Crushed 24.1

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

Couldn’t catch up, not with the Undersiders mounted and us on foot.  I could fly, but I couldn’t abandon this team.  If Tecton hadn’t deferred leadership to me, I might have taken on a scouting role, flying ahead, notifying the Undersiders.

This was the worst environment for me.  There were bugs aplenty, but the area was thick with smoke, and there were fires everywhere.

Bugs weren’t going to contribute much.  They were getting roasted, by hot air and scorching smoke if not the fires themselves..

I flew from point to point.  Navigation wasn’t my strong point, so I focused on moving in straight lines, stopping at various vantage points where I was fairly confident I was out of Behemoth’s sight, physically reorienting myself, then flying to another point.

Each time I stopped, I took a second to try to grasp the situation.  The streets were flooded with people, and it was only getting worse.  The troops we had on the ground were struggling to make headway, and from my vantage point, I could tell that things were getting worse.

The approach had an added advantage in that it let me track where the fires were.  I collected bugs, took a moment here and there to analyze them, assess their capabilities, and guided them along my general route, keeping them as safe as I could manage.

There was a crash as a building toppled, sparks spilling out into the air.  I could hear screams, distant, as the crowd recoiled.  Through the bugs in their midst, I could sense the way they were scrambling for cover, for safety.  The nearest path that took them away from Behemoth was towards us.

Rickshaws turned around and made their way for the mouth of the narrow street, people pushed and shoved, and otherwise stampeded towards us.

I was in the clear, but my team…  I flew a short distance away to check everything was clear, then started to make my way back, still flying in short bursts.

Flitting here and there, I thought.

No, I thought, banishing the idea from my head.  Not flitting.  Never let that word slip in conversation.  Makes me think of fairies.  It’ll make Glenn think of fairies.

“Tecton!” I called out, as I returned to my roost.

He looked up at me.  Even with his heavy body armor, he was struggling with the mass of people who were pushing and squeezing their way past him.

I pointed, “Go through the building!  ASAP!”

He looked at the building, then raised his gauntlets.  The piledrivers slammed into the wall, punching out a rough, door-shaped hole.

He strode through, then did the same for another exterior wall.  The Chicago Wards flowed through.

“Not used to being allowed to make messes,” he said, his voice loud.  “This is just about the second time I can go all out!”

“Powers,” I said, flying down to ground level.  The smoke wasn’t as bad down here.  “You’ve had a few minutes to think, rookies, give me a quick rundown.”

“To think?” Cuff asked me.  “The hell?  You can think with all this going on?”

“You’re clear of the crowd,” I said.  The number of people here were only half that on the other street.  It was a herd mentality, lemming mentality.  They were too focused on getting away.

“It’s not just the crowd.  It’s-” she flinched as lightning struck somewhere in the distance.  “We could die any second, just like that.”

She was showing it the most, but I could see the fear in the other two, as well.  In everyone, but these guys in particular.

They’re new.  They’ve probably never been in a real life or death fight, let alone something like this.

Hell, I’ve never been in a fight quite like this.

It was ominous, the fact that the armbands were silent.  The A.I. wasn’t counting off a death toll, and I doubted it was because nobody with an armband was dying.  Maybe Chevalier had made a call, deciding that morale was low enough without an artificial voice reading out the names of the dead.

The only noises were the impacts and rumbles of Behemoth’s fighting against defending capes, the screaming and panting of people who ran past us, and the incessant crackle of nearby fires and crashes of thunder.

“We stand better odds if you pull yourselves together, fill us in, so we can use each other’s abilities to help,” I said.  “Come on guys, work with me.”

“I’m a breaker and shaker,” Annex told me, “Merge into nonliving material, warp space.”

“Warp it how?” I asked.

“Reshape it,” he said.  He was still half-walking, half-jogging, but he stretched a white-gloved hand out four feet, touching a sign.  His hand smeared against it as though it were more liquid than solid, coloring it the same white as his glove.  The sign oozed back into the wall, virtually disappearing, and Annex removed his hand, slowly reeling in the extended flesh.  The sign remained where it was, compressed against the wall, the surface flat.

“Okay,” I said, making a mental note.    “Okay, good.”

“While in there, I’m about as tough as whatever it is I’m controlling,” he added.

“Alright.  Golem?”

Golem had to stop running to demonstrate.  He dropped to one knee and plunged a hand into the street.

Ahead of us, there was a crash, a grinding noise.  A hand made of pavement was reaching out of the ground, five feet long from the base of the wrist to the tip of the middle finger.  The fingers seemed to move in slow motion as the hand pushed against stopped cars that were sort of in our way, shoving them to one side of the road.

The hand submerged back into the road as he withdrew his own hand from the street.

“Okay,” I said.  There’s synergy with Annex.  Maybe Tecton too.  “Anything I need to know?  Limitations?”

“Whatever I use my hand on, has to match the exit point, pretty much.  Asphalt for asphalt, metal for metal, wood for wood.”

I nodded.

“Bigger the thing I’m making, slower it comes out, slower it moves when I try to use my fingers.”

“Anything else?”

“Lots more, but mainly I can only use my hands, arms, feet and legs.  My face, but that’s not too useful.”

Cuff made a small noise as something crashed in the distance.

“Cuff?” I asked.  She didn’t reply.

“Cuff!” Tecton raised his voice.  It seemed to wake her up.

“What?” she asked.

“Your powers.  Explain.”

She shook her head, “Um.  The, uh-”

When she didn’t pull herself together enough to reply, Tecton set a heavily armored hand on her shoulder, “She’s a metallokinetic.  Shape and move metal, short-range, including the stuff she’s wearing.  Some enhanced strength and durability, too.”

“Yeah,” Cuff said, her voice quiet.  “Not half as cool as those guys.”

“It’s good,” I said.  I noted how she’d paired up with Grace.  Did Cuff’s presence have anything to do with the fact that Grace was wearing PRT-issue chainmail?  They didn’t give me the vibe that they were a pair in any friendship or romantic sense, but they were two bruisers, two girls in a group of mostly boys, and they were sticking together.  That seemed to be enough.

I was going to say something more, but a crash and the rumble of something falling down nearby stalled that train of thoughts.

“Oh fuck,” Cuff said under her breath, as lightning struck close by.  She was panting, and I suspected it wasn’t the exertion.   “Oh hell.  Why did I wear a costume made of metal?  I’m a walking lightning rod.”

“You’ve got a regulation suit between the metal and your skin, right?” Tecton asked.  “If it’s a type three or type four-”

“No suit,” Cuff said.  She tapped the metal at her collarbone, “Strongest if metal’s in direct contact with my skin.  Got a layer that’s almost liquid between this and me.”

“You didn’t think to change?” he asked.

“I didn’t think,” she said, her voice quiet, harboring a tremor.

Why the hell did she come, if she was going to be like this?

“Fuck,” Wanton said, “You are a lightning rod.”

“I don’t think you’re any safer or worse off than anyone else,” I said, trying to inject a note of confidence into the discussion.  I raised myself a step off the ground to get a better view of what lay ahead.  The ground was shaking, a steady, perpetual tremor.  “His lightning doesn’t follow regular channels.  We’re all lightning rods to him.”

Cuff didn’t respond.  I glanced down to see her frowning.

Not reassuring,” Wanton said.

“It’s the truth,” I said.  “We accept it, take it in stride and use it.  Can we change that fact?  Or use it to our benefit?”

“He’ll zap us to death with one hit, even if we protect ourselves,” Wanton said.  “Yeah.  There’s a benefit there.”

These guys aren’t the Undersiders.  Different strengths, different weaknesses.  The Undersiders were good at approaching things from an oblique angle, at catching people off guard, being reckless, even borderline fatalistic.  They had been more experienced than I was when I joined.  It was the other way around here.  Even Tecton, the oldest member of the group, the official leader, had less experience than I did.

I didn’t know them well enough to be able to guess what they brought to the fight.  I considered the various powers as I flew from point to point, scouting with eyes and careful use of my swarm.  Didn’t want to let any of the mobile ones get burned up.

The swarm included fruit flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches and house flies, identical or almost identical to the ones back home.  Surprising.  There were some smaller varieties of cockroach, nearly as numerous as the cockroaches in the peak of Brockton Bay’s worst months, some larger varieties of mosquito, flies I identified as the botflies that had come up in my research, and crickets.

No game changers, but I hadn’t expected any.  The spiders were badass here, at least.  The silk wasn’t so good, but even so, big spiders.

The Wards, their powershow to use them?  I thought. If I went by the PRT classifications, Tecton was a tinker with shaker capabilities.  Wanton was a breaker, someone who altered themselves or their relation to the world by some characteristic of his power, becoming a shaker effect, a telekinetic storm.  Annex was the same, only he became a living spacial distortion effect, a living application of Vista’s power.  Golem, no doubt a shaker.  That left Cuff and Grace.  I wasn’t sure how to peg Cuff, until I saw her in action, but she and Grace were both melee fighters in a fashion.

Of the six of them, four were shakers in some respect.  The classification included forcefields, effects like Grue’s, and powers that reshaped the battlefield, like Vista’s.

I’d been doing my reading on the PRT’s terminology, among other things.

“Battlefield control,” I said. “You guys have battlefield control.”

“Lots,” Tecton said.  “Aimed for it.”

I gave him a curious look, but this wasn’t the time for explanations.  I glanced at each of them in turn, so nobody would feel ignored, “We could try to slow him down, but I’m not sure that’s going to do much.  Instead, we’re going to meet up with the Undersiders.  I think there has to be something we can do with them.  Citrine, maybe Grue.  They’re versatile, and I’ve worked with them.   In the meantime, we’re doing damage control.  Seeing what we can do to keep Behemoth-”

Another lightning strike made the ground shake.  Cuff shrieked, and I grit my teeth.  We barely had two seconds of reprieve between flashes of lightning.  They lanced down from the dark clouds of smoke overhead, more red than yellow, and the thunder seemed more intense than it should be.  That wasn’t the worrisome part.  Behemoth was periodically hitting us with something bigger.  Bolts of lightning big enough to erase a small house from the landscape.

“-We’re going to do what we can to keep him from murdering people,” I completed my thought, belatedly.

“Right,” Tecton said.

“You know about earthquakes and architecture, Tecton?”


“What can we do about the shockwaves, or whatever else he’s been doing to make the ground shake?”

“I have ideas.  Not perfect, won’t hold for long, but ideas.”

“Good.  And we were talking about lightning rods,” I said.

“You said they don’t matter.”

“The drones Dragon used redirected his lightning.  Golem?  How big can you go?  Optimal conditions?”

“Depends on the amount of space at the destination.  I’d need a big piece of solid material, and I’d need time.”

“We’ll find an opportunity then,” I said.  “We’ll figure out a way to make this work.”

The crash of something being knocked or thrown through a building half a block away nearly made me jump out of my skin.  The others had ducked for cover, too late to have mattered if it had been real danger.

“Keep moving,” I ordered.

“Three of us are in heavy armor,” Tecton said.  “You can’t really run in armor like mine.”

“I get it,” I said, even as I knew the Undersiders were getting further away.  “Do the best you can.”

Mobility and transportations were problems.  I wondered if there were ways to fix that.  Even if we found Rachel and the others, I doubted we could put Tecton on a dog.  I couldn’t remember which, but I sort of recalled that Wanton or Grace had been a little shy of the dogs, too, so that option was out.

But if we could make this work…

Most people had evacuated at this point, with only a handful of stragglers occasionally passing us, giving us wary looks.

I drew arrows in the air to direct the remaining civilians away from the stampede of people, putting them on a general route where smoke didn’t seem to be heavy, and where I hadn’t been able to see or sense any fire.

Other heroes were joining the fray.  I saw Eidolon pass overhead, surrounded by what looked like a shimmer of heat in the air.  A forcefield?  Something else entirely?  If there were more with him, I couldn’t see them through the smoke.

I resumed my recon, continuing to expand the swarm that was keeping me company.  My range was extensive, now, with a radius of maybe one thousand, eight hundred feet.  That extended a fraction further as I zig-zagged over the area, picking up more bugs on the fringes and bringing them to me.

I stopped when I saw a short crane, three or four stories tall.  I turned around to meet the others, perching on the corner of a rooftop.  I pointed the way with ambient bugs, “Tecton, this way.  Take a shortcut, right through the building.  I don’t want to lose any time if we can help it.”

“Right,” he said.

It took only a minute for them to reach the crane.

“We’ve got two people who can distort metal,” I said.  “Annex and Cuff.  Maybe Wanton can help too.  Tear it down.  We’re making our lightning rod.”

“You sure?” Tecton asked.  “Because this makes a pretty good lightning rod on its own.”

I glanced nervously over in the direction where the smoke and lightning flashes were most intense.  If he shot us, right here, right now, and turned the crane into a tesla tower, this might be my dumbest move yet.  I perched on the corner of a building, where I still had a measure of cover, and watched the battle in the distance.  I could see Legend’s lasers through the smoke, hundreds at a time, radiating out from one central point, from Legend himself, and then turning sharply in the air to strike Behemoth.

Behemoth was using flame, which was some small reassurance, and he was occupied with the two remaining members of the Triumvirate.

“Yeah.  Do it.”

Both Annex and his costume merged into the base of the tower, and gradually climbed up to the point where the upper part still stood.  He could only ‘annex’ part of the object at one time, it seemed.  No surrounding a whole building.  He set about breaking the bonds, and the crane’s arm began to bend.  Cuff caught one end of it, then began heaving it towards the tower’s base.  The other half snapped off, and Annex helped guide it down, sliding it against the crane’s shaft.

It was costing us time, this project.  I felt impatient, was worried it wouldn’t work, and these would be wasted minutes we could be doing something else.

But they were making it happen, putting the pieces of our project together.  Cuff was walking around the crane’s base, effectively melting the metal, or reshaping it so it formed a flattened blob.  Annex tore the rest apart, so Cuff had more material to work with.

When Cuff was done, Annex slipped down to the blob and flattened it out further.

“A little thicker,” Golem said.

Annex ‘swam’ around the blob’s perimeter, shifting more material towards the center.  Cuff drew a blob of metal out of the pad and shaped it into a disk for Golem.

“A lot of synergy in this team,” I commented.

“Sort of aimed for that,” Tecton said.  “They took everyone willing to leave Chicago, to support other cities that lost more members, offered incentives to the rookies if they were willing to move to another city.  Your-parents-can-afford-not-to-work-for-a-year kind of incentives.  I drafted these guys because I thought their powers would work well together.”

“Drafted?” I asked.

“Yeah.  I mean, most teams are lucky if they get a few members with a good interaction, with some more on the fringes that they have to work around and fit into the mix.  We had a good setup with Raymancer, before he got too sick to move.  A strong, versatile ranged attacker with the rest of us situated to protect him, right?”

I nodded.

“After seeing the Undersiders at work, I started to think we need to be less mix-and-match.  Form teams with specific goals in mind.  New York sort of does that.”

“I know they have a team of ‘lancers’.  Forward vanguard, fast moving.”

“Exactly, and they’re also considered one of the better teams.  Maybe we all need to do that.  Except New York can do it because they’ve got a lot of capes.  Rest of us are making do.  Other team leaders are going for versatility, to cover every base.  I say fuck that.  We build around a concept, a game plan.  Once I decided on that, I went out of my way to ask for Annex, even though another team had already picked him up.  Made my argument, Chevalier gave the a-ok.”

“And where do I fit in?  Defiant said you were the one team that seemed interested in including me.  I guess I sort of fit into a shaker category, in a roundabout way.”

“That, and we’ve fought on the same side.  I saw what you managed with Clockblocker’s power and yours.  You stopped Alexandria, too, and all that other stuff we were warned not to bring up.”

I tilted my head to indicate mild confusion.

“They didn’t want us to mention how you’ve kicked ass as a villain.  Way Revel explained it, they wanted to see if you’d boast about it, to see just how badly you wanted a leadership role, where you’d get frustrated and how you’d act.”

I frowned behind my mask, but I didn’t comment.

“Anyways, the problem with this team going this route, focusing on the one thing, is we’re very weak against certain approaches, strong against others.  We need a certain kind of leader for that, and I know you pulled it off with the Undersiders.”

“I hope I can live up to that kind of expectation,” I said.

“I know it’s lame of me, that it might look like I’m trying something experimental and setting you up to take the fall if it fails-”

“No,” I told him.  “I don’t get that vibe.”

The ground tremored.  I worried briefly that the construction would tip, but it didn’t.  How long would it stand tall once it was at its full height?

“Good,” he said.  “Because that’s not what I’m doing.”

I was watching the others work, The pad of metal was about twenty feet across, now.  A circular disk with a flat surface on the top.  “Okay.  I think I can play ball, if that’s the case.  It’s good.  I like your line of thinking, about the team.”

He offered me a ‘heh’ before answering, “Of course.  I’m a pro when it comes to putting stuff together.”

“Putting buildings together,” Wanton chimed in, forming back into his real body.  Dust billowed around his feet.

“That’s my power, but I’m not limited to that,” Tecton said.  “You guys don’t need any help?”

“Save your juice.”

Golem started to put his hand into the plate of metal he’d been given, then hesitated, “I won’t be able to move my hand once it appears, if I go this big.  What shape should my hand be?”

“Middle finger extended,” Grace suggested.  “A big ‘fuck you’ to the Endbringer.”

“That’d look bad for the PRT,” Tecton told her.

“Tell them it’s the most efficient form,” she said, with a shrug.  “Have to make it as tall as possible.”

“No,” Tecton said.  “Index finger would work nearly as well, and New Delhi might take offense at a metal statue of an obscene gesture in the middle the disaster area.”

“A ‘v’,” Cuff suggested, making the gesture with her index and middle fingers.  Her voice was shaky, her confidence rock bottom.  “For victory.  Almost as good.”

“A ‘v’ for victory,” Tecton answered, “Good.  Thank you, Cuff.”

That’s really lame, I thought, but I held my tongue.  Too easy to become the bad guy, here, and it was a resolution to the stupid, petty argument, giving us the chance to move on.

Cuff smiled a little in response to the praise, though, then winced as Grace punched her in the arm.  I heard Grace mutter, “Spoilsport.”

Cuff’s smile returned to her face a moment later.

And maybe it’s good for Cuff, to have something constructive to offer.  She looked a touch more confident, smiling nervously as she followed Grace.  Cuff didn’t seem like she was growing numb to the sounds or vibrations of the destruction Behemoth was inflicting on us.

Golem started to push his hands into the plate.  The gauntlet’s fingertips were already emerging, a mirror-replica to Golem’s own gauntlet.  A hand half as wide as a house, slowly rising from the platform.

Annex dove into the ground, and circled the platform, binding it to the street.  He disappeared beneath the ground, then emerged a few seconds later, pulling his cloak tight around himself.  “Reinforcing, so it doesn’t fall over on us.  Also, brought a spike of metal into the ground.”

“I can help,” Golem said.  He reached his other hand into the ground, and a smaller hand fashioned out of pavement lurched out of the ground to rest against the base of the arm.  He withdrew his hand, leaving the pavement hand in place, then repeated the process, until six arms were supporting the spire.  “Not sure how well that works as it grows.”

“Good job, both of you” I said.  I held my breath as the wind brought heavy smoke past us, waited for it to dissipate.  There were too many variables to cover, and I wasn’t sure enough about this squad to believe I’d accounted for all of them.  “Can you move while carrying the plate?”

“Think so,” Golem said.

“Let’s go, then.”

“Starting to realize why all the capes are so fit, looking good in the skintight costumes,” Golem huffed, as we made our way towards Behemoth.  “So much running around, the training, constantly going places, never time to have… decent meal…”

He trailed off, too out of breath to speak.  I eyed him.  The armor made it hard to tell, but he might have been somewhat overweight.

The hand rose into the air, a virtual tower, as we made our way towards the battlefield.  Golem had to push his hand in gradually to achieve the effect, and it disappeared into the panel.

It was working, though.  For better or worse, they’d created a spire, a replica of Golem’s hand, spearing more than fifty feet in the air, with more room to grow.  Sixty feet, a hundred…

A lightning bolt lanced out from the midst of the cloud of smoke, striking the hand.

There were whoops and cheers from the Chicago Wards.  I managed a smile.

Another lightning strike, curving in the air, hit the hand.  Residual electricity danced between the two extended fingers.

It was working, and as much as it was a success in helping against the lightning, it was working to help morale.  To contribute something, anything, it mattered.

“Air’s ionized now,” Tecton said, as if that was a sufficient explanation for everyone present.  I got the gist of what he meant.  The lightning would be more likely to strike there again.  Lightning did strike the same place twice.

I took flight.  The Wards took my cue and followed on foot.

We found the Undersiders at the very periphery of the battlefield.  They had collected a group of wounded Indian capes and were draping them across the backs of one of the dogs.  Two uninjured Indian capes were looking very concerned, staying at the dog’s side.

I landed beside Grue.  He’d used his darkness to form a wall.  I wasn’t sure what it was for, but the smoke didn’t seem as bad here.

“Skitter,” he said.

I didn’t correct him.  You’ll always be Skitter to me, he’d written.  Or something like that.

“Got a plan?” I asked.

“Dealing with the wounded,” he said.  “Nothing else.”

I studied him.  I could see how defensive his body language was, his glower, the way he moved with an agitation that didn’t suit him.

Was he not holding it together a hundred percent?

“Where’s Tattletale at?”  I asked.  “I kind of got distracted as everyone was moving out.”

“At the command center with Accord.  She just contacted us through the Armbands.  They’re waiting to talk to Chevalier, fine tune the defenses.  Accord thinks he can layer the defenses to maximize the amount of time we buy.  Scion was occupied with some flooded farmlands in New Zealand, flew towards South America, last they saw.  Wrong direction.”

I nodded, my heart sinking.  It didn’t seem we’d be able to count on him.  Not any time in the immediate future.  “And Parian, Foil?  Citrine and Ligeia?  With Accord and Tattletale?”

“No.  Those four split off into another group.  They can put out fires, and Citrine can protect them from lightning strikes so long as they aren’t moving around too much.  Flechette’s using the opportunity to shoot him, for all the good it’s doing.  Our group wouldn’t be any use to them, so we’re doing what we can here, a little further away.”

“Got it,” I said.  “You have a way of communicating with them?”

He tapped his armband, then pressed a button.  “Relay this message to Citrine.  All well, Skitter and Chicago Wards just arrived.  Inform as to status.”

There was a pause.

Message from Citrine,” the armband reported, the voice crackling badly.  Then the crackling redoubled as the voice stated, “Status is green.”

“Any objection if we assist your group?” I asked him.

Grue shook his head.  He started to reply, but was cut off as Behemoth generated another shockwave.  A rumble drowned everything out, as every building without something to protect it fell.

“No objection,” Grue said, when the rumble had dissipated.  He echoed my question from earlier.  “Got a plan?”

“I wish,” I said.  “More lightning rods, maybe, if we get the opportunity.”

The smoke was clearing towards the battle’s epicenter.  Legend and Eidolon were a part of that, as were the craft that supported them.  The fires were dying out, extinguished or stamped out.

Behemoth wasn’t that tall, hard to make out above the buildings that still stood.  I chanced a look, and flinched as another bolt of electricity made its way to the lightning rod.

The path of least resistance.

Behemoth had noticed that time, or he’d decided to do something about it, because he lashed out at Legend and Eidolon once more, driving them back, and then made a beeline for the structure. He threw electricity outward, two bolts, continuous in their arc, and they briefly made contact with the tower.  A second later, they broke free of the tower’s draw.  He was paying attention to where he was shooting now, not simply striking across a distance with the goal of setting indiscriminate fires.

Fire roared around Behemoth as he got away from the area that had already been scorched and blasted clear of any fuel sources.  His dynakinesis fueled the flames, driving them to burn hotter, larger, and with more intensity.  With a kind of intelligence, the fires spread to nearby buildings, ensuring that no place was safe, nor untouched.

I could see the blaze making its way closer to us.  Not a concern in the next minute, maybe not even the next five, but we’d have to move soonish.

Legend and Eidolon hounded the Endbringer, Legend initially a blur that couldn’t even be pinned down long enough to strike, even with lightning.  As the hero flew, he filled the sky with a series of lasers that raked Behemoth’s flesh and targeted open wounds to open them further.  When Behemoth turned away to deal with Eidolon, Legend slowed, and the lasers grew in number and in scale.

“What’s with the hand shape?” Regent asked, as he poked his head out from cover enough to peek at the scene.

“A ‘v’,” Golem said, his voice small.

“I get it.  You’re calling Behemoth a big vagina.”

“It’s for victory,” Cuff said, sounding annoyed.

“That’s lame,” Imp said.

Really lame,” Regent echoed, “I prefer the vagina thing.”

“Way you dress,” Grace commented, “I wasn’t so sure.”

“Ohhhhh,” Imp cut in, she elbowed Regent, “Ohhhhh.  You going to take that?”

Regent only laughed in response, shaking his head.

“Is the little princess feeling brave?” Grace taunted Regent.  “Come on.”

“It’s for ‘victory’,” Cuff said, her feeble protest lost in the midst of the exchange, and in that instant, she sounded surprisingly young, vulnerable.

“No fighting,” I said, have to stop this before it escalates.  “Regent, stand down.  Grace, you too.”

Regent snickered under his breath.

“And no more banter,” Grue said.  “There’s more people to help.  Move.  With luck, those guys can keep him busy long enough for us to clear out.”

“Team’s mommy and daddy, reunited,” Imp commented, adding an overdramatic sigh. “So awesome.”

“I’ll point you guys to the wounded,” I said, not taking the bait.  “Go.”

“No saying or doing stuff that’ll get us killed, like saying goodbye or getting laid,” Regent commented.  “There are rules.”

“Get us killed?  What’s Weaver doing?” Cuff asked, sounded alarmed and confused.

Regent glanced at her, “I’m just saying, Grue’s already screwed, he’s not a virgin, he’s bl-”

Grue struck Regent across the back of the head.  The crown and attached mask were moved slightly askew, and Regent fixed them.  He told Cuff, “Regent’s being an idiot.  Ignore him.  Now go.”

“This way,” Tecton said, setting a hand on Cuff’s shoulder, “Opposite direction from Regent.”

Imp started to turn around to follow the pair, grabbing Regent’s wrist to pull him after her.  Grue stepped in her way and physically turned her back around.

“Sorry for our contribution to that,” Tecton said.  “Grace gets hard to handle when she’s stressed.”

“I understand.  Regent and Imp…” Grue started.  “Really have no excuse.  That’s pretty much the status quo.  They’ve been a little worse lately, but things haven’t settled down since…”

He trailed off.

“Since I left,” I said.

Grue nodded.

Tecton nodded.  “I get it.  Bygones.  We’ll be back.  You okay watching the injured on your own, or-”

“We’re good,” Grue said.

Tecton left, with Cuff at his side.  Only Grue and Rachel remained, along with the Indian capes who were standing by the wounded.  Rachel was giving water to the injured who were capable of receiving it, the conscious ones, people with broken legs and burned hands.

I made eye contact with Rachel.  I wanted to ask how she was doing, knew she wouldn’t like the implications that she wasn’t peachy.

“I want to fuck this bastard up,” she said.  “Last one killed my dogs.  Killed Brutus, Judas, Kuro, Bullet, Milk and Stumpy and Axel and Ginger.  When do we attack?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “We’ll try to find an opportunity.”

“And I get to do something,” she said.

“I…” I started to voice a refusal, then stopped myself.  “Okay.”

“Bitch, it’ll be easier to collect the bodies if you take the dogs to them,” Grue said.  “Why don’t you see to that?”

She glanced at me.  I resisted the urge to nod.  It would be an encouragement, without the complexities and ambiguities of speech, but it would also be supplanting Grue as leader, here.

Neither he nor she needed that.

“Sooner than later,” he added.

She nodded.  Anyone else might have taken that as rude, but she accepted it without complaint.  She led the dogs away, and the Indian capes followed, not wanting to part from people who might have been teammates or family members.

When everyone was gone, Grue approached me.  I felt myself tense up.  Despite the adrenaline that already pumped through me, my heart rate picked up as he closed the distance.

He held my arms just above the elbows, very nearly encircling his middle fingers and thumbs around them.  Large hands, thin arms.  I’d put on a little muscle mass over the past few months, or he’d be able to do it for real.

And he rested his forehead against mine, as if he were leaning against me, despite the fact that he was maybe half-again to twice my weight.

It had been a long time since I felt quite so insecure as I had this past week.  As Skitter, I’d had a kind of confidence.  As Weaver… I didn’t yet feel on steady ground.

But in this moment, somehow, I felt like I could be his rock.

I wanted nothing more than to reach up, to put my hands around his neck, remove his mask so I could tilt my head upward to kiss him.  To give him succor in basic, uncomplicated human contact, at a time he was on unsteady footing and couldn’t even say it aloud.  I stayed where I was, our foreheads touching, my back to the wall, arms to my sides.  The masks stayed on.

The storm continued in the distance, and a detonation marked what might have been the destruction of one of Dragon’s craft.  We didn’t move an inch.

“I miss you too,” I whispered.

He nodded in response, a hard part of his mask scraping against a part of mine.

I could sense the others gathering bodies, starting to make their way back here, to our rendezvous point.

“See,” Imp said, appearing right next to us, “This is exactly what Regent was talking about.”

“We weren’t doing anything,” I said.  I pulled away from Grue, annoyed.

“You were being sweet.  That’s probably a death sentence.”

“They were snuggling?” Regent asked, rounding a corner.

Christ,” Grue said, under his breath.  Firmer, he said, “Enough of that.”

Imp only cackled, and she kept cackling.  I was pretty sure she prolonged it just to be annoying, stopping and starting again until Rachel and the last of the Wards returned.

“Let’s talk plans,” Grue said.  “We’ve got a good roster here.  Two teams.  Almost three full teams, if we pick up Parian, Foil and the Ambassadors.”

He sounds more confident.  A little more balanced.  The agitation isn’t so obvious.

“There’s more wounded in the area,” I said.  “And we’re running out of space.  Each dog that’s loaded up with the injured is a dog you guys can’t ride.  Fires are getting closer, so we pick up everyone we can, load them onto makeshift sleds, then hurry back to a place where we can get them medical care.”

“It’s a plan,” Grue said.

“And,” I said, “We need to find a better use for our strongest members.  Citrine could be useful.  Grue?  If we get the sled going, you stay close to the wounded.”

He turned his head my way.

“We have about twenty here.  Six or so capes.  Maybe one’s got a power we can use.”

He nodded.  “I already checked most.  But I can use a power from the back of the sled without blinding anyone.  It works.”

“There’s a joke there,” Regent said, “But-”

Don’t,” Imp said.

“I wasn’t going to.  It’s crass, totally inappropriate, and I’m better than that.”

“You’re going to,” Imp said, stabbing a finger at Regent’s chest.  “You were going to say something about Grue going to the back of the bus, and you can’t let it go.  It’d be lame and really tasteless and too far, and it’ll start the sort of fight that isn’t fun or funny.  I’m calling it: you’ll hold it in until you can’t help but say it.”

“Well I’m definitely not going to say it now that you’ve spoiled it,” Regent said.  “No shock value, no people feeling bad because they inadvertently laughed at something fucked up.”

“You two go squabble somewhere else,” Grue said.  He glanced at me.  “There’s more bodies to collect?”

“Too many bodies,” I said, my voice sober, “Not many injured left who haven’t already been carried away by friends, family and neighbors, or who aren’t in such bad shape that they can’t move.  Maybe six more we could load up, if we’re going to get out of here in time.”

“Go,” Grue said.  “She’ll show you the way.”

Run,” I said.  They didn’t have to run, but it got rid of them sooner.

Children,” Grue muttered under his breath.

“Wards,” I said.  “If you aren’t making the sled, go get the rest.  I’ll help.”

My team left Annex and Cuff behind while we collected the wounded.

The one I was helping was a child, burned.  She wasn’t any older than ten.

She said something incomprehensible.  Another language.

“English?” I asked.

She only stared at me, unable to understand me any more than I understood her.  Her eyes were a little glazed over, but the pain in her expression and the fear suggested that the benefits of being in shock were receding.

A part of me felt like I should have helped her sooner, but it wasn’t a logical part of me.  There was so little I could do, and it didn’t matter if I did it before or now.  And maybe a small part of me was putting it off because it wasn’t going to be pretty.

“I’m not that scary,” I said, “Okay?”

I pulled off my mask.  “See?  Ordinary person.”

Her expression didn’t change.

“I’m going to have to move you,” I said, and the words were for me as much as they were for her.  I kept my voice gentle, “It’s going to hurt, but it’ll mean we can get you help.”

She didn’t react.  I studied her.  Blisters stood out on her arms and neck, and on the upper part of her chest.

I could maybe understand a little of Rachel’s anger at the loss of her dogs, seeing this.  Behemoth probably hadn’t even given a coherent thought to the pain he’d inflicted on this girl, on countless others, just like Leviathan had mindlessly torn through Rachel’s dogs.


Why did the Endbringers do this?  Were they part of the passenger’s grand plan?  Cauldron’s monsters, taken to an extreme?  Tattletale had said they were never human, but she’d been wrong before.

Or maybe I hoped they had been human because it was an answer, because the alternative meant I didn’t have enough data points to explain it.

With as much gentleness as I could manage, I moved bugs over the girl’s body.  She reacted with alarm rather than pain, and I shushed her.  The bugs were spreading possible infection, no doubt, but I suspected infection was inevitable, given circumstance.  Using the bugs let me know where the blisters were, where the skin was mottled with burns.

I took off my flight pack and flipped it over.

Like ripping off a bandaid, I thought, only it’s at someone else’s expense.

I lifted her, and she shrieked at the physical contact, at the movement of burned flesh against clothing and the ground.  I set her down on the flight pack, placing a hand on her unburned stomach to stabilize her.  I activated the left and right panels, gently, so it had a general lift without any particular direction, and I led her to the sled in progress.

Golem had already returned, and the three of them were combining powers to make the sled.  Cuff was feeding the chain Rachel had provided into loops at the front.

With Grue’s help, I eased the girl down from the flight pack, setting her with the other wounded.

“We’re going to hurt him,” I said, retrieving the flight pack.

“Behemoth?” Cuff asked me.

“We’re going to find a way,” I said, and that was all.  I met the little girl’s eyes.

Cuff followed my gaze.  “I guess I”m on board with that.”

“Why did you come?”  I asked.  “I mean, I get why we all came, on a level, but… no offense, you’re in a totally different headspace.”

“For my mom and dad,” she said.

I glanced at her, but she didn’t elaborate.

It took another minute to get the sled prepped and people mounted.  Rachel enhanced the size of her dogs so they’d have the strength to pull not only the wounded, but the two teams as well.  It meant they were slower, but it also meant moving nearly forty people with four dogs.  I took off, flying, leading the way and giving directions with bugs as they followed.

A crash heavier than any we’d had yet made the dogs stumble, falling.  It very nearly overturned the sleds.  Bitch had fallen from where she sat on Bentley’s back.  I stopped at her side to make sure she was alright, gave her a hand in getting back to her feet.  She accepted it without complaint or incident, but when she met my eyes, her glower cut right through me.

Was that her resentment at work or my guilt, that made me feel that way under her gaze?

Once I’d verified that no damage had been done, I rose just high enough to peer over the top of a building.

The lightning rod had tilted, leaning against an adjacent building, the supports Golem had raised had crumbled.  Behemoth, too, had fallen.

Eidolon and Legend hovered in the sky, flanked by four dragon-craft.

Another figure was there as well, hovering where Behemoth had been standing an instant ago.  The Endbringer had been toppled with one massive blow.

I touched the button on my armband, lowering my head beneath cover.

“Send this message to Defiant,” I said.  “You said she was dead.  You said you verified.”

The reply crackled so badly it was almost inaudible.  “Reply from Defiant.  I saw the body myself, we checked her DNA, her … readings, we matched against the mountings for her prosthetic eye … carbon dated it to verify.

He didn’t even need to ask who I meant.

I pressed the button, “Ask Defiant who the hell that’s supposed to be, if it’s not Alexandria.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

410 thoughts on “Crushed 24.1

      • Golem started to push his hands into the plate. The gauntlet’s fingertips were already emerging, a mirror-replica to Golem’s own gauntlet. A hand half as wide as a house, slowly rising from the platform.

        Unless Golem gets a boost in speed or whatever when he uses both hands for one hand-tower, he should not be using both hands.

    • I wouldn’t have thought that there would be anything to point out this late.

      Cuff followed my gaze. “I guess I”m on board with that.”

      I’m has 2 apostrophes.

  1. Typo thread:
    “They were getting roasted, by hot air and scorching smoke if not the fires themselves..”

    Extra period.

    • >>He could only ‘annex’ part of the object at one time, it seemed. No surrounding a whole building.

      not necessarily any typos, but the second sentence seems slightly awkward to me. “Not surround a whole building” seems to fit better

    • Similarly,nota typo but the fifth paragraph has two iterations of “it’s getting worse” in rapid succession. May I be so bold as to suggest to cut one of the two to make the the writing flow better?

    • Also not a typo (that’s good news, eh?), but carbon dating only works on really old things. For accurate dating, you would need to know where Alexandria has been, including times that she was up in the air.

      You should be able to use fingerprinting and dental records, though.

        • We use Carbon for dating because of its special half life, it’s ideal for looking at things where humans were just starting up their civilization and such. Just use another element for dating, something more unstable that has a half-life of about a decade or so? That could be tricky, I imagine. Maybe a tinker could determine the age of something by looking at something else? Maybe they have the ability to use electrons to determine age?

          • For one, you could use trace elements, which will give you a very good indication of where something was manufactured and when. Big smelters and factories have their little knicks and knacks that make their products somewhat unique and tracable – problems they dealt with in such and such way, deviations in produce intake that leads to a certain influx of trace elements and what have you.
            Alternatively, Calcium-45 has a half life of 162 days, if there’s some calcium in Alexandria or her artificial eye affected by the radioactive bursts of prior BEHEMOTH fights one could probably calculate some guesstimate when the supposed body was exposed to radiation the last time.

              • I never date carbon, personally. Carbon never even offers to pay half, let alone pick up the cheque, you can never get past first base with carbon, and, quite frankly, carbon tastes yucky and leaves your tongue black.


              • Pst, Hg. I think carbon might be a lesbian. I’ve been hearing for a long time that diamonds are a girl’s best friend. A long, long time. I think there might be more to it at this point.

                That, or carbon totally got friendzoned.

          • “We use Carbon for dating because of its special half life, it’s ideal for looking at things where humans were just starting up their civilization and such.”

            Geeky, yes, good, good — but totally not geeky enough!

            Carbon is special for radioisotope dating for at least one other reason: in practice the carbon found in ordinary living organisms (as opposed to weird niche organisms such as worms in deep ocean vents) comes from photosynthesis in the past decade or so, which comes from atmospheric CO2, which the atmosphere mixes pretty well before the plant gets hold of it,. And the mixing predictably runs carbon through the upper atmosphere where the new C14 is born (by interaction with high-energy particles from space). Only a few other bioelements end up being cycled that way: only nitrogen and oxygen and arguably hydrogen, as far as I can see. Life uses dozens of other elements — phosphorous, sulfur, sodium, potassium, zinc, calcium, lots of essential trace elements like iron and molybdenum… — but they don’t get mixed through the upper atmosphere to breed short-lived isotopes the way that carbon (and oxygen and nitrogen and hydrogen, but those don’t happen to have handy-for-archaeologists short-lived isotopes) does.

            As someone said, just saying “radioisotope dating” would be better. And it might not be the most sensible or cost-effective test, but this is *Alexandria*, and a crew of obsessive Tinkers and Thinkers including at least one Tinker with vast resources, so they might at least test whether the tritium content is within plausible bounds.

            Even better would be to back off to “isotope tests” or some term like that, broad enough to include the tests which have, if I understand correctly, been used to check for synthetic performance-enhancing compounds in athletes. When you’re talking about sometimes-synthetic organisms who commute between universes, things like the ratio of stable isotopes might be important forensic evidence.

      • The real issue is that it doesn’t work on living things. It essentially measures/estimates how many years it’s been since X died. While alive, Alexandria would presumably be exchanging the carbon in her body constantly enough for carbon dating to not be useful.

    • The following observation may have already been covered in previous comment sections.

      According to various “authorities”, such as the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the past tense of “grit” is “gritted”, thus, “gritted my teeth”, rather than, “grit my teeth”. However, a number of articles and Q&A’s on the subject have observed that this particular verb, “grit”, seems to be in flux in this regard. So, while using “grit” instead of “gritted” is not 100% incorrect, according to the official documentation, it ain’t right.

      Of course, as the author, if there’s any room for interpretation, then you’re allowed to interpret it any way you want. Had it been used in dialogue, I might not have mentioned it. So if you wanna keep it the way it is, Wildbow, I’ll just grit my teeth and bear it.


    • He told Cuff, “Regent’s being an idiot…”

      It’s a bit vague. I mean, obviously it’s Grue talking, but the preceding sentence was all about Regent; the sudden shift in gears grates a bit.

  2. Great update.
    Painfully frustrating cliffhanger since we don’t know about Tattletale and the rest, but interesting new temporary team and a cool mix of powers.
    I had a feeling Alexandria wasn’t dead. Wonder what the full story is.

    • I’m more concerned how she survived, passed all those tests Dragon did, AND WHY she waited this long…

    • I thought for a moment that Alexandria faked her death in order to take over Number Man’s job at Cauldron’s laboratory dealing with attempted escapes of test subjects — hence explaining how Number Man and Contessa could work together on the coverup.

      Now? No idea.

      • Alexandria might indeed be dead, and this is the double with similar powers she mentioned in her interlude. While it is possible she faked her death, I don’t buy it. She seemed too arrogant to think she could be hurt by Skitter. Alternatively this could be a clone, someone who was given a formula derived from her, a zombie Alexandria created by a frankenstein tinker, etc. With parahumans there are way too many possibilities.

      • You know, reading this chapter I had an idea, so please bear with me:

        What if Alexandria faked her death (regardless of her willingness or conscious decision to do so) and continued her work with Cauldron. They in turn have an eye on what happened with the PRT and the world in general. They see Big B wreak havoc. This is a big deal, but not big enough until the defence force is decapitated by Cody. However Alexandria/Cauldron know of this (backdoor to Dragon?), Alexandria returns since she can already see the possible chaos ensuing with the capes uncoordinated. Since she won’t be trusted in a position of leadership, she dishes out against BEHEMOTH so the chain of command can step up to the plate.
        Possible (though smaller chance) narrative cause of action: Alexandria will be killed by Big B, somewhat redeeming herself.

        • Let’s say that theoretically that the Cauldron formulae are more sensitive to psychological state rather than genetics (even a clone of Alexandria wouldn’t have the cancer or age that the original did). It wouldn’t be excessive to have Cauldron scour hospitals for suitable candidates then administering the formula and culling the failures. They seem to have no compunction about kidnapping and murder, especially those deemed destined to die anyway. Of course would a newbie know how (or be willing) to attack Behomoth? It is hard for me to understand a motive for Alexandria to fake her death and then return so soon afterwards. I don’t see how it would benefit Cauldron for her to do so either.

          • The motive is kind of my point. Imagine Alexandria fleeing to Cauldron in need for help, they help/subdue her and provide a suitable body (they probably had one on hold anyway) to be found. Once she’s in the green they convince her to continue the charade of her death to help Cauldron getting more test subjects or something.
            Then Alexandria sees what Behemoth is doing and – by listening in to the armbands – knows Chev, Accord and Tt being down. She instantly recognized how the defence will crumble without a leader and disregards the charade to help people.

            Granted, this assumes some decency on Alexandria’s part.

    • I am really hoping she is really dead. If not then the scene loses the impact it had, it is reasonable(if a little overdone cliche) that it pulled a fake death but pulling for both sides is too much…

      Trust the author to do better than that though.

    • my guess is that alexandria found her body double (the one described in her interlude).

      we know her mindscrew against skitter involved body-doubles to mess with her swarm sense. what’s to say she anticipated the final ‘dead undersider’ would be the one to make skitter snap, and switch in her double at that time to take the fall?

      just have all her medical records changed to fit the double’s some years back, and boom, everybody is triiiiicked

    • Who knows, maybe the idea of getting killed by some sixteen year old bug girl after going toe to toe with Endbringers made Alexandria have a second trigger?

      It’d be kind of ironic since I remember a couple of people thought Alexandria was trying to induce Taylor’s second trigger event.

    • Could be different Alexandria from another dimension ? As I understood it, there are single set of Endbringers for all the dimensions ?

      The Endbringers could be passengers that somehow crossed directly into the real world ( and broke because lacking a host, the same way Echidna broke with only half an passenger ).

    • I am gonna hazard a guess that the Las Vegas Cape that joined Cauldron , who could body jump is now running around in Alexandrias body .

      I like that guess better then a faked death or a good echnida clone or a body double with powers as strong as Alexandrias.

        • no idea 🙂 its just my wild guess at the moment . we should start a betting pool though .

          a. Echidna clone
          b. bonesaw clone from blastos prt superhuman database
          c. Alexandria is dead its her body double with similair powers
          d.skitter really killed the body double and now Alexandrias back
          e. Edilon used magical jesus ressurection powers
          f. las vegas body jumping cape in Alexandrias body
          g. your guess here !

          • My guess is that Cauldron created someone sufficiently close to Alexandria now that they’ve gone for a less-safe formula that’s more likely to cause mutations. Probably rebranding her as a new Alexandria knowing that she’ll look good enough that the Protectorate might have to take her back for PR purposes and as part of a new Triumvirate.

            It also helps that Chevalier, the guy they were building the new Protectorate image around, is heavily wounded, if not out of the picture completely.

            • Am I silly to hope that it’s really just Scion, and that Taylor just couldn’t recognize him from where she was?

              *looks up at the title of the arc*


              • So does this mean Taylor has only commited 2 homicides or three? She needs to know what her rap sheet is if she has to use it for intimidation purposes.

              • I’m all for going back and finishing the homicide. You kill someone, they have to stay down. It’s a matter of principle, at least until you get bored with trying to rekill them.

              • I dunno, PG. If you kill someone once and they’re still a problem, it may be time to rethink that strategy versus them.

            • I like that possibility. I can see Cauldron replacing Alexandria. Maybe this ones powers are slightly different, maybe she lacks the mental powers or something, as nobody’s powers are identical, but I see a replacement, a “New Alexandria” being more likely than a ressurection.
              Although, this is about superheroes, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if she really has come BACK FROM THE DEAD! I wouldn’t expect that in Worm, but then unexpected events are exciting, so it could work either way.

              • Consider this: Alexandria was very fitting for her passenger, due to whatever factor, and she was thus able to use more of the passengers spectrum of powers, or it was able to lend more of itself to her.
                With Alexandria’s death, the passenger is ‘free’ to connect to someone else. This Alexandria might be another person having used the same formula/passenger and being reasonable compatible, or Ms. Costa-Brown from another universe, but having used the same formula – effectively a clone without memories and own personality, partly (developmental deviations from genetic template).

    • Has anyone considered that this is either contessa full power or the subconscious manifestation of skitter’s second trigger…or a Siberian or other s9 clone?

    • …Well, I didn’t think about it at the time, but… indestructible brain cells? She needs oxygen to FUNCTION but does she actually need it to SURVIVE? Would she just start working again once she got enough oxygen in the blood stream?

  3. Pretty sure Tecton’s earned another three or four points of respect in this chapter. Synergy, always synergy.

    And wow, did not anticipate that Imp would be a moderating force on Regent. Guess she really is Grue’s sister. 😛

    • She’s a lower class black girl who’s been a victim of racism, he’s a jokey douchebag white kid with limited life experience. Him crossing her shitline was inevitable.

      • “with limited life experience”

        I guess everyone young has limited life experience, but Regents childhood might well have been worse than Imps. Or at least as bad, just in a different way.

        • Oh, it was likely worse, but it was primarily all within heartbreaker’s clan, with apparently only the tv for outside interaction. Limited breadth if experience, not limited abuse.

    • So, one of the strongest heroes in the world shows up back from dead against a fight against an impossibly strong monster, and I’m totally in agreement with you, happy or terrified? Can’t say, probably both.

      Man I love this story.

    • Both.

      On one hand, she did just possibly actually KILL Behemoth, though I doubt it.

      On the other hand? Her prolonged absence ain’t good, plus Skitter’s reputation is going to take a hit…

        • It’s foreplay.

          I can’t say I’m looking forward to the idea of Behemoth getting in a mano a mano slugfest. With his methods they should be striving to contain him in a limited area, but now his killzone is going to be jumping all over the place fighting Aalexandria

          • “It’s foreplay.”
            Crap. You do realize that PG is going to turn that into his new ship, right? Please, spare us from the horrors of the HMS Cyclops…

          • I think Alexandria’s presence is more likely to contain him to a smaller area. She considers him slow, so until he actually drives her off she can keep reengaging and try to prevent him from moving too far in any direction. I doubt she can pin him in any one spot for all that long, but every bit of delay saves a bunch of lives and plays into the general PRT strategy.

  4. holy shit. once again worm throws a curveball i am completely unprepared for. wow. on the other hand this is a good thing, alexandria could make the difference between victory and defeat.

  5. Oh. Oh dear. Well then. That’s going to be interesting…

    That said, I am now have a hunch that either Cuff is actually Theo -why he’d be disguised as a girl, I don’t know- or Wildbow is just messing with us. I’d bet on both.

    And I can totally see a use for Golem using his face. The face has an intimidation factor that the other parts don’t have, and also could probably get some absurd biting force there. On the subject of Golem’s power, I wonder what kind of limits there are on the thickness type of a surface he could use. Could he use a piece of paper? A smartphone screen? Ice?

  6. Well, that arc title certainly isn’t ominous in any way whatsoever.

    Definitely wondering what Alexandria’s deal is here. Faking her death and coming back so soon seems… ill-advised, to say the least.

    Figure that Scion is going to turn and double-time it to New Delhi once he hears BEHEMOTH is back. I wonder if he’ll be coming faster than usual, or if the first warning they’ll get of his changed orders is when he stops holding back in his attacks on the Endbringer.

    My crazy Endbringer theory, by the by, is that they’re trying to make their way to whatever’s hidden behind that door in Cauldron’s basement that only Doctor Mother (and maybe Contessa?) can go through. Since Cauldron’s HQ isn’t on Earth Bet anymore, the Endbringers obviously can’t find it, and therefore are basically wrecking shit until either they turn up a way to get there or Cauldron is forced to open one nearby.

    Which also ties into something else I just realized: that Scion didn’t respond to BEHEMOTH the first time they encountered each other; he just flew on by to make his appointment by a bridge in England. Given that he already had orders to help people, and that there would have been a shitload of people needing help around the warzone, it seems interesting that Scion had to be specifically told to fight the Endbringers before he so much as acknowledged one’s existence.

    One way or the other, I’m fairly confident that the Endbringers exist because of Cauldron, whether directly or indirectly.

    • “Well, that arc title certainly isn’t ominous in any way whatsoever.”

      Yeah. I can see it being more of an emotionally crushed than physically. Well if the Undersiders get stepped on Taylor would be emotionally crushed.

  7. I’m thinking thats’ the person who was supposed to bond with the Passenger Alexandria had or she really faked her death.

  8. While the obvious conclusion is that this is Alexandria, and the one Taylor killed was a body double, this is not the only possible explanation.

    THIS can be the body double. After all, it/she has the same kind of powers.

    • Right, two people with Alexandria’s power level?

      That’s as likely as Stephen Hawking learning to tap dance overnight…

      • We don’t know that she does have exactly Alexandria’s powers.

        And when you can pull alternates from nearby parallel realities, it’s a lot easier to find controls for your experiments.

      • Cauldron makes powers. Perhaps they are introducing the concept of legacy characters into the setting? Sort of a trademark-redeeming “I am Alexandria. Or rather, Alexandria as she should have been” type thing.

      • Remember the Alexandria interlude?

        They went looking for a double with close appearance and powers.

        So, is this actually Rebecca Costa-Brown? Or is this the double?

          • That person had to be Rebecca Costa-Brown (whom Taylor had seen before) … although not necessarily Alexandria, if you understand my meaning.

            (Although how they would set up an alternate-dimension double of Rebecca Costa-Brown with missing tissue to match the wound Alexandria got from the Siberian is more difficult. Unless the copy was powered after being wounded.)

            • Yeah, that gets to the heart of the question. If Alexandria had a double setup who looked like Rebecca-Costa Brown, how would we know who the woman who Skitter killed was?

              In terms of demonstrated powers, the dead one showed flight, speed and some level of toughness. That’s called “the Alexandria Package” because of how common it is.

              What we didn’t see was genius level manipulation of the events (insofar as geniuses tend to avoid getting themselves bug-murdered if they can).

              So Option 1 is it was her all along and she had a way to survive the bugs. Certainly possible.

              Option 2 is she sacrificed her double in order to make a point. Is she cold hearted enough to do that? Certainly possible too.

              Option 3 something weirder is going on. This being Worm, yeah, I’d buy that as well.

              Final Analysis: When the hell is Tuesday getting here!

              • have we considered the idea that another cape exists who is an analog or can replicate her power set in abstract.

              • Good point – we know Glastig Uaine (if I’m even close to spelling that right) can take a dead parahuman’s passenger on. I could easily see an “Eater of the Dead” type that can do the same basic thing but takes on the appearance of the dead as well.

                The only reason I suspect that’s not the case is that it probably would have been foreshadowed more. On the other hand, maybe it was and I’m just not connecting the dots yet.

      • Don’t forget that thu are using he Alexandria formula again without the balance formula to make the power weaker. Because having an Alexandria who has been driven crazy by her power is probably worse than having the old Alexandria back from the dead.

        • Even the exact same formula won’t give you the same powers. But they are using the formula with less of the balance. Stronger powers, more chance of mutations.

          If it isn’t her body double, which would be a pretty good guess anyway, then it might be a new Cauldron cape that got powers close enough to Alexandria that they suited her up like Alexandria for PR purposes. With Chevalier down, it’s a chance for the Cauldron to wrest back control of the Protectorate.

  9. I think Imp and Regent may have the right attitude for the situation.. better to laugh than cry when you gotta keep going regardless of how you feel.

      • Best way to cover up a scream is with laughter. That was getting pretty good between Regent and Grace there. I wanted to see them keep it up. Good for morale and camaraderie.

    • I actually read the whole chapter before I realized what the title was. It left me with a sickening feeling in my stomach for sure. The question is though, who is going to be crushed? And in what sense?

  10. – Oh Wildbow, you totally trolled us again. This is happening simultaneously or slightly before the events of the Interlude. Doubleplus cliffhanger ow.
    – Skitter is boss-tier as usual. Big lightning-rod symbol for the win. Should have pushed for the middle finger though, especially seeing as it got knocked down anyway.
    – Uh-oh. Remember the last time Skitter swore to fuck someone up despite them being completely out of her league? That was Mannequin. Behemoth isn’t even going to get the chance to say “Meh, I could take her.” 🙂
    – I could watch the Regent & Imp Show all day long
    – awww, she’s Grue’s rock. Just hugging her gives him +1 CHA
    – the Undersiders really really need her back
    – Haha, Alexandria! Surprising but not unexpected. I in fact expected her to show up in the chapter after this one

      • with a “Leadership” and “Strategist” feat for the rest of the encounter. -2 Will save if not within one mile of Skitter/weaver.

  11. mabye there was a Alexandria clone left over from noel or somthing or cauldron just whiped up a batch of the same they originally gave her and gave it to a clone or somthing

  12. Hm…

    Theory time…

    That’s one of Blasto and Bonesaw’s creations, possibly a clone of Alexandria, possibly a variant of an actual member of the Slaughterhouse Nine such as Siberian.

    If the Slaughterhouse 9(000) just attacked this Endbringer fight, tricking people into thinking they’re heroes for just long enough to prepare a surprise attack to end all surprise attacks, well, not sure how it could get worse, given the last Interlude. Maybe if Saint managed to actually kill Dragon in this fight?

  13. As for alexandria, I still think she is dead. While she did mention a body double with similar powers in her interlude, she still seemed too arrogant to think that Skitter could hurt her. But with the sheer number of parahumans in the world, there are way too many possibilities. We could have a clone, she could have been brought back as a undead zombie by a frankenstein tinker, or Cauldron just made as much of a formula from her and just gave it too test subjects until one didn’t mutate, die, or worse. I laughed pretty hard at Taylor’s nightmare of Glenn turning her into a fairy. Picture her Skitter armor hot pink, with fairy wings, and add glitter. I smell fan art material. As for the name, we don’t know who is getting crushed. Could be our china cult, the cauldron trio, the undersiders, the Chicago wards, Scion, or Behemoth.

  14. No,” Tecton said. “Index finger would work nearly as well, and New Delhi might take offense at a metal statue of an obscene gesture in the middle the disaster area.”

    “A ‘v’,” Cuff suggested, making the gesture with her index and middle fingers. Her voice was shaky, her confidence rock bottom. “For victory. Almost as good.”

    “A ‘v’ for victory,” Tecton answered, “Good. Thank you, Cuff.”

    Hahahahahahahaha! They’d have been better off going for a middle finger anyway. Hey, can anyone with knowledge of India tell me for sure if the V sign is an offensive hand gesture there like it is in the UK who used it as such even back when India was a colony? Ah, even if it isn’t, there’s still the laugh the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South African capes are going to get out of it.

    • I like to think that at least half the people there already knew the alternate meaning, and were just mentally repeating the phrase ‘plausible deniability’ in their heads.

    • I’m not sure if I have to be worried I was thinking the same thing as PG…
      However wikipedia says the usage as an insult is restricted to the uk, Eire, Australia and New Zealand

        • Yeah that was what I was wondering about as well, stop reminding me we think the same things! 😛

          Umh, must think un-gekoish toughts… lessee… butterflies! No wait, he probably eats ’em… Ponies! I shall think of ponies and be assured that no evil mastemind will do like.
          For Pony!

          Anyway: I would guess that most of the white people coming to India to lord over the natives back then were “upper crust” guys, and so unlikely to use vulgar gestures.

          • And so my respect for Winston “V for Victory, and THIS for Hitler!” Churchill grows even more, the wiley old drunk bastard. And I’m ugly, but at least in the morning he will be sober.

            “For Pony!”? Sounds like something a lich would shout just to make fun of the Elf who was calling out for honor, nobility, and some deceased but not yet forgotten people. Or like you’re trying to Dick roll me.

    • I misinterpreted the v to be the live long and prosper symbol at first. I think it might have worked a little better.

    • The press conference could be comedy gold, depending on how charitable Weaver is feeling.

      “…that being the case, I stand by the sentiment. Fuck Behemoth, seriously.”

      Weaver’s first six months salary get docked for the FCC fine.

      • Australian here, yeah, palm out is victory/peace like normal, palm facing the person giving the sign is an insult. Sort of. There are a lot of people who probably wouldn’t even notice, most people just give the finger.

        • I’ve always used it / seen it used with a flicking motion, as well. Just fingers extended, palm in doesn’t really mean anything. Need to be flicking your hand back towards you, with (optionally) your other hand chopping the hinge at the elbow for increased effect.

          So the (immobile) statue would probably be fine.

    • Yeah, I laughed when I saw a V-sign mentioned as inoffensive. Talk about some cultural provincialism, US capes…

  15. Tecton has a good eye for talent and surprisingly good foresight, if he survives this, I can see him proposing multiple team formations comprised of members with power synergy to troubleshoot various Class A-B threats

  16. Two fingers in a V shape is still pretty rude. I guess that isn’t the kind of thing that comes up a lot in the US though.

    • Wikipedia doesn’t have any word on how it’s viewed in India. I suppose that, New Delhi being a major city and thus culturally aware of it, and this being a different universe than ours, wildbow can have it any way he wants. Also, the way I read it, the palm was facing towards the home base and away from BEHEMOTH, so that’s alright then.

    • He totally should have gone with Devil Horns. I mean, a fifty foot metal statue of a hand doing Devil Horns, in the middle of burning city with a giant monster brawl in the background with electricity arcing between the ‘horns’?

      That is the most metal album cover I can think of.

        • If he can sing “Cry of the Banshee” by Brocas Helm and “Tearing the Veil from Grace” by Cradle of Filth then he’s got a deal.

          Alternatively, we could go a little softer, with Coheed & Cambria’s “Welcome Home” or “Sky is Over” by Serj Tankian.

          If only Simurgh was here, we could have them team up and pull some Birthday Massacre stuff. I think “Down” would be appropriate here.

          I’m just not sure if Behemoth or Nilbog should get “Nekropolis” by Nekrogoblikon but I’m tempted to say they can fight it out over the song.

  17. Either the people calling “power doubles” at the time were right, the doubles themselves decided to defect before Contessa decided to jump in, or this is Alexandria’s passenger jumped to a new body (Either an alt-universe Costa-Brown or another person remains to be seen).

    I don’t think a passenger would jump to a clone so easily. It’d be like a passenger, latched to one of a pair of twins (identical, not fraternal) by a Cauldron formula, being latched to the other twin in less than a month afterwards. Memories are totally different, and any difference between this hypothetical clone and Rebecca Costa-Brown (down to the smallest neural pathway) would play merry havoc with the passenger connection.

    Of course Cauldron has trillions of alt-universes to page through because Doormaker, and finding the right window (between the start of Alexandria’s condition and any precluding factors arising like, say, death) would be child’s play. From there, standard manipulation protocols (that actually have the benefit of previous Costa-Brown data), and when the time comes to say “drink this” give her the Alexandria formula.

    • Alternately, they could just give it to thousands of alternates until they got one that worked. Just as long as the one that worked doesn’t found out about all the bodies of her duplicates that got tossed into the incinerator.

      • That’s basically what I was going for in the third paragraph of my post, yeah. There’s even a simple way to paper over any necessary documentation (assuming, of course, that for an Alexandria double the original name would not be necessary, just the serial number given to the universe): “Those were other customers, it didn’t work on them.” (Also, there’s no real reason to let a new Alexandria into the inner circle. She’s not an “in-house” cape like Number Man or Contessa and thus doesn’t “need to know” all the pesky details)

    • And what a lovely meal we have for you today!

      First up, of course, we have the salad. Or at least that’s the only thing it fits the description of. It used to be Skidmark until Jack Slash got a hold of him. He’s sliced, he’s diced, he’s the most amazing tasting methhead ever, says People(eater) Magazine. Just hope you’ve built up your drug tolerance. There’s so much of him left because, well, he had a LOT in his system and it’s kinda saturated the food.

      Not a fan of salad, ok, we’ll set that back in Ozzy Osbourne’s fridge. Let’s try the bread then. Kaiser roll, perhaps? It’s surprisingly full of iron. Definitely qualifies as hardtack, though.

      Watching your carbs, I get it. The soup then. Skitter soup. The only food that helps you watch what you eat by watching you eat it. Those little round “meatballs” aren’t students, that’s for sure. Skitter has cut out, filled up, or otherwise messed with enough eyes that we had to do something with all the leftovers.

      Let’s just move onto the main course: stuffed Alexandria. I know the outside is kind of gross. Look at that, missing an eyeball! That’s how you know Skitter killed her. Anyway, the inside is a lot worse. The chef tried to get a couple short friends of his to go in and clear it out before they popped it in the oven, but all we heard back from them was some runty thing in rags come running out laughing about Shelob getting them filthy chefses. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, and bug is good protein, especially in places like India.

      Just look at those starving, blistered Indian kids. No clean water, not enough food. For just 80 cents a day, you could invest in a super weapon to try and kill Behemoth so that they can feed on his flesh. And yes, Weaver, you’re allowed to call dibs on the eye.

      I’m afraid this welcome is going to leave a bad taste in your mouth, but I just solved the problem of hunger for at least one person out there. Welcome to the comments, Landis963.

  18. And the comments section erupts in a unanimous ‘I KNEW IT’ in regards to Alexandria.
    And… huh. I’m getting Mannequin-fight vibes from Taylor’s declaration. Our subterranean friend won’t know what hit him.

  19. I’m betting that if/when Scion shows up, he immediately attacks ‘Alexandria’ (regardless of whether it’s really her or not).

    I’m not entirely sure why (he certainly won’t explain it), but this is my prediction.

    • Goes back to a theory I had about the ‘safety interlocks’ being removed on Zion.

      Namely, the lower-powered folks defeat an Endbringer… and he shows up and goes “Well, if I’m supposed to kill the Endbringer and these folks are tougher than the Endbringer they must be eliminated.”

  20. Hey Wildbow, is the fact that the ‘v’ sign is just as offensive as middle finger in a lot of non-American cultures and that the Wards are still putting up an insult intentional or is it just one of those happy accidents?

        • And then Irrevenant showed up and was like :”And then Mister Teatime showed up and was like, “And then YouTube showed up and was like: this video is private, good luck figuring out that punchline.” . ” .

  21. I have nothing deep to say.

    Fuck them up, Skitter. Fuck that giant behemoth up. He’s the symbol of the Endbringers, the hero-killer, the creature that said that the world was on a downward spiral. He’s the symbol of impending death. He’s Damocles’ sword.

    The apocalypse isn’t going to happen. Not on Skitter’s watch. We have not come this far for her to die meaninglessly. Killing Behemoth isn’t going to save the world, but it will show that the world can be saved.

    I don’t care whether the world ends. I do not believe in tragedies.

    I don’t care how dark, how shitty, how fucked up this world is.

    I believe in Taylor.

    • Well said.

      I’ve never felt like things were hopeless while reading Worm. Taylor’s first opponent was Lung, someone who could fight a goddamn Endbringer one on one and you know what? She kicked his ass.

      Sure the end of the world is coming and there’s Cauldron, the Endbringers, the Slaughterhouse 9000 and the Birdcage breakout but Taylor’s tough. She’s smart, resourceful and has got a good set of allies.

      Taylor has gone up against enemies that seemed to be unstoppable but she stood her ground and fought anyway.

      It’s actually kind of inspiring. As long as you keep trying, no matter how hard it seems, you’ll at least accomplish something. There are no guarantees if you’ll achieve your goal but you have no idea what you’re capable of until you go out there and do something.

        • Reminds me of the the closing lines from Radioactive Man #1 “The world is safe! But for how long?”

        • It’s not the end of the world it’s just the death of nearly everyone who isn’t Skitter. And really who cares about those people?

    • Considering the fact that things INVARIABLY get worse so far. I’ve lost any hope in the world not ending. I do want Taylor to take every one of the bastards down with her. When Grue got vivisected, I wasn’t thinking ‘save Grue’, I was thinking ‘kill Bonesaw’.

    • Agreed on many levels. Though I have to say, Ajoxer, the was you ended the post I can see that being some of the lines in a Skitter religious following. I mean we already have the Fallen worshiping Endbringers, why can’t we have some splinter cults worshiping Skitter/Weaver? She’s already killed Alexandria (maybe), if she adds BEHEMOTH to the list…

  22. Oh, what the hell. I’ve got enough Evan Williams in my system to make an argument.

    People always talk about how dark Worm is. She’s bullied, she’s surrounded by people who don’t care, the world seems determined to send itself down the toilet, and every time she takes a step forward, the world sprints backwards as though it intends to win the hundred meter Depression Dash.

    But I have never been depressed, when reading Worm. I don’t think this is a dark story. If I were reading only the interludes, perhaps I would; it would be an entirely different story.

    My experience with what it meant to ‘make history’ came- as so many of my greatest insights into reality and philosophy do- with a GURPS source-book. This one was on alternate worlds, and it detailed the three forms of Great Historical Moments. They are, in increasing ‘credibility’ and depression; The Great Person, The Great Moment, and The Great Motherland. The last of these is the idea that history was decided aeons ago, with the formation of continents. Europe dominated because of good sources of steel, because of the close structure and easy travel between population centers; Europe was always going to be basically European because of where it was. The next is the idea that there are moments in history, when things align, and the situation is right for someone- It doesn’t really matter who- to make a great difference. The final is the Great Person. There are people who seize greatness. Not anyone could have been Charlemagne. Not anyone could have been Napoleon.

    I don’t quite know which I believe. I don’t believe in the Great Motherland- It’s far too fatalistic and deterministic. But I think that Taylor has the potential to make the difference. If not for her, Leviathan might have done far worse. If not for her, Noelle would be the fourth endbringer, now, and probably would be bringing about the end of the world much sooner than expected. She bloodied the nose of the Slaughterhouse Nine- They left the city with no less than /five/ of their members lost to them, which appears to be one of the most crippling blows struck against them.

    There is a reason that people use ‘Meh, I can take her’ as a meme here. I do not believe that Worm is a tragedy, and I am grateful for that. The world is full of people who believe that art is meaningful only when it is tragic, that only through loss and death and failure can beauty be found. It’s an attitude that goes back as far as myth, and it is an attitude I reject.

    Life can have a happy ending. You simply have to work for it. And you must believe it is possible.

    • Thank you ajoxer, we are of one mind on this.

      I think part of the issue too is that people mistake the hardship for tragedy. Taylor’s had a rough life so far, and some tragedy too. The ending may wind up being tragic, there’s no “Silver Age comics” guarantee that things will turn out well, but there’s also been enough victory and positive progress in the world that the possibility of a “happy ending” (for various values of happy) remains believable.

      To put it another way, it’s never felt like Taylor’s struggles were in vain. She may not always win, but it’s always been worth trying to win.

      • The only difference between a tragedy and a comedy is the ending. Nobody said a comedy had to be funny though.

        Still, this isn’t a comedy for Cherish, Burnscar, Glory Girl, Trickster, Cody, Blasto, the other Tinkers they nabbed, Skidmark, the Merchants, and so on and so forth.

        As for “The world is full of people who believe that art is meaningful only when it is tragic, that only through loss and death and failure can beauty be found” I don’t see how you then talk about this story as something you like an then say you don’t like that. Admittedly, it’s the same sentiment behind Zoom causing the Flash’s wife to miscarry his twins and then kidnap him to make him relive it over and over again using time travel, but there’s a whole hell of a lot of tragic stuff, loss, death, and failure here.

        At the end of the day, no matter how happy the ending, Taylor won’t live to see 60 because the apocalypse is coming, no matter what. All this time, she’s struggling to deal with the premature one, the one that’s only 2 years away. Maybe if she’s lucky, she’ll live long enough to see her kids get a Bonesaw spine shoved down her throat and used by the next generation of people being assholes, bullies, incompetent, general rippers, conspirators, or just murderers for the hell of it.

        Like the same world she’s in now. The one that’s so bad, she triggered over it.

        • “At the end of the day Taylor won’t live to see 60″…says who? Until the story’s written, we have no idea what the future holds. Yes, Cauldron thinks the world is doomed, but Cauldron’s a bunch of fatalistic jerks who fell into the “hard men making hard decisions” trap.

          There was also “no way” Taylor was going to escape arrest at the school, and “no way” she was should have survived multiple hostile encounters with the Nine. From that and a lot of other things, we do have reason to believe that as bad as the world is, it can be made better.

          Also, the point isn’t that there won’t be bad things in the future, the point is whether or not it’s worth fighting to have a future at all. Saying that a setting is “dark” or, in this case cheering for the Endbringers to wreck it, is saying that only the misery and pain in the world matters. They overshadow what’s good about it to the extent where it’s worth paying any price, even annihilation, to escape from them.

          That’s not the way I see the Wormverse at all. For as bad as things are, there’s still a ton of people and ton of things in it that are clearly worth saving. Take the PRT/Protectorate. Everyone is convinced they’re the most evil thing since Hitler gave birth to Jack the Ripper’s babies. But this is also the organization that Tecton’s in, and Chevalier and Clockblocker and Vista and bunch of other capes who really are living up to the heroic ideal that the Protectorate is supposed to inspire. Sure, throw out Eidolon for being a chump, throw out Alexandria for being evil, but it’s childish to look at only them and not be willing to see the full range people, good and bad, that makes up the organization. Ditto the world in general.

          A world where good always wins is unrealistic, but so is a world where misery and pain always win. Worm is neither of those worlds and that’s one of the reasons I love reading about it.

          • As far as I can tell, I never said there was no way she’d escape arrest. In fact, I was one of the ones saying she wasn’t going to go to the Birdcage. I also knew she wasn’t going to bite it against the Slaughterhouse.

            Not just Cauldron talking about the end of the world happening in that timeframe. Dinah did too, I believe. She’s sorry, by the way. And the PRT/Protectorate are less incompetent than they were, and have taken a step from being actively evil, but mainly that was Cauldron, who have their hands in all kinds of things.

            We’ll have to see how the Slaughterhouse 9 army works out, but so far it worked out to where they’ve avoided destruction, avoided getting stomped by an Endbringer, and got away with Blasto, and the samples, raided a complex full of tinkers with memory upload and thought transference tech, cloned every past member of the 9, and are safely hidden in a pocket dimension.

            And Alexandria is out of the way, so at least Behemoth no longer has his favorite housefly to swat away. Let’s throw a celebration. Come on, bring on the party. That way somehow Skitter can save the day by assaulting Behemoth with bugs, which worked so well against Leviathan. Oh, that’s right, she’s actually of very little use on her own when dealing with S-class threats. Even her success with Echidna was mainly because Clockblocker was there.

            So maybe she can pull something off if she has access to other powersets to think about, but until Tecton’s surprise pick, no one with any authority was willing to trust her any. I guess we’ll have to see how well it holds up post-Behemoth to judge how well that decision pays off.

            We’ll still have to see how deliverance will come but nothing is more certain that every trace of the 9, every stain of his Cauldron’s corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need be, blasted from the surface of the earth. (With thanks to Winston Churchill). And we’ll call it a happy story because the world was brought to the apocalypse, but at least in the ending it will survive. It had to have everything happen to bring it to the apocalypse first, countries destroyed, millions dead, churches bombed, people stampeded, and cattle raped, but at least we’ll call it a happy ending because our favorite character lived.

            And if you’re wondering why that’s a happy ending despite no one besides me is laughing…That’s Comedy!

    • The Great Motherland theory makes too much sense to dismiss out of hand just because its implications are unpleasant. Eurasia had access to horses and wheat where Australia had kangaroos and South America had llamas. Europe’s arable lands proved more resilient than those of the Middle East over time. etc. and there’s no way those factors didn’t have a huge impact on how fast those societies were able to develop.

      IMO, all three theories are valid in their own contexts, and I strongly suspect that the Great Person theory has grown more dominant than the Great Motherland over the course of history because of the vast increase in force multipliers. We’ve gone from a world with small tribes fighting to survive (and the limited power to effect change that suggests) to a world where a single person can raise an army, invent dynamite, start a global movement…

      The Great Moment theory, IMO, lies somewhere in the middle. For example, Germany was probably always going to go to war again after the end of WWI given the conditions imposed upon them at the end of the war. But the details and outcomes of that war could have varied dramatically based on who was in charge. A different leader could’ve chosen to annex a couple of countries then stop. Or chosen to not to invade Russia using guns that broke in the cold (or at all). etc.

  23. Alexandria Is Alive!

    Going by that fact she is tagged as Alexandria I would expect that she is the real thing and not the stand in mentioned in the interlude. Of course she was tagged as Alexandria in the chapter where she died too.

    So how and why?

    If Dragon did most of the confirmation herself with her own tech Saint could have hacked into her or something.

    If her plan was to show the world that they needed her by letting an Endbringer rampage and than showing up to save the day, she is not going to make any friends and she turned up a bit too early. If she was faking her death but broke cover because she had an attack of conscience and could not stand by idly, that would be a point in her favour.

    Maybe we have situation here like the one with the Silver Agent in Astro city who helped fight the good fight several times after his death due to a temporal anomaly.

    Maybe the tag is lieing and this is just some cape trying to pattern themselves after a dead hero.

    In any case it seems strange that she went through whatever plan she did to only get a few weeks of being presumed dead.

    In any case if Chevalier is dead she stands a good chance to return to her former position of power with a good showing. On the other hand if people think that she murdered her successor to get her old job back things might go very badly, especially if people remember that line about her being a pawn of Simurgh.

    I guess Taylor will have to re-kill her once this is over to earn back the cred she got for defeating Alexandria. Assuming of course that the triumvirate doesn’t retake control of the PRT and Protectorate after this in which case her career as a hero would be pretty much over again.

    • Wildbow is not above playing with the tags to trick us. We all remember the infamous “Dead Undersider” incident, tagged with Grue and Bitch when it was neither. Just like Regent and Imp also weren’t really in there.

      Wildbow knew we’d check the tags, same as his reasoning that time.

      • I think it’s not so much that the tags are used to trick us, as the tags reflect what is displayed onscreen, not necessarily exactly what’s going on. If the viewpoint character is fooled we get tags that reflect that.

    • +1. Also, the tags are heavily skewed in favor of Taylor’s viewpoint – or whoever’s narrating the interlude du jour. See the interlude when she couldn’t tell whether Bitch or Grue was in that bodybag – so both showed up in the tags.

    • Yeah, Alexandria got ratted out as a traitor, with the misinformation that it was the Simurgh that turned her. So, if she wasn’t really dead what on earth was the point of letting that press conference occur? It wrecks Alexandria’s reputation. Ok, if she’s alive now she might be able to flip the situation on its head and turn the bad PR on to the members of the PRT who disapproved of her and Cauldron? It doesn’t really matter if it’s a double of her or not, at this point someone is trying to make some kind of statement.

  24. Body double having bought it seems most likely – but there’s no way she faked her death and came back that quickly deliberately. Conceivable that she’s just showing up for the chaos of Endbringer fights, and then vanishing, so she’s more of an urban legend than confirmed alive. Conceivable also that she wouldn’t have shown if Scion were on the way. Conceivable even that it’s just another flying bruiser… but for the tags.

    Doubt she’ll break the Endbringer truce… but she could. And she’d definitely have words for Skitter.

    Alexandria is also (barely) old enough to have had a daughter or adopted one, and similar powers run in families – per Piggot’s discussion with Legend adopting, it’s probably at least as much environment as genetics.

    Theo is hiding something about his power, or doesn’t yet understand something about it, or perhaps I don’t understand it… but even as it is, with range, he can make any surface your foe. With the kind of speed and control we saw Kaiser exert, he’d be terrifying.

    The arc title is… ominous.

  25. Alexandria is back huh? And she’s already messing up Skitter’s plans. 😉

    So how’d she do it? Well my money is actually on this being a body swap from what’s his name. After all Alexandria’s body is invincible. Clean out the bugs and it should be good to go, if brain dead. Someone could puppet her body perhaps.

    My second highest bet is on the body double being dead.

    Either way I don’t think she’ll be hanging around after the fight. I don’t think Cauldron is wanting to control the Protecterate anymore, they said it failed after all.

    • This is actually most plausible, even more than “Alexandria’s passenger found a new host.” Pretender’s bodyswap power, plus Alexandria’s body, means “Alexandria’s back, bitches!” However, Pretender can’t pull her strings forever. Does that mean: No going back into Protectorate? As you say, Cauldron relinquished the Protectorate as a priority. Also, we still don’t know what exactly they’re planning with regard to the Endbringers. The fact that Alexandria’s here, punching Behemoth out, would point in a certain direction, but you can’t ever tell with the mysterious organization types. We know their MO in normal situations, but with a major priority discarded, we just don’t know where they stand. All we know of Cauldron’s actions under the new situation is that they brought the big guns to abduct a body-snatcher.

      • Her invulnerability ended shortly after she died (assuming it was her); they mention this along with how her body was totally mangled when the body is found.

  26. Cauldron is Chess

    King – Doctor Mother
    Queen – Alexandria (maybe Eidolon and somewhat Legend as well)
    Bishop – The Number Man
    Rook – Contessa
    Knight – Doormaker
    Pawns – Anyone else with a Cauldron power (and the other possible category for Legend and Eidolon)

    • I would put Contessa as Queen, not Alexandria. I would actually switch Contessa’s and the Triumvirate’s listings, especially since Legend cut ties with the PRT, and Alexandria died. Also, I’m assuming Cauldron knows of Eidolon’s power drain, just something to consider.

      • Contessa’s definitely a Rook. She’s powerful, and essentially a wall. Also, it’s been theorized that if the king (Doctor) were in danger, the rook (Contessa) would switch places to give the king the option to escape (castling.).

        • With the way Contessa seems privy to the innermost secrets, and works directly under the head of Cauldron as her right-hand woman, not least of all with her amazing capability demonstrated every time she shows up- I think that Contessa is much more suited to be the Queen.

          Alexandria hits hard and fast, but is a brute that is direct and not very subtle. She is the front line, soaking up punishment political and physical. She played patsy to Cauldron, but she was not some mere Pawn: She was the Rook that castled the King at the beginning of the game to keep him more out of sight than ever.

          Eidolon hits hard, but he comes at problems directly much like Alexandria, but from his own angle. He fits his abilities to the issue at hand. He is a Bishop.

          Legend is much the same as Alexandria, though a bit more in the dark than either her or Eidolon. He hits fast and hard, while keeping himself just out of range because he’s (comparatively) fragile if trouble gets too close. He is the Knight.

          Doormaker is also a Knight, but for different reasons; because the power to open dimensional doors alludes to the ability of the Knight to pass through/hop over other pieces, primarily.

          Number Man is the second Bishop, because he is very similar to Eidolon in that his powers allow him to fit himself appropriately to the scenario he’s involved in. He does have a slight weakness at close range, in that he’s not a Brute classification, but that’s ameliorated by his power allowing him to slip himself aside most any attack.

          • Love you, Rika.

            I was hearing people refer to Contessa as the rook and thinking ‘queen, she’s the queen.’ Was hoping someone would get that vibe and pick up on what I was going for.

            Am more or less in agreement, though I might switch Legend and Number Man.

            • Legend has a Knightly demeanor, and can also abscond from any situation by flying at near light speed (which has been determined to be space-travel worthy) if necessary. You cannot contain him unless you shut him down, and he’s weak in close combat. He has a maximum effective range on his lasers, as well, which puts him rather solidly at a mid-range combatant situation. Thus, the Knight; He’s always on the edge of the fray, picking off rogue elements, pulling back when the heat gets too intense, then laying on more suppressive firepower- Which denies the enemy the opportunity to move within his area. The Bishop may block all squares along the diagonal, but you can bypass that easily enough by just never being on the same tile colour as he is- in short, slipping beyond his notice. The Knight, however, handles all shades of tiles equally, and blocs the four cardinal directions.

              The Number Man is the Bishop because when they go in, they are leaving themselves in a potentially stuck predicament unless it’s a straight in, straight out long dash- In which case the person you’re playing is much less skilled than you and you should feel bad for taking advantage of such an obvious opening. 😛 Usually it requires a ‘bounce’ to make the most effective use of a Bishop, which means by arranging forces carefully your opponent can cut off your escape route just by placing other pieces into the lane that your bishop must take as a sacrificial move; He cannot abscond through the air, at speeds greater than anything else is even near capabile of moving aside from light itself.

              This is why Legend is the Knight, to me. He always has an escape potentiality. Number Man either requires on teamwork or on cleaning up the mess until he can flee. If he’s in a position of strength, however, he can continue taking out the other side’s key pieces one by one with the enemy in disarray. Here, the chess analogy breaks down somewhat, but I guess you could say it’s like having two people playing at the same time against the one person on a single board; Divide and conquer and all that jazz.

              • I agree with of what you were saying, Rika, but I think Legend is more of a Bishop than a Knight while Eidolon is probably more of the Knight. You never really see him coming since he is unpredictable constantly switching powers to come at things from weird angles. Whereas with Legend, he attacks straight on despite his lasers switching directions. He moves far and fast but is always a straight up shooter first and foremost.

          • Hmm, maybe I was underestimating a few characters. I like your reasoning for Contessa and Alexandria’s positions.

            Could Legend and Number Man both be bishops though?
            Eidolon I’m thinking might be the more favorable version of the pawn – an otherwise normal person, with the ability to power up to queen-like levels.

  27. My two euro cents says the new guy with Alexandria-like strength is Theo. Jack will have a lot to chew with that one.

      • Hi Mazzon 🙂

        You might not be wrong, we supposed that Theo was Golem. How high is the probability that Wildbow was trolling everyone with the tags?

        We know that Theo should have had powers, but did not get em. If his passenger was hijacked by Alexandria it would not have been available till she was dead.

        I still prefer my theory of immortal Alexandria because it’s more off the wall and Cuff is Kaiser’s daughter too, but yours makes much more sense.

            • He is the only notable overweight character, and Theo was tagged. Whilst Wildbow has trolled us before, and omitted several other people when they’ve had importance to the story in some minor way, it makes a bit too much sense for it not to be him.

              • I think Golem is Theo, too. But the overweight point is still fishy.

  28. Alexandria’s secondary power is to rise from the dead.
    Of course no one knew, it’s a bit difficult to test for.

    Theo’s power made much more sense when I remembered he’s Fenja and Menja’s niece. Material manipulation and giant forms make for a weird mixup.
    Also, cuff is his illegitimate half sister.

    Nice job Wildbow, the gradual change of pace from the last arc (as opposed to your more abrupt ones) works really well. Everyone is expecting for several other shoes to drop.

    • > Theo’s power made much more sense when I remembered he’s Fenja and Menja’s niece. Material manipulation and giant forms make for a weird mixup.

      I want to reiterate my earlier hypothesis that Theo is a second-generation cape, not a third. Both Allfather and Kaiser had specifically metal-based powers — Allfather conjured iron weapons out of midair, and Kaiser conjured metal out of solid surfaces — and Golem’s powers are related to the latter and not the former. My suspicion was that both Allfather and Kaiser were Cauldron-capes and therefore Theo’s power would come from his mother’s side.

      All of this is obviously invalidated if Golem isn’t Theo or if we learn that Allfather and Kaiser had actual trigger events, of course.

      • If Golem is Theo, having him on a team with Taylor is really going to help him. She’ll get him figuring out ways to use his powers he hadn’t ever thought of. For example it wouldn’t take much to ruin someones footing. A couple of fingers pointing up out of the ground for example.

            • Yeah, sorry, I was thinking about my niece when posting. She has the same degree of cousinhood with me that Theo has with Fenja and Menja, she’s my “niece” (same as the daughter of my brother) in my mothertongue, so I translated it in English hoping it was the same (besides scenes of destruction usually brings the little termagant to mind).

              • She’s more of a barbed strangler type.

                And now that I think about it, a fleshborer would be definitely the wrong weapon to use in the setting, since there’s a teenage superhero that can more or less redirect the bullets to attack the shooter. Including those in the magazine.

                (p.s.: and maybe it wasn’t only a jest… is termagant not used in the us/oz to define an overbearing girl?)

              • Never heard it in use outside of Warhammer 40K’s Tyranids here in North America.

      • With a name like Golem, I was expecting his Power to be somewhat similar to: Kokujō Tengen Myō’ō (Bleach) / Buster Baron (Buso Renkin) / Susanoo (Naruto).

        But maybe the reason he can’t do that is because that’s how he thinks his powers work; if he simply stuck his whole body into a material could he do that? Or could he simply stick his hand into the material and focus on forming and moving his entire body and make it so? Also when he sticks his face in, can he see what his projection sees?

        His power is still more powerful and versatile than Allfather’s and Kaisers’ since he can do stuff with any material instead of being limited to metal.

      • TBH in his interlude I was thinking about his possbile powers.
        However I only came up with “transforms into a giant robot”.

      • Possible, but her range spiked both during the big conflict with Noelle and after the high school thing— I don’t know if I’d say that heroes were really under her command in the former, even if you could construct a case for the students accepting her command in the latter.

        • People may not have been under her command, but they depended on her. She was in the position of responsibility.

  29. As good as another triumvirate-level cape is going to be for the effort against Behemoth, I’m wondering what the effect on morale is going to be. The world has been told that Alexandria was a Simurgh puppet, and here she is alive again. So to the average cape present, some may think that 1) things just got really bad, and there’s a nigh-invincible psychopath about to sabotage the defense or 2) Chevalier and the new PRT lied. Either could have as similar effect on morale as the revelations during the Echidna fight.

    • Things get especially dicey for her when it turns out that Chevalier is dead.

      Just imagine: Chevalier dead at headquarters, some senior members of the new Protectorate killed or missing in action thanks to being taken by the Chinese after being wounded. Skitter on the run because she thinks Alexandria might carry a grudge and the Hero thing wasn’t working for her anyway.

      At the end of the day Alexandria might be alive, but everyone who could have vouched for her and clarified that she was ‘only’ working for cauldron and not a pawn of Simurgh might be dead or on the run.

      The public will have trouble buying whatever Alexandria tries to tell them. Especially if things end up going worse then your average Endbringer fight.

      • On the other hand if Legend and Eidolon say that the PRT’s attempts to discredit Alexandria are what led to their falling out then the average civilian will have another plausible scenario to believe in. Especially if this is some sort of attempt at revealing a public face for Cauldron to use to assume direct control. If Alexandria shows up with a fresh army of capes then people will be desperate to believe that the PRT lied about the Simurgh taint. Hope is a powerful thing.

        • Ah, but Legend knows that Cauldron (and Alexandria) lied to him about everything (See his interlude, spec. the session with Kid Win’s lie detector). Why would Legend cover up for Alexandria now?

  30. So, I was thinking. So many metal changers. And the Undersiders have foil.

    Can they just nail Behemoth to something?

    Foil can bond things on a molecular level. I’m thinking something like this. Have her shoot a giant metal pole through Behemoth. Perhaps a street lamp, or that giant victory sign. Then have the rest of the team, Annex, Golem and Tecton, anchor that structure somewhere.

    Or the other way round. Anchor a structure, get Behemoth to drop on it, fuse it through him.

  31. -Tecton is Win, whoever made him a team leader gets a gold star.
    -Cuff is a little bit adorkable.
    -Golem is pretty much definately Theo at this point. Mad props for picking a name sure to piss off your neonazi parents, kiddo.
    – Annex has the best power, love that. I had a character in an RPG with a similar ability, ghost-themed, a ‘living haunting’.
    – The Regent & Imp show continues.

    • Yeah I had an idea for someone with a power like Annex’s. They were part of a team who all had limiters because otherwise they’d be people of mass destruction.

    • I love that you think it’s the best power. Over on the IRC a few days/weeks ago, we had a “what would your power be?” thing, where we basically designed our own powers if we were in the Wormverse. Annex’s power is what I designed, basically. ❤ So happy!

      • I just realized it… he has the same superpower as Dio.

        Can he sing while he’s inside a metal poster too?

            • I prefer to Play with Madness, but you’re welcome to Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter. I prefer to travel with Mr. Crowley on the Crazy Train to Panama. Don’t mind my Electric Eye. Talking about it overly much would feel like a Betrayal running through my veins and I’d like to keep the peace because Peace Sells.

        • I am confused…she has the power to stop time for sort amounts of time?

          (Jojo’s bizzare adventure reference,If you do not get the joke).

  32. You know even with Regent Lampshade Hanging Death Tropes throughout this chapter, it’s this line that had me laughing loudest:-

    “No, I thought, banishing the idea from my head. Not flitting. Never let that word slip in conversation. Makes me think of fairies. It’ll make Glenn think of fairies.”

  33. “Battlefield Control” ….

    This sounds like Tecton build himself a team of super-sappers or para-pioneers. Cool.

    I can see just one problem with this idea: When exactly do you get to use such a team to its fullest potential?

    The kind of collateral damage these sort of powers cause make them overkill for going after bank-robbers etc. They only really get useful against S-Class threats. Good against opponents like leviathan or Echidna. What is such a team supposed to do between Endbringer attacks besides attending funerals and recruiting new talent?

    • Well, he went out of his way to recruit Annex. Arguably (along with Cuff) a way to clean up messes from anything Tecton knocks down or Golem puts up.

      As for application against lesser villains, well, keep reading, maybe they’ll get an arc/interlude!

      • I wouldn’t mind an arc or interlude for the Chicago wards. You do a great job making new and interesting charecters. For example what does Cuff mean when she says she’s there for her parents? Because they expect her to go? Because they were killed by an Endbringer? It’s intreging.

    • Here Weaver may come really handy. As a recon and evacuator before the Chicago wards bulldozing a block or to.
      That was actually my first thought after they had descibed there powers.

  34. This chapter was awesome.

    -Taylor and Brian were d’aaaawww, and yeah they’re obviously completely broken up, nothing left there, no sir, move along please!

    -Imp is probably the only person who can help rehabilitate Regent, in a bizarre sort of way, and he might be okayish for her, I’ve been saying this from the beginning.

    -Tecton is really a great kid, please don’t kill him!

    -Aaaaand as more or less everyone predicted, there was more going on with the whole Alexandria thing that we first thought. We’ve learnt enough to tentatively eliminate one hypothesis as to the nature/motives of the play though- it seems likely that the PRT weren’t officially in on it, if Defiant and thus also Dragon believed she was dead and inspected the body.

    • Gotta remember, Regent isn’t a sociopath out of genetics or brain injury/chemistry issue. He is one because his sperm donor (heartbreaker) forced him to be a little carbon copy of him. (considering the fact that Cherish is worse, i think it’s the only way he operates)

      Then we look at the Shadow Stalker/Sophia incident, and we see someone who not only takes someone elses feelings into account, (skitter’s in this case) but also feels protective of them. This is not the selfish/survivalist behavior of a sociopath.

      that being said, maybe regent is only a sociopath because he had to be and is coming around to the idea that maybe he can be someone he’s never been before; Himself.

  35. Does biology hold across dimensions?

    Like if your dimensional you, essentially your temporally separated clone, has the same profile and stuf .f

    • Ooo, follow up.

      Will the same formula work the same way for identical twins brought up in the same manner, i.e. Purely nature is in effect.

    • Would she have died from her illness in the other dimension though? If it was something genetic beta-Alexandria might have died as a child there.
      I can’t remember if she’s old enough to be born in both worlds.

  36. Re: Alexandria: to my (so far almost always wrong eyes), the possibilities for her fate have been narrowed to two and a half.

    I) Alexandria really is dead and this is the body double.
    Ia) My personal favorite i.e. the body double is dead and this is the real Alexandria

    II) Alternatively, whoever mentioned the body-hopper Stranger from the Vegas sequence has the right idea. Vacuum/teleport/phase-shift/burn the bugs out and you have one indestructible brain-damaged puppet ready to go.

  37. “Noelle, we believe you’re capable of handling an Alexandria package after seeing what happened with Echidna. So, you up for it?”

    • Wasn’t non-Echidna Noelle only two tears old, or something? I don’t think even the PRT would go there.

      … Granted, Tagg might, but we /know/ he’s dead.

      • Non-Echidna Noelle? When did she show up? (Also, same question re: evil Alexandria clone mentioned above.)

        • In Echidna’s Interlude (Number 18, I believe) Eidolon mentioned that one member of the PRT (who had Noelle’s last name) had a young daughter also named Noelle. The name Echidna got coined (in-universe) to remove the association.

  38. Totally unrelated, but I get this feeling the Endbringers are here because of Scion – some sort of interdimensional cops + robbers or something along those lines (Scion being the ‘robber’ seeking refuge, strange to think about I know, but he does seem to be seeking refuge (Zion)).
    Also, people could be getting powers as an extension of his attempts to help those in need, since only those who need it get powers. That, or the matching-mindset-randomness theory that’s been playing out so far.
    It’s also possible those two multidimensional beings are fighting over the planet, Scion + endbringers being parts of them, the individual passengers being others.
    Might not be all peace+happiness out there in multidimensionalland. Or, if it is, this is how they play. Fun+games with an entire planet (and all its extra-dimensional duplicates)

    Oh also I bet people’s powers are going to get stronger and stronger as we get closer to the end of the world, for whatever reason

  39. Regent glanced at her, “I’m just saying, Grue’s already screwed, he’s not a virgin, he’s bl-”

    LOLz! The only way he could possibly hit the trifecta on that would be to go have sex with Skitter right now.

  40. Hmhmhmhmhm. Alexandria.

    Aside: I just realized how AMAZING controller Taylor can be. She could control SO MUCH custom, non-tinker electronics so easily. Need more (technological) drones.

    Taylor == ‘Weaver’? Really?
    Hebert == ‘armor, army’, ‘bright, famous’

    • Your equations are rather cryptic.

      But I get it. Taylor Hebert’s name roughly equates to ‘an illustrious army of weavers’.

      Wonder if that was deliberate?

      Though Taylor means more to ‘cut’ than to weave, the professions are really only connected through the medium. It’s like calling a miner the same as a foundry worker.

    • With so many of them wearing metal armour, I’m getting a robotic vibe so i’m proposing that they be referred to by the public as “The Constructicons”

  41. ““Ask Defiant who the hell that’s supposed to be, if it’s not Alexandria.”” — nice pre-emption and focus in case anyone missed the implication.

    Not to mention, the arc name, could mean so many things, but it is so bleak at the moment. Makes the “-The Endbringer had been toppled with one massive blow.-” no where near as hopeful.

    BTW, on any custom made item (e.g. the prosthetic eye), especially a custom tinker made one, you should have trace element tags that are like fingerprints. They tell you which foundry, where the ore came from, etc. Full magnetic spectrum analysis often is used to find them (as in trying to determine who manufactured a bolt that failed between two suppliers, one who uses Canadian iron and an electric forge in Minnesota, the other who uses American iron and a forge in Japan).

    Vs. carbon dating which needs a freeze in components and, well, the Wiki is good, but tells you what you need to know about “Applying Carbon-14 Dating to Recent Human Remains”

  42. “To think?” Cuff asked me. “The hell? You can think with all this going on?”

    That’s why she gets to be the leader, rookie.

    • Agreed. You’d think Taylor vowing to take BEHEMOTH down and the surprise showing of Alexandria would warrent it.

  43. Thank you, Benedict, for the support.

    Fun fact. I considered Benedict as a name for Rachel’s Terrier in the early chapters, but thought that’d be too heavy handed, and there’s too many ‘b’ names already (though I forgot this when I named Bentley and Bastard). Went with Angelica in the end.

      • Doesn’t show up on the cast page. It could work, although it might make people think he’s a tinker specializing in gloves.

          • He should call himself Majinga (he kinda shoots out his punches after all), whoever held the copyright was probably killed by Leviathan anyway.

          • And an idiot. “Hey these kids just who all have powers got off the bus to this camp where we want to teach them how to not accidently kill people into a training excercise before I even bother to find out what their powers are. Hey I’m going to ignore the one telling me that his power makes doing that a really bad idea. What the worse that could happen? Whoops one dead student already, and a bunch truamatized, but for some reason I get to keep my job!”

            Yeah the Inititiave made the PRT seem like geniuses.

            • Didn’t help that he insulted the New Warriors, who kinda saved earth before, right there to some of their faces. No wonder he got he got beat down by the comic relief.

              But mainly, poor, poor Cloud 9. All she wanted to do was fly. They trained her as a sharpshooter and she was traumatized by killing a HYDRA soldier.

              Of course, from the villain side of things, registration clearly had several advantages. Official channels can be so much easier to listen in on given the nature of cyber security, made even worse by the fact that all of it was Stark Tech. You only need one set of keys to get to that kingdom. Budding heroes or hardened vigilantes have to go off and leave their vulnerable families while they get trained, which also helps figure out identities. That, or they face just as much arrest for trying to take you down. Plus, the government was dumb enough to give Norman Osborn a team to lead after his attempted murder of an ambassador, followed up by giving him the top position in managing superheroes in the U.S.

              And I have to say, I love what they did with the prison complex. Another dimension that enhances negative feelings? Classy. Abandoning it when a warlord of that other dimension attacked, leaving prisoners, including some heroes and some physically restrained, to their fates? Even classier.

              • Oh I know how many times the New Warriors saved the world. I was subscribed to their comic in the 90’s. I also had a lot of debates with someone about the registration act over on the Kaijuphile boards. And Cloud 9 is a perfect example of how it straight up was a draft. If you had powers you were going to be trained to be a soldier and fight, no matter your own wishes. At least in the Wormverse you can opt to be a rouge.

                And for added Irony, look at the major crisis happening in the cosmic books at the time. While the earth heroes fighting over this Annhilus was killing half the Universe. You know the guy who rules the dimension the prison was in and who only learned about the positive matter universe when Reed Richards discovered the Negative Zone. No wonder Nova told them off when they didn’t pay attention to his message. Then Ultron (built by Hank Pym) takes over the kree empire (after Tony Stark shot him into space). Vulcan (a resault of Proffessor X’s fuck up) takes over the Shiar Empire, and Goes to war with Blackbolt! The only Illuminati who didn’t fuck over billions of sentiant beings seems to be Namor! Norman Osborne getting appointed head of the SHRA was minor. But hey at least Sally Dumb Bitch Avril felt relieved that superheroes were goverment monitred. It’s not like the Red Skull has been in charge of the department of defense on two non consective occasions.

                Wow now the PRT seems a lot better.

  44. Each time I stopped, I took a second to try to grasp the situation. The streets were flooded with people, and it was only getting worse. The troops we had on the ground were struggling to make headway, and from my vantage point, I could tell that things were getting worse.

    A bit awkward there.

  45. Totally forgot to comment last time so I’ll comment early here but Golem and Gollum don’t sound the same and I think most people would know what Golem’s are that they wouldn’t immediately jump to Gollum

    • Again, Golem’s voice was muffled. Most people who aren’t fans of D&D-based fantasy would probably have Gollum closer to the front of their mind than the Golem.

      • Golem is also a Pokémon… Don’t know if that makes any difference cultural awareness wise.

        • Pretty much no one except Pokemon nerds thinks of that first. Non-Pokemon nerds would think of Gollum or iron golems before the Pokemon.

  46. “You’re going to,” Imp said, stabbing a finger at Regent’s chest. “You were going to say something about Grue going to the back of the bus, and you can’t let it go. It’d be lame and really tasteless and too far, and it’ll start the sort of fight that isn’t fun or funny. I’m calling it: you’ll hold it in until you can’t help but say it.”
    It seems we’ve met Imp’s BS limit.
    How unusual–an African-American in a town where superpowered white supremacists are a major issue doesn’t put up with racist jokes!

  47. So I started reading this, and the first thing I read after Crushed 24.1 was , “Large fire shuts part of Derby city centre”, and all I could think was “oh, crap, he’s here.”

    • ‘V’ for Victory. palm outwards. first two fingers upright, thumb over last two fingers
      ‘V’ for go fuck yourselves. simply reverse. (flicking for emphasis is optional.

      Commonwealth countries and or close friend/allied nations (such as Canda) tend to know both uses. Wildbow assuredly does.

  48. “No, not flitting. Never let that word slip in conversation.” LOL!!! Oh god, Wildbow, you say you can’t write comedy? Dude, there is comic GOLD sprinkled liberally throughout this entire work! I had to fight so damn hard not to start doubling over laughing at work when I read that line!

    Okay so Theo got some pretty sweet powers. I can see him being a powerhouse with the right training and ingenuity.

    Hmm okay so Taylor likes the big spiders eh? Eh? I’m sure I could work to get a pun out of that…Anyway not what I had originally intended; what I had originally intended was to comment that someone should get the girl some of the Bird Eating Tarantulas. Actually on second thought lets not do that. Those fuckers are scary enough in real life let alone thinking what you would do with them in fiction, Wildbow. Plus I doubt Glenn would go for it.

    Oh god I love Regent sooooo much! Tossing out the death flag warnings everywhere! Awesome.

    Is it weird that Cuff kind of reminds me a bit of Taylor in the early days? A little too scared and insecure to contribute majorly unless prompted? I know that’s almost the opposite of what Skitter was doing but they seemed similar to me anyway.

    Hmm so Alexandria is back? Honestly after looking through a lot of the theories above, I’m a bit surprised so few people mentioned Pretender. He was stated as stealing bodies or something right? Defiant confirmed Alex dead so what if Pretender can take over dead bodies? We really don’t know much about his power at all but I can’t see it being a coincidence that Cauldron snatched him up, Alexandria was a key player in Cauldron and now Alexandria pops back up. Now all that said, if his power doesn’t function like that never mind and I subscribe to this being an Echidna clone that was kept locked away and brainwashed away from being totally crazy.

    So side question: whatever happened to Angelica? Last we saw she had been hurting and barely of use in fights which was just when Siberian showed up but she stopped popping up after that. I would’ve assumed Rachel would’ve mentioned by now if she had died or someone would’ve asked if she stopped using her because it was too hard on the poor dog which is what I kind of lean towards but still…what happened to her?

  49. I got to the bit about the girl with the blisters before I realized.
    From a writing point of view, the Endbringers are extremely straightforward. They’re unstoppable and they’re malicious toward humanity in general, and that motivates superhumans to organize and work together. The constant looming threat they pose motivates the capes of Earth Bet to do things like turn Madcap into Assault- things that superheroes in other settings would have more reason to avoid, because their worlds are basically safe where Earth Bet basically isn’t. And those compromises- that overriding motivation to fight Endbringers as best as they can be fought, no matter what it takes- drives the nature of the conflicts we find in the setting, the corruption in the PRT, the unwillingness of capes to investigate or oppose Cauldron, and so on. It drives the expansion of parahumanity, because parahumans are better suited to fighting Endbringers than even the best-equipped humans.
    I’ve known that much for a while now. It’s a very clever design from a writing standpoint- take the underlying “the heroes have to save the world… and they’ll have to save it again next week” assumption of superheroes and other ongoing action stories, and draw it to its logical conclusion. Create a world where humanity is under continuous threat, and heroes are not just a fact of life but a necessity, a priority of society as a whole. Then write about the people who live in that world, how they’ve adapted, what problems those adaptations create and who’s willing to do something about them.

    What I realized when Taylor started wondering about the Endbringers is, this works from an in-story perspective as well.
    There’s at least one extremely powerful faction at work in the setting that’s been focused on creating and improving parahumans- Cauldron and the Agents- and we don’t know what either of their strategic goals are.
    It may be that Cauldron and/or the Agents exist to fight Endbringers, like the Protectorate and the Wards and the unwritten rules.
    But given how little we know about these factions’ limits or ultimate goals, it could also be that the Endbringers exist to create business for Cauldron, and/or to create suitable hosts for the Agents. (There’s only so much you can do with unwilling test subjects, after all…)

  50. “I guess I”m on board with that.”

    The “I’m” has a quote sign (“) instead of an apostrophe (‘).

  51. Alexandria’s come back from the dead through sheer power of contrariness, solely to ruin Skitter’s Alexandria-killin’ street cred.

  52. “I guess I”m on board with that.”

    Quote instead of apostrophe.

    This was an interesting one. Not quite as intense as the Leviathan fight so far, but a lot of that was from being local. I like getting to see more of the Wards’ personalities, almost childlike compared to the villains their age.

  53. Alexandria 2.0
    Didnt think Cauldron would Refrain from using the Formular again. 😉
    At least thatsnwhat I would hage done.

  54. Precog wouldn’t do jack to protect her from the bugs, nor would just shaking her hair brush them off. Of course, Numbers Man should have been able to do what he did, either. Like Big Guy said, “sure you can see the future, you just can’t do anything about it.”

  55. I might be confused about the intended meaning, but shouldn’t “passenger’s intent” be “passengers’ intent”? If it’s referring to some grand plan?

  56. « We’re making our lightning rod.» uh, what? You explained that the metal clothes did not matter since its lightning was not like normal lightning anyway, but *directed*. So why would a lightning rod work if a “human lightning rod” won’t attract bolts that were targeted somewhere else?

  57. «Behemoth wasn’t that tall, hard to make out above the buildings that still stood.» that doesn’t make sense gramically. What is the second part trying to say? Behemoth *was* or *wasn’t* hard to make out?

  58. «carbon dated it to verify.» carbon dated the mountings? What would that prove, presuming the mountings have carbon in them? If it’s carbon fiber, any batch will test as “ancient” containing no C-14 at all since the feedstock is petolium. If you meant that the corpse was carbon dated, then it will read “fresh”. But that can depend on her diet, and has a large window of tolerance.

  59. Well that happened.

    Weird how things turn out. The Leviathan fight upended my perspective on Worm. Sudden-onset Anyone Can Die Syndrome will do that to you. Characters I’d assumed had important futures died like flies. It justified and strengthened the setting, while adding a grim sense of weight and permanence to what followed. In the context of that mass death, it seemed all too possible that Skitter might be permanently crippled, or cast out of the Undersiders forever. The Leviathan fight was the reason I later took Grue’s horror at face-value, not assuming “oh I’m sure the super friends ‘ll get out of this somehow.”

    Fitting in a way, that the Behemoth fight is the last straw in the opposite direction. Evidence has been mounting. In the end Grue won the lottery and saved the day. When half the Undersiders got eaten by **The Monster That Foreshadows Family Murder**, no character families actually faced problems on-screen. Skitter healed and healed again. Now I don’t have a problem with the above, especially because *cough*Glory*cough*Girl*cough*, but it illustrates the trend.

    The trend that ended with Regent crippled, Imp unconscious, Grue or Bitch dead, but nope not really, haha. Got you! And Alexandria, gruesomely murdered, her death changing the world overnight, oh wait forget it, never mind. Tattletale is trapped, Tattletale’s emergency self-surgery is interrupted, Tattletale is…. going to be okay!

    Worm is a great work regardless. Wildbow is an awe-inspiring writer all the same. Not to mention envy-inspiring. But it is now clear that the author cannot be relied upon to be honest about the death of characters.

    As Jack would put it:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s