, maybe, she felt like she had a role.  A reason to be here.

“I… I think I understand what she’s doing,” Parian said.

All eyes fell on her.  Even Bitch’s gaze, intimidating and angry.

“Generally,” Parian said.  “Um.  I get what she’s…”

“Spit it out,” Imp said.

“She’s a lot like me,” Parian said.  “She wants to protect people.  She’s willing to make sacrifices for the people she cares about.”

“I’ve discussed that with her,” Grue said.

“Terribly unhealthy,” Regent commented.  “Worse than smoking, even.”

“So maybe this is a way to do that,” Parian said.  “A way to protect all of us.  She gives Director Tagg exactly what he wants.  Gets him to back down.  And this is how.  She uses herself as a bargaining chip.”

“I don’t fucking care about Tagg,” Bitch growled.  “I’d rather have Skitter than have him gone.”

“It’s more than that!” Parian raised her voice, hurrying to speak before she could get lost in the jumble, unable to cut in and find a voice in their dynamic.  She had objectivity they didn’t.  The ability to see the big picture.  “I… I think she’s decided on a way to help all of us.  With more things than just Tagg.  And maybe… maybe she helps herself, too.”

“Herself?” Regent asked.

“I’m just… I know what it’s like, to be on a single track, to feel compelled to keep going forward.  It isn’t easy, to disappoint the people you care about, but sometimes it comes down to doing that… or doing what they want and being unhappy.”

“Unhappy,” Grue said.

“Was there ever a time when she was with us, where she really seemed happy?  Content?”

“I know my brother’s made her happy,” Imp said.  “Ick.”

Regent sniggered.

“I didn’t,” Grue said, his voice quiet.  “Make her happy.”

“I don’t know anything more than you guys do,” Parian said, “But…Maybe she needs to make peace with her guilt and whatever, go to jail, and try to make amends with her dad?  If that’s part of it, can we really say no?”

“What if it isn’t part of it?” Tattletale asked.  “What if leaving us is the last thing she wants, but she’s doing it anyways?”

“Are you saying that’s the case?” Grue asked.

“No.  My power’s out of commission.  I can’t say anything for sure,” Tattletale said.  “Except we respect Taylor-”

“We’ve been through hell with Taylor,” Grue cut in.

“And we trust her,” Tattletale said, glancing at Bitch.

So she picked up on that too, Parian thought.

“…So let’s trust that she has an idea what she’s doing,” Tattletale finished.

Bitch moved, stepping forward, her boots making a heavy noise on the floor as she advanced.  She struck out, kicking.

The widescreen television with its tripod mount came crashing down, shattering.

Nobody spoke in the aftermath of that small gesture of pain and frustration.

They looked amongst one another, searching each other for some validation, for a response.

It was Bitch who broke the spell.  “If the PRT fucks her…”

“We destroy them,” Grue finished.  Bitch nodded.

The most sensible member in the group in agreement with the most violent, Parian thought.

“All we can do is wait,” Tattletale said.

“How long?”

The question had come from Bitch.  She was tense, rigid, her jaw set, eyes narrowed.

“Nightfall,” Tattletale said.  “We wait until the sun sets.  That’s the only instruction Skitter gave me.”

“What are we waiting for?” Grue asked.  “A signal?”

“If we don’t get a signal,” Tattletale said, “We act.”

Parian’s thoughts were buzzing with possibilities, more details, more responsibilities.  Taking on more territory, giving up some to Grue.

Still struggling to find a way to be relevant.

She reached her atelier and dismounted from the six-legged horse, stepping down to the floor of the alley.  It had been a little more stable than a four-legged unicorn.  She’d have to refine the idea, find a balance.  Specific forms for specific tasks.

She was behind.  Behind in her territory, behind in applying her powers to combat situations, in being able to understand and interact with people like Accord.

And until she figured those things out, she couldn’t truly be a part of the Undersiders.  And if she wasn’t a real member of the group, she couldn’t change anything where it really mattered.

The unicorn came apart into scraps of cloth.  The individual scraps rolled up, were neatly tied by braids of thread.  She lifted the largest bundle and made her way around the corner to her front door.

Ten and a half hours before sunset.  That was the deadline.  Skitter’s deadline, and the point that would determine whether this became an all-out war against the PRT or something entirely different.

Parian stopped in her tracks.  Lily leaned beside the front door, in full costume as Flechette.  The stainless steel shoulder-rest of her arbalest sat on the ground, and she used a single fingertip to keep the weapon upright, unloaded and pointed at the sky.

With a flick of a finger, Lily made the thing spin, stopped it, spun it the other way around.

“You know where I live,” Parian said.

“The PRT knows where you live,” Lily said.  “It’s on record.  But we’re not supposed to act like we know.  I thought you’d forgive me that, given our history.”

“Is there news?  About Skitter?”

Lily shook her head.  “They asked me to go out and make a phone call, outside of Skitter’s range.  But they didn’t seem to know how far that was, so I…”

“Made your way to the far end of the city,” Parian said.

“Yeah,” Lily said, just under her breath, looking down at her weapon.  Again, she spun it.

“You didn’t even know I’d be here.”

“You weren’t.  I just got an angry call from Miss Militia,” Lily said.  “Been out here for a bit.”


“Thirty minutes.”


Parian put the bundle of cloth down, resting the end on the ground.  After a moment’s thought, she leaned it against the wall by her front door.  By Lily.

She felt so conspicuous.  She knew Lily hated the black costume, with the black hair, the black dress.

Lily, who’d been maybe the only person to give her support without being asked.  Lily, who was… chivalrous.  Gallant.  Stubborn.  So very stubborn.

“Did you come here for a reason?”  Parian asked, in the same second Lily asked, “Where were you?”

“You first,” Lily said, after the momentary confusion.

“Why did you come here?”

“Don’t know,” Lily said.

“That’s a hell of a reason to wait thirty minutes.”

Lily glanced left, then right, as if looking for bystanders.

“This area isn’t occupied,” Parian said.  “My atelier is the only one on the block that you can live in.  The rest are sealed up.”


“Workshop.  Studio.  Only fancier.”

“Ah,” Lily said.  Then, as if she remembered why she’d been looking for bystanders, she let herself slide down until she was sitting with her back to the wall.

“That’s it for answers?” Parian asked.  “Don’t know?”


“Just talk me through what’s going through your head.  Doesn’t have to be relevant.  Don’t have to censor your thoughts.”

“Definitely have to censor my thoughts,” Lily said.  She glanced up at Parian.

She felt her heart rate pick up with that, oddly enough, just like it had with Bitch.

Except Lily wasn’t dangerous, was she?

God, I hate this city,” Lily  said.

“It’s… a hard city to like,” Parian said.  “But it’s not a city that lets you throw it away.  It’s tenacious, both in the big picture, and in how it attaches itself to you.”

“Yeah,” Lily murmured.  “Before I came here, everything was on track.  I could see my future ahead of me, straight as an arrow.  Career path, eventual Flechette action figures.  Every single one of my teachers and superiors seemed to know I had potential.  One of the only people who could hurt an Endbringer…”

Lily raised her unloaded arbalest, aimed it, “Pow.  Critical damage every time, and I don’t miss.”

“I remember what you said when you talked to Skitter and Miss Militia.  You don’t feel so confident, now.”

“I’ve been trying to think of where I might be comfortable.  Where I could find what I’ve lost.  During the whole post-Leviathan thing, I was always most comfortable here.”

Here?” Parian looked over at her Atelier, an unassuming, simple building.

“With you.”


“And… fuck me, because I’m not acting confident.  I told myself I’d act confident, but… I’m blowing this.”

“Don’t stress so much about acting,” Parian said.

She reached up and detached her mask from the metal frame that held it over her face, then pulled the wig off as well.  She let them fall to the ground.

A pure white mask, in contrast to her own Arab ethnicity.  She’d meant to make a point of it, to challenge people to wonder more about what was behind the masks, about their assumptions about heroes and villains.  That had fallen apart when Leviathan and the Slaughterhouse Nine had derailed her plan to unmask herself and start a career as a fashion designer.

More than the fashion designer part, it was the sudden recollection of what the Slaughterhouse Nine had done that took the wind from her sails.

She tipped over the roll of cloth and then seated herself on it, facing Lily.

Belatedly, she said, “We act too much.  Hide behind masks way too often.”

Lily looked around to double-check, then removed her visor.

“I don’t think I can do this,” Lily said.

“Do what?”

“I don’t know.  But whatever it is, I can’t do it.”

“I know the feeling,” Parian replied.

“Where were you?”

“You don’t get to ask that,” Parian said, quiet.  “Just like you don’t get to act like you own me, to say that my costume is anything but my choice.”

“You remember that,” Lily said, looking down at the ground.

“Hard to forget.”

“Skitter asked me what I wanted,” Lily said.  “I gave her my answer.”

“You wanted me.”

Lily nodded.

“I’ve already had someone try to claim me, you know,” Parian said.  “They thought that I was something that was owed to them, because of what they’d done.  That being nice meant I was obligated to accept a date.  And that line of thinking goes one step further.  They think flowers and a few dates mean I’m obligated to come over to his apartment to spend the night.”

“That’s not what I’m doing,” Flechette said.

Parian didn’t answer.

“I mean, it’s not… my motives aren’t…”


“Sketchy,” Flechette supplied.

“That doesn’t make it any better.”

“No,” Lily agreed.  “Fuck.  I was hoping this would go better.”

“And… I’m not so sure your motives were pure.  I’ve seen you sneak glances.  For someone who has a superpower that gives her enhanced timing, I’d think you’d be better at it.”

Lily turned red, very deliberately not looking at Sabah.

“Once bitten, twice shy,” Sabah said, almost to herself.  “I’ve been bitten once.”

“Is that a no?”

“To?  You haven’t asked me anything.”

Lily shifted her grip on her arbalest, then set it on the ground, spun it on the end again, as though it were an oversized top.

“Skitter asked me for what I want.  What do you want?”

“Direction.  No, not even that.  It’s almost like I don’t care as much about what I do, as me feeling like I want to do something well, but I can’t.”

The Japanese-American girl frowned.  “And this is what you want to do?”

“Yes,” Sabah answered.


“Because it’s the only way to get the rest of the money that my people need.”

“Your people?”  Lily started to glance around, then stopped.  “Not these people.  Your family, friends.  From Dolltown.”

Sabah nodded.  Her heart was heavy with the thought alone.  “And because I need to be a part of the Undersiders if they’re going to listen to me, and I need them to listen to me if I’m going to influence them, keep them on a straighter path.  To protect people from them, and to protect them from themselves.

“And that’s all worth giving up the life you want to lead?”

Parian thought of Skitter.  Of the motivations that could be driving the girl to turn on her friends.

“I think it is.”

“Then… would you take me along for the ride?”

Sabah glanced at Lily.  Lily was staring at her, an intense look.  Scary in its own way, but not quite in that way that was a reminder of uglier days.

“No,” Sabah answered.  “I don’t think I can.  It’s not that I don’t trust you, but…”

But I don’t trust youI can’t have someone try to possess me, to control me.

She couldn’t find a graceful way to say it, and she could see the pain on Lily’s face, the doubt, the embarrassment, as the pause lingered.

Then Lily seemed to compose herself.  “Not as a partner.”


“I meant, um.  A lieutenant.”

“A lieutenant?”

“I’m not good at being alone,” Lily said.  “I found that out a while ago, and what’s happened these past few weeks, they only made it clearer.  I need company, and your company is what I want the most.  I can’t say it’ll be forever, but for now…”

Being together… having a helping hand where it counted.  Having firepower and authority both, to help win over the locals.  It wasn’t perfect, it wouldn’t be fast…

But maybe it wouldn’t be such an uphill climb.

“You’d leave the Wards?”

“They’re falling apart anyways.  I’d… I’d have to give up my arbalest.  Without tinker maintenance, it won’t keep working.  But I always liked the idea of the rapier, been meaning to go back to it.  And I have darts.”

“You’re rambling.”

“I’m terrified,” Lily said, meeting Sabah’s eyes.  She looked it.

She’s taken a leap of faith, and she hasn’t touched ground.

“You’re saying I call the shots.  You’re my lieutenant, my right hand?”

“Yes,” Flechette said.

“My knight in shining armor.”

“I’d need a new costume, and a new name, probably.  For legal reasons.  If you said yes.  I was thinking more a stylized musketeer look than a knight, but I can work with whatever.”

Still rambling.

“A new costume is something I can do,” Sabah answered.  “And yes.”


“Yes,” Sabah said.  “You’ll be my lieutenant.  And you’re okay with that?”

“That’s… what I’m offering.  The last thing I want is to make you uncomfortable.”

“That’s good enough,” Sabah said.  She stood, approaching Lily.

Needle and thread.  Somehow it felt more right, more solid, than any of the paths she’d started on, only to later abandon.  Maybe because she wasn’t doing it alone.

She put two fingers to Lily’s chin, raising it, and then she kissed her lieutenant.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

435 thoughts on “Interlude 21

  1. For those who don’t tend to pay attention to such things, I’ve added a FAQ tab and a fanfiction tab to the top of the site. If you have fanfiction you’ve written off-site (ie. not in the comment section) and you’re the author, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

    The FAQ is more aimed at the fairly large number of people who’re sending me emails asking the same things over and over. It was cutting into writing time. So hopefully that covers some basic points. I’ll add more questions and answers as time passes.

    If you enjoyed, feel free to vote on Topwebfiction.

    Thanks for reading!

  2. Yay Lily/Sabah! Plus, I think we officially have our first Confirmed prediction on TV Tropes Wild Mass Guessing!

    Speaking of TV Tropes, there’s some new details to scavenge for the characters pages in this chapter, so I’ll get on that. Be right back!

    • The Crowning Moments of Awesome/Heartwarming/Funny/Tearjerking could use some updates, as well.
      Also, do you think ‘Butcher XV’ should be added to Cherish’s section?

      • This pretty much confirmed that Tt thinks that’s what happened; Not sure if that’s her power speaking or if it’s just intelligent precautions.

              • No, it wouldn’t. Mocking minority groups specifically for being minorities has way different context than friendly poking fun at someone, and it frankly gets nasty.

                They implied that gender reassignment surgery makes someone gross, and being extremely fat does too, and the two together are somehow unthinkable. I asked not to do that.

              • I’m all for not mocking overweight or trans people but seriously have you read almost any other post by Psycho Gecko? The guy(?) makes fun of everything and anything and half his comments are so far beyond the realm of sanity they loop straight through crazy and curve back around to hilariously sane. His posts are never meant to be taken seriously, they’re meant to make people laugh. I’m fully in agreement with irrevenant. When a person like that doesn’t mock someone it’s reverse discrimination and actually calls attention to it. It’s no different really from admitting horrible students to college solely because they happen to be Native American or African American.

              • Choosing not to make fun of people for things they’re oppressed for isn’t reverse discrimination, it’s just being respectful and not oppressing them further. Bigots will make that argument too sometimes to excuse their prejudices (“I make fun of everyone for everything so it’s no big deal”). I know they’re meant to make people laugh but that’s why it’s a problem. Laughing at someone because they’re fat or trans has a different effect from something superficial like making fun of someone’s eyebrows or a bad decision someone made, common topics for Gecko. That kind of humor serves to reinforce prejudices. Just like if someone makes fun of a bad haircut and it becomes a running joke, making fun of a fat person makes it seem more okay to make fun of fatness in general and view it negatively, which is what prejudice is. It’s a microaggression. I totally get that it was unintentional, so I tried to ask respectfully to stop. I hope it came off that way.

                This might help to clarify what I’m saying

              • As a matter of interest, why is it okay to make fun of someone for having a bad haircut? Not everyone has the skill to keep on top of the mercurial trends of fashion, and some people choose to opt out of the whole shallow thing altogether. Whether a haircut is “bad” is subjective and ultimately you’re just mocking someone for having different aptitudes, tastes and interests than you do.

                Do you really think it’s appropriate to demean someone just because they have different life experiences and tastes than you?

                PS. Your post did come off as a respectful request. Was just letting you know that Gecko talks like that in general and it’s unlikely that bigotry was part of his intent.

              • …As a matter of fact, you’re right, I’m not fond of making fun of *any* aspect of someone’s appearance. I picked the haircut as an example of something more innocent, relatively speaking, that I wouldn’t take offense to. But I really think this is proving my point here. You obviously recognize there’s something wrong with mocking someone’s fashion tastes, so why don’t you see the harm in mocking a quality of someone that’s actually permanent and just as innocent, if not more innocent? Something people can die for being? (And yes, I realize being fat is not always permanent, but for many people, it’s a matter of body type and not diet, in which case it’s also not harmful.)

                So no, I don’t think it’s okay to demean someone for being different. Do you think it’s alright to demean someone for an immutable part of themselves that you have no business judging?

                You clearly care about the haircut example, and you recognize that even if someone means a joke innocently it can be immoral or hurt someone. It doesn’t take much effort to *not* make a joke about somebody, and there’s worth in recognizing where it’s innocent and where it could really damage someone’s self-image. Please apply all of that here.

              • While it is true that it doesn’t take much effort to not make a joke I am curious why this specific example is causing such a big deal over all the other comments that gecko has made. This really was a rather short and tame comment compared to the majority. I can understand your central point though I don’t agree with how you are making it. The way you’re arguing, you should really be taking offense to many more things (a good example is the “Jews run every bank joke” or “a Christian, a Jew and a Muslim…”).

                I do agree with irrevenant that your initial request was respectful and I’m not arguing in an effort to be contrary. I just honestly don’t understand why this specific gecko joke caused a problem.

              • It was this specific comment that I happened to see. I’ve responded similarly to several other comments I saw and found offensive, but as a new reader, I don’t take the time to read all the comments on each chapter. Regardless, the length of a comment doesn’t dictate the length of the conversation or response to it. I get angry about things according to how I view the severity of the comment. This one really bothered me because in one sentence they made two really spiteful comments about someone’s appearance and gender.

                I do, in fact, take a lot of offense to jokes like your examples, and if Gecko has made those jokes before then I’d be really disappointed. Also, I don’t like the implication that because an argument started over this one I don’t get upset about important things.

              • Ah that makes much more sense now. I didn’t personally see it being too inappropriate considering the context but I can see why it’d bother you.

                I chose those jokes because they were the first to come to mind. (I’m Jewish myself, have always had a laugh at them and I’ve made them before myself.) I don’t think Gecko has made those jokes in particular but it honestly wouldn’t surprise me. He literally pokes fun at anything and everything. His comments tend to be so blatantly off the wall yet strangely appropriate to the current thread/situation that in some of the more boring comment chapters I read through just to find his nuggets of hilarity and crazy. The comments he makes that are meant to be taken seriously are relatively few and easily distinguishable solely because he sounds sane and/or isn’t really making any jokes.

                My apologizes for the implication, it wasn’t intended.

              • I understand where you’re coming from, but I’ve said it before, in nearly every comment in this thread — If a joke mocks anyone for something they’re oppressed or underprivileged for it becomes not funny anymore and it being “just a joke” isn’t an excuse, even if they’re “off the wall”. Jokes can be used as a tool to normalize bigotry and hatred towards the subject of the joke, and laughing at them doesn’t defuse them, it means they’re reinforcing negative feelings towards those groups. I don’t mean that Gecko is trying to stir up hatred — in this case it’s simply a learned behavior and a habit to get out of.

                Much the same with finding these jokes funny; laughing at them doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it’s just a sign to take a step back and examine the thought process behind that response. The original comment at the beginning of this debate said that no one would want to see someone who’s really fat have sex reassignment surgery. Why? Those are two traits that are closely associated with unnattractiveness/grossness, but why would anyone care about someone’s body type or their gender expression? Obviously they’re not doing a personal disservice to anyone by existing or doing anything with their body that’s outside the norm. Why be shocked or offended by that? Just as in the haircut example, it’s not anyone’s duty to police physical expression or the way someone is, unless it’s harmful.

        • Well, now, if she ever gets out her old friends the Slaughter House Nine would find her a lot more useful… or dangerous.

      • Haven’t updated Awesome/Heartwarming/Funny/Tearjerker yet, but if you think of something that belongs there and aren’t a troper, I can add it for you.

  3. That is pretty cute. I like the way Lily is effectively damning herself for love. I have a secret fondness for that style of character arc.

    Also is the character being called Lily a cross-linguistic pop culture joke?

    • “She began reconstructing the unicorn into a quadruped.” They are quadrupeds though… The later note on the thing is that it was six-legged. Did you mean a hexaped?

        • Not sure this is exactly a typo, but:

          “The Japanese-American girl frowned.” is kind of awkward. If you want to remind the readers that Flechette is Japanese-American (and I admit, I’d forgotten), a more natural place for it would probably be when she took her visor off, revealing her face. Or even back when Parian was thinking about disguising her race (and it *is* interesting that the non-White characters seem to feel the need to hide their faces – Parian, Flechette, Grue…).

          At its current location, it kind of disrupts the flow of the dialogue for a detail that’s irrelevant at that point.

    • Not sure if it’s intentional or not, Parian is at a height with Accord, who is like five feet. But she has to tilt Flechette’s head up to kiss her? How short is Lily?

    • Care of Pinkhair below (just organizing with the rest of the Typo thread):

      “respect that Skiter” Skitter.
      “with her power, where it” Extra comma, or maybe a missing one after ;feel? Either would probably work.
      “that,” Tattletale relied. “It’s” Replied.
      “But…Maybe she ” missing space.
      “city,” Lily said.”

    • Accord says the Undersider clock is fast, but he’s early, not late, so theirs would be running slow in comparison to his.

    • “she planned to be gone long time”

      Should be “gone a long time,” unless Grue is emulating Skitter’s caveman speech in her absence.

  4. Someone who’s Been There and has Burnt the T-Shirt suddenly grows up some and becomes perhaps not the same glue that Skitter was, but an adhesive factor.

    Well played, indeed.

    • Is that because Lily and Sabah finally got together or the fact that the thread of puns strung together was finally snipped, and you’re relieved because it was needling you?

  5. Great chapter , it was sweet and I rather like the new costume idea …though with her powers she’s gonna come off as a three muskateer jedi whose rapier slashes through endbringers !

    • Ooh, that makes me wonder: can she imbue an object already embedded in something else to pull it back out? Her talk about using a rapier seems to imply that she can.

      It would certainly be a good way to contrast her new identity with her old one.

      • When she puts something in, it seems to bond at the molecular level if she releases it. I don’t think if she releases it and it bonds she can then reverse it; We’ll have to wait and see if the situation comes up. Another question to ask would be if Scapegoat replaced the metal in Skitter’s shoulder when he took on her injuries. If he didn’t, then it’s not seen as a “wound”, which is a lot more dangerous than it seems at first glance- which is plenty dangerous as is.

        Also, is it bad that I immediately had the idea that Flechette’s new name is going to be Stitch|Pearl/Purl|Suture? >_> All the puns!

        • Actually, one of the other comments reminded me that we don’t know precisely how her power works when it doesn’t wear off before the object is removed — it could well be Brandish-like in its ability to pierce objects.

          In fact, Colony 15.5:

          Three spikes of metal were sticking out from between her fingers, like improvised brass knuckles. When she punched them into my shoulder, they went straight through my costume, piercing through the bone as though they were hot knives and I were nothing but soft butter. She swept my feet from under me and pushed me to the ground.

          …I think that is how it works.

          • Reading further in the surgery, I remember it being noted as bonding with the bone, which is what I was getting my stance from regarding release and re-grip. So she could leave a knife in your shoulder, grip it and re-apply her power, and then take the remainder of the blade that isn’t attached away. My theory, anyways.

          • @Rika Covenant: It bonded to the bone because she let the effect of her power wear off while the spike was in Skitter’s shoulder. Checking just now, Sentinel 9.2 has a better explanation of how the power works:

            She could do other things, but the primary benefit, the easiest thing to do, was making her ammunition punch through anything. It would glue itself in place on impact, if she had the effect wear off at the right time, and she was very good at timing things. She could charge the metal of her cleats so they bit into any surface, and though it was too slow to be used defensively unless her foe telegraphed their attacks, she could make her costume frictionless.

            She fired the needle through the corner of the roof just in front of her, and it passed through without resistance. It continued on to strike the rooftop below and in front of her, nestling in deep as the effect wore off, bonding on a molecular level to the material around it. The chain stretched down at a fifty degree angle, taut.

            Reading it now, I think that as long as she kept the rapier charged, it would act basically like the Armsmaster/Dragon nanohalberd — breaking the bonds of whatever material it passes through.

          • Yes, I’m aware- Unfortunately, we’ve been talking about two separate things. You just care about whether it can remain charged whilst piercing, since the start; I’ve been talking about if it’s uncharged after penetration, since the start. Slowblitz above specifically stated, “…an object that is stuck in something can become intangible…” as he theory, which I was countering with observed consequences involving the surgery, though with the admittance that we haven’t seen her release a charge then reapply it to an item piercing anything explicitly. One can assume Manton effect might negate it entirely, negate any part fused to another object (as I posited), or allow it to be withdrawn wholesale- treating the entire process as one akin to the Sword and the Stone, as Slowblitz posited.

            • Well, if she can reapply the power to a previously fused object, she can remove the rappel lines and crossbow bolts she fused to various stuff. This might actually be the case, because she’d otherwise be leaving wires and bolts all over the place, endangering people and vehicles, unless she always cuts the wires after her. And even then it’d be borderline dangerous with free hanging wires. One bad wind and overhead power lines may be screwed.
              On the plus side, let her spend a few months in a city and it becomes freestyle parcour paradise🙂

          • Unless she just uses her power to shear it off where it protrudes from the wall; That way she’s also not destabilizing structures she’s climbing around between, which seems like something they’d consider a nono in the Protectorate/PRT/Wards.

  6. Well at least someone is on track to find happiness.

    I really hope that Bitch’s trust in Skitter won’t be betrayed. She does not trust easily and to have her current level of trust and loyalty betrayed might break her and all the progress she has made in the past. If Taylor disappoints her now she might never be able to repair their relationship.

    The nightfall deadline sounds like this will not be the sort of gambit that ends with skitter in the birdcage or joining the wards…

  7. You know, I would laugh very hard if Skitter’s surrender will trigger (heh!) mass defection from PRT.

    As in, by the time of her trial, there are no heroes left in PRT.

    You know, I can actually see this happening.

    Inspired by Skitter, and to protect Dragon, Defiant could publicly turn himself in. To remove the leverage PRT has on Dragon (after she somewhat recovers).

    This could be followed by Legend.

    • I think the wards are all likely to join the undersiders at some point. Flech’s already doing it, clockblocker has issues with authority and wants to do more to help people/has good synergy with skitter, kid win would fill skitter’s unmet want for a tinker in the group, and I doubt vista would mentally survive if all her friends switched sides and she didn’t.

  8. Well, that was interesting.

    I’m not particularly shipping these two women. Not that I oppose lesbians, but this isn’t really in my personal preferences to invest in the relationship. Time will tell, I might end up liking it more once it develops.

    The Undersiders through Parian’s eyes, THAT was interesting. As was Accord and Tattletale, who I probably shouldn’t be shipping.

    Overall this was dark and energetic with a quiet intensity. Probably my favorite chapter of Worm in a while.

    • This ship has been sailing out there since the S9 stuff when Flechette and Parian first started interacting- It’s not just something that suddenly occured. It’s been building up slowly, mostly out of sight but enough in sight for us to know it wasn’t forgotten.

      • I know. It still doesn’t make me care about it.

        It doesn’t seem like they’d only be happy with each other. It doesn’t feel like they know each other better than anyone else. That they need each other, if not for happiness, than for something just as important. They don’t have a language that only fits them. They haven’t forgiven each other things they would never forgive another, they aren’t family. That’s what I am looking for in order to invest in their relationship.

        I could see inklings of an OTP in Panacea and Glory Girl, but Sabah and Lily haven’t, well, ripened yet. Not for me, at least. They easily could. There’s a lot of really good stuff to work with.

        • That sounds like a fanciful fae “True Love” that you’d read about in a romance novel, to be frank. Not realistic at all for how relationships work. People get together with much less of a reason than needing more stability in their lives. In fact, if anything it’s refreshing to see two people entere a realationship where one side is admittedly in lust with the other and the feeling isn’t immediately reciprocated.

          It’s… organic. I’ve had a few relationships and seen a few friends enter relationships like this, one side knowing it was (almost) all about the carnal attraction and the other not wanting it to just be about sex (one guess which side was which). They’re rocky, but if you can make them last, they can make a strong bond. One of those friends? Married very happily now.

          This is the sort of thing that makes me love Wildbow’s writing.

  9. With Parian giving her her new costume, she can really cut loose and give her a whole slew of designs, using Lily as a model for her designs to get her name out there. Ironically, she can use this very thing as a way to get her name out there while still masked- Which would allow her to retain her personal anonymity so she can escape the prying eyes of the paparazzi much more easily.

    Really liked this interlude, Wildbow. It was bittersweet in all respects, with a bit of humour that just clicked well. AS you saidon IRC, this chapter just came together perfectly. Just enough of a hint towards what is coming up to tantalize, while more solidly providing an appropriate ending to the previous arc- One where we have hit the cliffhanger, and are wrapping up stray threads (hah) to move on.

    • It has revealed an unfortunate weakness on my own part. I have far too few songs that I can reference for lesbian romance.

      And yeah, Wildbow’s been improving on the humor, not that it always fits in with the story.

      One of my favorite parts was how much Bitch trusts that it’s a plan of Skitter’s.

      The thing I dislike about this chapter is that it’s not telling us more of what’s going on with Skitter! Damn updates and their lack of being here!

      • Songs for lesbian romance?

        My actual first suggestion would be Hannah Montana’s “If We Were a Movie.”

        It’s much more interesting if you read the lyrics as a closeted lesbian romance.

        Then of course, there’s Camp Rock’s “Two Stars”, ditto.

        I’d argue that Two Stars is actually a decent Lily PoV song, especially early on.

        Nearly anything by Aly and AJ. The duets between two girls, usually for pop love songs, do tend to make one think of lesbians, though their actually being sisters may or may not put a damper on such interpretations.

        “Supergirl” by Gina Young, because it’s actually about a lesbian. I can’t find it on Youtube for some reason.

        “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” Glee version, is another one that’s actually lesbian.

        Really, a lot of female singer love songs are fairly gender neutral.

        • And I forgot all about Erasure’s “A Little Respect”! Sure, it was sung by two guys, but it was used to that purpose in D.E.B.S.

          Plus, with Parian’s issues, works out pretty well.

  10. so we don’t care that someone’s actually going to go for Accord’s plans? I for one am very excited about people actually considering his plans.
    and super thrill’d about Flechette going for it, and did not miss the needle+thread thing (fated from the start?). Almost more thrilled about the Undersiders having another powered sort-of member though, can’t wait to see what Skitter does with her power.
    sort of sounds like Parian could use a working over by TT when she recovers, if she feels her power’s meant for something else. I’ve been trying to think of what she could use it for, no luck yet

    • > so we don’t care that someone’s actually going to go for Accord’s plans? I for one am very excited about people actually considering his plans.

      That was, in fact, awesome. And that Tattletale could continue to manage Accord effectively with a killer migraine and her power out of commission is also awesome.

      > sort of sounds like Parian could use a working over by TT when she recovers, if she feels her power’s meant for something else. I’ve been trying to think of what she could use it for, no luck yet

      Facile small-object telekinesis has a lot of uses — lockpicking is one of the most obvious. In battle, though, still not sure.

        • doesn’t take much pressure to puncture skin and flesh at the jugular, or to nail the brainstem. Parian’s power is very much dangerous, just no one’s really thought of iit to be used that way.

      • “Worse, her telekinesis exploded, and not even in a constructive manner. It got more and more unstable as she tried to move larger things, until it simply… expanded, dissipated over an area in an attempt to extend control to a multitude of tiny, lightweight objects.”

        This description seems to suggest that she might be able to rip materials apart, once she has more control over her powers. She could create an endless supply of smaller stuff to manipulate, or explode things in a shower of sharp, fast-moving stuff ala Shatterbird. Even better/worse, she has no limit over the type of material she affects, and the larger her target, the more unstable it is (i.e. more energy, bigger explosions). Imagine if she could explode a building…

        Also, she might be able to control oxygen molecules, which are both tiny and lightweight. It might be what she’s stuffing into her dolls (Stuffing psychic energy sounds strange. Maybe she’s using it as a metaphor for something she does not really understand). Though that’s a bit too broken.

        Wildbow really put a lot of description into Parian’s powers, more that I remember for anyone, actually. Either it really it that complicated, or (as I suspect) there’s a plot-specific reason it is described in such detail.

        P.S. Wildbow, I love this chapter!

        • Damn, you thought of it first. Could you imagine it, though? Parian surrounded by a cloud of needles, Skitter in a cloud of insects, Grue in a cloud of darkness. Real front-runners, and great for intimidation plays.

      • 1) no such thing as a simple sheet. A simple twist of silk yarn would be far easier.
        2) Spider silk is actually exuded in very very tiny amounts. You know the weeks that she was talking about with tens of thousands of spiders? That’s mostly to weave the silk into fabric. She’s lucky in that she can just make the pieces right on the mannequin to form, instead of having to cut and sew, which cuts out a ton of production time- But it’s still horridly long and exhausting work.

        3) Most of the reason Skitter can use spider silk in her fights is because she pre-prepares lengths of it so that she can actually use it properly. I’ve been keeping an eye on that whenever Wildbow uses it, and it’s always been the case aside from the first few times such as with Mannequin- And even then it was done realistically, with hundreds of spiders draping silk lines over him, that could be broken relatively easily- But still were enough to enable her to gum up his workings.

  11. Well, I guess in terms of LGBT portrayals it makes up for the complete trainwreck that was Panacea. I’m glad Flechette is out of the hero game, I was seriously worried she was going to turn Punisher and try to put an arrow through someone’s skull.

    That was a great chapter. Even with fucking Accord coming in and stinking up the place. Go back to working on problems in front of a computer, you’ll be more useful and your fee fees won’t be hurt by the nasty teenage girl.

    I wonder what Miss Militia’s angry phone call was about. First instinct is that she blames Lily for part of this, but that doesn’t seem like her. I have a scary feeling that Tagg tried to pull some stupid Jack Bauer bullshit.

    • It was implied the angry phone call was wondering what was taking Flechette so long. She waited 30 minutes there when she left for just a phone call.

      Yeah, Accord? He’s going to betray them soon. If the Undersiders want to hold the city after nightfall, or a week at the latest, they’ll have to kill Accord.

      • The guy has the thinnest skin ever, just post his contact info on 4chan or something. That’ll give him the vapors and he’ll probably die flipping out on his henchmen.

      • Kill? Hardly. Get rid of or deal with Accord? Certainly. Regent certainly has little compunctions about killing, and Bitch is kind of a step removed from the usual considerations of morality and hence seems to me not to kill because it not necessary and laden with repercussions. Tattletale has morals, and she’d hate to disappoint Skitter. Grue has moral reasons not to kill. Imp, well… okay. Imp is close enough to Regent in this case.

        Incidentally, the various name abbreviations as chemical elements:

        Skitter – Scandium / Strontium – Sc / Sr
        Tattletale – Tantal – Ta
        Grue – Germanium – Ge
        Regent – Rhenium / Radon / Roentgenium – Re / Rn / Rg
        Bitch – Bismuth – Bi
        Imp – Iodine – I

      • Not poor. Just… eh, not exactly an uplifting coming of age for a gay teen. Though it’s more of a portrayal of the effects of a horrible upbringing by spiteful shithead parents if anything.

        • a serious issue with gay teens that have trouble coming out and being honest with themselves. Trying to push past the socail programming is hard enough without assholes and powers getting in the way.

        • personally, the gay portion of that was unimportant. Whether it was a sister or a brother, it was having feelings for a “sibling” even an adopted one that led to the cognitive dissonance. It’s more an adoption/ incest issue. Also, i thought she had a pretty good childhood, as I recall.

          • The fear of ones powers had a lot to do with it. Kind of a different take on “With great power comes great responsibility” where the emphasis is on learning and knowing your powers so you don’t lose control of them.

            She was so scared of becoming like her father that she refused to adequately learn to deal with her ability to screw with the human brain. This caused a certain problem with Glory Girl. Then she kept thinking she could fix her later on and got too caught up in her abilities to acknowledge that the better answer was to not go overboard like that.

      • I got the feeling that he meant more that it was a disaster (which it was, with the way it ended) rather than it was a poor portrayal. It was a beautiful portrayal of a (very) doomed relationship involving powers.

        • I’ve been wondering, how much of Panacea’s attraction for Glory Girl was Glory Girl’s fault? I mean, she had a super power that affects people’s emotions, making those who like her admire and be awestruck by her. Feelings like that could easily translate over into love and Panacea had a lot of long term exposure to it. Sure she became immune eventually, but only eventually. Couple that with the fact that Panacea felt close to -only- Glory Girl and I’m more inclined than ever to think that Glory Girl brought it on herself, even if unintentionally.

          • …when was Glory Girl’s trigger event? And when did Panacea’s feelings for her begin to emerge? I’m wondering if the timeline fits.

          • …That is a VERY good point that I never really thought of before; Sort of like a mini-Heartkbreaker effect, isn’t it? Not sure her EXACT trigger event time, but she was in school and got fouled and then triggered.

          • Right, so the power kicked in when Glory Girl and Panacea where hitting or had just hit puberty. Panacea is introverted and would have spent most of her hangout time with Glory Girl anyways meaning she’d be getting blasted with this power…pretty often going by the way Glory Girl used it on her with no compunction during the assault/repair on the skinhead. Chuck in the changes in biology from growing up and awakening sexuality and it seems pretty likely to me that this was going to go weird places right off the bat.

          • I could be wrong entirely of course, but without WoG I think there’s enough doubt that you can ask who mind raped who first.

          • @wildbow: …I was going to add Mrmdubois’s theory to Wild Mass Guessing, but I think that remark is sufficient to justify adding it as both Fridge Brilliance and Fridge Horror, instead.

          • A response from Wildbow was better than I had hoped for. I’d like to think there’s a character smart enough to figure it out or mention the possibility to Panacea and/or Glory Girl because that’s a relationship shipping or not that I want to see being mended.

          • Oh wow that makes those two’s story so much more incredibly sad. God poor Amy literally cannot catch a break. Lost her mother, lost her father, taken in by a woman who literally hates to look at her, has a sister that unconsciously makes her fall in love, feels horrible about falling in love with her adopted sister, sets limits to keep herself in check and is ridiculed and hated by her family for those limits, breaks those limits due to mindfuck and immediately goes too far just like she had feared, is hated even more for exactly what she said would happen, is mindfucked again, and again, and finally again before things go too far and she breaks completely, goes to the Birdcage and is too broken to care about anything. God that poor girl…

      • It did, unfortunately fall into the “lesbian characters will end up dead or going crazy by the end of the story” cliche. (Google it – it’s scary how common it is).

        Fingers firmly pointed at the fact such a trope even exists, rather than at Wildbow who had very legitimate narrative reasons for going down that path. But yeah, unfortunate, and I’m glad we have Lily and Sabah to balance it out…

  12. This chapter had so much win. The Ship has set sail. Flechette is sort of joining the Undersiders. It was a Parian chapter. I couldn’t ask for more…well the Undersiders could use a Tinker.

      • Just because she hates fighting them doesn’t mean she would refuse to work with one. Having a tinker would be something that would help the Undersiders temendously. Imagine if skitters swarm was equiped with tiny little laser guns.

          • cyber enhanced insects. bugs working at her direction to put together the small things for the tinker that they would need special tools for. OOO, if you could put a tinker and skitter together with a telepath… it would be like the dirtamancy croakamancy thinkamancy link in erfworld….

          • …Bug-sized metalworking tools. sub-nano components created en masse by a giant swarm. Each bug gets an Armsmaster Special, super-compact armor with tons of neat miniturized gadgets that don’t lack in power, swarm-linked to Skitter and Dragon both to work in tandem.

        • I’m sorry but all I can think of here is Skitter becoming an Austin Powers villain with “Frickin Laser Beams on their heads” for her bugs…not that this would be a bad way to go.

        • Or letting Blasto breed insects with superpowers. =D That alone would probably be enough to make Skitter into a Class-S threat.

          I think it was mentioned in the problem with understanding Panacea’s bugs was the lack of a blueprint, which wouldn’t be a problem with genetically tinkered bugs. In other words, a small army of superpowered critters (parabugs?) with the same level of controll and understanding as her other bugs. >:-]

  13. Nightfall, the next update, Grue gets a call to go to some random seeming spot. There, he finds a lighter and a scrap of paper that reads “Light me.” He does so, and the fire spreads along a trail of fuel and crawls up the side of the PRT building to ignite a beetle in blue flames!

  14. I loved it. I like Parian quite a bit, and I like the idea of her taking control of her own life and that being what extends to influencing others.

    “respect that Skiter” Skitter.
    “with her power, where it” Extra comma, or maybe a missing one after ;feel? Either would probably work.
    “that,” Tattletale relied. “It’s” Replied.
    “But…Maybe she ” missing space.
    “city,” Lily said.”

  15. Brilliant chapter, brilliant set up. Made even better by the fact that true love won in this instance. Ah wildbow, you master wordsmith, i am convinced that this story could save lives. Just read parts of it to the terminally ill and stop on a cliffhanger. Essentially, worm is the inverse of the arabian nights.

    • But it isn’t true love! And that is what is the best part of it. It’s lust-and-maybe-love, with possible returned emotions but leery of getting burned. It’s going to be rocky and we might even see them crash and burn. But that’s life.

  16. Before I say anything, I would like to add that thisis my first comment. I have not read all of the other comments, so some of the ideas that I propose may have already been previously stated. Due to these circumstances please take my restated propositions as simple reminders.

    1. Wildbow, god->got

    2. So, it appears that Parian is going to become a full fledged undersider. It would not be unrealistic to assume that she and Flechette will take over Taylor’s moral position within the Undersiders while she is gone. She may even be able to become a faux Skitter by creating a multitude of cloth insects.

    3. With the joining of Flechette it occurs to me that some irregulars such as Weld and/or Gully may join the Undersiders. This would be interesting considering Accords association with Cauldron.

    4. I would like to bring up the topic of major powers. The ones that I can think of are the PRT, the Protectorate, the Slaighterhouse 9(000), Nilbog, the Endbringers, Cauldron, possibly Sleeper, Scion, and possibly an allied villain force from the Birdcage in the future.

    5. Just how mucher weaker will the Slaughterhouse 9 clones be? For example, will crawler return to his premutated state? Will there be a decrease in power as seen I Butcher successors?

    6. We have not seen Scion for quite some time. Correct me if I am wrong, but his most recent interlude seemed to be happening real time with the plot. If this is the case, perhaps Scion has been engaging in a long ad drawn out fight with one or more of the Endbringers. I would not be surprised if the next Endbringer showed up half dead with Scion on its tail. This would account for Dinah’s predictions being skewed, as Scion is seemingly up invulnerable to powers.

    7. While it has been previously stated that the Endbringers fall in line with Hebrew mythology( Behemoth as Behemoth, Leviathan as Leviathan, and Simurgh as Ziz), I also notice that they have some correlation to Greek Mythology. As the Endbringers appeared in the same order that the big three( Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus) were born. They also have similar powers and abodes. They also fall inline with the powers of the Christian GOD. Simurgh represents angels and GOD’s ability to communicate with humans in a seemingly telepathic way, Leviathan represents the flood, and Behemoth represents judgement/plague/the flaming sword if Azrael and Michael, Azrael making sense with Behemoth’s nickname “Herokiller”. This could also imply that the Endbringers are actually good and that parahumans are actually Niphilims.

    • Sleeper has been noted as being something for another story in the IRC. Whether this is a hard rule or a red herring to lull us into a sense of security I couldn’t say- But due to Wildbow’s usual reticence with answering anything (even that’s a spoiler”, which is a spoiler itself) I’d take that at face value more than anything else.

      Regarding Endbringers: “…they will interlock with one another and engage in combat, with his horns the Behemoth will gore with strength, the fish [Leviathan] will leap to meet him with his fins, with power. Their Creator will approach them with his mighty sword [and slay them both].” Tale of Leviathan and Behemoth fighting in Hebrew legend. Might Scion then be their Creator? Or perhaps then we see that which lies behind the Endbringers?

    • Interesting. Welcome to the comments, and be sure to stick around for the official Psycho Gecko Welcome.
      … Y’know, I don’t think I ever got a P.G.W. *pouts*

        • Psycho Gecko on April 11, 2013 at 3:37 AM said:

          *Throws open the gates of hell with a laugh, singing Grace For Sale as he leads an army of demons and tortured, unrecognizable souls past Camo. They grab him and pull him along as they…hit up the Gulf Coast for Spring Break! Ghouls gone wild! Gecko grills for you, often having to swat Beelzebub away from the burgers and wieners while Azazel runs around sounding campy and luring in bikini-clad women with free makeovers. Mammon sells lemonade by the side of the road while keeping track of the local horseracing from his phone. Meanwhile, Asmodeus is yapping away on the cellphone with the writer he manages, Stephenie Meyer. Satan bangs away at the bathroom door, desperate to sit on the porcelain throne, but unfortunately Belphegor has fallen asleep on the john. Down by the water, Lucifer lays out, sunning himself, failing to account for just how quickly sunburn can set in.*

          *Gecko brings over your burger, some fries, and hands you a small plastic pitchfork*

          Welcome to the party in the comments section. Stay while and enjoy yourself. What’s the worst that could happen?

          *Cue the evil laughter…coming from Belphegor as he holds the door shut now that Satan is pounding on the other side to be let out of the bathroom as he’s in and found Belphegor that left it quite fragrant.*

          • Nyx enters stage left -backwards as usual- with Age, Death, Doom, Dream, Love, Spite, Fate, Fury, The Ferryman, Nemesis, Nightmare, The Oathbinder, The Black Wind, cute little Day, and Neil Gaiman.
            “HEY GUYS.” she says as she sits down, pulls an errant lock of midnight hair behind her left ear and starts spreading the utter chill of the Void all over the place. “YOU MIND IF ME AND THE CHILDREN HANG OUT HERE FOR A WHILE? MY HUSBAND IS BEHAVING WEIRD AGAIN AND SCARING THE KIDS – AND IT IS LITTLE DOOM’S BIRTHDAY TODAY; I REALLY WANT HIM TO BE HAPPY.”

            Meanwhile, in Nyx’s house at the end of the Universe;

            It was an All-in-One and One-in-All of limitless being and self — not merely a thing of one Space-Time continuum, but allied to the ultimate animating essence of existence’s whole unbounded sweep — the last, utter sweep which has no confines and which outreaches fancy and mathematics alike. It was perhaps that which certain secret cults of earth have whispered of as YOG-SOTHOTH, and which has been a deity under other names; that which the crustaceans of Yuggoth worship as the Beyond-One, and which the vaporous brains of the spiral nebulae know by an untranslatable Sign…

            …and IT was also very, very drunk. An impossibility but it wasn’t as if IT was subject to such little things as logic and reality. Also, ITs words were kind of a giveaway;

      • In fearful day, in raging night, with strong hearts full, our souls ignite, when all seems lost in the War of Light, look to the stars for hope burns bright!

        *comes flying in with a blue power ring and his armor changed to a blue and white color scheme* It is I, the only Lantern you’ll ever need, here to grant your wish for a Psycho Gecko welcome. Welcome to the comments.

        Well, I’m off now to once again save the day by reducing the number of cheetoes in the world. *switches rings to an orange one that changes his armor back to its normal orange and almost-black and flies off. Sometime later, the sun is eclipsed as another planet with a lantern symbol comes between it and the Earth. Then it rotates and you see Gecko’s arms and head attached too.*

        Too many cheetoes…waaay too many.

        I think you’re aware by now that we have many an oddity in this comments section. If they ever start to get overwhelming, just remember to go outside, take some aspirin, and lobotomize yourself. Just something simple to help you deal with the moral debates, discussion on the nature of heroism, essays, perspectives on related scientific information, and the rare pun. And by rare pun, I mean so fresh it’s bleeding.

    • 1. Covered elsewhere already
      2. She’ll be a spiritual successor, unless Skitter really is coming back soon. Then I expect she’ll wind up dead.
      3. Seems doubtful. The Irregulars are their own group attempting to find a way in the world.
      4. Feel that? The way the shit hangs in the air? The shit blizzard is nearly upon us.
      5. Crawler ones will probably spar until they are right back to the level of the original, and even further along possibly.
      6. Endbringers haven’t been spotted, so he’s probably been saving other people until the next one shows before long.
      7. I’ve brought up the correlation with Greek mythology as well. I doubt it goes so much into Christian mythology though, as the nephilim would have shown up before the 1980s. As would the Endbringers. Plus, I really don’t think this is all going to be a story of “Yahweh did it”

      Now then, welcome to our little Worm carnival, you freaking Freak King. Under the big top, you can be amazed as Defiant rides the back of a Dragon. Lung will put on a firebreathing act while Bakuda amazes with a display of amateur fireworks the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Mr. Conehead at the homecoming game. Flechette will have a good knife-throwing act as well along with her favorite target, Shadowstalker. Of course, it better be nothing but pointy things between the two of them or Parian will make the tent nom Flechette. No one wants that. It’ll scare off paying customers.

      In the meantime, let’s call in the clowns to entertain you. Uber, Leet, Regent, even sometimes Imp when she isn’t busy walking through the crowds with her power on. We also have some games you might enjoy. Vista is running the ring toss, Shamrock is at the Wheel of Fortune, and Tattletale is nigh unbeatable at that weightguessing game.

      Of course, the carnival is only in town twice, sometimes three times a week, so until then, feel free to wait around mucking the elephant crap with the rest of us. The maggots aren’t fun, but time flies.

  17. Ah, finished.
    Now wildbow ought to relax a bit and don’t update on thursday. You go replenish those mental batteries. (though technically they’re more like accumulators, storing all the creative flow and *rambles on and on*…

  18. Been a fan for a while, this may not seem the apt place for it, but something some friends and I have been curious about. Wildbow, do you have any population figures for the bay? My curiosities are in number of people in the city at the start of the narrative, and how many died in the major attacks [s9, endbringers, ect.] Finally, how many people are in each Undersider’s territory-also now Accord’s.

    On a completely unrelated note, as of Jack’s last appearance, we have been calling his plan “Slaughterhouse 9000”

    • I mention overall population numbers somewhere in the story. Couldn’t guess the distribution. Too tired to go look for it or make a call either way, but I’m 95% certain the general population numbers are there.

      • A quick ctr+f serch has left me answerless over the first few arcs, but it’s probably in there somewhere. I am also tired, and will check more thoroughly……later. If some intrepid soul finds the numbers, please let me-and number man-know.

        • A dare to remember the population at the start being something like 300k-500k. I think the evacuation reduced that by 40-60%, which puts the whole city in a range of 100k-300k post-Leviathan.
          But the population figures always bugged me, to be honest. Whenever we see Skitter getting a count of the people in range of her power via bugs, it is pretty low, with hundreds and perhaps thousands at the highest.
          Now, if every turf of the Undersiders was about the same size, these would have been 10k-30k people. Put that in contrast to the small amount of people Skitter reached, even when she was throwing warnings left and right during the more rushed/dramatic happenings… well. I’m underwhelmed. Disappointed.
          Supposedly she had people in the low thousands in her area, with perhaps a few dozen “employees”. And that is with her area being the most secure and well off, during and after the S9.
          This certainly skews the numbers down a bit, so my actual guess is low to middle five digits for population just after the S9.

          • 20th largest city in the US is Spokane with just over 209K people; Keeping that in mind, and the idea that Brockton Bay used to be more populous but has since dropped significantly from death and evacuation seems fitting.

          • You also have to account for cities like Boston in that as well. Boston the city is actually small as far as urban centers go, but Cambridge, Newton, Melrose, and other cities are all on the same subway system, and might as well be part of what people consider the Boston area. Take a look at a map of the area with city boundaries on. I actually tend to think of the bay after undersider control was established in similar terms. Each area has hit’s own control structure-or lack of one, but when events effecting the whole city show up, they don’t squabble over hireachry.

          • @wash17: Looking on Wikipedia, 300-500k in the metropolitan area would be along the lines of Lubbock, TX, Lincoln, NE, Anchorage, AK, Fort Wayne, IN, Reno-Sparks, NV, Corpus Christi, TX, Lexington-Fayette, KY, Winston-Salem, NC, Durham-Chapel Hill, NC, or Lancaster, PA.

            If you’re familiar with any of those places, which I’m not. *shrugs*

            • I’m not even from the States, so if I think of a sprawling metropolitan area I think of the Rhine. Many decent cities (population 100k+), somewhat close by you’d only know you crossed city limits by the signs.

          • Given that there are some undeveloped zones outside the train tracks and that one hill park place, there doesn’t seem to be much real estate to Brockton Bay beyond that of a small city. Take a look at the map of the city that WB has posted, it’s really quite small.

  19. Wildbow, you know how much I approve of your writing already, so I’ll skip past all of that:
    “Terribly unhealthy,” Regent commented. “Worse than smoking, even.”
    I felt a few chapters have missed Regent’s snarky commentary. Glad to see it making a comeback. I love the feeling that you get when reading one of these solemn/serious chapters and BAM Regent makes a hilarious remark that you can’t help but smile at. Well done.

  20. Is there a reason for the high concentration of gay/lesbian characters in worm?

    -Legend and Arthur
    -I think there’s one more but I’m forgetting who it was.

    • There was the most powerful man in the world.

      Anyway, considering that Worm has a fairly big extended cast, that doesn’t seem high to me. It’s still only two (requited) relationships.

        • The figure I’ve heard is “about one in twenty”. Given the nature of trigger events, it might be slightly higher among parahumans. Given that we don’t know the sexual orientation of all 210 characters, five or six characters known to be gay sounds about right.

          • The stats on it are a bit tricky. Some say 1 in 20, some say 1 in 10, and most of the time when the question gets asked it gets asked poorly (and usually doesn’t include bisexuals, or account for the massive cultural reasons to lie or refrain from answering (even unknowingly).

            But yeah, given the number of characters with any actual face time, the number we’ve seen is pretty impressive. Honestly, the fact that it’s a detail that just gets slipped in for several of the characters (and not made a big deal out of) is one of my favourite parts. If nothing else, I’m just pleased with the diversity visibly present in the cast.

            Seriously, Wildbow. Thank you.

          • If there’s homosexuality in many published stories, I haven’t seen it. Can’t say how happy I am that you’re showing people in here from all sorts of spectrums of demographics, like age, race, or sexuality. Really, the only thing we need to have a complete set is a couple more races and an mildly important elderly guy.

            • The elderly are hard to fit in, here. Trigger events tend to hit in the teens, so even the oldest parahuman’s liable to be only middle aged (a la Kaiser, Number Man). There’s some Cauldron users, but even they aren’t -old-.

              I have one character in mind that’s elderly, but not 100% decided. Have to see how the next bit flows.

        • But it’s not six out of 210+, it’s six out of all the character’s who’s sexuality is explicitly mentioned, which is a much smaller number.

          There’s definitely an unusually high number of gay/lesbian characters. But its not like that detracts from the story or anything, so it doesn’t bother me.

          • Can we really call Panacea fully lesbian though? She seems more Victoriasexual than anything.

            Not to say she isn’t 100%, mind you- But I doubt she’d be able to find love even if she were to get over the horrible thing she did to Victoria; just too focussed. It would be interesting to see if with Victoria out of the picture, if she does react to both sexes equally, or one over the other and if so which one.

          • @Rika I have to say, Panacea’s sexual orientation is probably the least interesting part of her character to me.

            I’m more hoping to see what she’ll be doing rather than who she’ll be doing.

            With Parian and Flechette, I was a little bit invested in their relationship. I wanted to see that get started and hopefully work out alright.

            With Panacea, I really couldn’t care if/who she dates now that Victoria is out of the picture.

          • @Fake Name;

            It’s the least interesting dynamic for me as well, but I still want to know. I am a glutton for information.

          • > Well, IIRC, the only thing we heard about Legend and Arthur was that they were married to each other.

            And, at least from Legend’s perspective, gooily in love. To quote Interlude 14.5:

            A light smile touched his face. He even felt a little giddy at the thought of getting home, wrapping Arthur in a hug. Growing up, he’d never thought that he’d feel giddy about his husband after six years of marriage.

        • But not all 210 characters are extensively involved in the story. Just in terms of how involved they are Panacea, Parian, Legend, Flechette are large side characters. Also it feels like whenever someone becomes romantically involved with someone else its often GvG. Relationships described so far

          -Skitter and Grue (whatever they were)
          – Panacea and Glory Girl. (non-requited love)
          -Flechette and Parian (requited love thing)

          I guess saying why the high concentration of characters is inaccurate as you can just mention all 210 and say look 5 out of 210 is not that many. What I mean is why the focus on lesbian/gay relationships in the story and the amount of attention thats given to it. Not upset about it, just curious if your doing it on purpose or maybe I’m just seeing things that aren’t there.

          • Armsmaster & Dragon (M+FAI)
            Legend & Arthur (M+M)
            Triumph & Prism (M+F)
            Krouse & Noelle (M + F/???)

            Those are just off the top of my just-woken-up head. I think it’s a combination of proximity and the fact that most guys just notice the lesbian relationships because of the allure of two women, as if they could get into the relationship and get a threesome for free. >_>; After all the traditional response to girl on girl is hot, but man on man is ew, with a few exceptions because of strong religion.

          • > After all the traditional response to girl on girl is hot, but man on man is ew, with a few exceptions because of strong religion.

            Multiple Choice Response!

            A. Indeed. Having been raised in Flaming Liberalism, my reaction to Legend/Arthur was “awww — so sweet!”

            B. Technically, those are the traditional responses among straight men — I don’t know the demographics of the Worm audience.

          • Adding to Rika’s List, some other het relationships:

            Glory Girl and her boyfriend in the wards (whose name escapes me atm) (requited albeit stormy)
            Vista and said Goly Girl’s boyfriend whose name still escapes me (unrequited for several reasons)
            Aisha and Regent (a disaster waiting to happen, but they seem happy)
            Kaiser and… umh… about four women confirmed? (well, he’s a jerk, so I guess it would have gone as well as it could)
            Gregor the snail and Shamrock. (Happy together)
            Skidmark of the merchants and his tinker girfriend, also of the merchants, whose name escapes me too. (Happily stoned and together till S9)
            Then there are all the minor characters, Taylor’s teacher who got killed by Leviathan had his fiancee with him in the shelter, Garrote tried an unsuccessful online relationship, and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone.

            @270°: Maybe you gloss over the het couples because they’re “normal”, so they kinda get automatically shelved as background detail. Depending on one’s upbringing that’s a pretty normal reaction too; after all it’s the deviation that catches the attention, not the norm.
            (Sorry for the nick shortening, I had a sudden attack of twisted fingers while writing it and gave up😛 )

          • > Relationships described so far

            Going down the TV Tropes Character Sheets, marking non-binary-hetero relationships in italics and relationships that had a lot of screentime in bold, I count:

            * Skitter/Grue (female/male)
            * Defiant/Dragon (male/female)
            * Assault/Battery (male/female)
            * Triumph/Prism (male/female)
            * Legend/Arthur (male/male)
            * Tagg/his wife (male/female)
            * Gallant/Glory Girl (male/female)
            * Flechette/Parian (female/female)
            * Lady Photon/Manpower (female/male)
            * Flashbang/Brandish (male/female)
            * Panacea/Glory Girl (female/female)
            * Purity/Kaiser (female/male)
            * Night/Fog (female/male)
            * Kaiser/(either Fenja or Menja — it’s not stated) (male/female)
            * Othala/Victor (female/male)
            * Mr. Pitter/his wife (male/female)
            * Gregor the Snail/Shamrock (male/female)
            * Skidmark/Squealer (male/female)
            * Trickster/Noelle (male/female)
            * Alan Gramme/his wife (male/female)
            * Canary/her ex (female/male)
            * Heartbreaker/his harem (male/females)
            * Danny/Annette Rose (male/female)
            * Mr. Gladly/his girl (male/female)
            * Mayor Christner/his wife (male/female)

            and maybes for
            * Regent/Imp (male/female)
            * Bryce/Pritt (male/female)
            * Garotte/Greg (female/male)

            So, two out either six or seven for plot-major relationships (although one of those two used to be one-sided), three out of twenty-five to twenty-eight altogether (plus one if you count Kevin Norton’s relationship with his girlfriend).

          • Well, all in all the story is still pretty heteronormative. But it takes place in a slightly more fucky version of the US so it makes sense. Still alot better than a lot of shit out there.

          • > B. Technically, those are the traditional responses among straight men — I don’t know the demographics of the Worm audience.

            I was more going by the most common (internet) worldview I’m aware of, which has typically been the heteronormative Christian mindset:/

            I personally love any sort of love anyone is in. It warms my heart to see two men, two women, a woman and a man, any number of women and a man, any number of men and a woman- So long as it’s all consensual and such.

            It’s why I really don’t mind Heartbreaker as much as I should, I guess. While he crushed his kids trying to make them trigger, it seems he didn’t really use his powers on his harem that much (from our viewpoint at least) beyond the initial making them love him- And it’s not like he treats them bad or anything, either. If anything, they seemed happier than what they had been beforehand, but that was probably just the Heartbreaker emotion control showing through… Not to say that none of them didn’t enjoy it more naturally, but it’s tricky to determine where Heartbreaker ends and where the people begin. Still, I’ve read enough harem and reverse harem stories from history and fiction to be wary of just how much they’re taking advantage vs. being taken advantage of.

            • > It’s why I really don’t mind Heartbreaker as much as I should, I guess. While he crushed his kids trying to make them trigger, it seems he didn’t really use his powers on his harem that much (from our viewpoint at least) BEYOND THE INITIAL MAKING THEM LOVE HIM (emphasis mine)

              Umm, that’s a pretty huge “beyond”. It’s the mental equivalent of “Apart from keeping them constantly locked in the basement so they can’t escape, he treats them really well!”. Polyamoury is awesome. Being forced into a relationship is not.

              What’s a “reverse harem”, BTW?

          • Rika’s take on people’s reactions seems pretty accurate with the people I know, as is the assumption that it seems like a lot of gay people because we don’t even think about the sexuality of most of the others, either because straight is normal to us or we just assume they are.

        • Just as a special request, can we have your take on Apollo and Midnighter? Pleeeease? Legend and Arthur might have counted if Arthur wasn’t a ewww… baseline.

    • There’s way more that’s straight, so the statistics are about right. I mean, almost all those interludes, Skitter herself, heck even Mannequin and Dr. Manton are confirmed straight, and one of them is mostly knives and ceramics. So yeah.

      I thought this chapter rocked! My favorite parts were Bitch and Regent. Bitch especially, from flipping out when Taylor was outed by Armsmaster to this. I’m glad she got to thank Taylor, really glad.

      And now the wait to Saturday…

      • Having a wife and kid doesn’t necessarily mean you’re confirmed straight. On the one hand, I can’t name names without getting into some political stuff. On the other hand, if you follow political stuff, I don’t need to name names.

        In fact, I’ve run into a man who got married to a woman before that doesn’t even know he himself is gay, or at least bisexual. Probably has something to do with him being a part of a demographic that deemphasizes the role of sex in relationships while claiming that lustful thoughts are wrong.

  21. I know Flechette said she liked the musketeer more than the knight look
    but can we please have some Utena inspired costume designs please please please

  22. And The Crowd Goes Wild

    Well heck, there’s a lot to talk about here; but that’ll all be covered in time.

    Happiness still finds its ways. People are willing to compromise, to give up a bit of control, in exchange for a bit of comfort, to trust another who fears being controlled, and who desires having control in order to have it.

    It’s a chance for happiness. One or both or everyone may die, and not in the long term; but fuck it. Doesn’t mean the minutes and hours and days and weeks up until then have to be completely miserable.

  23. Awesome, nice chapter! Great to see more secondary characters being brought into the spotlight.

    Now for some more thoughts:

    -With Flechette joining Parian, and Parian effectively becoming a full Undersider, this might make the Undersiders strong enough to hold their position in the city, and might get the remaining Wards to join up as well (Can’t wait to see Clockblocker with Grue, or Kid Win with Regent, or Vista with Imp) Granted, the loss of Skitter both for her firepower and probably even more for her image is going to hurt the Undersiders position badly.

    -So the Undersiders really didn’t know about Skitter’s plan, save for Tattletale maybe? Given the way she talks, the entire things seems like Tattletale knew next to nothing about the plan, but from the previous section, it seemed that she was pretty much “in the know.” (anticipated Skitter coming, knew she was saying goodbye, telling her to “give ’em hell”) am I getting it wrong, or is Tattletale just lying/ acting here?

    -In regards to Accord and the Ambassadors, it seems like they might make a move soon if Skitter really doesn’t come back, but at the same time, they might just leave the city. Given their connection with Cauldron, and Cauldron thinking the city is “lost” without Skitter around, they might just tell the Ambassadors to leave. Although, what they really mean when they say the city is “lost” is up to interpretation (won’t survive, Cauldron can’t hold power in city, etc)

    -If Worm was a TV show, the next arc is where we would get the “24”-parody/homage. Timer counting down until nightfall, with montages and cutaways to Jack Bauer-esque interrogations of Skitter, the Undersiders preparing, Tattletale making her own preparations with what she knows, Flechette preparing her own betrayal of the heroes.

    -But what is the plan? Sure as hell beats me, and am really excited to see what comes. However, I have a few ideas on how this plan will impact, story wise (to which I shall use cooking metaphors to help illustrate)
    1) “Slow Boil”- When the Undersiders act, Skitter tells them what to do/ hands over information that would get them ready for what comes next. Time passes, with the Undersides holding their own position, while Skitter is incarcerated, maybe so far as to get to the Birdcage. Then whatever they were preparing for is launched, and so on
    2) “Quick Fry”- When night falls, everybody springs into action, and the entire plan is enacted then and there. Skitter will most be broken out, and the whole thing is done in a relatively short amount of time, which means no real time skip
    3) “Served Raw”- Skitter’s surrender is just that, she surrenders. Parian was essentially right, with her imprisonment ment to help the Undersiders/ Brockton Bay/ her goals in some way and give Skitter time to make peace
    4) “2nd Degree Burn”- Whatever Skitter and the Undersiders do, they end up losing, or not really winning. Maybe Skitter still gets thrown into the Birdcage, maybe they ruin their image, maybe they get a kill order placed on them, etc
    5) “3rd Degree Burn”- Night comes, the Undersiders act, but Skitter betrays them yet again and sells them out. Probably, and hopefully, won’t happen.

    • Or the nightfall thing was just something Skitter put in place so they wouldn’t react hastily. She’ll call them and let them know it’s for real.

      Or the nightfall thing was something Tattletale made up to hold the Undersiders together long enough in the aftermath for things to come together.

        • This sounds plausible… As does “Tagg, stop fighting me and start working WITH me. We’ve done more for this city than you ever have, and the escalation of conflict that YOU keep driving us towards is just continuing to hurt the people more.” And having MM/Protectorate/Wards stand with her against Tagg. Not likely, but… One can dream.

          • Skitter mentioned in her talk with Miss Militia that she thinks she can still twist Tagg’s arm. No matter what happens Tagg won’t be happy about it in the end. Which is enough to make me happy whatever happens to Skitter.

      • Good point. Any ideas for what Tt’s headache actually is from in regards to this plan? Can’t all be from looking into Cauldron.

  24. The sunset deadline is the big news here. Skitter wasn’t taking Dinah’s leap of faith – which she could well have been, cutting ties without further purpose – she has a plan. And she thinks twelve hours (give or take) in custody is more than enough to accomplish it.

    Twelve hours… is an eyeblink to a bureaucracy. The PRT will still be filing reports on the reports on the reports of her being captured. A decisive leader could intervene – if Alexandria still ran the the PRT, this would be something she could take a personal hand in… but who?

    Twelve hours is an eternity to a cape in crisis. One of the Wards has gone rogue, joined the Undersiders. Flechette is one of the deadliest capes alive… though without lethal intent. Still something to give pause to the Protectorate and the Wards, particularly if she’s seen in her new costume before sundown or gives her notice. (Without that, they’ll know she’s missing, but not necessarily that she’s turned). What actions will the others take?

    If the Director steps over a line – and he might – into torture, say, or something else… would the Protectorate and Wards revolt? Too many chances – unlikely to be her plan.

    Mass demonstrations are hard to organize, especially on short notice. Still – consider the high school – 1/3 of the people there rallied to her. If Skitter can get just 1/12 of the population of Brockton Bay in front of the PRT HQ, peaceably or with pitchforks, that’s international news… and probably a game changer. A rerun of the high school on a thousandfold scale, ten-thousandfold scale… that could break the PRT in Brockton Bay. They’re not set up to be an occupying force. And if it didn’t break them, it could force them to bend, to send out the one person who could talk them down – and Skitter becomes the hub of an alliance covering both sides of the cape divide. A cape Casablanca.

    And, of course, she could just TALK things out with them. She’s had a nigh-reality-warping effect in some of her conversations, and the heroes are primed for her to be terrifyingly charismatic (which is more than halfway to actually being charismatic) from her talks with them in S9 and Echidna. Could she simply persuade them that the world is ending, there’s a gateway to a new world right there, and WAR is for the Endbringers (and the equally world-ending S9) alone?

    That alliance hub possibility seems one of the most likely reasons Cauldron had hopes for Coil and for Skitter… and it may be the seed of a government of capes. Or at least, the Last Alliance against the Endbringers.

    Not so much news as such, but still fun to see: Parian/Flechette, and what the Undersiders look like from the outside. The change from how Skitter sees herself to how others see her is always interesting, and always disorienting, and it’s fun to see Parian take the measure of the whole team. It’s interested that she finds Grue and Bitch the scariest, and interesting to see how she finds the team as a whole: confident, scary, and ready to face all comers… masters of the city by force and guile, with no true measure of their limits as yet. ‘Weak enough to need help with S-class threats’ isn’t very informative, and ‘no attrition thus far’ isn’t exactly comforting to anyone contemplating a conflict. Plus, a very offensive mindset – hit fast, hit hard, pick your fights carefully – and win every fight you pick.

    From the PRT’s perspective, that last has to look like Skitter’s influence – before she joined, the Undersiders mostly broke contact and escaped. From the bank job on (arguably, from the first fight with Lung on), the Undersiders have broken contact through the simple expedient of beating their opposition into the ground and then sauntering off. The desperate retreats and sacrifice gambits of Skitter’s memory look more like calculating ambushes to the PRT – from leading Armsmaster and Defiant into the Travelers to leading Echidna into a Clockblocked string.

    And by now, they expect a defeat whenever they meet her. Clockblocker’s moment of recognition back at 20.5, when she smiled, was because he had the familiar thought that despite the heroes having every advantage on paper, Skitter was about to hand them their hats. Again. Miss Militia, as cool and determined a cape as we know, expressed similar sentiments when the Undersiders came to her to warn her about Noelle – and if she’s feeling nervous, everyone else in her command is feeling worse. The current Director of the PRT described his entire strategy, the whole reason he was appointed rather than another, as one of accepting brutal defeats in exchange for inflicting minor psychological pressure on the Undersiders in the hope that he could sustain that exchange rate longer than they could. This is not the attitude of a confident organization.

    Whatever Skitter’s plan may be, everyone in the PRT building will be convinced she has one… and somewhere, deep down, fear that things are going just. as. she. planned. And that alone may be enough to give her an opening which she can use.

    • Alexandria still runs the PRT. They’re phasing out the Cauldronites over time.

      > Whatever Skitter’s plan may be, everyone in the PRT building will be convinced she has one… and somewhere, deep down, fear that things are going just. as. she. planned. And that alone may be enough to give her an opening which she can use.


      • So now on one hand, they are thinking they can’t send her to the Birdcage because they think that’s what she wants and the possibility that she may instigate a breakout there is very high in their minds.

        On the other hand they can’t afford to simply let her go because that will cement the fact that they are incompetent & irrelevant into the minds of the public at large instead of just the Brockton Bay Survivors who already know.

        On yet another gripping hand, with this being public, they can’t “disappear” her because that will ensure that absolutely no Villains will turn up in the next Endbringer Event for fear that the PRT will do the same to them if they become critically injured to the point of requiring evacuation.

        Yep… Tagg is now being psychologically and strategically screwed six ways till Sunday (or in this case, Thursday or Saturday).

      • YMMV, but I got the impression that the Cauldron capes in the PRT aren’t so much being phased out as being under significant scrutiny and pressure to stand down. Pressure that Alexandria has so far chosen not to bow to…

    • It is hard to predict this (good job wildbow). One one hand sending Taylor to the Birdcage seems over the top (Canary was also though). Taylor has put down along with the Undersiders major villains, mostly respected civilian life and property, and haven’t tried to kill any heros. Considering that Taylor has major enemies that would try to kill her a trip to the Birdcage is tantamount to a death penalty. The problem is that the other alternative is letting her go. I give this 50:50

  25. OK, weird speculation time. Or maybe technical speculation – the weirdness is back in my answer to Gecko’s post;

    1) Flechette will not necessarily abandon her crossbow. Repeating crossbows have existed since the 3rd century BC so what does she need the tinker-made model for? If it’s an issue of automatic reloading, any second-rate mechanic could fashion a simple mechanism with a couple of gears, a small electric motor and a lithium battery. And isn’t Pariah a mechanic or at least studied as one?

    2) Flechette and Pariah can combine their powers. Nanofiber wire is thin enough that a half-mile of it weighs less than half a pound. It is also strong enough to cut like a knife if you don’t handle it right. So Flechette enhances it to cut through anything as if she were holding a (really long) whip then Pariah animates it, unfolds it and whacks things with it.
    Can you imagine cutting down buildings and stuff within a half-mile radius with basically no effort?

    • 1) As a mechanical engineering grad student, I can say with some confidence that it’s perfectly possible to spend four years studying machines without ever learning how to build one. That said: wouldn’t be surprised if she could.

      2) …that’s reasonably terrifying.

    • That’s actually really nifty. Power-combinations like that show up all too rarely for people who aren’t Skitter. I was actually about to post one for Chevalier and Flechette when I saw yours: he enlarges a crossbow to canon size, she fires it and boom! One kebobed Endbringer for the savage drawwin.

          • Well now, I was quite surprised at first for PG to like Sir Pratchett, but then I remembered about Gaiman. Maybe not true for PG, but since Good Omens there has been a lot of fans of the one checking out the works of the other and becoming fans too.

            What I was more surprised however, however, was reading a worm review and finding that there’s someone *else* that loves both Asimov and Sandy Mitchell🙂

          • Butcher, Dick, Clarke, Lewis, Adams, Sagan, Simmons, Smith, Herbert, Harrison, Verne, Card, Farmer, Pullman, Anthony, Heinlein, Donaldson, LeGuin, Gibson, Mitchell, Asimov, Sanderson, Pratchett, Anderson, Lackey, McCaffrey, Tolkien, and more…. I have many many authors I love. :3

          • Don’t know why that was a surprise for anyone. First Pratchett book I ever read was Reaper Man. Latest so far was Good Omens.

            I have read Gaiman before that, but only got the Sandman rather piecemeal over the years. Also Tolkien, Asimov, a little Vonnegut, Stephen King, 1632 series, House of Leaves, Battletech (Straczynski, baby), some Mick Foley, Colbert, Stewart, Adams, Twain, O Henry, various comic books, and who knows the other authors after all the short story collections. My library calls me Galactus.

            Someone compared me to Pratchett once on here. Always nice to be paid a great compliment, even a blasphemous one. Unless he was alluding to the Alzheimer’s.

          • You should both check out “The witches of Karres” by James H Schmitz.
            Hayao Miyazaki liked it enough to draw the cover for the japanese edition, I find that’s as good an endorsement as you can get.

            I do have more authors in common with Rika than with Geko… Oh, Verne is in there too… you might want to look up some of Sir Conan Doyle’s SF stories, I find the whole victorian feel quite endearing.

            @PG: It surprised me because of how you write. I’m nor really sure I can explain it in words, but Sir Pratchett’s works reach a similar vein going in a whole differend direction, but “similar” means “separated by a margin maybe small but significative”.
            And… that did not make much sense…

            If not for the Alzheimer, maybe for the reptile thing?

            Reaper man has a couple of very nice passages and the rat, but I find it the worst book in the whole serie tbh.

            I got to Discworld by “The dark side of the sun” and “Only you can save mankind” btw. It’s a shame he’s not writing more Jonny books, or SF ones.

            Let’s think who I can add who’s not been named yet… S.T. Coleridge, E.R. Burroughs, D. Pennac, T. Huff

            There, Now I can go look up some of your raccomendations before we inevitably start talking about comics too and I get surprised again.

    • Or, you know, cutting down an Endbringer. Flechette is limited by the size of her weapon, Parian isn’t. They could work together to literally cut Leviathan in half. Of course, it can’t be that easy. But Armsmaster did a pretty good job on his own, and he didn’t even use a physics-breaking thread.

      1) Skitter makes a thin silk thread, stretched out as long as it can be while still being able to weather combat.
      2) Flechette + Parian combo mentioned above.

    • The mechanism is such that it reloads only via the tinker teleportation method, I believe. Plus, well, WB has given explicit reasoning why Tinker made stuff stays close to the Tinker with some exceptions (Dragon, other tinkers). This said, it’s more for distancing herself from her previous persona, which serves a dual purpose of leaving the PRT with a way back and undamaged (external) reputation as well as being able to return to a method of fighting she prefers.

      • Additionally, the way parian’s power seems to work requires her to permeate the substance. I think nano-wire would be too thin, or lacking that Flechette’s power would cause it to be too stiff to use.

  26. This is nice. Lily’s situation with Sabah was pretty realistic, with all the fear and insecurity of coming out. But after Panacea’s “you’ll never ever have a good gay relationship so get back in the closet and stay there” disaster…. well, it counterbalances things I guess. Good move.

    And you seem to be getting better at writing romance, I was unsure till the last moment if Sabah was going to say yes. They do make for a nice couple too, one needs not to be controlled, the other needed to offer helself to someone she could trust. It’s a good dynamic, and less imbalanced that it seems at first glance.

    The whole “start of darkness by love” fits into the theme too, and Lily’s decision did not seem forced. She just need a red lightsaber now I guess.

    I had a very convoluted comment on the whole arc to post but I’ll have to straighten it out first, but I really appreciated it. Your writing is getting better still.
    Btw, I’ll send you an email when the next file is up at the usual place.

  27. Lesyay has been confrimed. This story just gets better with every update, Good to see at least one couple that isn’t too messed up.

  28. …I think Parian is depressed. Her feelings sound much like mine, when I was. Also, she’s a very interesting character, her power is the kind that sounds kind of lame, but which could probably be upgraded to awesome through clever usage, much like Skitter’s. ( Although Skitter’s a powerhouse in non-obvious ways. )

  29. “I didn’t,” Grue said, his voice quiet. “Make her happy.”

    Anyone thinks maybe Brian’s doubting his ability to give Taylor the Treasure type O with this line?

    • Huh. Never heard that line before… but now I know what Treasure type O is.
      And no, I think that didn’t enter his mind at the time, regardless of his carnal capabilities. It seemed to be aimed at the romantic level.

    • I agree with comickry — I don’t think it’s a matter of “I couldn’t make her feel good in bed”, it’s a matter of “I couldn’t make her satisfied with her place in the world”.

  30. *Mean while, back at the PRT*
    MM: So In completely unrelated news, Flechette has turned in her resignation, and we’re getting unconfirmed reports of an additional parahuman on the Undersider’s roster. Also, it’s a school night, so I’m sending all the Wards home, and updating the patrol roster.
    GT: That wasn’t part of the original security plan!
    MM: I am altering the roster. Pray I don’t have to alter it further.

  31. – As they kiss, if you listen really hard, you can actually hear the ping-ping-ping of EXP as Parian levels up.
    – heeeeeeyyy … Parian is Taylor circa Agitation at the beginning of this chapter. By the end, she’s becoming Taylor circa Shell.
    – I wonder: how strong can she make her constructs? Can she, say, make tentacle of fabric that will punch through concrete like pitons in a mountainside? Can she do pseudo-springs? Can she make flying constructs (might be easier and more mobile than unicorns and Sleipnir🙂 ? )
    – “Needle and Thread” I’m ashamed to say I only got that on my second readthrough.
    – Nightfall is coming. *cue clockwork diorama of Brockton Bay and epic orchestral music*

  32. Well, dawn was the terrifying moment of “Aw hell!” with Echidna, so why couldn’t nightfall be the amazing moment of “Whoahh!”?

  33. Finally got to post. >_<

    Dawwww atleast on couple is together…..even if it isn't a grub producing one.😛 Can't wait to see Skitters plan.😀

  34. 1) The seemingly meek Parian kicks Flechette to the curb for trying to make her decisions for her..
    2) Parian forgives Flechette and takes her back when she assumes the position of the little spoon/minion/sub/lieutenant.

    I’m seeing a big BDSM angle here. Now we just wait what Parian will make her love slave wear, I’m guessing it won’t be a musketeer outfit Flechette asked for since that wouldn’t drive home the point of who wears the pants in the relationship.

    Lily is in luck, though – potential for mix-up with the doggy people will probably spare her new uniform from including a collar.
    Or maybe that’s her being unlucky, hard to say without knowing more about her kinks.

    • > I’m seeing a big BDSM angle here. Now we just wait what Parian will make her love slave wear, I’m guessing it won’t be a musketeer outfit Flechette asked for since that wouldn’t drive home the point of who wears the pants in the relationship.

      I don’t know — remember how she wears the white-girl disguise as Parian? She might enjoy having the whole appearances-opposite-to-reality thing going on.

      • So instead of a three musketeers thing, Parian may dress up Flechette in a dominatrix outfit for humorous irony since Parian is the Top in this relationship?🙂

          • It could still work, reshape the tip of the rapier to resemble that of a riding crop, the hilt could be a pappenheimer design in the shape of thorns or razor wire. Of course the metals must be coloured black and silver/red.

          • …What do you guys think a rapier is?

   This is a riding crop.

   This is a Rapier. The blade is relatively long and narrow lending itself to thrusting, but still remains wide enough that it can be used to slash. More specifically, the blade is longer and thinner than that of a side-sword (What you might know better as an arming sword or knight’s sword, and is commonly incorrectly noted as a longsword which at its shortest (100 cm blade) was nearly double the length of the smallest arming swords (69 cm).), but heavier than that of a smallsword, or Épée. The blade, like all good swords, is flexible- But not enough to act as a whip.

   This is a medieval Épée. It has a triangular or V-shaped cross-section, with a much stiffer blade than a rapier and most commonly has a bell-guard. It was used as a dueling sword amongst nobles. (I will mention that is a modern/electric/sports Épée, which barely has any resemblance to the original weapon and has much more in common with the modern/electric/sports Foil to the point there’s barely any difference between the two physically aside from the grip on foils… I won’t go into that though).

   This is a Sabre (light cavalry). Its shape and name give a pretty good example for how it’s used, so I won’t go on further.

   This is a medieval Foil. It has a long, thin unsharpened (While the edges are unsharpened, they’re still metal edges; boosted by her power or sharpened naturally, they would still cut) square-edged blade made purely for thrusting. The blade is so weak that it bends on contact so it does not damage the one contacted as well as the blade.

            What she would want to emulate a riding crop would be a modern dry Foil, not a Sabre or Rapier or Épée. Thusly she could charge it with her power to cut and stab flexibly so she could slide around guards and penetrate, or snap against a target like a whip and empower it briefly as it makes contact. A leather tip guard that is a wide stitched pad to emulate the form of a riding crop rather than just the function would complete the design.

          • A rapier is a great choice for her. Something precise enough in case she’d rather disarm than literally disarm. Light enough to be somewhat less of a problem in a prolonged conflict.

            As Vegetius noted in his work “Concerning Military Matters,” thrusting weapons are better for lethal force because, as Rika noted previously, it requires much less pressure to thrust in and hit something of vital importance. He wrote that the Roman army of that time was humiliating itself by trying to slice opponents with their swords when the gladius was better designed for thrusting. You could slice at someone all day without killing them.

            There is some similarity there to Miyamoto Musashi’s descriptions in The Book of Five Rings of the difference between chopping and slicing where slicing even with power to kill was not effective for killing, but a chop would maim or kill. He does note the effectiveness of slicing at an opponents head, torso, and legs to mess with their timing so you can take their head off. The slicing part is a good idea for throwing off the guard of an opponent using the agile rapier. However, he was more concerned with the katana, a cavalry weapon. Mainly, I’d say it shows that an emphasis on penetration for her is a much better idea. She won’t always have time, energy, or room to try to take a head off.

            Since she is working with Parian’s constructs then she may, as Vegetius wrote the gladius was intended for, use them to shield herself from opponents while she thrusts through spaces small enough to keep her enemies from reaching her. It will be less effective than having a big shieldwall and tiny slits between the shields to stab through, but it’s an idea all the same.

          • To which I heartily agree, Gex! A rapier or rapier derivative would be by far the best weapon all around for her usefulness. Would you go for a proper period rapier, or a derivative such as the Colichemarde? Spadroon? Would you go with an italian swept hilt? Pappenheimer? Cup hilt? Basket hilt?

            My opinion would be that she utilize a Colichemarde with a cup hilt to protect her hand properly, with the last 1/3rd~1/5th of the flat top edge sharpened to better allow thrusting attacks without power usage.

            Additionally, would you agree that she should adopt a set of handle-less blades she can wield as proper short blades as a secondary set of weapons, beyond those short spikes which were closer to thrown kunai of a sort she employed earlier?

          • Your knowledge of these swords appears to be greater than anyone else’s in these comments. I would emphasize speed and ability to get through or around armor on its own. Not much more I can add to that. Flechette: Say no to bastard swords. Bastards.

            The short blades are a good idea, though I don’t know much about proper dueling. I have some practical ideas and some not so practical ones.

            Practical: stiletto, misericorde, katar, Mark I trench knife, kyoketsu-shoge without the rope and ring

            Impractical: ballistic knife, pata, reinforced M1917 knuckleduster, kyoketsu-shoge with the rope and ring

          • On the topic of swords, I’d point out that since Lily lacks any defensive powers her talents are still best used from afar. So while a length of sharp metal for poking people might serve her well, most of the time her best bet would still be the flechettes for which she’s named.

            • She has a minor defensive ability in her enhanced sense of timing. Dodging blows, to a minor extent. She caught Shadow Stalker’s crossbow bolt, for example.

          • I have a VERY broad and eclectic knowledge base. At once time I actually was taking fencing lessons, and I’ve always like history. The medieval periods of various parts of the world ended up drawing most of my attention with all the surviving legends of the period combined with how well it showed the difference between quality of person and how well they were utilized.

            In regards to secondary weapons, I would stay away from any weapons that require specialized training to utilize, as you have, with a single caveat: The kyoketsu-shoge WITH rope and -ballistic knife-. She can always embed it into a building and then rappel down the rope, or embed it into a wall and stretch it out ankle high as a tripline (especially if it was a very fine rope of spider’s silk woven by Parian). The reason I say she should include a ballistic knife on the other end is because the knife can be used in the off-hand if necessary as a parrying dagger, following the Florentine style, and also imbue it with her power before firing to use as a reusable one-shot version of her crossbow. The primary spike on the kyoketsu could even be done in the style of a sharpened jitte, which would also make the weapon much more stable when used as an enviromental maneuvering device.

          • The rope would be useful for a lot of different purposes, transport and tripping up enemies being part of its original use as long as she can get used to keeping track of it and not getting tangled up. The main reason I put it as impractical was Clockblocker.

          • Clockblocker is a problem regardless, since his power would render hers useless at range or in melee either way.

            What I’m honestly curious about regarding Clockblocker is why he doesn’t have his outfit built of body halves loosely connected together, so he can freeze one half and then escape away from the direction of the attack.

        • Also, in regards to a shield wall, spidersilk Parian constructs would be able to block the damage much more effectively than her typical constructs and would allow her to use them more properly as shields- Especially if Parian were to construct body stocking-style doubles that can actually use shields; then she can have her legion with shieldwalls, similar to that Pure guy with his spectral soldiers.

    • I have no idea whatsoever how you came to that conclusion, but then most shipping goes straight over my head anyway.

    • …uh, wow.
      Mkay, the reason Parian kicked her to the curb was becuase she didn’t want to be owned. She already had a horrid enough experience with someone trying that with her when she didn’t even like him as a person, let alone liked guys romantically. Flechette being willing to be her lieutenant is showing that while she does want Parian, want to be hers and Parian to be -hers-, she is showing that she is willing to give up being in control of everything, to working with her within a power structure that makes the person she wants to be with comfortable. Like when you guys grumble because you’re the stay at home dads with kids and we’re the breadwinners in the family; not because you’re subservient or a slave or anything of the sort in the relationship, but because you’re willing to accept that you aren’t the most important person in your life, your child is, and the one making less is the one that gives up their time to be with their child and rear them.

      • I don’t think that Flechette has accepted that Parian need for control though. It’s more like: “I want you so bad that I throw away everything, and say anything so you accept me.” Which, however much I like the pairing, is pretty problematic.

        • She’s obviously thought it through, though it seems it was made on the spur of the moment- She’s giving up her entire life. She knows how much parian means to her, not just from an infatuation standpoint but from what her friendship and closeness have come to mean for her continued sanity. yes, there’s going to be conflict and friction, but I don’t think that being willing to try, to concede and compromise (as that’s what a relationship is, a series of compromises in one fashion or another) doesn’t show good potential. Will there be drama? Oh yeah; it’s Worm. But they do fit together well.

          • I’m oddly concerned by Flechettes disregard of her home/base New York. She’s an out of town cape, and supposedly she was part of the NY Wards. There are multiple things to consider – her former team mates, her parents, her friends – she more or less disregarded in her decision.
            She spent some time back in NY between her BB stints, and maybe she talked and discussed a possible transfer with her superiors and other people, but still. It struck me as odd.
            It seems as if she isn’t really comfortable with her home stretch, or somewhat replaceable(? Available? Free? Non-essential?) in her team dynamics, or generally more of a loner/self-reliant. Especially in light of her coming defection to rogue/villain status.

          • @comickry: That’s an interesting point — some possibilities:

            1. After finding out what Armsmaster did to Skitter, she feels like the Undersiders and the PRT-Protectorate-Wards aren’t all that different morally, which makes her less loyal to the latter than before.

            2. After Echidna, she feels alienated from the New York Wards because
            2a. …she suspects many of them are Cauldron-capes.
            2b. …she is a Cauldron-cape and hiding it now that Cauldron’s evil has been publicized is hard on her.

            3. After Echidna, she feels the PRT (and, by extension, the Protectorate and Wards) are not worth supporting, and therefore leaving is no hardship.

            4. After Echidna, she feels the PRT (and, by extensions, the Protectorate and Wards) are not going to survive, and therefore leaving is no hardship (this one is apparently canon).

            5. Much like the Brockton Bay Ground Zeroites, she’s in a headspace that isn’t well-suited to normal society — her family talked about her being angry, and it could be that her team-relations are suffering similarly.

          • She volunteered to come to Brockton Bay… Seems self-evident to me that it was because she already felt like an exile.

          • If she felt like an exile though, why would she say she had her future all laid out in front of her?

          • Being a social exile and having you future apparently set in stone (Wards > Protectorate until death or retirement) aren’t mutually irreconcilable factors.

      • Actually, the acronym BDSM normally breaks down thusly: BD/Ds/SM, with the components as such: Bondage & Discipline / Domination & submission / Sadism & Masochism. There is the more format-friendly “Bondage, Domination, Sadism and Masochism” which wraps discipline aspect into bondage (As bondage is often used as a discipline tool, be it in a D/s relationship or for a small amount of time at a fetish club) and the submission into the Domination aspect (as they are two sides of the same coin).

        Even then, it (The acronym BDSM) is commonly used as a catchall term for anything involved within any of the three major components that define it, which can lead to some confusion, so I don’t exactly blame anyone for that.

        As for D/s overtones; I will admit there are some similarities in how the situation was handled, but that’s because they are healthy topics for any relationship: Trust, boundaries, and working together intimately to strengthen those bonds through communication and love are things any healthy relationship should have. Setting boundaries (“No, I don’t want you to own me, I am my own person.”/”I’ll be your lieutenant, not your partner.”), showing trust (Being honest instead of hiding feelings/Giving Lily a second chance), and I don’t think I need to quote various parts from the chapter illustrating the budding love and communication involved. If Parian didn’t have power over fabric especially in ways that intrigue the mind along the perverse, I don’t think the idea of D/s would have necessarily come up in regards to them.

        • For me, the D/s stuff has nothing whatsoever to do with her superpower. It came from the fact that she’s specifically invoking the balance of power in the relationship, making it clear she won’t be seen as submissive to Flechette and pushing things to Flechette being her sub. She could have just gone with a partnership instead. A relationship of equals.

          She doesn’t want to be controlled by someone else. The way her family pushed her, the way that “Nice Guy” controlled her. She had to just hide it all. Cover it all up. By the way, power giving someone what she’s missing, she telekinetic control over what covers up other people.

          The reason I don’t refer to it as BDSM is because there appears to be no bondage, discipline, sadism, or masochism involved here. That I leave out the bondage might be an indication that I don’t pin this on Parian’s powers.

          It’s more accurate to just say D/s rather than imply that Flechette’s going to be put in a chastity belt, have her bathroom breaks tightly controlled, be wrapped in latex and a ballgag, and be walked on by Parian in stiletto heels.

          The bit about the ribbons was an afterthought.

          • Indeed it’s true that only the power disparity aspect has explicitly appeared in the story. Still, I prefer to use the term BDSM for two reasons.

            One, it gets used a lot as a cover-all in the field that avoids nit-picking about the distinctions between power play and discipline fetishes or how much are you allowed to like paddling your sub before it counts as sadism.

            Two, hot lesbian fetish sex. Call it headcanon, if you will.

          • I’m not arguing that it’s more accurate to say D/s over BDSM; The specific always trumps the generalized/catch-all terminology. I assumed (sorry) that you weren’t aware that it is intrinsically included within the catch-all term, and used that as a springboard into a greater explanation in case there were others similarily not aware in the first two paragraphs.

            On the topic of the D/s attribution being from the interaction and not from Parian’s powers- that was a more replying statement in regards to how Mazzon brought it up. Especially considering the main topics involved initially were in regards to the creation of fetish wear for Flechette by Parian- Which implies use of her powers as well, since it was her powers that enabled her to head towards the possibility of clothing design. The fact that you mentioned the ribbons to bed as a secondary attribution to fetishism wasn’t even really on my mind.

            I would also argue that there is some discipline going on here, some mental/emotional bondage, if you will. Consider how neatly Parian wrapped Flechette around her little finger…😉

            Lastly, you can state BDSM as the catchall without meaning every part of the acronym involved at once; this is why you can state BDSM without meaning BD or SM, only D/s. Blame the casualness it’s used to mean any of the terms individually or all the terms together for that fact.

          • > I’m not arguing that it’s more accurate to say D/s over BDSM; The specific always trumps the generalized/catch-all terminology. I assumed (sorry) that you weren’t aware that it is intrinsically included within the catch-all term, and used that as a springboard into a greater explanation in case there were others similarily not aware in the first two paragraphs.

            Thank you all for the explanation, by the way. My knowledge of BDSM-related subjects is much like my knowledge of quantum physics: just sufficient to know that layfolk get it wrong much of the time.

          • Psycho Gecko
            > Just stay away from the Goreans, Packbat. Far, far away.

            Rika Covenant
            > Far, far, far, far, far, far, FAR away from the Goreans. .___.;

            …I have to admit that you’ve piqued my curiosity. Although not enough to overwhelm my dread of what I would find. You’re saying the Gor stuff is … bad?

            • The Goreans (and others are liable to be more knowledgeable) are a subset of the BDSM community who base their stuff off some works of science fiction. I should stress that I’m not terribly knowledgeable, but…

              Typical BDSM tends to play out over ‘scenes’. A normal (or playfully D/s) relationship intersped with special, carefully planned events. Through the use of ‘safe words’ that can end the scene right then & there, the ‘slave’ or ‘sub’ actually holds a lot of power.

              Goreans live it. 24/7 dominance and submission/Total Power Exchange. Sex slavery, basically. They also form codes for whatever profession they follow and adhere to it religiously, and see male dominance as a tenet to live by, a part of the natural order. Goreans, AFAIK, don’t use safe words. Absolute and total control without anything to rein it in, often extending to subcommunities reinforcing their own ideas.

              In the worst cases, it comes across as misogyny, abuse, and brainwashing.

          • Sounds pretty accurate to what I know about the Goreans, Wildbow. Unless we have someone from the community here in the Worm fanbase, I think that’s about as good as we’re going to get.

          • @Packbat: Look up Sunstone by Shiniez on TVtropes & follow the links for Safe, Sane and Consensual approach to BDSM.

          • @Someguy: I’ve started reading Sunstone a couple times — the art is very pretty, probably prettier in print than on my diminutive laptop screen. I’ll give it another go on your recommendation.

            I’ve heard “Safe, Sane, and Consensual” before, actually — much like “No Permanent Damage”, it seems like a very good idea regardless of context.

          • I’m slightly disturbed that the most frequent posters (and Wildbow!) have such intimate knowledge of fetishes…

          • @theslowblitz:
            > I’m slightly disturbed that the most frequent posters (and Wildbow!) have such intimate knowledge of fetishes…

            No pun intended.😛

            Okay, seriously, though: why do you think Wonder Woman has a Lasso of Truth? The overlap between geekdom and kink is large and widely acknowledged — and even non-connoisseurs usually have had some exposure to the more common stuff.

          • I got one!

            How do you know Global Warming theories are bull?
            It keeps coming to Gore.

            . . . I never said it was funny.

  35. *Me, at midnight last night* Mrf, mrf, done updating my story, over to Worm, have a look… Sabah? Who’s Sabah? Huh. She has unicorns. What the-



    Uh. Ahem.

    So yeah, this, this was an awesome update! We got to see from Parian’s perspective FINALLY, and I’m glad Wildbow waited, because the current situation made it so much better. S’like waiting for a fine wine to age, really…

    Also, Undersiders waiting until nightfall seems to indicate that we will NOT have an immediate timeskip. We will have the fun of watching Skitter bend words with her adversaries! I freaking love this part!

    It also means that the Birdcage isn’t a guaranteed ending, here. Still possible, but now ALTERNATIVES have opened up. Geeze, if she can win with words here, crumble the PRT with naught but talking it to death, then come out with several new recruits from Ex-Wards and maybe a few Protectorate heroes, then I’m gonna have such a big. Damn. Grin. All over my face. Seriously. Me = grin! There will be nothing but grin, so wide, that stars shall start drifting into my mouth from the gravitational pull! Stephen Hawking will get grants to study my grin!

    Ahem. Again.

    Also, good to see Parian growing up, and realizing her niche as the heart of the team. Beautiful to see Needle + Thread taking off, happy for them. This being the Wormverse they’re probably gonna be Jossed at some point, but I can live with that.😀

    All this and ACCORD, too. Tattletale holding him off with Social-Fu, and giving him that most terrible of offers… Hope. Hope that for ONCE, his efforts will be taken seriously. Hope that for ONCE, someone is actually going to DO SOMETHING based on his work. A dangerous thing, Hope. Been the ruin of many a man and woman.

    Ah… Life is good. Wildbow is awesome. Worm is worth staying up late to read updates.

    Peace out, until next time!

  36. What would a thinker/tinker irregular look like? Would it even be possible with the way that irregulars powers are created?

  37. A thought: super timing powers would probably work well with — say — parrying incoming projectiles. With a rapier.

    I’m feeling good about the possibility of Lily’s potential new identity as Needle. I wonder how long it would take to acquire a nice sword for her?

    • I’m sort of worried that she’s going to fight close range though. She’s not a brute (like Weld), she cannot regenerate, and she cannot phase through strikes (like Shadow Stalker). It only takes one hit for her to be hurt real bad.

      • Short Answer:If you can tell physics to go screw, there’s no difference between a rapier and a harpoon.

        • ….I now imagine Leviathan jumping around in the ocean, painted white- And Lily with a faux beard, yelling, “THAR HE BLOWS!” before hucking a harpoon at him…

          • Was it ever officially decided that the Endbringers have gender? Like, behemoth and leviathan would be dudes and the Simurgh a chick? Or we’re those pronouns just used because they best fit each of the Endbringers?

          • Simurgh has breasts, so she’s noted as female; I can only guess with Leviathan being thirty feet tall his equipment is self-evident, so he’s a gimme as well (yes, that’s ignoring the general cloacal setup of lizards shush he’s bipedal :P) and Behemoth has been referred to as a he as well, but without further actual information on him we can’t really say much; Everything is third-hand.

  38. Hmm…I wonder how Canary is doing right about now. Maybe is Skitter goes to the Birdcage they’ll become friends and everyone will be happy…well,except for Lung and Trickster.

  39. Wildbow, I know now the specific term to use when describing your ability to characterize people and draw you into the story: Aesthetic Distance. You have the ability to create a very close aesthetic distance with little to no dissonance between the reader and the characters personified chapter by chapter.

    • The day I realized that I loved Worm was the day I started wondering where exactly the line between heroes and villains are drawn from an extremely Taylor perspective.

      Right now, in a class I have, we’re discussing the boundaries between good and evil a lot in a discussion. I keep referencing this, sometimes without even meaning to, and all I want to do is say, “Read Worm! It will say everything you need to learn on the topic!”

      And very, very soon, the cliffhanger shall be resolved.😀 Can’t wait!

  40. So, reading back over the archives I came across the one for Marquis. You know, the one that ends with Panacea “praying” and it gets intercepted by the Simurgh before getting back to Dragon? It even got archived in the -completely- wrong part of the archives, weather tracking rather than Birdcage recordings.

    Doesn’t Dragon’s upload/downloads of her backups work on a satellite system? Is it possible that the Simurgh has been interfering with it? The perfect time to do that could have been, oh say, right when Armsmaster fucks up her code. I really hope I’m just being overly paranoid.

  41. Gonna go ahead and necropost because YEEEAAAHHH Lily/Sabah! My favorite couple in the series. Although I did like Legend’s bit about feeling giddy going home to his husband.

  42. the dynamics on lily and sabah surely is something we won’t typically found on superheroes themed story, well, Wildbow pulled it just like that, like nothing else would be too taboo to consider, my mind got itched a bit, in a good way

  43. “And she planned to be gone long time,” Grue said. “She was asking me about leadership, about whether I was ready to take the reins. I said no, but she did it anyways.”

    Should be “gone _a_ long time”.


  44. Can’t really say more about the shipping than yay shipping! And I can’t wait to see Lily’s new setup, either.

    But what’s really on my mind is that I am now completely certain that the world was doomed the minute Tattletale and Accord laid eyes on each other.

  45. Hi! Um, I’ve never posted before, so the first thing I want to say is thank you, Wildbow! I really enjoy your writing and your stories.

    Stories, not story. It’s mega awesome how every character has a unique brainspace and a thought-out personal history. It’s evident, occasionally, that even the characters whose backstories aren’t told have a past and a future. That chapter about Emma–I know that most of the readers didn’t care about Emma as a person, but you wrote about her anyway. That was pretty courageous, to humanize a powerless Bad Guy. Most authors let those characters fall away into oblivion, and don’t think about them again.

    So, I’m going to borrow a bit of your courage and post something about myself. Obviously, I won’t use my real name. I’m mostly posting for me anyway.

    The story at the beginning of this chapter, about Sabah feeling lost, and then about the boy who wormed into Sabah’s life and wouldn’t leave her alone? I’m the boy, maybe.

    A lot of the life-changing dramas in Worm revolve around people dealing with their own issues through their interactions with the people close to them. Taylor and Emma, Brian and Aisha, Amy and Victoria, Krouse and Noelle, Alec and his dad, Rachel and no one.

    I understand why superheroes would deign to wear bright colors and supervillains claim the dark. It’s hierarchical, it fits. The Number Man might call it delusional, Accord might call it orderly, Skitter might just shrug at the idea, accepting the cause but trying to change the effects.

    I don’t know where I fit in there, nor where I expect you to fit in there, but I just tried to explain myself in your head; I just wrote a really long paragraph and I kinda fizzled out of steam. I deleted it. Trying again.

    When a line is drawn in the sand, we jump to one side of it. We don’t question the nature of the line. We don’t ask who drew the line, we don’t ask why we’re so ready to give other people the power to draw lines, or what the existence of the line does to us.

    I’m about to attack one of your sand lines, Wildbow. Please don’t hate me.

    I thought I had a crush on a girl in high school. I tried to be her friend; I wanted her to love me, and I still want that. I’m about to graduate college. We don’t go to the same college. I haven’t seen her in months, and she’s still the first thing I think about when I wake up. It’s winter break and she’s back to our hometown for the holidays. I called her and facebooked her, but she hasn’t responded. It’s almost physically difficult to resist texting her.

    Whenever she comes home, I try a little harder to hang out with her, and she seems a little less interested. But my feelings haven’t waned at all. She’s so nice. So beautiful. Quiet, funny, positive. She never says ‘no’ harshly, as Sabah did, because she never thinks about herself first. She’s as selfless as I’m not.

    You know that song Mad World, originally by Tears for Fears but better known for its Gary Jules cover in Donnie Darko? “The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.” I literally daydream about heroically pushing her out of the way of a car, and dying with her crying over me in the snow. Or finding out she has heart cancer and that I’m the only person who has her blood type, and in the daydream, I kill myself leaving a suicide note that instructs the hospital to literally give her my heart, thereby, saving her. I don’t stalk this girl, but I want to.

    Maybe Sabah felt trapped because he wanted something she couldn’t give, but we who love people who can barely tolerate us, who are too insistent and who seemingly refuse to hear your ‘no’s, whether implied or explicit,–we’re trapped too! Only, we’re trapped with ourselves, and we don’t have someone else to put it on. I’m stomped on by the same beat that keeps me marching. I don’t want to be a villain, I just want her to reciprocate. I can’t stop wanting that; she’s all I want.

    If that boy whom Sabah rejected is anything like me, please give him a secret chapter in your mind. I don’t want anyone to write one, but let him be one of those characters with an implicit past and a future. With a formative story, worth a formative story.

    Please let that line wash away. I don’t want to be a thing that hurts her, and that’s what that line seems to say, that I’m the dark side. She’s easily the light side, and if we’re not on the same page, then I’m the dark side, right? I’m not Skitter, I can’t wash away lines with a shrug.

    Maybe I’ll get over this thing in a couple years, but even if I can make myself walk away, that line isn’t gone. It will still be there in my mind, in my past, and I’ll still be on the dark side of it. I hate that. I can’t undraw the line by any means available to me, so when I read this chapter, I wanted to call out that line, and at least give it a talking-to.

    Thanks for giving me space to be emo and call out my comically melodramatic self-loathing,

    And thanks for writing all of this! It’s great to read.

    • The boy Parian had problems with wasn’t a problem because he was obsessed. That happens, we’ve all been there to varying degrees. It was what he did because of that obsession. So long as you keep it on the down low and stay polite, it should all remain good. If you make someone uncomfortable and you realize it, you apologize and GTFO. Fairly simple.

      The problem is that social norms and culture make it hard for a normal girl to refuse a persistent guy. If you’re hanging out with this girl (or trying to) and she’s getting increasingly uncomfortable, and if you’re taking advantage of that social norm for your benefit and her detriment, then that’s assholish. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, it depends on the degree.

      There are two other things at work here, and I’ll just note them. On one level, I think obsession is kind of something you can get obsessive over in itself. Being head over heels for someone, fantasizing about them constantly, it’s a rush, and that rush can be reason enough to convince yourself to stay on course when you shouldn’t. I think you’re already starting to look back on what you’re doing with some perspective. I think you should continue to do so, in the light of this idea.

      On the other hand, you have to know that the issue with the boy, as I said above, wasn’t with his obsession with Sabah. It was that he felt like he was entitled to something. I know you’re thinking, “I’m not”, but you kind of are. The idea that, if you died and gave your heart to her to save her life, you’d earn her gratitude, or that she’d cry over your body, that’s kind of an entitlement.

      It’s a nice fantasy, sure, but it’s this same line of thinking, carried on, that leads guys down the same path. “I died for her in a dream, and dream-her cried for me.” “I gave her a gift, so she should go out with me.” “I treated her to dinner, so she should give me a kiss.” “I took her out for a romantic, expensive dinner, so she should sleep with me.”

      “She didn’t sleep with me after that romantic, expensive dinner, so she’s wrong, she’s ungrateful, she’s selfish.”

      All variations along the same line of thought. It’s easy to get carried away, when you’re feeling that rush of being head over heels and obsessed with someone.

      From her end, she’s got a persistent, intense guy that’s maybe a friend of friends. He’s not doing anything particularly wrong, at first, so it’s hard to call him out on it. He’s maybe even being nice. Directly calling him out on it is against the rules, in a general sense, because she looks like the bitch, she looks bad, and it hurts her other friendships.

      But where it was hard at first, if she gives him any room, she feels like it’s that much harder to resist him in the future. And when the line is finally crossed (ie. ‘no, I won’t sleep with you’, ‘no, I don’t want to be your girlfriend’) it seems abrupt. You’re hurt, and she looks all the worse. So unless he gives up and goes away, there’s no way that it turns out well. It’s a scenario that can go from unpleasant to crushing (see Parian, above) to nightmarish (see Denko link below)

      It’s a bad situation to be in, so she ignores you. The more pressure you apply, the more she backs away, because it’s the only option. The pattern you’re following is a thing, it’s a known thing in a variety of circles, and the only way out of the pattern is to cut ties before it gets uglier.
      Nice Guy Phenomenon –
      Denko – (pop up registration warning)

      I hate to butt in, I don’t want to make enemies of my readers. I feel for you, I do. But I gotta say, it has to be better if you give her space. You reached out, you expressed interest in meeting up, leave it at that. Maybe don’t contact her on the next visit, as impossible as that sounds. Because if she’s feeling pressured at all, you’re only going to drive her away more than you draw her in. Conversely, if she does have any interest in you, she may appreciate the space and the opportunity to come to you instead of you constantly approaching her.

      Worm has a pattern of not delineating people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’, black and white. The line you refer to isn’t really a line that has people on either side. Worm is about shades of grey, and the line has people arranged on it, along sliding scales with a few exceptional people (for better or ill) at different points on that line. We all (in Worm or otherwise) benefit from taking a good hard look at where we stand and figuring out which direction we’re going, on the line. It’s a question of little steps in either direction. In terms of where this stuff could lead, stepping back seems like it would be better overall at avoiding bad scenarios, compared to pushing forward.

      If I’ve got it wrong, or if you just don’t believe what I’m saying, perhaps talk to some people (friends, family) in a serious way, about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. Having an outside perspective can always help (and a lack can hurt), as it does with the characters & pairings you mentioned above.

    • Wow… I was not expecting this raw confession in the Worm comments.

      A real testimony to a) how powerful the story is, and b) how self-aware you are Gray_boy.

      That said, I help people with stuff like this in my career, and thought I’d offer my 2cents.

      This may or may not apply to you — I’m just sharing a principle I feel may help.

      Note, many fixations on a single thing/person, are simply because a person doesn’t know better.

      One obsessed with a certain business deal, might be missing prestige, status, or financial prosperity.

      One obsessed with a certain love interest, might be missing affection, beauty, support, understanding, intimacy, self-worth, etc.

      Focusing on the root is much more powerful, than focusing on the fixation, because life has many ways of changing feelings, evolving situations, and setting up blessings… but only if we let go, be more open, and focus on the root.

      Again, not sure if this applies to you, if it doesn’t, just ignore me🙂

      Much love, keep ryzing!

  46. I am sad that it took me until the “needle and thread” line at the end of this chapter to realize that Flechette and Parian were a joint concept. And I suspect that Parian actually has dust based macrotelekinesis, directly related to the situational control she wanted when she triggered. And that bit of training would let her replace Skitter as the local area effect, denial, and awareness specialist.

    Actually, I just had another thought about Passengers. They seem to trigger with situational irony. Not just the Travelers, whose irony is manifested in their powers (Trickster replaces things and people, Genesis dreams of useful bodies, Perdition could restore things to what they were before, but not enough to stop them from what they were doing, Sundancer can destroy anything that gets too close but cannot save anyone who gets in the way, Ballistic is a loose cannon, Oliver has a perfect body but a damaged mind, and Noelle was probably bulimic), but in Skitter and Parian, who wanted escape but got control over many small things.

    Oh my.
    I (think) I just realized how triggers work. They aren’t based on trauma. They’re based on coping mechanisms. Taylor and Sabah both couldn’t control the main factors of their situation, and developed powers that let them control much smaller details very precisely. Brian was trying to protect his sister, and developed the ability to shelter her from the world. Rachel was trapped, and too weak to escape by herself, so she made her dog strong enough to protect her. Hana isolated herself from her childhood in order to become a soldier. Sarah started seeing patterns in everything after her brother hung himself unexpectedly, Justin wanted someone that was worth less than he was, Bakuda failed university and had to prove she was still smart, Kayden… probably had to drink the heat and light that made up a mirage. Victoria was angry she got fouled and needed to be awesome. I’m not quite sure how second triggers work into this, but may just be the need for a different coping method. Grue couldn’t move, so he needed to borrow someone else’s strength, perhaps?
    Cauldron powers seem to be strongest when taken by people who were in a state where they would have triggered if they could have when they took them, hence the Travelers being so much more powerful than Battery.

    • That “coping mechanism” thing makes good sense. I…really don’t know what else to say.

      As to Parian’s dust telekinetics, in the “What Is Parian’s True Power” reddit threads, I’m pretty sure Wildbow’s said that’s not it.

    • The hints given point to Noelle being anorexic (picking her food,some comments pointing to the irony being on the fact her new form is opposite to the old etc).Still validates your point.Now imagine how an anorexic,who is obssesive on how fat he/she looks,would feel in the body Noelle got and with uncontrollable urges to eat everything.

    • Wow. Kind of amazed that I never got something as simple yet poignant as “Trickster replaces things and people,” or “Justin wanted someone that was worth less than he was.” Thank you for sharing!
      I don’t think Tattletale’s coping mechanism was “seeing patterns in everything”- more like watching everything much more closely, on the lookout for surprises from any angle after she discovered how much they could hurt her. And Rachel… I agree that she felt trapped with her foster mom, but I would characterize her trigger more as something like Skitter’s. She poured herself into the one aspect of her life that she could control and feel comfortable with, which was Rollo. (Hana is almost the inverse- she developed the power to command the same sort of forces that were being used against her.)
      Interestingly, I think Battery’s powers fit this pattern too. She didn’t try to act on her frustration with Madcap right away; she kept her focus on the goal while she marshaled her resources and waited for the right moment.

  47. This was great getting to see into Parian a bit. It was so sweet that her and Lily finally get together! The dynamic is a bit weird for me especially after being reminded that Parian is between 20 and 23 (depending on Bitch’s age) and Lily is still at most 17. I would’ve thought Parian had the power originally in the relationship but it’s nice to see that simply really giving a label to it makes it okay for her. I don’t think she gave herself nearly enough credit in that meeting. She pretty much calmed things down.

    God how Rachel has grown! And damn does she trust and believe in Taylor! The rate Taylor’s going you leave Skitter in custody for a few days, maybe a week and half the Protectorate and Wards are likely to join her. Starting with Clockblocker, Triumph, Dragon, Defiant and Miss Militia.

    Poor Tattletale really needs to get over her migraine soon.

  48. Oh and I forgot to put one little thing about Accord. It is strangely heartwarming how profound an effect the simple promise of taking a look at some of his ideas and implementing a few of them had on him.

  49. “And she planned to be gone long time,”

    Missed the “a”

    “Rights, yes. But we’re supervillains. Don’t forget that,” Tattletale relied.


  50. Miss Militia: That new patrol plan fucking backfired.

    I’m wondering if Fanchette’s new role will be a side thing, a full-time thing, or Parian just used love to turn Fletchet into a double agent.

  51. I know that it’s been quite some time since this story finished, but I found it through TvTropes and have been quietly lurking since (well, sorta quietly, occasionally I just have to guffaw at Psycho Gecko’s shenanigans)
    I immensely enjoy Worm, both in the exceptional quality of writing both believable characters and the realistic, living setting. And I’m sure somebody’s said it already and I just haven’t found it, but:
    Parian grows up, changes her name, and becomes a paranoid cape costume designer who works with “super”models on the side.

  52. “Rights, yes. But we’re supervillains. Don’t forget that.” Tattletale relied. Shouldn’t it be “replied”?

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