Interlude 22 (Bonus #1)

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March 2nd, 1997

“Okay,” Daiichi said.  His Japanese was easy, a lazy drawl.  He paused at the top of the flight of stairs, sneering a touch as he waited for his followers to ascend.  “If you don’t hurry, they’ll be gone by the time we get there.”

There were grumbles from the others.

“Why isn’t there an elevator?” Ren whined.  Of all of them, he was the heaviest, the black jacket of his school uniform straining across his shoulders.  He’d dyed his hair blond, but hadn’t yet found a good style to wear it.  Ren was Daiichi’s lieutenant; most thought that was because Daiichi put too much stock in Ren’s size, ignoring the fact that he was more fat than muscular.  People who knew Daiichi better speculated that it was because Daiichi wanted someone fat and ugly that could offset his own good looks.  Only those inside Daiichi’s group and the people who crossed them knew better.

“Only three floors,” Daiichi said.  “And we wouldn’t use it if they had one.  They could have someone watching.”

“With only two of them?”  Ryo asked.

“Can’t hurt to be safe,” Arata said.

Kenta was the first up the flight of stairs.  Daiichi clapped one hand on his shoulder.  Their leader asked, “Ready?”

“Ready,” Kenta answered.  His heart pounded.

For others, for his neighbors and peers, conformity was safety.  To be the same as one’s peers, it reassured the self, reassured others.  Standing out was bad.

But Kenta stood out anyways.  He looked different.  People knew his mother was Chinese.  He was oddly tall for his age, his grades poor.  He could have struggled, but there was so little point.  He was competing with classmates who were already miles ahead of him, who were fighting to keep ahead of one another by studying after school, studying at night.

This was something else.  It was both thrilling and terrifying, to recognize those lines and ignore them.  To be brazen, to stand out on purpose.  Breaking rules, breaking convention.  He imagined it was like the rush that accompanied a fall to open water or hard ground.

“This is our springtime,” Daiichi said, and he managed to say it without sounding ridiculous.  At seventeen, he was older than any of them.

Springtime, Kenta thought.  Daiichi had it all planned out.  They would earn a reputation for themselves, then submit themselves to the Yakuza.  With luck, they would be accepted as low-level members of the ‘chivalrous organization’.  The freedom would be gone, in a way.  Their ‘springtime’, in a sense, referred to the brief period where they were free to do what they wanted, between the confines of school and membership in the Yakuza.

“There’s only two Chinese?” Ren asked, as they filed out of the stairwell and into the restaurant on the third floor.  The rooms here had thick walls and a wooden door, rather than the traditional paper.  They’d wanted privacy, maybe.  It didn’t matter.

“My cousin owns the building,” Daiichi said. “He said they paid with bundles of bills, and no other Chinese came in.  Some Western gaijin, but nobody threatening.”

Kenta looked back at their group.  Nine people for two men?  And they had an unfair advantage, besides.

“Go,” Daiichi ordered.

Kenta was stronger than Ren, so he was the one to kick down the door.  He moved aside to let fat Ren advance.  He wasn’t stupid, wasn’t ignoring the possibility the foreigners had guns. 

There was no gunfire.  Instead, he could hear someone speaking in English, very calm.

The woman is upset you did not take enough precautions,” A man said, in Chinese.  He sounded more alarmed than the English speaker.

Daiichi and Ren led the advance into the back room.  Kenta followed, looking over Ren’s shoulder to take in the scene.

There were five people in the room.  Two were Chinese, sure enough.  Businessmen, they seemed to be, kneeling on one side of a squat dining table that was neatly stacked with cash and ‘bricks’ of white powder in plastic wrap, as well as various dishes laid out with vegetables and meat.  A Japanese man sat at one end of the table, hands folded in his lap, eyes wide.

But there were two more gaijin in the room, kneeling opposite the Chinese foreigners.  A black woman in a white suit jacket and a knee-length dress, and a twenty-something woman with a European cast to her features, with dark hair and a black suit.

The black woman spoke, and the Japanese man translated it to Chinese.  “The woman recommends we stand back.  Her bodyguard will take care of the situation.”

“The woman in front is a bodyguard,” Kenta told Daiichi.

This was wrong.  The two women were too confident.

Daiichi drew a gun and pointed it at the woman.  Kenta felt his heart leap at the sight of the weapon.

Then Daiichi fired, a warning shot.  Kenta flinched despite himself.  He’d never heard a gunshot before.  Loud.

The men were cowering, trying to hide beneath the table.  The women hadn’t even reacted.

“One bodyguard?” Daiichi asked, sneering.  He made the first move.  He flared a brilliant green, then jolted as a phantom replica of himself leaped forth.

The phantom Daiichi flew across the room like living lightning, a trail of neon green smoke in its wake.

The bodyguard was already moving, her hand on a plate.  She turned it upside-down and threw it in a single motion, and it caught the air like a frisbee.  It turned in mid-air and crashed into the real Daiichi’s face.

He staggered, and the phantom he’d created dissipated a fraction of a second before reaching the bodyguard.  She shut her eyes as the residual smoke carried past her.

Kenta stared.  He’d never seen Daiichi’s ability fail him like that.

Daiichi raised the gun, and the woman raised one knife from the table, turning it around so she held the blade, the metal handle extended.  She held it out with one hand, pointing it at Daiichi’s shoulder.

Daiichi fired, and the knife went flying.  It ricocheted, spinning rapidly, striking the doorframe behind the bodyguard before flying over her head in a tall arc.  She caught it in her other hand, resuming the exact same position as before, then shook her right hand for a second.

She said something, murmuring it in English.  The knife, still held in front of her, had a dent on the end.

The black woman behind her said something else.

“What are they saying?” Daiichi asked.

“The woman in the suit just got permission to kill us,” Hisoka said.  “But the black one said not to spill any blood.”

“We should run,” Kenta said.

“You scared?” Daiichi asked.  “We have muscle.”

“So does she,” Kenta retorted.

Daiichi only smirked.

Can’t run, we’re going to get hurt if we stay…

Ren rolled his shoulders, then inhaled.

Wind rushed out of the room, and small objects were drawn towards Ren.  The intensity of the suction grew as the fat boy sucked in more and more air.

The bodyguard kicked one edge of the low table, and the wind caught it, helping it rise.  Money, plates and the bricks of white powder slid to the floor, sliding and rolling towards Ren.

Daiichi opened fire again, indiscriminate, but she didn’t even react.  Her knife blocked one shot that was directed more at the black woman, flying out of her grip, and the bodyguard walked between the rest of the shots without even dodging.  She seized a table leg in one hand.  It would have been too heavy to lift, but Ren’s suction was hauling it off the ground.  Two bullets bit into the thick wood.

Daiichi unleashed his power, creating another ghostly replica of himself, incredibly fast, stronger than he was.

The woman kicked the table, and it spun through the air as it flew towards Ren, clipping the ghost.  The phantom lost an arm and a chunk of its chest, got its bearings, then charged the bodyguard.  The damage to its chest was too grave, and it crumpled into neon green dust a pace away from her.

Ren was struck by the moving table, hit with enough force that he stumbled backwards into Kenta, Hisoka, and the other mundane members of the group.

Ren blew, and the table went flying across the room.  Kenta’s heart sank as he saw the woman, crouching low to the ground.  Her hand reached up to strike the flying table, altering its course as it flew towards the Chinese men.  It came so close to hitting them that Kenta thought it would be like the cartoons, where someone was cut but didn’t start bleeding until seconds had passed.

Except it hadn’t hit them, and the woman was too close to the ground to really be affected by the wind.

“Suck!” Daiichi shouted.

“Don’t!” Kenta said, though there was little point.

It was too late.  Ren had stopped blowing, buying her a second to move.  She stepped forward, closing the distance to the group.  Daiichi created a third ghost, rushing towards her, but she avoided the first strike.

Ren started drawing air in once more.  Daiichi’s spirit opened with a flurry of attacks, moving twice as fast as she was, but failed to land a strike.  The bodyguard took a step back and used the toe of her glossy black shoes to flick a brick of powder into the air.  She threw it, and the suction only added to its velocity as it soared to Ren’s right.

Daiichi’s spirit was fast enough to avoid the brick, but Daiichi wasn’t.  It bounced off his head, and the ghost dissipated again.  She kicked the table, and again, the suction caught it.  It flew into Ren’s shins, and he fell.

Thrice, both the ghost and Ren had been countered, almost casually.

Daiichi shouted, uncharacteristically angry.  Uncharacteristic, maybe, because he’d never lost a fight before.

The others pushed forward from behind Kenta.  Had they not just seen the fight?  They really thought they’d accomplish something?

But the force of the others charging forward from behind started him moving forward, and he was driven to keep advancing by the vague, incoherent idea of what might happen to him if he, the largest, physically strongest member of Daiichi’s group, turned coward.

He knew in an instant that it was a mistake.  Daiichi’s ghost, twice as fast and twice as strong as Daiichi himself, an expendable assailant, hadn’t accomplished anything.  Why would six or seven teenaged delinquents?

She tore through them, every movement precisely calculated to disable, to crush, blind, stun and stagger.  They were driven to stumble into one another, their weapons knocked from their hands.  She wasn’t any faster than any of them, not a martial artist, though there was a degree of elegance to what she did.  No movement wasted.

Her foot caught Kenta in the diaphragm.  She planted one hand on the back of his head as he winced from the blow, then pushed him face first into the ground.

His teeth bit into a brick of powder, puncturing the plastic itself.  Kenta tried to rise, but she stepped on the back of his head, driving him facefirst into the brick a second time, hard.

Someone else fell to the ground a short distance away.  Kenta turned to look, simultaneously coughed, and loose powder exploded around his face, filling his eyes.

The powder caked his nose, thick in his mouth, to the point that he couldn’t swallow.

Drugs weren’t a ‘big’ thing in the East, even among gangs.  He didn’t know the particulars of any powder or substance.  Only that they were bad, possibly lethal if too much was ingested.  He tried to spit it out, but couldn’t help but feel like he was swallowing more than he was removing.  The weight of the woman bodyguard was on his head, holding him there, suffocating.

He felt the rush of it taking hold, intense and seemingly without a ceiling to top it off.  His face in the dirt, in the dust, he was overwhelmed by the paradoxical sense of being like the king of the world.

That rush lasted too short a time.  He could feel the rush building until it felt like his heart was going to burst or vibrate itself into pieces.  He felt nauseous, as if he was going to throw up, but couldn’t bring himself to.

Kenta’s left arm started going numb.  He knew what that meant.

With a cold feeling in his churning gut, he thought, I’m having a heart att

He found himself out of his body.  He was an observer, an outside agent, without body or mind.  He couldn’t think.  He could only exist, as a part of some sequence of events.

Two entities, communicating in increasingly short bursts as they drew together.  Two entities, each unfolding and folding through realities, through multiple worlds at the same time.  Two entities, singing ideas through mediums he could barely comprehend.  Through light and heat and space and half-lives and gravity.

And they were looking.  Looking at a planet that was broad, more gas than solid.  A world of perpetual storms.  There were lifeforms in there, lifeforms in countless possible variations of that world.  Bloated bags of gas that flowed through and in the storms, in kalleidoscopic patterns.

He could see what they were focusing on, see them examining those possible worlds, declaring something.  Ownership here.  Claim there.  Territory elsewhere.


Kenta’s thoughts were confused as he felt the high seize him.  Three things overwhelming him at once.  The things he’d just seen, fleeing from his recollection.  His own body, dying in a violent, incomprehensible way.  The world beyond-

He blinked the dust out of his eyes, felt them burn, could only see shadows, could only hear the rush of blood in his ears.

The bodyguard had stepped away from him, freeing him to raise his head.  She’d staggered, and was being supported by the black woman.

He turned away, flipping himself over.  He could see the fat shape of Ren, on his hands and knees, Daiichi prone on the ground.

The bodyguard recovered faster.  She found her stride quickly enough.

She kicked at Daiichi’s throat, hard.  Ren, she struck in the nose with one boot.

The black woman said something in English.

S-she’ll take the cost of the lost product out of the deal,” the translator said in Chinese, his voice distant.

Kenta only lay there, his chest heaving.  He felt stronger, could feel his heart returning to some form of equilibrium.

But he knew he couldn’t win.  He lay there, doing his best to emulate the dying, as the Chinese men collected both cash and drugs in a bag, handing them to the black woman.

She spoke, and the Japanese man translated it to, “She would like to discuss delivery of the product on the way out.”

Kenta lay there long after the two women and the Chinese men had left.  He wiped caked powder from his face, though the effects had receded, the tingling and the rush long since faded.  Whatever had happened to him, the drugs did almost nothing, now.

He wiped his face with his shirt, then checked on his friends.

Daiichi, dead, suffocated, eyes bulging.  Ren lay there, eyes rolled up into his skull, his nose rammed into his brain, though the blood hadn’t leaked past the aperture of his nostrils.

Hisoka, suffocated on powder, as Kenta almost had.  Arata, gasping for air he couldn’t seem to pull into his lungs.  Ryo’s head had a dent in it, and his eyes were unfocused.  Jirou’s airway had been blocked, much as Daiichi’s had.  Both Takeo and Shuji lay dead with no apparent wounds.

All dead or dying, with no blood spilled.  Technically.

Kenta waited, holding Arata’s hand as the boy slowly died, then he straightened.

Idiots, he thought, with a degree of anger.  It had been foolish to escalate the fight after seeing what the woman was capable of.  He’d be more careful of who he fought in the future.

November 2nd, 1999

Lung toyed with a flame in one of his hands as he watched the great lizard-man’s rampage.

The Sentai Elite were battling the thing, assisted by the gaijin heroes.  Once every few minutes, someone passed him, flying, carrying wounded.  Lung didn’t care.  It was about timing.  If he was going to do this, he’d do it right.

A tidal wave rocked the area, and Lung had to hold on to a nearby building to keep from falling.  Heroes were swept up in the wash of water, and buildings were leveled.

The anticipation of a fight stirred inside him.  He could feel the scales beneath his skin, just itching to be brought to the surface.  The fire, too, was warm in the core of his body.

This was a fight that was worthy of him.  The trick was orchestrating it so he wouldn’t die before he got strong enough.  It was his biggest drawback.  The fight… the heroes were stalling in their own way as well.  He could tell by the way the heroes moved.  They fought in shifts.

Eidolon was fighting now.  He hurled globes of energy the size of small houses at Leviathan, and each one was sufficient to knock the creature away, flaying away the thing’s skin and simultaneously slowing it.  The hero’s own hydrokinesis deflected the lizard’s ranged attacks, diverting them skyward or off to one side.  Leviathan couldn’t attack from range, and couldn’t get close without getting pummeled.  He attempted to run, only for Japan’s foremost team, the Sentai Elite, to step into his way, blocking his progress.

“Are you fighting?”

Lung turned to look at the speaker.  A woman in a yellow and black Sentai costume.

“Yes,” he answered, his voice a rumble.  His power had granted him additional strength, durability, regeneration and control over fire even in his ordinary form, but the changes to his body had altered his voice.

She glanced at the fight, as if unsure whether she should be participating or talking to Lung, “You’re a yankee?”


“You’re a villain?”

“I am me.”

Another tidal wave rocked the area.  This time, the water reached Lung, sweeping up to waist level and forcing him to hold the windowsill again to avoid losing his footing.  He caught the Sentai woman’s wrist to keep her from being washed away.

He could feel the scales beneath his skin stirring, threatening to rise, eager.

“Sumimasen deshita,” she said, once the water was mostly gone.

Lung only grunted a response.

“Why are you back here?”

“I’m waiting,” he answered.  “And you should be fighting.”

“I can’t do anything.  My power hurts people, but it doesn’t hurt him.  I’m not permitted to leave.”

The heroes were winning, slowly but surely.  Slowly more than anything.  Each tidal wave was doing catastrophic damage in the meantime.

I’ll fight, he thought.

With that very thought, his power started stirring into effect.  The scales began growing, slowly but surely, bristling like a sea urchin’s spines as they arranged themselves.  The very anticipation of the fight was serving to fuel his abilities.  When he changed, it would be rapid, accelerated by the sheer threat his opponent posed.

He abandoned his handhold and began striding through the flooded streets, towards Leviathan and the others.

He’d made a promise to himself.  He wouldn’t lose again.  Victory, it didn’t matter.  But losing?  He wouldn’t accept it, not like the loss he’d faced at the hands of the unnamed woman.

And that very thought, that certainty, it stirred his power further, as though it were something alive, something other.

Another tidal wave hit.  Leviathan disappeared in the midst of it, reappearing elsewhere.  Lung could hear the destruction as the beast clawed and tore through the base of one building that heroes were perched on.  He quickened his pace, felt himself growing stronger as he got closer.

The beast was otherwise occupied… this was the time.

“You’re going to die!” the Sentai in black and yellow shouted.

I’ll never die, Lung thought.  I might fall, but I’ll come back again and again.  I might falter, but I’ll return with twice the fury.

The waves were more frequent now.  Buildings here had been built to tight specifications, to remain standing in the face of earthquakes and tsunamis, but it wasn’t enough.  Barely a minute passed between the strikes, with each wave reaching further inland than the last, and only a handful of buildings stood at their full height, where there had been a city here only an hour ago.

It was in one of those brief moments of respite that the ground shuddered.  Lung nearly lost his footing.  When he looked up at the night sky, he could see that the tallest standing buildings were swaying, like fronds bending in the wind.

Somewhere he couldn’t see in the gloom, a building swayed too far and crashed to the ground.

Eidolon backed off, and Alexandria stepped in, flying into close quarters with the beast, battering him.  He tried to duck beneath the water, but she broke off to fly beneath, using her strength and the speed of her flight to part the water, cutting off his retreat.  He slowed as he entered open air, though slow wasn’t the word.  Legend caught him square in the chest, and Leviathan slowed long enough for Alexandria to catch him by the tail.

She flew straight up, holding the monster by the tail.  Between Leviathan’s dark scales and Alexandria’s black costume, they disappeared in the gloom.

Leviathan fell, and the resulting impact was oddly out of sync with his mass.  The water in particular seemed to react, a single ripple extending outward, clearing an area around him of any and all water.

Lung braced himself, felt the water collide with him with a force like a locomotive, was summarily dragged beneath, trapped, suffocating.

Scales pierced his skin, strength surged through him, and his pyrokinesis boiled around him, disrupting the water’s flow, rendering it to steam.

Other heroes were pushed back a hundred meters, but Lung was already standing, burning himself dry, advancing on the fight, where Eidolon was again engaging with Leviathan.

Another tidal wave struck, barely giving the defending forces time to recover from the last assault.  Lung lost his footing, lost another dozen feet of headway.

More scales were sprouting, they were growing en masse now.  His blood coursed through his veins at twice the usual speed.  Fire burned around him perpetually now.  He was naked, the burned rags of his clothes swept away by water, and he didn’t care.  He was in freefall, of a sort, but it wasn’t the ground waiting for him.  It was Leviathan.

His flame blasted out to pelt the Endbringer.  It didn’t do any substantial damage.

Lung ran, and it took him an instant to get used to his newfound strength, to find a stride and a rhythm.

The ground was shaking almost constantly, now.  The lasers, Eidolon’s strikes, the very impacts of the blows Alexandria delivered, the Sentai’s attacks, the barrages from assisting heroes.  A cacaphony of noise, light and violence.

He struck Leviathan, and was struck in turn, his bones broken, internal organs smashed.

He very nearly blacked out, but his rage won out.  He struggled to his feet, found one femur in two distinct pieces.  He knelt instead, resting his weight on one knee, the other foot planted on the ground, taloned toes biting into asphalt, and he directed a constant stream of fire at the Endbringer.

A flick of Leviathan’s tail sent him sprawling.

But Lung knew he’d reached a critical point.  His leg was already healing, the changes speeding up.  He stopped to hold his leg, pull the bones into what was more or less the right position, so they could bond.

Anyone who crosses me will pay twice over, he thought.

A Sentai in purple and green offered him a hand.  Lung ignored the man, standing on his own.  Again, a stream of fire, but the color was more blue than red.

The Sentai joined him, adding their ranged fire to his.  They had a man who mass produced their armor and weapons, each with wrist-mounted laser guns, rifles at their hips.  Sixteen or seventeen of them opened fire with both weapons at the same time.

Leviathan turned, struck.  Some Sentai used powers to soften or deflect the incoming scythe of water.

Leviathan charged, and Lung stepped forward to meet the brute, roared in defiance.

He wasn’t strong enough.  Leviathan knocked him aside, and Lung rolled, putting taloned hands and feet beneath him before rushing forward, shallow leaps that carried him over the water that was knee-high to the humans.  Barely halfway up Lung’s own calves.

He found handholds in the shallow wounds on Leviathan’s back and shoulders.  The abomination moved, and the watery echo that followed its movements crashed into Lung.  Not enough to unseat him.

The tidal wave that struck wasn’t enough either, nor Leviathan’s speed as the creature swam.  Lung dug deeper, clawed flesh away.  Deeper in Leviathan’s body, the flesh was only harder, the ichor making it slick.

Lung roared, burned head to toe as he clawed deeper still.  If Leviathan’s muscle was as hard as steel, Lung would burn hot enough to melt steel.

Leviathan surfaced, and Lung found his way up to the monster’s neck.  He tried to reach around, and his arm shifted, reconfiguring to be a fraction longer.  Lung’s legs, arms, and talons were growing as well.

Stronger, larger.  Another man might have been afraid of what he was becoming, but this was only continuing the freefall.  Freedom.

Leviathan shook him free, and Lung found no trouble in putting his feet under him.  His mouth strained, opened wider than it should have, four individual mouthparts flexing, bristling with teeth, his own lips buried somewhere deep inside, altered.

Water steamed and boiled around Lung’s calves as he stood as straight as he was able.  He’d changed more, his shoulders broadening, his chest heavy with muscle.  He had to rest his taloned hands on the ground to maintain his balance.  His senses focused on Leviathan like a laser, taking in everything, even the faint creaking of the monster’s movements and the Sentai’s muscles, and the infintesmally small burbles of ichor bubbling forth from Leviathan’s wounds.

The ground was rumbling constantly, to the point that the local heroes were starting to seem more concerned about the landscape than about Leviathan.

There was a crack, and Lung was put in mind of the gun Daiichi had fired, more than two years ago.  A loud sound, a wrong sound.

The ground shifted underfoot.  Heroes scrambled for cover, scrambled to run or save their friends, and water rushed forth.  Lung merely set his taloned toes in the ground, ignoring the water, the debris, and the people that flowed past him.

Leviathan charged him.

He can’t ignore me now, Lung thought.  He was only half the height of the Endbringer, but it was enough.  Fire against water, claw against claw.  Leviathan hit harder, but Lung healed faster.  Every second he fought without Leviathan tearing him in half was a second that was to his advantage.

The ground parted, and Lung could hear the water rushing in to fill the void.  The landmass had parted, and ocean water was streaming in from miles away.

Leviathan tried to drag him closer to the chasm, no doubt wanting to fight in that churning abyss.  Lung planted toes in the ground and resisted.

Alexandria was there in a heartbeat, helping, keeping Leviathan from finding his way inside.  She drove the monster back, bought Lung purchase.

She said something in English, but Lung didn’t know the language.  The only others who spoke Japanese or Chinese were gone, now.  They’d evacuated who they could, and the remainder were left to drown.  The only ones left were the indomitable, and for now, Lung was among them.  They fought to keep Leviathan from continuing his rampage, to keep him from carrying on until he’d wiped away all of Japan.  Lung just fought.

Fought for minutes, hours.  Fought until four wings extended from his back, and he burned so hot that the steel-like flesh just beneath Leviathan’s skin was blackening and charring to ash by proximity alone.  Until he was larger than Leviathan, until even Alexandria hesitated to get too close.

For that indeterminate period of time, Lung was king of the world.

But he began to weaken.  The lesser heroes were gone, washed away or helping others to evacuate, the greater heroes a distance away.

And Lung had nothing to fuel his power.  He was engaged in a fight of ten times the scale he’d been in before, and his power was leaving him.

The landmass disappeared beneath the pair of them, the shards of land drawn beneath the waves, and Lung was now fighting Leviathan in the monster’s home ground.

For an instant, he thought he would die.  But Leviathan, wounded, broke away and fled into the depths.

Lung only sank, too dense to float, growing wearier by the second as his power left him, the fight over.

He’d expected a feeling of satisfaction, but he knew he hadn’t delivered a killing blow, that he had been a long, long way from it, though he’d done more damage than anyone had in years.

His enemy couldn’t be killed.  Lung had become something more terrifying than the Endbringer, but there had been nobody to see.  None of the public to recognize him, to respect and fear him.

He sank, feeling a kind of despair.  Too tired to move, he touched bottom.

Alexandria found him in the depths and brought him to the surface.

August 13th, 2002

The walls of the C.U.I. prison loomed around him.

Lung fumed, but his power was denied him.  He paced, punched walls, burned the concrete with his power.  All around him, the area was pockmarked with the wounds that marked his periodic struggles.

They’d had him in regular cells before.  It had been a learning process for them.  He’d found that surviving in a prison like this involved being a true monster, so he’d bowed his head to one boss.  When this boss had discovered what he was capable of, he’d attacked another leader in the prison.  The ensuing war had ended with Lung being placed in higher security, until he fought the man who’d brought him food, very nearly escaping before Tōng Líng Tǎ, who never showed herself, encased him in a mountain of stone.

All in all, three years since he’d fought Leviathan.  Two years since he and his mother had come here to Chaohu.  A year and eight months since he’d been arrested by the Yàngbǎn.

A year and four months since Tōng Líng Tǎ had buried him here at the base of this pit, with the same routine.  Twice a day, he would get two packages with food.  Every day, he would pace, trying to tap into his abilities, finding them beyond his reach.  He would struggle, fume, scream, and wonder if he was going mad with the solitude.  Sometimes it rained, and he found himself knee deep in water.  Sometimes it was cold enough he couldn’t sleep.  Always, he was here, in a pit so deep that the hole at the top looked no larger than his handspan when he held his hand overhead.

Every seven days, Tōng Líng Tǎ used her powers on the walls.  The floor, she left alone, but the walls were wiped clean, her power to manipulate stone turning the four impossibly tall walls of Lung’s cell into flawlessly smooth surfaces.  She would absorb any and all of the trash that remained from his meals, any of the wildlife that had accidentally found their way into the pit, and all of Lung’s leavings, which he customarily left in one corner of his cell.

Every fourteen days, like clockwork, the Yàngbǎn opened communications.

Lung was waiting, waiting for Tōng Líng Tǎ to use her power.  Like a ripple traveling over the surface of water, he could see her power extend down the walls of his cell.  It touched the base of the wall and traveled along the floor.

Lung didn’t resist as the ground swept over his legs, trapping him from the knee down.

They appeared, descending from above, floating.  Two of them this time.  They made no mention of his lack of clothes or his shaggy hair.  Both wore identical uniforms, red jackets and pants, their red masks turning their faces into overlarge, featureless gemstones with coverings over their ears

At each of their shoulders, there was a number.  One-six and two-seven.  Not ones he’d met before.  No names.  No identities.

Will you join us?

Always, the same questions, always in Chinese.  He didn’t answer.

The American heroes approached you.  What deals did you strike?

Again, he didn’t answer.  He’d tried to tell them the truth, that he’d told the heroes to go away.  The Endbringers couldn’t die.  There was no point to fighting them.  Twice they had approached him with better deals, promising him the world, but he’d turned them down twice in turn.  He’d considered the idea of taking the third offer, but then he’d followed his mother to the C.U.I. states and lost touch with the Americans.

Not a real concern.

You will stay here until you answer our questions.”

I will join,” he told them.

They exchanged a glance between them.

He moved one hand and saw them flinch.  They wouldn’t burn any more than the other Yàngbǎn members had, but they still feared him.

It made him feel better than anything in the past long months.

The Yàngbǎn is the solution,” the taller of the two said.  “You agree this is truth?”

No,” Lung said.

That is a shame.”

I want out of here,” Lung told them.  “That is all.  If I must kneel, I will.”

We need to hear the right answers before we can go any further.  We will come again in two weeks time and we will ask you again.  If you give us the answer we require, we can move on to the next step.”

And, Lung thought, carry down the chain of questions, steps, and procedures until I fail.  You will break me and brainwash me until I am one of you.

Worst of all, they would take his powers, most of them, and give him others in turn.  This was the reason they imprisoned him, the reason they sought to break him.

He would risk it, and accept the offer.  He would do whatever they required of him, and then he would kill whoever he needed to and escape.

March 23rd, 2011

With every defeat, a matching ascent.

“The ‘Azn Bad Boys’ is a shit name,” Bakuda said.

Lung didn’t react, staring at her.

“Just saying.”

“It was the name of the group I joined when I came to America.”

“See, that’s what I don’t get.  You’re a badass, fine.  You tested the waters, took on a whole team of local heroes, and you walked away.  Right?”

“I fought Armsmaster, Dauntless, Miss Militia, Velocity, Challenger, Assault and Battery,” he said.  “Yes.”

“Except you’re small time.  You’ve got all this power, and what do you have to show for it?”

“Fear,” he said.

“I don’t fear you,” Bakuda said.  Her pale blue eyes stared at Lung, unflinching.

“You will,” he answered her.

She shrugged.  She paced, looking around the building.  Two of Lung’s whores sat on a couch, looking distinctly uncomfortable, as if they didn’t know how to hold themselves, the pose to take.

“There are two kinds of fear, Bakuda,” Lung said.  “The first is common.  Fear of the unknown.  A questioning fear.”

“Uh huh,” she said.  He could tell he had her attention.

“This is fear of unanswered questions.  If I fought him, would I win?  How is he going to hurt me?  Who or what is he?”

“And the other kind?”

“A fear of knowing.  Of realities.  If I fight him, I lose.  I know him, and I quiver to be in his presence.  I know he will hurt me and I know it will be the worst pain imaginable.”

Bakuda didn’t reply.

“I have found that the first is a weak fear.  It breaks.  It ends when you have answers, when others give you their support.  The other?  It is a fear that breeds itself.  It is a disease, and it only gets stronger when you fight it and fail.  I have situated myself here to engender that kind of fear.  The residents know me.  Those I want for my gang, I take.  My influence grows, and my enemies know not to cross me, because I always have my vengeance.”

“But the ‘Azn Bad Boys’?”

“A reminder, to my enemies, of what I’ve done before, what I could do again.”

Bakuda frowned.

“I defeated many gangs, many groups.  Some had powered members, others did not.  I recruited some.  Oni Lee was one.  The rest I killed.”

“And the heroes didn’t stop you?”

“The heroes see me as a double-edged sword.  They fear me.  They know what I am capable of when the situation calls for it, they know I am too strong to defeat as a group.  For now, I wait.  They leave me be because the only aggression they can see is that I inflict on other criminals, and I amass power, swelling in reputation.”

“And the fact that you, a halfbreed, recruited me, a halfbreed, and built a gang of a bajillion different races, it’s totally not a freudian thing, tying back to some childhood issues.”

“No,” Lung growled.

Bakuda only smiled.  “And what happens down the road?”

“I have enemies,” Lung thought.  “Those who have slighted me, those who have won.”

“Like Leviathan?”

Lung shook his head.  “Leviathan, I beat, if you can even call it an enemy.  It is a force of nature.  No, I speak of other enemies, insults old and new.  I will defeat each of them in turn, and then I will rule.”

The woman in the suit, the Yàngbǎn.

“So petty.  And you want me to help?”

“You will help,” Lung said.  “Because you think like I do.  In terms of power and fear.”

Bakuda took a seat at the end of the couch.  The two whores inched away from her.

She smiled at that.  “Alright.  You got me.”

July 14th, 2011

“…and that’s the gist of it,” Amelia said.

Lung watched Teacher’s expression change as he considered the idea.  The man seemed so ordinary, so unassuming.  To hear the man talk about it, he’d been one of the foremost criminal masterminds until the heroes trumped up charges against him.

“I might not be explaining it right,” Amelia said, “How my power works, hard to interpret.  But I think I’ve worked it out.”

“I can see where it makes sense to you,” Teacher said.  “But for those of us with no conception of these power granting entities, we don’t have enough solid ground to found the idea on.”

Amelia frowned.

Teacher shook his head.  “There’s holes in your logic.  The Endbringers?”

“I don’t see how they fit in,” she admitted.

“A developmental step forward?”

“No,” Amelia said.

“A step backwards, then?”

“No.  At least, I don’t think so.  Something else entirely.”

“To be frank,” Teacher said, “I don’t know whether to hope you’re right or wrong.”

“It’s both,” Amelia said.  “It’s bad, but at least we know how bad.”

“With nothing we can do about it until someone lets us out,” Teacher said.

Amelia frowned.  She rested her elbows on her knees, as she sat on the edge of Marquis’ bed.  Plastic crinkled with the movement.  The tattoo artist who was working on her arms had scrounged up plastic sheets from the meals that came down the shafts, sterilizing them and then taping them in place.  The freshest tattoos and the irritated flesh around the markings were blurry just beneath.

Panacea had complained about how idiotic it was, because she couldn’t get sick, but any artist had their rules and peculiarities, and Marquis had told her to accept them.

“Well,” Marquis said.  “It’s food for thought.  I’d suggest a breakout attempt, given how grave this all seems, but we know how that tends to go.”

“Yes,” Teacher agreed.  “Our deal stands?  You won’t replace my dentists or doctors?”

“That wasn’t the deal,” Marquis chided.  “We’ll price match.  A little competition will keep your employees honest.”

Teacher frowned.

“It’s the best deal I’m willing to-”

Marquis stopped short.  Lung turned to see Spruce at the entryway into the cell.

“Hey, boss,” Spruce said.

“What is it?” Marquis asked.

Spruce gave him a curious look before turning back to Marquis, “Big news. TV.”

Lung took his time walking down to the televisions.  Marquis, Spruce and Amelia made their way down, where a crowd had gathered to watch.  It was rare, that the same thing would be on all of the working televisions.

It was due to a concerted effort this evening that we were able to stop Alexandria before more damage could be done.

“What’s this?” Amelia asked.  She gave Lung a nervous glance as he approached.

“Alexandria bit it,” Cinderhands said.

With that, each of the new arrivals turned their attention to the screen.

“…will recognize Taylor Hebert, revealed to be Skitter in a controversial confrontation at the school just a week ago, a confrontation Alexandria ordered.  Taylor Hebert played a crucial role in stopping Alexandria in a moment of crisis, ending the fight.

“No shitting way,” Panacea said.

Lung remained quiet.

“She’s the one who arrested you, isn’t she?” Cinderhands asked, looking over his shoulder at Lung.

“No,” Lung said.  “We fought twice, I was arrested by others.”

“But she beat you?”  Cinderhands asked.

“Shush, C.H.,” Marquis said.

It marks change, and it marks a step forward.  A chance to fight Endbringers and other threats without sabotage, without worrying who stands beside us, or whether our leadership is compromised.

“Anyone else thinking that we really should get a chance to appeal our cases?”  someone in the crowd asked.  “If the organization is this fucked up, the arrests can’t count.”

“Yes,” Marquis said, his tone condescending, “I’m quite sure the Protectorate will be apologizing to the public, then they’ll throw open the Birdcage’s doors and let us all loose.”

“…hope.  We’ve investigated the portal to another world, and confirmed that there are resources and even shelter, a possibility of escape in a time of emergency…

And new allies, as unlikely as they might be.

Panacea stared as the girl on the television stepped forward at Chevalier’s bidding, She removed the black sweatshirt and pants the PRT had issued her, revealing a costume of white and gray beneath.

Amelia’s hands went to her mouth.

Marquis glanced at Amelia.  Lung took that glance in all it’s import.  The two girls were opposite sides of the same coin.

Lung’s eyes fixed on the new heroine, then narrowed.

I admitted to reprehensible things.  I won’t challenge that, or pretend I didn’t say or do those things.  By all rights, I should go to jail.  I may serve a sentence, if the courts will it.  I won’t challenge that.

“is it reassuring?” Teacher murmured.

Lung turned, realizing that Teacher was talking to him.  “Why would it be?”

“You lost to her, but she’s strong enough to defeat Alexandria.  Less of a wound to your ego?”

“I lost once,” Lung said.  “An underhanded trick, but a loss.  I’ll credit her that.”

“Mm hmm,” Teacher replied, wordlessly.

The girl continued, “I seized a territory in Brockton Bay.  I led the local villains, and we defeated all comers.  I was secure in my position.  I had wealth, friendship, love and respect.  People depended on me.  It was everything I’d ever wanted, if not quite the way I’d initially imagined it.  I could have stayed and been comfortable. Except there are bigger things.  More important things.

“She was stronger before,” Lung spoke his thoughts aloud.

“More powerful?  Likely,” Teacher said.  “Stronger?  I wonder.”

Lung shook his head.

I believe in the idea of a new PRT that Chevalier is talking about.  I believe in it enough that I was willing to turn myself in and take action to bring it to fruition.  That I was willing to leave everything I had behind.  If I have to serve time in jail first, then so be it.  If I face the Birdcage… I hope I don’t.  But at least I could tell myself that seeing the supervillain step up might convince others to come back.  Change the minds of heroes who gave up on the PRT for one reason or another.

“Noble,” Marquis said.  “Foolish at the same time, but the line between the noble and the fool is a thin one, or even a matter of perspective.”

“On this, we may agree,” Lung rumbled.

“I’ll endeavor to see that as something other than a veiled insult,” Marquis said.

This is what I want to do, above all else.  Given the chance, I’ll serve the people.  As I fought Leviathan, the Slaughterhouse Nine and other evils, I’ll fight to the last gasp to protect all of you.  When-  …When and if I do take up the job, you can call me Weaver.

The broadcast ended, with news reporters discussing the fallout, reiterating details.

The noise of it was broken down by singing, echoing through the Birdcage.  A dirge.

The yellow feathered girl who was in the truck, Lung thought to himself.

“That’s for Alexandria, I imagine,” Marquis said aloud.  “Undeserved, I think, but I imagine Lustrum gave her cell block a very good reason to honor the woman.”

“I wouldn’t have imagined you’d care,” Teacher commented.

“I don’t, really,” Marquis answered.  “But I have a lot of respect for people who keep to a particular code, whatever that code might be, and very little for traitors and wafflers.

“Like this new ‘Weaver’?” Teacher asked.

“I would defer to my daughter’s opinion on that.  She knew Weaver.”

Amelia frowned.  “She’s… both?  She’s stuck to her own personal code, even when it made her a traitor.”

“I see,” Marquis mused, rubbing his chin.

Lung frowned.  All nonsense, and none of it mattered.  That was out there, this was here.

“A word, Lung?” Teacher asked.

Lung nodded.  Anything to get away from this intolerable talk of morality and this singing.  His cell wouldn’t afford much relief, but it would be a touch quieter.

They departed, but Teacher led the way out of Marquis’ cell block, rather than to Lung’s cell.

“I believe I can be useful to you,” Teacher said.

“You have nothing to give me,” Lung said.  He bristled at the implication.

“You know how my power works, yes?”

“You make others smarter.”

“I turn others into lesser Thinkers, into Tinkers.”

“At the cost of their independence.”


“Not something I want,” Lung said.

“You have strength, good instincts on a primal level, and all the potential in the world.  Yet you’ve failed here and there.  You’re here, after all.”

“And so are you,” Lung said.

Teacher nodded.  “Exactly my point.  Think on that for a moment.  We’re almost to my cell block, now.”

“You were captured because you lacked muscle,” Lung said, “I was captured because…”

Lung didn’t like the implication.  Of a lack of brains?

“Because of your incompetent underlings,” Teacher finished for him.  “Who escalated the feud with the heroes into a war while you were incarcerated, leaving you to sustain what they had started.  And, more apropos to our conversation, because your power has a drawback.  It requires a certain mental state.”


“Amelia, Marquis’ girl, she won’t fix that.”

“I wouldn’t let her,” Lung said.

“Because it involves tampering with your brain,” Teacher said.  “My offer is… less invasive.  We can break down that barrier, give you the ability to control when you change.”

“At the cost of my identity,” Lung said.  “No.”

“A temporary cost to your willpower,” Teacher said.  He extended a hand, welcoming Lung into his cell block.

There was no conversation in Teacher’s cell block.  The residents were neat, tidy, and well groomed.  Some seemed functional, reading on their own or watching television.  Others were more disabled.  Lung could see one individual rocking in place, tapping something out on a table.  Another was walking in small, tight circles.

“My groupthink,” Teacher said.  “Rest assured, I wouldn’t subject you to something this grave.  We would dig deep enough to discover the true nature of your power, fast enough that you didn’t feel the side effects at their worst.  Then we would use what is effectively a hypnotic state to unlock your power as it truly should be, effectively a second trigger event.  If Amelia is right, the entity that grants you your power will resist… but we can get around that.”

Lung frowned.  “There is no point.”

“There is every point!  Come.  I’ll show you.  But first you need to tell me, are you and Marquis friends?”

Lung shook his head.

“Peers, then.”

Lung considered the word.  There were some that came up in English that he still wasn’t quite familiar with.  “Yes.”

“Then you’ll keep a secret?” Teacher asked.

“I will keep a secret,” Lung answered.

“Good, good.”  Teacher led Lung to one TV in the row.  “Trickster?”

Lung arched an eyebrow.  Trickster… the name rung a bell.  It didn’t matter.

“Connect,” Teacher said.

Trickster reached up to the power button on the television, then began a sequence of turning it on and off, with very specific pauses.  A code.

The sequence was still going on when Teacher said, “Stop.  Leave it on.”

The screen showed a face, the image grainy, flickering.  The face had a tattoo of a cross on it.

“Lung, meet Saint,” Teacher said.

Lung didn’t answer.

“He speaks when we give him something to say,” Teacher said.  “But I may have been too eager to find a way of contacting the outside world, and I’ve irritated him.  Saint explained what happened.  The PRT showed him Dragon’s equipment, asked if he could commandeer it, and Saint found an opportunity to insert a discreet backdoor.  He has a channel in, a way to observe, but our channel out is poor at best.”

“This matters nothing to me.”

“It matters a great deal,” Teacher said.  “Saint can see what Dragon sees, even if he’s blocked off from the Birdcage itself, while Dragon is occupied elsewhere.  It buys us a window of opportunity to communicate something, a message in code.  The program that Dragon has observing us with every moment tracks the activity of our televisions.  Turn it on, turn it off, and do it in a systematic enough way, and patterns emerge in a way that Saint can observe.  This allows us to coordinate.  He can’t rescue us, or empty the Birdcage, but, we could do something.  We could communicate with the outside world, and with the hypothesis that Amelia has posed… well, that’s a world changing set of information, don’t you imagine?”

Lung didn’t speak.

“The alternative, Lung, is that we unlock your power, and we use other information that Saint has collected through his backdoor.  We use it to leave the Birdcage.”

“To escape?”

Teacher shook his head.  “We wait, and we let things devolve to the point that they are willing to open the door and let us go, for the assistance we can give.  Dragon has files dictating scenarios in that vein.”

“They will not let us go free,” Lung said.  “Not the true monsters.”

“Most likely not.  It’s a question: do we gamble, or do we take a modicum of comfort in knowing we’ve perhaps saved the world a great deal of grief and maintained the status quo?  The way things are, if you’re not familiar with that particular phrase.”

Lung folded his arms.  “I have no attachment to the current state of things.”

“Then you agree?  I should tell Saint to bury the information, maybe push events here and there, if it means we could go free?”

Lung nodded.

“And your power?  If I-”

“My power will be left alone,” Lung said.  “It is enough.  If you want a bodyguard for a time after we’ve walked free, you will have it.  I will keep your secret about this Saint for now.”

“Alas,” Teacher said.  “But I’ll take the offer.  By the time this comes through, I’ll have a small army of parahumans at my disposal.  Some will be… under my sway, but I’d rather have your feral instincts to offset my own wit than have you as a slave.”

“I would kill you for trying,” Lung replied.  “You use your power on me, I will see you dead for it.”

“Very well,” Teacher answered.  He smiled.  “I’ll have Trickster pass on a message to Saint, then.  We’ll scrub Dragon’s records of this conversation, and any cases Amelia has talked of the power-granting entities, and we’ll leave a request, perhaps.  I have large sums of money stashed away.  That should be enough to convince Saint to perhaps set some events in motion, in the hopes that things sour just enough that they might open the Birdcage’s doors.”

Lung nodded.  “Do what you must.  I only care for our deal.  I walk free, I will assist you for a time thereafter.  The other things do not matter to me.”

“Very well.”  Teacher extended a hand, and Lung shook it.

Lung turned to leave.

As with the Yàngbǎn, he would stay with Teacher until he had what he needed: freedom.  Then the man would die.

The woman in the black suit, the Yàngbǎn, Skitter, and now Teacher.  People he would have his revenge on, at a later date.  People who had looked down on him, who had tried to manipulate him.

He could feel his power rippling under his skin.  Against Leviathan, he’d waited hours before engaging the beast, had fought longer than he ever had.  Now that he knew he might leave… this would be a two year buildup.

The scale of the event Teacher had spoken of?  That Amelia had alluded to?  Fear and power beyond anything he’d ever experienced, freedom without limits.  That very idea gave Lung a taste of that exhiliration he hadn’t experienced for so long.

Lung returned to Marquis’ cell block.  Marquis and Amelia were sitting at one table, drinking green tea and conversing with one another.

Marquis glanced at Lung, then poured out another mug of green tea without asking.  He gestured to the bench opposite, slid the mug in Lung’s direction.

Acceptance, the idea caught Lung by surprise.  He had a place here, odd as it was, as different as he and Marquis were.

Bakuda had taunted him over how he’d sought a kind of connection to others, how he’d recruited his gang to fill a void.  At the same time he found himself thinking of the restrictions he’d faced in school as a youth, the joys of rebellion, the Yàngbǎn and everything they’d threatened to take from him.

If there was a middle ground between acceptance and conformity, was this it?

“Marquis,” Lung spoke, carefully.

“Hm?” Marquis quirked an eyebrow.

Teacher is working to undermine everything you and your daughter are striving for, Lung thought.

“The tea is good.  Thank you.”

“Quite welcome,” Marquis replied, absently.

And Lung fell silent.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

386 thoughts on “Interlude 22 (Bonus #1)

  1. This one wound up being long, and there was an issue with formatting (parsing text). 9k words. Brutal.

    Thanks for reading. Votes on Topwebfiction very much appreciated (dropped from 450, which was mindblowing, to 160 as of the time of this comment.)

      • Also, I’d maybe have written it as “Marquis glanced at Amelia; Lung took that glance in all its import.”, as opposed to “Marquis glanced at Amelia. Lung took that glance in all its import.” But then we’re moving out of the realm of typos and over to personal writing style, so that’s pretty much irrelevant.

      • “Lung could see one individual rocking in plack, tapping something out on a table. ”
        Should that say place? Or is rocking in plack a term I’m not familiar with?

    • “Then you agree? I should tell Saint to bury the information, maybe push events here and there, if it means we could go free?”

      “And your power? If I-”

      There’s a response from Lung missing right in there.

    • There’s holes in logic.  The Endbringers?” (in your logic?)
      “Exactly my point.  Think on that for a moment.  We’re almost to my cell block, now. (quotation marks missing, not a case of paragraph jumping monologue)
      The scale of event Teacher had spoken of? (scale of events?)

    • The rooms here had thick walls and a wooden door, rather than the traditional paper.
      Kenta was stronger than Ren, so he was the one to tear the paper door down from the wall.

      Door goes from wood to paper, might want to check that out.

    • “That very idea gave Lung a taste of that exhiliration he hadn’t experienced for so long.”
      Exhiliration should be exhilaration.

    • “Leviathan couldn’t attack from range, and couldn’t get close without getting pummeled” Leviathan should be Lung

    • Special delivery for the Gecko:

      I suspect that tea being good swayed more than one man to friendship. I very much want Marquis on Team Taylor before all is said and done. Alas, this will probably require the demise of Lung. Which is sad, because he’s awesome too.

      • What?! They promised me that if I came to the birdcage, I’d get cake! Was the cake a lie?!

          • I’m not sure if either Burnscar/Labyrinth or Sundancer/Genesis is a pairing I’d have thought of before now.

            Well, to each their own, I suppose.

          • … Uh, did you mean to post that somewhere else, because I don’t really see /how/ you got that out of my Portal references.

          • > … Uh, did you mean to post that somewhere else, because I don’t really see /how/ you got that out of my Portal references.

            In fanfic circles, a “lemon” is a story with explicit sexual content.

            Incidentally, I recommend setting the aforementioned Sundancer/Genesis story post-Echidna, with Mars going over to Jess’s house to talk about the time they spent as Travelers.

        • The cake wasn’t a lie, it’s just that they only had three bits, and they didn’t expect such a rush. You should have chosen “death”, no line there!

        • I would not be even slightly surprised if there were Portal references strewn throughout the Birdcage. Like a door labeled “Emergency Prisoner Release and Cake Dispensary”, or the walls of the vacuum room being covered in “the cake is a lie”.

  2. Ah, dammit. Why couldn’t we tune in early enough to hear Amelia’s explanation? Complete tease: “..and that’s the gist of it.”

  3. Damn it, Lung, sabotage Teacher! You know you want to, and you hate him anyway! Marquis has been actually respectful of you!

  4. Lung appears to be a lot more powerful than thought.

    The PRT really screwed up by contacting Saint.

    I guess this interlude means that Taylor won’t go into the birdcage, the birdcage will come to her at some point.

    • Funny – to me, he’s now LESS powerful than I thought. He has an upper limit on his fight stamina, for one thing. Granted, it’s a very high limit, but I had no previous indication that he’d possessed a limit at all.

      I agree, the Birdcage is going to open up in a big way – probably after the Slaughterhouse 9000’s big reveal.

        • For me, it was the opposite. I now see what TAylor did on her first night out and during the whole Empire fiasco that much more amazing. She took down a guy who has fought Endbringers to a standstill, and even if I’d read it before, it didn’t really sink in until I read this.

          • And this chapter just reinforces what I said for the last couple chapters: Alexandria was “Too Stupid to Live”.

            She was there, she personally saw Lung stand toe to toe with Leviathan. She absolutely 100% knew just what kind of threat Lung is and she knew that Skitter took Lung out on Skitters first night in costume; and she still thought she could handle her after she has had lots and lots of experience against not one but 3 Class S threats.

              • Noelle was upgraded to S-class after being trapped in the underground base, and I believe she was included in his count (Leviathan, S9, and Echidna, am I forgetting anyone?).

            • Skitter would not have had a chance against Lung at the stage where he can challenge Leviathan. She attacked him before a battle, before he could use his power to become epic. It is NOT the same thing.

            • I agree. Alexandria really should’ve known better. Even discounting the first fight, the second time they fought he was already into winged mode. She really shouldn’t have underestimated the ingenuity of that girl.

          • > Four. Noelle wasn’t officially S-class, but we all know that was politics.

            Echidna was upgraded to S-class around the time that Tattletale buried her in Coil’s base. And she’s included in the three — Skitter never encountered Nilbog, Sleeper, or either of the other Endbringers.

          • This is my question. There is certainly some kind of limit on his stamina, you describe it clearly during his fight against Leviathan. I’d assumed it was an upper cap – perhaps of the ‘not enough threat to keep growing’ variety, but still one significant enough that he couldn’t nail down Leviathan completely. Now you’re saying there isn’t one?

            • I’m saying there isn’t a physical cap, defined by his power. There might be a mental one, though. In the fight against Leviathan Lung took note of the absence of spectators, or rather witnesses. His desire is freedom, and one way to gain freedom is being feared or respected enough no-one dare to cross your path. Once Lung got close to Endfighter-class in power, no-one saw him anymore, or at least no-one who counted in his mind. The capes, or some of them, sure, but not the general populace. He’d get grudging respect by them, them being aware of his threat level, but he wanted that from everyone. And without witnesses… I mean, no-one mentioned Lung or a dragon fighting Leviathan to a stand-still in story, so it’s obviously not common knowledge (observer bias not-withstanding).
              What I’m getting at, if Lung had continued fighting Endbringers, he might have gained the kind of notoriety he was looking for. So, yeah. His limits are psychological, not due to a lack of power.

          • I said this as a response to another comment but will add it again here: Lung NEEDS others around for his power to work.

            Re-read where his power wanes against Leviathan and it is stated very clearly.
            “But he began to weaken. The lesser heroes were gone, washed away or helping others to evacuate, the greater heroes a distance away.

            And Lung had nothing to fuel his power. He was engaged in a fight of ten times the scale he’d been in before, and his power was leaving him.”

            This is in my mind confirmed by how the CUI was able to hold him: They isolated him in a very deep pit. Notice that he isn’t able to blast handholds in the walls and climb out, he can barely chip the walls and it only gets repaired on a weekly basis.

          • It’s been written before that Lung’s powers only grow stronger the longer he’s fighting. When an opponent is actively retreating, that’s usually the primary sign that the fight is over. When that happened, Lung’s powers were no longer in effect, and started to wane. If he could find that one opponent, that group of spectators that refused to back down, and continued to fight the metal dragon? We don’t know where the limits could be, or whom could possibly stop him. Aside from the Skitter…sorry, WEAVER choking hazard, at least.

        • So I guess he doesn’t just change when you fight him? He needs to be put in progressively more danger over time to build up the “high”? Once he becomes to much for Leviathan, he starts running out of steam?

          Kinda of a shitty caveat, if you think about it. His power ensures he will always be strong than his opponents, but never TOO strong.

        • So Lung’s the opposite of Night in that he’s an Exhibitionist? He gets stronger the longer he fights & the angrier he gets but still needs other people watching him in order to maintain his state and on the flipside, the stronger he gets the less safe it is for people to be close enough to matter?

          • I took it to mean that his power is fueled by other nearby capes, sort of leaching. In the absence of other capes to fuel his power, it sputters out. The more capes there are around, the more quickly his power ramps up. This is why he has been able to fight so many teams to a standstill, the more capes (and thus the bigger the threat generally), the faster his power gains critical mass. A single, extremely powerful cape (like Alexandria or Legend) would likely be able to take him apart before he could gain enough critical mass.

            • My guess, based solely on the line where he says he prepared for hours before the Leviathan fight and will now prepare for two years, is that he can only transform for as long as he charged beforehand. One of the major threats at the end of the world will probably be a dragon that eats Endbringers.

              Incidentally, I suspect that the Slaughterhouse Nine Hundred (ten of almost every member, but there were probably only ever around ninety members total) will be one of the five sides that Dinah mentioned, and that Teacher’s Army will be another. I had initially thought it would be four or five Endbringers and maybe groups of parahumans with powers similar to theirs, but now find that unlikely. Maybe the Endbringers, Cauldron, and the remaining heroes and villains are the others. The relative numbers seem off, though, so I’m probably missing something.

              Oh, and Zion can’t or won’t intervene in the endwar, or else he would probably be able to stomp all sides before the death toll ever gets that high. More accurately, there is a chance that he never intervenes sufficiently, as whenever he shows up precogs shut down completely. Maybe the reason anyone survives is that he protects them? No, wait, that doesn’t work. Maybe Zion leaves when Kevin dies, maybe because he tries to follow Kevin.

              We actually see Contessa fight for the first time here, and the fact that she doesn’t attack Endbringers makes me suspect that she’s like the black suited Sentai in that she has a power that only works on humans. And that it wouldn’t work on Endbringers with help from Tinker weapons or Butcher’s powers, or else Cauldron is dangerously stupid. I wonder which Trump the Yangban has, and wonder how different Contessa’s power is from the Number Man’s. It works faster, for one, and seems more exclusively suited to combat.

      • I remember hearing something about Hulk that might tie into why Lung started waning. The guy was talking about how Hulk’s power is technically infinite, but it requires him to be infinitely angry to access it all. The human mind can only be in fight or flight mode for so long before the adrenaline starts waning, because the threat hasn’t gone away or killed you yet, so the mind starts getting apathetic about the danger.

        Lung was immensely powerful, but Leviathan wasn’t stopping. He says it while talking to Bakuda “Leviathan, I beat, if you can even call it an enemy. It is a force of nature.” He was slowing it, he was stopping it even, but he wasn’t actually hurting it. It was inevitable, like stopping the tides. So Lung’s power started waning, the fight was leaving him, because mentally he realized that this wasn’t a thing to fight, it was a thing that simply existed and caused damage. You can’t fight and overcome Hurricanes or Tornadoes either. Or someone who can drop you a couple hundred feet below the surface and just completely ignore you and repair any damage you caused. You don’t fight walls or lifting equipment either, they wouldn’t trigger his transformation.

        Or perhaps the spectator theory works, but that seems at odds with how his power is talked about. Surely there was a fight he had where he transformed significantly while against only a single opponent, alone with just the two of them.

  5. “Yes,” Marquis said, his tone condescending, “I’m quite sure the Protectorate will be apologizing to the public, then they’ll throw open the Birdcage’s doors and let us all loose.”

    Marquis, saying what every reader is thinking. Love that guy.

    • …well, I’m waiting for everything to go to hell in a hand basket, so this will probably be the dropping of the other shoe, if it happens.

        • Centipedes are wearing the shoes. Well, sixty of them, stitched together by Bonesaw. That should be enough shoes. I hope,

            • Millipedes have four legs per body segment and centipedes only have two, so centipedes *tend* to have less legs but it varies a lot by species ~30-300 for centipedes and generally 36-400 for millipedes – though there’s one species that has as many as 750.

    • “And then perhaps they’ll throw a big ice cream party, with hookers and rum. And give us millions of dollars in reparations and our own private islands. They’ll even get Congress to rush into session and allocate the money to us with no grumbling from anyone involved and no filibuster threats. And then the skinheads will find out Hitler’s been brought back to life and he loves them very much and wants to give them all a great big pat on the butt.”

  6. Wait, the Yàngbǎn can redistribute powers? Are they a mix of Culdron capes and true 1st gen triggers or something far more sinister in the C.U.I?

  7. Holy shit, Lung, you scary!

    Holy shit, Contessa is like a classier version of Bullseye! I approve.

    Holy shit, Maquis must be going crazy watching his daughter get tatted, fancypants that he is.

    • Look like it’s definitely probability manipulation, so good on whoever guessed as much. Between her and Number Man, there’s a bit of a theme at Cauldron.

      Personally, I would have beaten Ren by donning a gorilla suit, winding up my arm for a big punch, then dropping down from the above floor behind him and knocking him offscreen.

      That, or I’d have put on a costume with a helmet, called myself Captain Donkey, and gotten behind him for my patented punch.

    • It’s not surprising that she didn’t stop at one, lots of people don’t. Had a boss who got one and then just…kinda went crazy with it.

      It’s interesting that there actually is a limit to Lung’s power, he just becomes almost completely unstoppable before hitting it.

      • See above, according to Wildbow Lung has no upper limit, at least in regards to stamina, perhaps in general. My guess: his limit is psychological, not physical/powerwise.

        • The psychological limit is part of his new trauma as a person with a second trigger event. Remember, they don’t tend to last long. We’re just used to something a little more broken due to Grue. Instead, we have a guy who is driven to fight powerful foes and get back at other powerful enemies who have already beaten him with the problem that once he actually matches or exceeds them, his power gets weaker. It’s surprising he’s lived this long.

          He reminds me somewhat of Achilles, who was also known for his rage and his prowess in battle. Achilles could have lived a nice long life, but he wanted to go to war and prove himself and then argue over an enslaved woman. In the end he was slain by a much weaker enemy, someone who was pretty much a joke in battle who just happened to hit him in the right place with a bit of poison.

          Cut to Lung taking a bug with Newter juice on it to the eye courtesy of Skitter, then being left at her mercy while she carves out his eyes. Lucky he didn’t fall to a villain that was in a murdering mood.

  8. Hey Lung, a haiku, if I may?

    Yo momma so fat
    Earthquakes are her sitting down
    Oh snap, you got served

    Or how about

    Yo momma so poor
    Pigeons throw breadcrumbs to her
    And she follows them.

    Momma so ugly
    She made the ugly stick break
    Just with a quick look

    Yo momma’s rotund.
    Like the noon sun with no clouds,
    But more fiery gas.

  9. “I lost once,” Lung said. “An underhanded trick, but a loss. I’ll credit her that.”

    What’chu talkin’ ’bout, Lung? You got your ass kicked twice. Once by surprise, the second was a straight up one hit KO.

    • He wasn’t downed the first time by her directly. Remember, it was the Undersiders coming in that really did it. He just got his junk rotted off because his wounds were ignored by the staff. It was the second with the underhanded trick- the caterpillar in the eye- that was a loss directly to her.

  10. Holy crap I’m excited for more. Though this chapter gives me a chance to bring up something I was thinking about before – Panacea would probably be a pretty high level Striker, wouldn’t she? I’d say at least an 8 or 9, assuming that the rating system goes by how dangerous a person’s power is within the parameters that classifications are based off of? Maybe she’d be an 8, since she needs to be in direct contact with living tissue to use her power, but she can most likely kill someone if she manages to touch them for at least a few seconds.

    Also, what classification are the people who create and act through some other form under (e.g. Siberian, Genesis, Crusader, Daiichi, Prism)? Master? And in the case of, say, Manton, would he also fall under the classifications that could be applied to Siberian (Brute, Mover, Striker, and possibly also Breaker and Trump)?

      • Okay, I wasn’t sure about Panacea, and I didn’t want to take the time to check. But wouldn’t Manton also get some other classification, considering the projection he creates is invincible, is able to extend that invincibility to things she touches, moves incredibly fast, breaks physics a little, and if I remember right, might even be immune to powers?

        • The immune to powers is due to Siberian being a projection. Anything directed at her would be woefully inadequate, because she’s just an empty shell, for the most part.

          • But because of the powers of Siberian, wouldn’t Manton get some sort of additional rating? I thought ratings were based on the way a power was used, and the Siberian isn’t a Master.

          • Siberian was probably classified as a brute(unstoppable), breaker (invulnerable) and striker(share invulnerability). Dunno what the classification would be after the projection thing was found out. Probably just added a master rating and added Manton’s name in database under Siberian’s identity.

      • Well, except Prism. Pretty sure she’s a Breaker. Her duplicates are either a brief hive mind or each have identical copies of her consciousness.

        • Well she’s definitely a Master, and many, if not most or all powers seem to have a Breaker aspect.

        • she would also be given minor mover and brute ratings for her bursts of speed and strength when she recombines the clones

    • And I’m going to assume Saint has a power in addition to the tech he has. I mean, it would take a special kind of genius to reverse engineer Dragon’s work. I wonder whether he’s a Thinker or Tinker, and what his area of expertise is.

      • I rather fancy the idea of Saint being a very clever normal who got ridiculously lucky, twigged to Dragon’s true nature and puzzled out her particular set of Asimov laws.

        Alternatively, he’s Undead Andrew Richter :p

        • Or just Evil Andrew Richter Who Faked His Own Death. Which seems slightly less likely than Brainwashed Andrew Richter. And even a ridiculously clever normal would need at least a Tinkermade cracking program to make any use of the knowledge besides fighting her. My bet is on Technomancer/machine telepath.

    • Panacea is indeed a Striker, number unknown but if Clockie rates Striker 7…

      Genesis was rated by the PRT as a Changer, but it’s not clear if they knew she was using projections and not physically present. So maybe they give classes based on what the projections can do. Crusader is all Master.

      If I had to rate the Siberian projection, I’d say Breaker. She affects the world, but is never affected, can stand on things that couldn’t support a human weight and can share her qualities with others.

      • In addition to the Breaker quality of not affecting the world properly (though this is a questionable one, as she is a projection, after all), I’d give her a Brute rating (no other projections have ever been shown to be as durable), as well as Striker (her ability to make anything she touches invulnerable), and Mover.

  11. So his power runs on an emotion. I remember someone saying before that drug-induced trigger events made for emotion-based powers, so this makes sense. But which emotion is it?

    At various points, it’s the anticipation of a fight, the determination not to lose again, the desire for others to fear him, but then he runs out of whatever emotion it is during Leviathan’s fight. Did he just get bored or something?

    • Fairly certain Leviathan has some other nullifier power than allows it to overpower people like that. It just takes a while and/or requires its full attention, which can be difficult with several capes whaling on you.

      • Leviathan’s “nullifier power” is that he’s a superdense crystalline being–so dense, that, according to Armsmaster, molecules work differently toward his core.

    • I think it’s just general stress from being in danger, as long as the adrenaline’s pumping he can keep growing. But once his enemies stop being a threat to him the stress will subside and he’ll lose power. Just for a few moments he might have been strong enough to kill Leviathan, but once he hit that point there was nothing to keep him pumped up.

      His trigger event seems fitting. He’s an adrenaline junkie, addicted to the power that he gains from being in danger. But it can never be enough, and he might never again reach the high that he got to against Leviathan.

      • Actually I think if you re-read the Interlude whatever it is, physical or psychological, Lung NEEDS others around for his powers to keep growing. The Big tip off is in the description of when he felt his powers waning against Leviathan:

        “But he began to weaken. The lesser heroes were gone, washed away or helping others to evacuate, the greater heroes a distance away.

        And Lung had nothing to fuel his power. He was engaged in a fight of ten times the scale he’d been in before, and his power was leaving him.”

        Also remember how the CUI deprived him of his powers, they kept him isolated in a deep pit:

        “Twice a day, he would get two packages with food. Every day, he would pace, trying to tap into his abilities, finding them beyond his reach. He would struggle, fume, scream, and wonder if he was going mad with the solitude.”

        • A good point. I might speculate if this is a real aspect of his power or merely a psychological condition for him to fully manifest it, but this distinction is moot in regards too appearances. We could try to surround him with non-powered people and see if the audience lets him continue to change, but again we wouldn’t be able to distinguish if it is an aspect of his power.
          This hypothesis (proximity to capes for his power to work) is actually frightening, considering he’s surrounded by them right now.

        • It makes Bakuda oddly insightful too, speculating that he was creating a family of sorts. Also, by the time he was taken out on Skitter’s first night out, his gang was pretty well scattered.

    • I think he lose the high/trill of facing someone stronger than himself. A the end of the fight he saw Levi as something unstoppable; a force of nature that you cant beat. Assuming he could feel the high of combat without stop, he should keep transforming indefinitely.

    • a thought.

      chasing your first/best “high” by constantly doing more and stronger drugs is sometimes called chasing the dragon.

      funnily enough, a quick google search to verify i was remembering it correctly, also shows it to be from China.

      With each fight lung gets in, he tries more and more to get stronger access to his powers, but keeps finding the threat insufficient to get him to the level of power he truly wants.

  12. Panacea understands Skitter better than I would have expected.

    I think I will comment further after I sleep — I just got back from playing a game of Rail Baron at a friend’s house, and boy are my neurons tired!

    • Don’t you mean they’re tracked? As far as I know, you can’t use tires on railroads…. 😉

      • Technically, you probably could, but it would be incredibly wasteful — the big advantage of rail is that you have a lower rolling friction with steel on steel than with rubber on pavement.

        *is literal-minded*

        • Steel on Steel?

          That’s got to be one of the least desirable DC slashfics I’ve ever heard of. Probably right up there with Captain Boomerang and Melani Thawne.

          Oh, wait…

  13. Been wondering if other capes other than Scion could take on the Endbringers and win. Keeping thinking that he’ll kick the bucket during one of those deathmatches.

  14. Damnit, Teacher, stop that! I was just starting to think, “well, at least *someone* has a clue about the meta-plot, and the Simurgh can’t mess with *every* transmission out of the the ‘cage”. And then you go and make it so thats he doesn’t need to 😛

    Speaking of Teacher, I wonder how far he has Trickster “under his sway”. Kraus was far from a perfect human being, but I wouldn’t have wished brainwashed slavery on him.

    • If I get Teacher’s power straight, he is a someone who can give people Thinker or Tinker powers, but for the cost of free will. That is both interesting and frightening. Being a brilliant thrall makes one still a prisoner.

      • If Teacher has Trickster under his thrall, I would think that that transfer’s Simurgh’s influence to him, and thus to all of his squad.

        Ultimately, that means Simurgh has created a large group of villain’s who have a potential way out of the birdcage and multiple reasons to hold a serious grudge against “the hero formerly known as Skitter”.

        She has also maneuvered Skitter onto her (the Simurgh’s) main opposition (the PRT).

        She’s totally set the stage for a battle royale that will finally and utterly decimate any hope of Endbringer Opposition.

        Damn she’s good.


  15. Sadly I cannot vote. Allowed once every 7 days. 🙂 was a kick seeing how low everyone else’s series went.

    • No, no, no. Part of the reason I ask for votes is because I want you to check out other stories and find the good stuff.

      Caelum Lex is good, I hear. And Legion of Nothing.

      • Indeed! I’ve read Legion of Nothing for years, and it was thanks to a post Psycho Gecko made in the comments section that I made it here.

  16. That’s how I found you. I was reading Adrian at the time. It gave me a kick to see the numbers, because it gives you an idea of who currently has their audience on the edge of their seats.

  17. Three possible world-ending threats just got added to the list: Theo was (and remains) the frontrunner, but Panacea is a plausible vector also, with Jack’s escape determining her breakdown and commitment to the Birdcage. (Tentatively leaving her off the list for now, but one could argue otherwise).

    1. Lung. His power isn’t a straightforward “the longer he fights, the stronger he gets,” or he couldn’t have charged up and wouldn’t have run dry against Leviathan. Two years’ charge? That’s a world-ending threat, potentially, and one which circles back to the series beginning. Of course, having him as an unlikely ally would do that too.

    2. Teacher. A small army of parahumans, now with extra tinker/thinker? Engineering a birdcage breakout by sabotaging Endbringer fights in order to arrange release? That story has no good ending.

    3. The sources of the passengers. Hard to say without knowing what Panacea saw, but could easily be that bad.

    Other issues: we finally have a non-Taylor vision of passenger-sources that saw more than one of them. Tentative theory: there are at least two, and perhaps many, ‘players’ who grant powers as they see fit to ‘influence the cycle’. Double triggers, and other visions that see more than one entity, reflect more than one entity ‘investing’ in a person.

    Doctor Mother is probably not a parahuman, or wasn’t as of Lung’s trigger – Contessa reacted, DM didn’t and supported Contessa as she staggered. Granted, no human has better access to Cauldron’s serum, so that could easily have changed.

    Contessa is probably a combat precog.

    Take a virus analogy: natural triggers are infections; Cauldron capes are DM’s effort at engineering antibodies. Would explain why they’re careful about killing Cauldron capes.

    Tentative prediction: Taylor/D&D/Marquis/Panacea v. Teacher/Trickster/Saint/half the Birdcage, with Lung as a wild card, and the world in the balance. Keeping to one’s code even when it makes you a seeming traitor is exactly the kind of ‘code first!’ life Marquis respects.

    For all that people complain (justly!) about the PRT, the CUI solution is a lot scarier – 1984 with powers.

    Option to accelerate Birdcage issues – Taylor is the natural person to walk in and say ‘who wants parole?’

    • Lung may be an exhibitionist, or not. A cap on his charge rate, and no cap on his burn rate, would also explain the given loss of power: he was burning it faster than it came in, and ran out.

      Is no one else worried that the whole Birdcage can hear Canary sing? Because that could matter. A lot.

    • “Contessa is probably a combat precog.”

      Her powers here remind me a lot of Number Man, actually. An understanding of the forces in play around her, letting her do things like deflect bullets away from DM and precisely alter the trajectory of flying objects with a nudge.

    • Well the CUI seems to wtill be better than whatever methode the Nazi-Organisation uses. The Capes they make are empty shells personality-wise.

      Doctor Mother’s apparent lack of powers suggest to me that she is aware of the horrible secret behind them (whatever it is). The question is how she kept her true reasons for not taking the serum herself secret from her co-conspirators/expendable minions.

      Contessa’s power is funny. Superficially it seems like her powers are similar to the Numbers Man, but having two capes with such similar powers in the same organization goes against too many rules (It certainly wouldn’t be allowed in the LoSH). It doesn’t seem like it is luck or probability manioulation either since she handily defeated Faultline’s crew including the irish girl with her own luck powers.

      Regarding Lung’s trigger event. It seems natural that such a strong cape would have a strong passenger like Taylor is supposed to have accroding to Echidna. This would explain some similarites.

    • Living up to norm, notes’ notes are always noteworthy.

      A quick thought: Consider someone has an eidetic memory, perfect recall, in a sense like MM, and also has a power. It doesn’t matter which, just let that person be always close by when someone triggers or takes the formula. This would give the person the most insight into passengers – always from their very own perspective, granted, but still a constant influx of information.

      On another note, Passengers being the infecting/attacking agent and Cauldron being the antibodies is a very promising interpretation.

      • The memory angle is clever – perhaps it is the memory suppression that is disorienting, and not the vision itselt? The passenger integrating into the psyche and, to some extent, taking the wheel? Grant Doctor Mother a perfect memory, and explain away her non-stumble that way?

        Probably not a viable hypothesis: Tattletale talks about what she sees to Charlotte before she snaps out of it and forgets again – and she’s staggering at the vision, not the forgetting. If Doctor Mother had a power, she’d react – or be meaningfully unique somehow. If she doesn’t… well, all the more interesting that she can do what she does with the serum-creation, and that she can apparently deal with her ‘lab-rats’.

        Possible elaboration – we might be dealing with memetic viruses here, which would be why Alexandria was dead serious when she said she didn’t want people to know what was going on.

        Sandman’s idea about desensitization… maybe. That could work.

        Take that theory in the direction of problems, (this is Worm, after all) and you get some interesting possibilities. Lovecraftian monstrosities which mortal man was not meant to comprehend? The forgetfulness as a mental defense against simply going mad from gazing upon Elder Gods of Cthulhu-kind? Doctor Mother’s desensitization therapy having both given her the truth about what’s going on and driven her utterly insane, and determined to propagate a Cauldron cult drawing on her favored Old One, in competition with the others?

        • Thank you, I always endeavour to contribute.

          Unless she’s very good at faking sanity, the forgetting-prevents-insanity clause doesn’t work, for the simple reason of MM remembering and still being sane. Or at least appearing to. Paired with natural curiosity of children and the time since she triggered, she must have spent a distinct amount of time remembering and dwelling on her vision.
          At the same time MM didn’t stumble or gave any indication of the vision she just had when she triggered, at least from her perspective. If anything she just froze (check Interlude 7.x; Hannah for that). I try not to defend my point unduly, just wanted to point this supporting argument out.

          A memetic virus is an interesting take I didn’t consider. From a meta point of view, since there’s not been a mention of anything of that kind in the story whatsoever, it seems unlikely. Not impossible, and meta analysis is not all the methods and means there are, but still… it would feel like cheating.
          Somewhat related, Sam Hughes’ Fine Structure is a very interesting setting worth mentioning, but telling anything more would be a spoiler.

          If the desensitisation angle would work… Maybe. Contessa is actually a case in point against that. Assuming she was present at a lot of tests (the Case 53’s) to reign in the subjects, at least at the early stages of the formula, she ought to be desensitized by now. Or by then, so to speak.

          • That’s assuming Dr. Mother has only lived for a human amount of years. My money is still on her being from another universe, potentially the last one the [giant multi-dimensional things] visited, perhaps going even further back. Like some kind of parasite, or predator, or symbiote.

  18. Beware, there is a god under the words. In his universes, he can change Destiny.

    Alexandria could come back from the dead if it serves Him and His plot lines..

    “…and that’s the gist of it,” Amelia said.

    Wildbow.. always feeding us just enough answers to keep us hungry. Starving us for the next to last mystery box. For what its worth, I believe Worm’s last one will differ than Abrams empty Kleenex ( nods to Psycho [ Gecko ] ) box.

    At the end, it is / will_be fulfilling.

    The only risk i see with answer starvation is that it could desensitize its audience 🙂

    • Or it could lead to a Chris Carter effect / Kudzu Plot.

      Also, what’s with all the bold and italics?

    • Eventually, there have to be answers, otherwise why did we ever care about the questions?

      That’s one of the advantages to having such compelling and intricate worldbuilding in literary form. If this were a TV show and you were just starting out, you’d have to hope for reruns or shell out a bunch of money for enough DVDs to get caught up when you don’t entirely know if you want to see it. Here, you just have to sacrifice a week or two and you can join the rest of us in our wild mass guessing and speculating and knock knock jokes in haiku form.

  19. Great update with the fact that Japan apparently had power rangers fight a giant lizard and lose. Contessa was interesting and I loved the fact that Panacea will probably be covered in prison tattoos by the time she gets out. So this chapter shows that Panacea has game changing knowledge about the passengers, and there will be a giant event in the future so dangerous that Dragon will let the prisoners out. If the Smurf planned this so Panacea would come up with this theory and tell the world at large it implies that the queen bitch of the universe can’t talk to people at all similar to Scion. The fact that lung is excited seems to gesture against the theory that more Endbringers show up/they stop talking turns or waiting between attacks as he thinks they are immortal and he doesn’t see the point of fighting them. It seems to tie in with people’s individual passengers and the fact that so many people are predicted to die at once might mean that something happens to every parahuman at the same time. We also got some great info about why Saint and Teacher are dangerous. Saint can see everything Dragon does so he probably knows about Defiant changing her code and I wonder what he is scheming. Teacher sounds like a nasty piece of work but he admits that he lacks muscle or power which implies that the thinkers/tinkers he makes are probably very low level. So we now have a list of possible big bads that Weaver will probably have to deal with in the future. Teacher’s army of parahuman group thinkers including Trickster, a supercharged lung who will probably turn into fucking Godzilla when he gets out, Marquis whose Skill and Code make him deadly, the evil fairy queen with a zombie Bakuda, Saint who might have his Dragon suits equipped with nano clouds, and who knows what else is in there.

  20. This Saint guy is really starting to interest me, by all accounts we have someone smart enough to reverse engineer the technology of the greatest Tinker on the planet and consistently foil her attempts to bring him down. If anyone could crack the ‘cage open my guess is it would be him.

    • Actually, it seems to me that Saint did not necessarily reverse engineer Dragon’s tech. I think it was mentioned somewhere that he stole a discarded power suit after figuring out that she was an AI, and then used that to steal a few others for his buddies.
      In any case, it was less him being able to outsmart Dragon, and more him being able to use her own laws against her. Now that Defiant’s been messing with those laws, who knows?

      • So he’s been watching D&D doing their Ten-By-Ten? Interesting contrast in this chapter, we get Lung who is an exhibitionist & Saint who’s a voyeur.

      • I know its probably too optimistic but just because they think they have outfoxed Dragon doesn t make it so.
        If this wasn t Worm i d think Dragon was aware of it and simply let them continue while monitoring them for plans especially after being unshackled. However since it is Worm and nothing good ever happens without horrible consequences you are probably right.

      • He can see, if anything, through Dragon’s passive eyes. But I honestly doubt the magnitude of that. Not all of her eyes, not all the time.
        And to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Dragon was aware of that backdoor, or had left that open voluntarily, so she can have a controlled leak of information, or at least knows what her adversary saw through her half-sleeping eyes.

    • Nothing! There is no master plan based on Star Wars! Whoever told you such a ridiculous thing!

      *hand-sign to ninja death squads*

  21. What if the passengers are the embryonic or larval stage of the big interdimensional entities people sense when they trigger?

    The entities implant them in suitable hosts (people undergoing a trigger event) to grow until they are ready for the next stage. Making the earth basically a spawning bed as they hope for one or more of the passengers to grow into the next stage. Or one of the passengers reaching maturity is what causes the end of the world as they emerge from their host…

    • In that vein, the second trigger is the Passenger getting to the next stage in their development. A lot of the passengers don’t get to the next stage, and don’t have to, since their regenerative approach is quantity over quality.

      • I am under the impression that even if one specific passenger in a specific doesn’t get what it wants, that same passenger still exists in tens of thousands, millions of other timelines, where it very well might hatch, or “inseminate” or whatever they want. Even if in other hosts, other capes. Maybe the passengers make deals, you scratch my back (in this timeline) and I scratch your back (in that timeline), each alternative timeline heading towards one hatching. Or no, there seems to be a finite number of passengers, while we don’t know whether timelines are finite to the same extent, if at all. So maybe there are many timelines that don’t have a passenger hatch, but they have to exist because they branch off the path from which a passenger *does* hatch.

        In the above scenario, though, the end of the world isn’t tied to hatching, because there are many timelines where the world ends from Dinah’s point of view.

        Maybe we are seeing the one timeline where Skitter’s Passenger hatches.

        • Plausible. And maybe they’re all going to go into hatching season in two years when Jack inspires Bonesaw to use her research into Passengers to play the hatching song on someone’s brain. Cue Skitter v. almost everyone.

          Take the timeline-sieving further: suppose the Passengers-sources are the group-mind of all passengers after a superhero Singularity, and the different Passenger-sources are different futures. The different futures are trying to influence the present to insure that they come about, and the alternative futures don’t. Two years (or whenever) is when they’ll hit critical mass in this universe (meaning Taylor’s efforts to save cape lives are secretly making things worse), and humanity as we know it vanishes into the group mind as (almost!) everyone triggers and the Passengers start driving, and then dipping metaphorical toes into the next universe over.

          On a multi-versal level, this still looks like infection, with superheroes steadily going from one universe to the next, leaving…what? behind them.

          Still need to fit Scion into these metaphors somewhere, and also the Endbringers.

          • > On a multi-versal level, this still looks like infection, with superheroes steadily going from one universe to the next, leaving…what? behind them.

            Perhaps an Earth mysteriously devoid of global human presence that might, after a few thousand years, end up a tree-covered wilderness?

          • The Faerie Queen in the birdcage said something about them waking up in three hundred years if I remember correctly. Timeline has the end of the world long before that.

  22. – I’ve figured it out: we’re never going to be told exactly what Contessa’s powers are. I say this because obviously what we saw in this interlude, while informative, is still less than the extent of her true abilities.
    – My guess is that she’s a truly perfect precognitive, albeit restricted to what’s happening within the range of her mundane senses
    – failed to mention this before but the original in-universe description of Lung’s power never really rung true to me. Nothing wrong with that, lots of understandably unreliable narrators as represented by the in-universe wiki. Hell, lots of paras don’t even know the precise ins and outs of their own power.
    – “Grows stronger the longer a fight goes on?” So he’s a mere mortal at the beginning of every fight? Why hasn’t he been pink-misted by an overwhelming first strike (from, say, Bakuda?) So, yeah, this makes more sense. He powers up on anticipation, adrenaline, rage and the rest of the chemical cocktail that makes fighters of us all.
    – OMG he straight-up beat Leviathan!
    – Ahhh, now we know what Teacher’s power is: make other people smarter and at the same time, make them your slaves. Nice! Reminds me of Tomas Nau from A Deepness in The Sky. I assume the effect isn’t permanent?
    – Panacea is finally growing some intestinal fortitude. I approve and at the same time I worry. Someone with her power level, the will to use it and moral … uncertainty is troubling. Hopefully, she adopts a code similar to Marquis’.

    • I like probability manipulation more than pre-cog for Contessa’s power. It’s related to what bugs me horribly about the Numbers Man.

      See, lacking super human reflexes, all having a perfect pre-cog power or ability to see probabilities means is that when someone attacks you you’ll know with much greater certainty how badly your about to hit. Yes, you may be able to start dodging sooner but that doesn’t matter at all if you’re not physically capable of getting out of the way of the attack and with a lot of attacks (normal guy with a AK47 say) the only way to get out of the way of the attack is to move faster than a human actually can.

      • Not necessarily.
        It just takes a slightly better understanding of physics, statistics and probability to avoid the bullets. As few people walk an automatic around in a truly random arc.

        A short term combat precog could simply see and understand the manner in which the gun is being brandished, understand the basic trajectories of the bullets, and simply arrange themselves to be where the bullets aren’t. Just ahead of it actually happening.

        Also, even though it runs counter to paradox theory and observer theory, a combat precog might see themselves and what they do in the future as well.

        • In terms of human reaction speed you can look at bullets as being lines of injury that stretch from the gun out to the bullet’s effective range. A “combat pre-cog” would need to see a spot they could contort themselves into between those lines in order to not be hit. In other words it’s not as though you can step into a spot after a bullet passes by in order to avoid the next bullet passing through where you are now given how fast a gun can fire and how far a human body can move under normal muscle power.

          A halfway decent shooter is going to be able to put those lines in a fairly tight area around the spot where they initially observe the combat pre-cog to be, so my argument is that “being able to predict your opponents moves” just shows you you that if you go left you can predict they’ll shoot you in the right kidney, going right lets you predict that they’ll shoot you 2 centimeters to the right, still in the left kidney.

          Mostly, you just get to enjoy knowing that you’re going to lose your kidney, unless you also have some level of super speed so that you can move your slow ass out the way of the shot.

          The flipside of that is that superspeed alone, except in ludicrously high amounts ala the Flash, shouldn’t allow you to dodge bullets either. They’re small and they don’t leave little Matrix-esque trails in the air. Also they’re (in some cases) super sonic so by the time you hear the shot the bullets already having a little party in your kidney.

          Dodging the guy who’s shooting you before he pulls the trigger is another matter of course. A combat pre-cog has the advantage of being aware of danger regardless of being able to perceive it and could move to any area of safety that existed (duck behind a car before the shooter fires). If they’re in a restaurant and the shooter has the drop of them though, there could easily be no areas of safety they could get to, and they’d know it.

          A speedster on the other hand can make their own “areas of safety” since they can move their body faster than the attacker can move their arm or hand. But if you get the drop on them they’d go down before they realized they were under attack (again unless they have Flash level speed and essentially stop time as soon as they begin to take any damage).

          Then you’ve got probability manipulators who basically just say “reality is what I saw it is” with different levels of constraints on how implausible they’re allowed so say things are.

          • Yeah, I think there is another aspect to her power we haven’t seen yet. She couldn’t beat someone who had a large range attack, dodge a sun, or beat a brute who was simply too tough for her to hurt. A reality warper, a power nullifier, can slow down time, etc.

          • Erm, actually she doesn’t need to out-reflex the bullets to dodge, just out-reflex the person who is aiming the gun and pulling the trigger. And that isn’t that hard if you have combat precognition.

        • That’s actually what I thought a combat precog was: Seeing the close future within their influence and the multitudes of movements at their disposal, with every possible reaction to each of their movements. The closer they are to the present, the less moves are they able to do. That way the precog knows when the gun will be fired at what tracetory and when and how to throw the knife to deflect the bullet. They wouldn’t even need to have super reflexes, I think, but probability readers would.
          This view on combat precog precludes the necessity of deflecting the bullet in mid-air, though. And is virtually indistinguishable from probability changer. Or is essentially that? I confused myself…

          • There is a very good movie that shows a combat precog similar to the one that you describe.
            I think that the title is The Prophet, but I am not sure.

            • My mind was more on the Chronicles of Riddick, when they fought at the end and the evil guy’s movements were always coagulating to instances where he’s dead since Riddick was just a better fighter.

      • Is real probability warping even a thing? Remember that Shamrocks power is actually small scale telekinesis combined with subconscious precognition. The latter of which would be a good way to do this stuff.

        Maybe I’m belaboring a joke by comparing her to Midnighter again, but that’s what this really reminded me of. Him combined with Lady Shiva and Bullseye.

        Contessa kicks fucking ass, I know that much.

        • It might be ruled out the way Telepathy is in-setting but otherwise it seems like it’d be a viable power.

          Mostly though I’m just don’t find pre-cog enough of a justification for avoiding a hail of bullet fire, especially not routinely, unless it’s also paired with superhuman physical capabilities.

          • Most of the powers we’ve seen work on some underlying principle within the laws a physics. Isn’t probability just a mathematics invented by humans to calculate chance? That’s not really something that a parahuman would be able to actually interact with.

            Even Dinah doesn’t actually detect probabilities so much as peer into millions of alternate universes to calculate probabilities herself.

            Keep in mind that this is just one gun, presumably a pistol, being fired by an untrained kid, I don’t see a precog being able to dodge that as unlikely. Once Daiichi fired and missed the first shot, he was fucked because he probably wouldn’t be able to follow her once she started moving.

          • Precog might actually be one of the more “natural” powers a parahuman can get, because the passengers seem to do timeline-sieving as naturally as we breathe.

          • Math pretty much IS the underlying principle of the law of physics. What we think of as particles, or the building blocks of physical reality, are essentially just probabilities. A quark is a field of “maybe it’s here and traveling at this speed” with the probability of each varying and dropping off over very short distances.

            Also, vs, just one gun I’m fine with a pre-cog in a one off encounter. That’s just getting a little lucky. It’s doing it reliably and consistently under all sorts of conditions for decades and (not that we’ve seen this) against much heavier volumes of fire.

            Dodging a guy with a pistol? Sure. Dodging 10 guys with automatic weapons? No. Not without superhuman speed to go along with it. Or enough pre-cog that you simply never wind up in a situation against 10 guys with automatic weapons.

        • Somewhere in the comments I found out a combat precog and small scale probability manipulator are virtually indistinguishable. Or at least I think so. I’m still confused about that…

    • Teacher seems to be a Master, possibly a Thinker, and also possibly a Striker, depending on the conditions required for using his power. Theoretically he could also get a little bit of Trump, given that he can control others, including people with powers. Though that might just factor into his Master class.

  23. There was a character in The Last Skull web serial called Mulligan. He would automatically rewind time by a short time (I think like a minute) whenever anything undesirable would happen. Contessa my have something smiler. Also, If Amelia ever fix’s Lung’s little problem, there going to have to update the S-Class threat list.

    I now have a new worry about Saint. If he can figure out what Defiant did to Dragon’s code he could use it to make her his slave which would be good for no one.

    • Mulligan’s little jaunt through time was only something like 12-16 seconds, and it can strain his brain if done repeatedly. I recall one fight where he had to redo the same situation hundreds of times, and that pretty much took him out of the fight completely.

      • The “roll back time and try again” power is essentially what Cody had, iirc. Even something as useful as that is only as useful as the person using it. (Which is, of course, one of the grand underlying themes of Worm.)

        Anyone wanna back me up on that one? (The Cody thing, not the theme thing — my statement on the theme stands on its own, unassailable.)


        • Perdition’s power wasn’t that powerful. Simply put, if he used his power on anything, it would reset to where it was and the state it was in as of a few seconds earlier. Migration 17.7 has him using it and 17.8 has a Noelle-clone of him using it.

          Using the power on himself was pretty much a last-ditch type maneuver, one which had a high probability of backfiring, but using the power on someone else had the potential to be pretty powerful — if you know exactly what someone is doing for the next few seconds, or if you can make them do the same thing over and over again, you can exploit that any number of ways.

          • What struck me as odd was Cody’s glee when he used it on Kraul/Trickster and had him get hurt/hit multiple times. For Trickster it shouldn’t have felt different than a single hit, but the narration made it seem differently, as if the stream of consciousness wasn’t totally affected.

  24. Unsure if other people have noted this before, but Lung may be powered, not only by his emotions, but by those of those around him. He pulled people together- perhaps in a family, perhaps not- to watch him. He found he just couldn’t keep ramping up once too many of the lesser capes had died.

    It seems as though he is powered by the fear of those around him, though who knows if that’s all. But it makes a great deal of sense, for the way he fights, the things that happened in this story, for him to gain greater strength when people react with fear. Even Alexandria feared him, there, eventually. That’s quite something.

    But is fear the only way this would work? We scoff a bit at the idea of him recruiting the ABB so as to have a family- But what if he could feed off of other emotions? Awe, desperation, need, these are things that can be directed towards a hero fighting to save you, just like they can be directed towards a monster who is going to defeat you.

    Could Lung be a hero? He acts like a sociopath, but I suspect that may be a consequence of the way his powers work. The need to not let himself feel weakness, to push on through it all. But like so very, very many of the characters in this story, I think that he could be a hero, if given half a chance. He was nearly a hero in the fight against Leviathan- And who knows? Perhaps his particular power set would give him an advantage against the Simurgh, too. It would be interesting to see. And as always, it is glorious the way a single interlude can completely change the way we look at a character by showing them when they were weak.

    Lung is fucking patient. I think that’s something we should take from all of this. With a stunningly effective power, and a target, he has spent 14 years building up his preparation and resentment, focused on the Contessa. He holds grudges and he holds them very well. Hell, we’ve seen very well that he’s downright prudent; He doesn’t go into a fight before he’s ready to, most of the time. With Skitter? He underestimated her; Fair enough, she just took down Alexandria, that’s not terribly shameful. But I suspect that he has a grudge against someone who beats him, not because he’s not as strong as them, but because he’s not as smart as them. He’s not stupid, but the people he holds a grudge against, they plan to the point that he can’t overpower them. He was physically stronger than the Contessa, but he never stood a chance against her. He was physically stronger than his captors, than Skitter, than Teacher, but he couldn’t defeat them, because he wasn’t as smart. He’s not stupid- But stupid people aren’t the ones who are most hurt by those who are smarter than them. ‘Not-quite-as-smart’ people are.

    Weakness… So often, when a character is powerful, they become lazy. Alexandria was sure she could take whatever Skitter had to offer. Lung was sure he could take whatever Skitter had to offer. The Slaughterhouse Nine were sure they could take whatever Skitter had to offer. When you’re so sure that you don’t think you have to push yourself to the utmost, you open yourself up to failure. The fun thing about Alexandria was, it was because she thought she was smarter- a better Thinker than Skitter- that she bit the dust. She didn’t even take any kind of measure to protect herself from suffocation by insects.

    Skitter has never, ever, /ever/ gone into a fight being sure she could take whatever enemies have to offer. If she ever DOES get cocky, she’s almost certainly going to be screwed. That’s part of why I’m nervous about her getting teamed up with D&D. Put that girl in a suit of power armor, and she’ll be dead by week’s end.

    • She did when she attacked the PRT when her identity was outed, but I get your point. I doubt it will be power armor. If it was that easy, why didn’t dragon mass produced suits for every hero? I figure she will have her develop tiny bombs for the bugs, defiant may give her a high tech extendable club, and maybe put a few tricks in her new suit.

      • That was answered – maintenance. Basically, only tinker can maintain and repair tinker technology, and then only the technology THAT tinker made.

      • My perspective on Alexandria’s fear/reluctance in regards to Lung after his fight against Leviathan was she actually saw pretty much the furthest he got in transforming, and was truly fearsome to behold: fighting an Endbringer one-on-one, being of comparable size and making the sea boil around him with nary a thought. She didn’t exactly know what she was dealing with at the moment, fear of the slightly unknown, of Lung changing further and becoming another Endbringer, …

  25. I wonder if Noelle/Echidna would have ended up with similar powers to Lung if she had taken the full dosage for her powers…
    They both can be on par with Endbringers, and it seems like they derive some of their powers from other people. Although, in Echidna’s case it happens to be a little more obvious.
    And on that note, what would have happened if Lung got cloned by Echidna? That might have been a doomsday situation in itself.

  26. Oh my God. Wildbow, you bastard. I only just got this.

    Lung triggered with his face in a brick of heroin. His power works by constantly seeking a bigger adrenaline rush. He gets stronger so long as he’s moving towards the next impossibly dangerous thrill, and then has a crippling crash period after feeling like the God Emperor of the Universe.

    Lung is forever chasing the dragon.

    You magnificent bastard.

    • I don’t know…while heroin would make some sense to be associated with Chinese criminals, the rush is one of euphoria.

      Besides, I have another idea that you’re going to kick yourselves for not seeing beforehand. At least, the first part you will.

      Lung turned into a giant reptile while fighting in Japan, shooting out flames the color of Cherenkov radiation.

      It was a kaiju battle in Japan that left the place absolutely wrecked. Look out, it’s Lungzilla Vs. Leviathan!

      Not the only way radiation fits into all this either.

      You know what happens when you make a mistake seeing how far you can go with a mass of plutonium before it goes critical? Such an experiment, called tickling the dragon’s tail, causes intense heat and a blue glow.

  27. Not my usual genre. I have to say that you tell a compelling tale. This is one of the best pieces of fiction I have seen on the web in some time. I am impressed with both content and frequency. Keep it up!!

    Looking forward to the Wards first encounter when “Her Royal Creepiness” moves in!

  28. I doubt Wildbow is a wrestling fan, despite Canada’s rich pro wrestling tradition, so it’s probably just coincidence that Lung, with his pyrokinesis, super strength, Determinator powerset, and notable losses or at least lack of victories is named Kenta. Or just a common enough Japanese name. But if he starts using the Burning Hammer as a move to finish off his enemies, I’m going to get real suspicious.

  29. Lung description is seeking more and more like a dragon to me. The problem is that he seems like a European dragon, not an asian one, as his name implies.

  30. I’ve realized something:

    Lung is aware that he’ll be building up for two years. That’s the same timing as the end of the world according to Dinah.

    But why does Lung think “two years” will be when the PRT has to open the Birdcage for their assistance? Because of this conversation Amy had with everyone about what the passengers are.

    The passengers- _not_ Jack Slash.

    Some people were speculating in IRC that the visions of the passengers we’ve gotten so far paint them as part of a lifecycle for interdimensional beings, and that their reproductive cycle involves the whole planet turning into crystal and then fracturing into more of the creatures.

    Lung knowing about the two year timeframe to me seems like a confirmation that the actual threat to the end of the world is the passengers themselves.

      • It doesn’t matter how Amy knows about that timeframe, Lung only knows because Amy mentioned it when explaining to the other prisoners what she learned about the passengers when she touched Glaistig Uaine.

        That seems like a very strong implication that the end of the world is related to what Amy discovered about “what happens when they wake up”. And we know from this chapter that what happens is bad, right?

      • Conversation when? I checked all the Panacea chapters between Interlude 11h and Interlude 15 (that is to say: Snare 13.2 and Prey 14.2, 3, 4, 6, and 10), and at no point does anyone mention the two-year deadline. She knows about the end of the world from Jack mentioning the end of the world in 14.10, but that’s it as far as what has been described on-screen, and I didn’t find any point where she had an opportunity to talk with the Undersiders off-screen.

        Maybe she knows because she was told during the conversation where she begged to be Birdcaged, but I don’t think the Undersiders had a chance to give her any briefings on the prophecy.

          • No, packbat’s right. My answer was originally that Amy got the info from the Undersiders, but I was in the middle of getting ready to watch Game of Thrones when I said it – a mental slip.

            Apologies to those who went looking. I meant to say the Travelers; Trickster specifically.

  31. So we get to see the real person inside Lung’s psychopathic exterior. Motivations, thought processes and all. And the real person is just as much a psycho as the exterior…

    Scary guy.

    • Agreed. Inside his antisocial and violent exterior image there is a very sick and violent person. As a small time thug he was bad enough, but his passenger/power seems to only add on to his perverted sense of honor. A truly honorable person, albeit flawed, like Marquis is a start contrast. All Lung cares about is that people fear him.That is pretty twisted. Perhaps he can learn to act differently, but I doubt he will take the lifeline that Marquis is offering in time.

      • And in a way, it is reflected in his power. The more he fights, the more the man disappears, replaced by a monster with a mouth in four parts, wings, and intense flames burning all around. One problem with this is that even as such a large and powerful being, capable of forcing Leviathan to retreat, he’s still not enough to save the world. The other problem is that he wants to be the monster more than he wants to be the man.

        It’s understandable, too. Sometimes you want to be the thing that people fear. Problem is, you can see now how insecure someone is who needs to be feared and how easily it controls them. Such easily controlled power is, so long as safety measures are taken, not as much a threat. Contrast the last time oil spills wrecked your shit compared to the last time a nuclear meltdown did significant damage to anything.

        Interesting that he fell to Skitter twice. Her power isn’t strong on its own, but it is chaotic to her opponents and full of fine control from her perspective. In Worm, the real beings to be feared aren’t the ones commanding tsunamis and stars to bear down like Leviathan or Sundancer, nor are they the physical destroyers like Behemoth or Alexandria, but those with the most control over the situation like Simurgh, Jack Slash, Contessa, and Skitter.

        • And to make Contessa worse, she’s controlled by Doctor Mother. Unless Doctor Mother’s actually her underling and she’s the one really in control of Cauldron but makes herself look less important as a mere bodyguard and field agent.

        • “Contrast the last time oil spills wrecked your shit compared to the last time a nuclear meltdown did significant damage to anything.”

          Hmmmm, that would be Chernobyl vs. the BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Certainly, there have been more oil spills, but the area around Chernobyl is STILL uninhabitable for just about anything. And it killed just about everyone who helped out. (Hmmm, a bit like an Endbringer attack….) Although, the BP f***-up would have been a lot worse had it been on land (but also easier to stop).

          (Not that I’m advocating petrochemicals as a better alternative to nuclear energy. Properly handled, nuclear waste is FAR less damaging to the environment than petrochemical waste.)


          • So relatively few nuclear accidents that can cause an local area to be contaminated, sometimes only temporarily, versus the damage of every oil spill that’s occurred, as well as disasters like in Texas City, and the damage done by extracting oil from sands, shale, and hostile countries full of men with guns and RPGs.

            There, that should be a good way to phrase that that doesn’t turn this whole conversation in the wrong direction.

            It was more meant to be how control, or lack thereof, trumps raw power.

  32. I feel I may have been spoiled rotten by having so many surprise bonus Thursday Worm episodes of late 😀

    Well, that’s totally on me. Looking forward to Saturday, Wildbow!

      • I’m pretty much a passive person, and when something happens It’s too late to input my ideas or thoughts. This leads to the validity of someones statement is based on how much time and effort put into preparing one’s thoughts.
        Are you a passive person?

        No. As I have just learned when I was searching for the best description of myself, I am most likely a circuitous passive-aggressive person.

        So don’t get on my bad side.

        But see, when I read worm I also realize that there is a truth, fundamentally inside of the hearts in all peroples. Some people like to read and some do not. but that is why I have a person that I am. Do you see?


    • On that note, in case anyone else managed to remain oblivious to this the way I was: the “Donate” page linked in the navigation bar lists the schedule of Thursday updates.

      • As of right now, I’m trying to write Thursday bonuses two out of every three weeks. Every week is a bit much, and wears me down/burns me out. Every other week and I fall behind.

        • Dude, it’s fine. You’ve been performing faaaar above and beyond the call of duty for so long both in quantity and quality that it’s become your default setting. Admirable. Incredible. Dare I say … Heroic? Yes.

          Make no mistake: I think I speak for every single reader when I say we are immensely grateful for the high standard to which you hold yourself but goddammit man, take a break if you need to! No guilt necessary.

          • You know, I go and read the FAQ, and it says you’re going to transition to sample chapters straight from the end of worm, and I think, now this is a true parahuman. Seriously, it’s amazing you like writing enough to do this, so maybe you should pick out a name and put yourself on the para humans list. I mean, you’re technically their god, I think that merits a cool cape name. Thanks again, though, for all you do.

        • Every other week and I fall behind.

          I know this might be improper to ask, but is Worm your day job, so to speak? Since if a donation chapter every 2/3 week comes up to 1600CAN$ per month, and I certainly live with less, that assumption is somewhat reasonable. Unless you got tuition fees or something.

          • Not quite. I should say I -was- falling behind before, but the reason I’m making headway against the backlog is because reader support isn’t (yet) coming in fast enough to match my current 2/3 schedule.

            I set it to 600 because I knew it would slow things down.

            As it stands, it’s a little-less-than-part-time pay for full time work. But my dream, my silly, foolish goal, is to write as a full time job. It’s just… probably a ways off. (Going by current trends, I suspect I’ll get very close to being able to sustain myself through donations around the time of Worm’s conclusion, only to lose some readers with the change in genre/story post-Worm & fall behind).

          • I don’t say this lightly, but taking into account the ridiculous, truly astoboggling amount of text you’re able to output at such high quality (it is! it truly is! you are a good writer, and you know it), you already are at and above the level of published, editor-bothered authors. I’ve paid for much, much worse. Better yet, you have *It*, a certain quality that makes what you writing bite, like a snapper turtle into the addiction centers in the brains of your readers. You don’t just write good, you’re also… the literary equivalent of *catchy*.

            • I totally agree. If possible I’d say try crowdfunding what you already have, meaning the collected chapters of Worm. Make them affordable, bundled ebooks, pay with some of the crowdfunded money for the editor necessary so you won’t get bogged down by the technicalities. Make the editor prepare as if for print, and you’ll have that option along the way.

              And like I said previously, flattr. A button for each chapter and I’ll gladly press it every time.

          • Thank you, Nae. I appreciate hearing that.

            Making it in something creative, though, is tricky. There’s a lot of people out there who want to make a career of it, but only a fraction make it.

            For every one hundred interested musicians who pick up a guitar, one gets good.
            For every one hundred of those, only one might get to the point that they could play in front of a crowd.
            For every one hundred of those, only one might get to the point that they make money doing it.
            And for every one hundred of those guys, maybe, only one gets to the point where they could make a living doing it.

            If that. (Numbers pulled out of my ass, but you get the gist). The same idea applies to writing, to art, fashion, music, all those various fields.

            It’s really a one in a million thing that someone might actually get to do what they love as a career, with so many others aspiring to do the same. There’s a lot of broken hearts out there, y’know? Even with talent and hard work, a lot of it comes down to luck, to being in the right place at the right time with the right piece of work, or to knowing the right people.

            I’m trying to keep my expectations reasonable, while simultaneously being very, very grateful to you guys for supporting me this far.

            • Doubt you will ever read this,but I think you have the talent and hard work in such high volumes as to make luck a non entity

              That said,it does mean your fanbase will grow relatively slowly,despite you deserving better.

    • Don’t worry, Pallandrome. There’s other things to be read on that big wonderful internet. Many a story to be read. Can always check out other works and stories mentioned on the side of this place to tide you over until the next update.

  33. My thoughts on why Lung’s power started to fail him are that he decided that the endbringers are not only “unkillable”, but that they are forces of nature and not proper enemies. Thus, he was no longer fighting an opponent, he was up against a tidal wave. In those circumstances, his power began to fail.

  34. I don’t know if this idea has ever come up.
    But I’m just gonna say it. When this is done, you could probably take this to Dark Horse and it would make a kickass comic. Now, I’m not saying you should but the possibility exists. And it might not work the same way, as the mediums are different enough that it matters,
    But Hell, I’d buy that comic faster then you can say OhMyYes.

    • Problem with going that route is that Dark Horse (or any organization, major or minor) would want the rights to the story before they made any offer or deal.

      Then it’d be completely out of my hands, as far as creative direction, choices made, movie/tv deals, etc.

    • DC already made a character called Skitter for the Nu52, so there’s a problem right there.

      As far as rights are concerned, a web based comic might be the way to go. But it’d be a hell of a time adapting for the new medium. It would necessitate cutting ALOT of Taylor’s internal monologue.

      But I’d actually like a comic better than a movie or TV (far fetched, yeah) because with those mediums having the story sanitized, whitewashed, or tweaked for a demographic would be inevitable.

      • Another problem with that is the magnitude/length of Worm. Unless you had a crazy schedule like Homestuck or Super Massive Black Hole, with multiple updates a day, you’d look at a hell of a long runner. Though perhaps not due to adaptation to the medium.

        On an unrelated note: Only seven and a half hours! *goes to sleep*

        • Ehhhh… with a Worm comic the stoy is already written. So there’s no particular reason why it has to be a serial schedule. It could easily be broken up into weekly or monthly issues.

          However long each issue is depends on whether Wildbow would want the comic to run for years or not. Cuz if you just did straight one chapter=one issue it would run into the hundreds.

          As an addendum, trademarking character names isn’t that big a deal with comics I don’t think, there are several Regents, Imps, and Trickster according to comicvine. But the Teen Titans Skitter is apparently the first one (aside from you know who). Bad luck that.

      • I can’t say I really understand. Why would anyone want a comic book version of this story. The fact that it has superheroes in it is only ancillary to the fact that it’s a massive, awesome novel. Do I want a comic book version of Stranger In A Strange Land? Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon? Barney’s Version? Starship Troopers? Midnight’s Children?

        You don’t need to answer that. Really. It should be obvious. 🙂


        • I’d like one because it’s a cool medium. A find a fucking awesome comic to sometimes be more fucking awesome than a fucking awesome book or teevee show.

          For example, I think a comic version of the Dollars trilogy would be really cool, for starters.

          • Comic books ARE an awesome medium. But you tell a different kind of story in comic books than you do in straight prose. Just like you tell a different kind of story in a movie than in straight prose. Heck, you tell a different kind of story in a TV show than you do in a movie. Different media favour different forms.

            Heck, you even said so yourself: “But it’d be a hell of a time adapting for the new medium. It would necessitate cutting ALOT of Taylor’s internal monologue.”

            Without all the internal monologue (for example), this would be a very different tale.


          • > Without all the internal monologue (for example), this would be a very different tale.

            Completely agreed. A huge part of the story is the divergence between Taylor’s motivations and reputation. Losing the internal monologue means losing the biggest single channel of information about the former.

          • You could still have the inner monologue on a TV show. It’s worked on a few other before (to name one off the top of my head, Dexter).

  35. Well this chapter answered my question in the most awesome way. I asked way back, like months ago, that since Lung got up to Brute 9 he was as tough as leviathan and if he could take him on in a fight. Many people said no. The better answer is Hell Yes.

    Now, for another random question. Bitch can press her power into her dogs to make them grow with their zombie flesh. We have seen her get tired if she goes too fast or spreads herself between too many dogs. My question is, if she focused on one dog over a long enough time, does she have a limit? Could she make a Kaiju sized Bently over the course of a week or does having a dog grow a constant drain on her?

    • The dogs don’t get strength at a fast enough rate to compensate for the square cubed law of mass. Get too big, they can’t support their own weight. Bitch uses her power on Angelica like at one point, pushing Angelica further than normal when Angelica was still wounded from Fog’s attentions, knowing that Angelica can’t move that well anyways.

      • I am curious if the Wolf uses her power more efficiently and thus can be strong enough to ignore that. Also, does that mean any cape over a certain size uses their power to ignore the square cubed mass law? Like Lung’s power provides his body with enough oxygen to sustain him and his bones/muscles are strong enough to support that size while the Endbringers just ignore physics as they apply to their bodies?

    • He needed to say something after having gotten Marquis’s attention — otherwise he’d be as good as admitting that there was something up, and at that point he might as well just tell them.

      • What I’m saying is that Lung doesn’t seem like the type of person to say “thank you” to anyone.

        • No, I understand you completely. He’s not saying “thank you” because he’s the type of person to say “thank you” — he’s saying “thank you” because he doesn’t want to say “Teacher is working to undermine everything you and your daughter are striving for”, and he’s not creative enough or on-the-ball enough to have some other excuse for having gotten Marquis’s attention a moment earlier.

          • I believe keyonte0’s point is: Isn’t Lung acting out of character a giveaway in itself? He had to say *something* there, but why something so out of character?

            Still, I have no problem believing that subterfuge isn’t Lung’s strongest suit

            He’s just lucky Marquis was distracted…


  36. Wait a minute. Has anyone asked why no literal bloodshed was permissible during the drug buy? Or why Contessa and Doctor Mother actually felt the need to abide by it once things went pear-shaped?

    Perhaps I am missing something.

  37. I gotta be honest, I have an increasingly diffucult time understanding why the enders are such a threat. I mean lung just basically took one on. By himself, more or less. I’m supposed to believe that this random guy who got taken down by a master 8 is the ONLY one powerful enough to do that? it doesn’t make sense. As long as it’s possible, there should be SOMEONE, among the thousand upon thousands of powereds, and there isn’t.

    • You do realize this is the same attack that killed millions and effectively removed Japan from the map of world powers? The ‘victory’ Lung achieved took too long, was narrow in terms of the set of circumstances that let it happen and was hollow at best.

      • First of all are you omniscient? Four minutes to an answer, christ.

        Okay maybe that was a bit rash, but that’s not really my point. I’m not saying he defeated him, he clearly didn’t, just that he did vastly better than anyone else.

        I’m trying to say that with the amount of parahumans out there (I think the cauldron chapter said 750 000, but I figure it’s at least a FRACTION of that) there should be more people capable of 1v1 ing an endbringer, and that its weird that it’s basically this one guy from japan who can do it. If there’s one Lung, why aren’t there five, or twenty? For rankings he doesn’t look that impressive, he maxes out at Brute 9 and blaster six. Thats not high, there’s a blaster 8 and a shaker 12 right over there! Why isn’t there a brute 12 willing to fight? If he’s just a brute 9 blaster 6, and that’s ALL it takes it doesn’t make any sense that he’s the only one to be this effective.

        The only other time we’ve seen the Leviathan he steamrolled everyone and everything (except Arms and that lasted what, 25 seconds?), including some of the most powerful people in the world and it took Scion to even slow him down significantly. It creates immense dissonance for me if you show him getting blasted down by someone with barely any story significance.

          • Why would I stop reading, were in chapter 22, I’ve already invested like 30 hours into this story at this point. Even if it suddenly goes to shit my curiosity will force me to the end.

            I notice you didn’t answer my question about omniscience. Interesting…

  38. And seriously, the birdcage looks more and more like a human rights violation the more you show of it.

    It would be kinder to just kill the lot.

    • Implying he isn’t kinda pathetic after he got them.

      Seriously,potential to be the strongest cape and kill an Endbringer…and what does it amount to?being taken out as the wake up call boss for Skitter.

      • I almost always agree that Skitter taking him out is badass but I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here and defend the guy. Lung isn’t pathetic, he’s content for the most part. He doesn’t want to win every round, he just doesn’t want to lose. Big difference. He has massive inherent potential but needs a long buildup during which he is still vulnerable to someone smarter. He’s smart but nothing really higher than average. Skitter has proven time again that she excels at improv and is a highly intelligent and observant person in addition. She kicks his ass because she takes him out while he is still somewhat weak.

        • Yup. As far as Lung was concerned he was still en route to the battle and was just starting to prepare for it. It’s the rough equivalent of defeating Iron Man by ambushing him while he’s still in his pyjamas.

          Skitter’s a badass but that was hardly a fair fight.

  39. Why does everyone seem to give Taylor so much credit for beating Lung? Sure, she’s a badass and all, but she did maybe half the work each time; you certainly shouldn’t be inferring that Skitter > Lung > Leviathan or anything.

    • Well,in the second fight she actually fought him at severe disadvantage,as he was already powered up.Even if we accept using the toxin as outside help,her disadvantage evens things out.

      But no,Skitter wouldn’t beat Leviathan,or she might,but not because she beat Lung.She might even manage to defeat Lung in his ultimate form (very doubtful,she will most likely just destroy him before he becomes a problem)but if she does,it will be via a combination of Lung’s psyhology and the fact Lung is biological,qualities that Leviathan lacks,and qualities Leviathan could not take advantage of.

      • Agreed. Taylor’s strengths and the reason why she beat Lung are basically that she is really, Really, REALLY good at improv and she has a huge knowledge of the local battlefield plus multitasking. She is best in a commander role truly because she can direct others with how to team up against the threats she can’t directly take on. That’s why she did well against Leviathan to begin with too. She kept track of him better than a lot of the others and managed to keep others pointed in the right direction.

        Brute strength she does not have. Smarts she does. Taylor beats Lung because she can take him out before he reaches the gamebreaker levels.

  40. Wildbow, the way you describe tidal waves isn’t very accurate, and its kind of frustrating to read. Tidal waves aren’t really waves, they’re more like avalanches of water. They aren’t usually very high, but are very long, and very wide. When you describe Lung as enduring a tidal wave, and then getting back up (you also wrote tidal waves similarly in ch8), you make tidal waves sound like a gigantic wave which hits with a bit of power but is gone after a few seconds. Sorry about the rant, I have a bit of a background in geography and this is a bit of a pet peeve.

    • IIRC, in both cases the ‘tidal waves’ were actually Leviathan throwing around hydrokinetically-controlled masses of water rather than natural tidal waves. It’s not surprising they behaved atypically.

  41. Damn really cool to see Lung’s origin. A baller with an samurai code and plenty of firepower. Also I really hope Trickster isn’t just a Teacher drone. I know he was a huge ass but I still really like the Travelers and his power.

  42. I could kick myself i read worm all the way through twice and since i convinced my girlfriend to read it i’ve been skimming and rereading to keep up with where she is and only now do i realize i skipped this interlude the past two times. Honestly feel like an idiot

  43. Hi, it’s me again, nitpicking the Chinese, again (hopefully with a more justified reason this time):

    “Tōng Líng Tǎ” (通灵塔, literally “soul-link tower”) is indeed a term for a ziggurat, as Google Translate helpfully tells me. Problem is, my Google searches have pointed out that it is almost exclusively used in the context of the Warcraft series of video games to refer to the Ziggurat structure that is used by the Undead faction as a power source for their units, i.e. it was probably coined by Blizzard’s localization team.

    The proper term for a ziggurat is “Jīnzìxíng Shén Tǎ” (金字形神塔, literally “金-shaped (i.e. pyramidal) god-tower”), but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue.

  44. Okay, I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again: I love Char. She is has become so damn awesome. I wish she would go talk to someone about her fear of guys though because that is going to cause issues for her in the long run. I mean sure it makes my shipping her with Taylor sooooo much easier but it’s not healthy for the poor girl.

    And wow is she freaking smart! She hears second hand about stuff seen during trigger events and immediately manages to equate that to the kid either having had one or having potential to have one.

    I like Forrest even more now as well.

    You know I didn’t particularly mind the reporter before. He was a bit of a dick but not bad by reporter standards. But now…well now the slimy little dick seemed like a slimy little dick. I hope nobody talks to him and if they do they get kicked out of the territory.

    Puppy therapy: AWWWWWWWW!!!!! You feel bad? Take a puppy. Can’t sleep? Take a puppy. Daughter was actually a supervillain? Take a puppy. Lose a prized friend and boss? Take a puppy. Bitch is awesome!

    • Hmm somehow my comments for this interlude and the bonus one got swapped…I thought I was more careful than this…

      I read a lot of these chapters at work and copy and paste my comments into an email so I can add them when I get home. Sorry about that.

  45. Well it’s nice to see that there is a potential avenue of attack against Contessa. Have some snipers/normal mercs in the vicinity and pray to god that someone has a trigger event to knock her off balance for a few seconds. Boom headshot. End Contessa. Not that this is in any way sure but hey it’s a plan! Probably like Plan C or E or maybe Q but still, a plan.

    I have to say I understand Lung’s thought about not needing to win but also not wanting to lose. There is a big and important difference.

    Lung got BIGGER than LEVIATHAN?! Holy shit…and dear lord he caused him to retreat? After fighting one on one? Wow. I know it’s been said before but hearing what he did and seeing what he did are two very different things. And Skitter beat this monster too…what is there for our hero to kill next? An Endbringer?

    And wow Lung almost joined the Protectorate? That’s a scary thought.

    Well it’s nice to see that Amelia has figured things out and appears to be somewhat put back together. She really should’ve taken the Undersiders up on their membership offer. She would’ve gotten along smashingly with Skitter/Taylor/Weaver. It is friggin hilarious how the same girl who beat Lung twice is now shown to have killed Alexandria. That really should make him feel better!

    It’s pretty cool that Weaver has Marquis’ respect now. And…I think…Amelia’s too?

    Hmm well Teacher has been tossed onto my growing pile of utterly-contemptible-assholes-who-need-to-die. Lung is conflicted enough that he just makes the assholes-who-should-probably-die-at-some-point pile. Saint has also made the former pile. At the start it was due to hurting Dragon but now there is actually bad stuff I can lay at his feat. Burying potentially world saving information just ’cause? Yeah dude needs to be killing painfully.

    Minor typo:
    “is it reassuring?” Teacher murmured. -> The first word is missing a capitol.

  46. “as they filed out of the stairwell and into the restaurant on the third floor.”

    I believe that “filed” is a type. Is it?

  47. The Sentai joined him, adding their ranged fire to his. They had a man who mass produced their armor and weapons, each with wrist-mounted laser guns, rifles at their hips. Sixteen or seventeen of them opened fire with both weapons at the same time.

    Just realized this is a reference to Masamune, the tinker with the mass-production specialty who’s been mentioned elsewhere. Nice work.

  48. This chappie made me think. What was stopping Alexandria, assuming she truly was invincible, from grabbing the Endbringers and flying them into space?

    • They’re all probably capable of propelling themselves through space, and certainly capable of destroying any breathing equipment Alexandria could wear. Considering how Alexandria died, that was a considerable limitation.

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