Interlude 26a

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Theo exhaled slowly.  He hadn’t realized he’d been holding his breath.  Inhaling again, the smell of shit and blood was so heavy on the air it choked him.  His suppressed cough was almost a grunt, almost a gag.

His eyes returned to the two bloodstained spikes that had been stabbed into the wall.  It was the space where Nilbog had been crucified, apparently.  Something dangled from one of them.  A tendon, maybe, a vein, or a strip of meat.  The goblin king had been torn down with enough haste and enough force that some part of him had been left behind.

He’d spent some time staring at the metal spike with flesh dangling from it.  The others were busy.  It made sense to take the time to strategize, to get equipment and gear in order, familiarize himself with every tool and technique this squad of capes had on hand.

Thing was, Theo didn’t want to, even as he knew it was the smart thing.  The others seemed to recognize that and weren’t pushing him, weren’t approaching.  Maybe they’d brush it off as a kind of meditative thinking, a mental preparation for the fight that was to come.  Maybe they’d see it for what it really was.  Avoidance.

Staring at the wall and trying not to think about anything was easier than looking down, seeing the dead members of the Slaughterhouse Nine, and maybe seeing Aster in the mess of bodies.

Being silent was easier than having to look the others in the eyes and pretend he was alright, risking that they’d offer some gentle, kind condolences, and he’d have to be stoic in the face of it.

Men weren’t supposed to cry.  It would be disastrous, shattering their image of him, creating too much doubt at such a crucial juncture.  He could imagine how they’d react.  Some of them would be awkward.  Defiant, maybe, would avert his eyes.  Bitch might say something harsh.

Revel, probably, would be nice about it.  Offer a pep talk, a hug, heartfelt words.  Tecton would be much the same.  Parian and Foil, even, might be kind, if he went by descriptions Weaver and others had offered of them and the little clues he’d seen in interacting with them.

The moment he pulled himself together, if he could pull himself together, Chevalier would be at his side, all business, outlining the situation in clear, defined ways.  Framing it all into plans and setups that would put less stress on Theo, no doubt, but not in such a way that anyone could say anything about it.

Hoyden?  Hard to say.  She lived with this wall that she’d erected around herself.  Layers of defenses, in bravado or being snarky or being sarcastic or aggressive or avoiding the situation.  In combat situations or real life, Theo suspected there were very few things that really got to the heart of Hoyden.  When they did, they hurt.  How would she react to someone being vulnerable?

And then there was Weaver.

She was in the periphery of his vision, sitting on a computer case, staring down at the floor.  As ever, her mannerisms were peculiar.  She was so still.  If it weren’t for the bugs, or the fact that her head would periodically move, as if she were looking over the dead, he might have thought she’d stopped, like a machine with the battery removed.

She would be assessing who was dead, who wasn’t, planning and adjusting her expectations for the coming fight, quite possibly.  Probably.

In the midst of that, was Weaver thinking about Aster?  The fact that she, either by aiming a gun and pulling the trigger or by giving the order to Revel and Foil, had killed a toddler?

Weaver was a hard person to deal with.

Taylor, not so much.

If that was all it was, he wouldn’t have worried so much.

There were other possibilities, ones that troubled him.  What if he approached them, and nobody offered condolences at all?  What if they accepted it as a cost of doing business, a necessity in dire circumstances?

What if he did show emotion, and none of his allies offered any emotional support at all?

Kayden had been the closest thing he had to a mother.  If it hadn’t been for Jack’s game, then Theo suspected he might never have rated.  He wasn’t her first priority.  That would be Aster.  Not her second.  That was her mission, nebulous as it had been in recent years.  He hesitated to believe that he’d even rated third place.

He struggled to convince himself he placed fourth or fifth, even.

But she’d been there.  She’d shown kindness, had stepped between him and Father when the situation demanded it.  There had been gentle moments, like the time they’d been watching television one morning and a cape had talked about how tinkers were their least favorite type of opponent to fight, and he and Kayden had laughed, because Kayden and her group had run into Leet just a week before.

Stupid things, in the end.  Nonsensical.  But stupid, nonsensical things were sometimes the most important.

He’d never had friends, before he got his powers.  Even now, he wondered if he’d have really formed the friendships he had if they’d chanced to meet in some universe where powers didn’t exist.

Being alone as often as he had, Theo valued the connections he had made.  Even connections with Justin, Dorothy and Geoff.  Crusader, Night and Fog.

On the flip side of that same coin, he felt the betrayal of Justin leaving him behind.

Above all, he felt the quiet, perpetual horror of knowing that Crusader was still screaming, his throat never going raw, as Gray Boy’s loop continued without cease.

Kayden would be standing a short distance away, stoic, trying to keep from slowly going insane as Justin’s screams continued without end.

He’d lost people who were important to him, in maybe the most horrible way possible.  He’d lost his father, and Kayden, Justin, Geoff and Dorothy, and now Aster.  He’d lost them to violence and stupidity and madness, and he could see the allure in how the others seemed to be functioning, bottling it all inside.

He could see the twisted logic of it, even.  As if there was a binary to everything, every enemy was somehow a twisted mess of emotion, layered by a seeming calmness, while every ally seemed to be cold inside, with only an act on the surface.

He looked down at his mask.  A metal face with lenses over the eyes.  Stoic, expression neutral, or a little stern.  He’d chosen it at first because his real face was a little too round for a mask, but the PR teams had wanted to get more faces on the team.  He’d compromised, and hadn’t given his mask much thought beyond that.

Except time had passed, and he’d found himself wondering if he liked the message it conveyed.  By necessity, capes went down a road where they had to become cold and unflinching.  They had to become numb, had to inure themselves to hard decisions.  It jarred, to wear a mask that seemed to symbolize that transition, that while wanting nothing less than to walk down that road.

Back in Brockton Bay, New Wave had tried to start something, capes without masks.  It had been disastrous.  The message had been lost in the ensuing celebrity, and that had only intensified after one of the core members of the group was found and killed in her civilian identity.

He wondered if they’d been right to try.  If capes really needed to just… drop the mask.  To cry and let the feelings out.  So many got their powers through trauma, but they bottled themselves up, erected defenses, developed coping mechanisms.  If New Wave’s idea had taken off, would things be better?

Didn’t matter.  Here they stood.

He could make it through this, save the world.  They could find the source of the Endbringers and defeat them, could clean things up, get things in order and stop all of the real monsters… he could go to college, get a career and find a girl and marry her, and at the end of the day, Justin would still be screaming.

Aster would still be dead.

The ugly decisions would have been made.

He stared up at the bloody spikes in the wall, an image that would be burned into his mind’s eye, remembered as the point he stood at the threshold.  A mirror to where he’d been in the beginning, when he’d met Jack.

Bitch paced around the edges of the room, impatient.  She’d had to shrink her dogs to get them to an appropriate size, and was keeping them small in case the portal wasn’t accommodating enough.  Here and there, she barked out orders to get the animals away from the bodies.

It grated.

“None of those invisible fucks,” she said.

“Okay,” Weaver answered.  Her voice was quiet.

Theo almost took her voice as a cue to reevaluate how she was reacting to what had just happened, then stopped himself.  Losing battle.  No point.

Then, for some bizarre reason, Bitch approached him.

A sleek Doberman nudged at his gauntlet with its nose.  He looked down and then scratched it behind the ear.  It didn’t matter if the dog bit him – he was wearing a gauntlet.

When he looked up, he could see Bitch staring at him.  Her face was barely visible behind her hair.

“Can I help you?” he asked.  His voice came out harder than he intended.

She didn’t seem to notice or care.  “You’re her friend, aren’t you?”

I don’t want to talk about Weaver.

He didn’t venture an answer.  He couldn’t say yes, not honestly, but he suspected Weaver had a different answer to the question.

“You’re both acting different.  I can see it.”

“Kind of warranted, in this situation,” he said.  “In case you didn’t notice, the last few members of my family just got killed.  I just need a bit of time alone to think.”

His voice had almost broken.  Couldn’t break down.  Not like this, here, with her.

She hadn’t taken his hint.

“They were buttholes, weren’t they?  Purity and her gang.  The nazis.”

The dog nudged his hand again.  He gave it a more intense scratch before answering, “White supremacists.  They… weren’t the best people ever.  But they were still my family.”

She kept looking at him, almost glaring.  She didn’t answer or elaborate, leaving the conversation to die.

Go away.  I don’t want to hit you.

He kept silent, hoping she would just leave.  Willing her to leave.

“Stay, Huntress,” she ordered.

Then she walked away, leaving the dog at his side.

Theo scratched the animal under the collar, and watched it crane its head to one side, enjoying the contact.

It helped, oddly enough.  Having contact with another living creature without all of the issues and hassles of dealing with people.  No judgement, no worries, just… this.  Being alone without being alone.

His father had always preferred cats, and the creatures had never been easy to bond with.  This was nice.

Theo sighed.  He glanced at Weaver in his peripheral vision, and saw that there was a dog sitting next to her.  A mutt, at a glance.  The animal was resting its chin on her shoulder.

She saw him looking, glanced at Bitch, who was walking with her husky puppy following behind her, then shrugged.

He lowered his eyes from Weaver… no, from Taylor, then scratched Huntress again.

“We have the coordinates.  Waiting for a charge,” Defiant announced.  He was already flanked by the Dragon’s Teeth he’d brought with him.

“All gather,” Chevalier ordered.

Bitch snapped her fingers twice, and her dogs returned to her.

Theo raised his hands to his face to rub his eyes, and he felt damp on one cheek.  One tear, fresh.  He wiped his face, glancing around to check if anyone had seen it.  No, not judging by the angle.

He donned his mask.

Golem now, Golem thought.

“We need to decide who goes where,” Defiant said.  “The first teleportation marked coordinates on Houston.”

Weaver spoke up, “I noted Shatterbirds and Burnscars leaving, some Damsels, bunch of others I didn’t catch, but they had weapons and I’m thinking Winter or Crimson.  There were some I parsed as hostages, but it’s only in retrospect that I’m thinking they were Nice Guys.”

“The second group made their way to New York.”

“Bonesaw and a captive Nilbog that’s apparently rigged to create things on demand,” Weaver said.  “Crawlers, Breeds and a handful of others I didn’t identify.”

Chevalier reacted to that, flinching.

His city, Golem thought.

“And the last group headed to Los Angeles.”

“Jack’s group?” Golem asked.

“Yes,” Weaver said.  “He brought the Siberian, Hookwolf, Gray Boy, all eight Harbingers, and there are Psychosomas and Nyxes.  One or two others I didn’t place.”

“Los Angeles?” Chevalier asked.  “What area?”

That area,” Defiant answered, looking at the computer.

Chevalier nodded slowly.

Golem stared at the screen.  He could see the satellite image, the concentric circles that marked the area around the blinking blue dot.

“Charge prepared.  We can send one group at a time.  They’ve already got a twelve minute headstart.  It’ll be another eight minutes before we can send the second group, eight minutes after that before we can send the third.”

“The first group to arrive can call for help and get support to the other locations,” Chevalier said.

“Then why split up?” Weaver asked.  “We should all hit Jack’s group, trust others to help in New York and Houston.”

“Everyone else is closer to New York,” Chevalier said.  “But Houston…”

“We can call in favors,” Weaver said.  “Moord Nag’s apparently on board, though we don’t know why.  Cauldron’s on board.  If we can get Tattletale in contact with them, that’s handled.  But we can’t do that unless we leave.”

“That’s my city,” Hoyden said.

“I get that,” Weaver replied, “But we’re doing nothing constructive if we split up, and we’re definitely doing nothing constructive as long as we sit here.”

“Once we leave,” Defiant said, “We break the configuration cell and everything here breaks down on a Euclidean level.  There’s no going back, changing our mind.”

“I get that,” Weaver said, “But two or three of us aren’t going to do anything special.  We need big guns.”

Golem closed his eyes.

There she is.  Weaver.

“She’s right,” Chevalier said, looking at Hoyden.  “We’ll send every set of reinforcements we can, but it’s not worth what it costs us, to break up our group.”

“Shit,” Foil said.

Hoyden had gone stiff, bristling for an argument.

“I’m not saying we should abandon Houston,” Weaver said, before Hoyden could speak.  “Defiant, can you postpone the collapse of this area?”

“Yes, but I don’t feel comfortable doing it,” he responded.

“I think you should,” she said.  “Toybox left enough stuff behind.  Use it.  Stay behind, arm yourself, then throw everything but the kitchen sink at them.  You remember how the scar formed in Brockton Bay?”

“Mm,” he said.  “Tinker technology takes time to understand, to prepare.  Too dangerous otherwise.”

“There’s a solution to that.  I’ll point the way.”

Defiant hesitated.

Golem looked around the group, saw the expressions on faces, saw how even Hoyden had relaxed a fraction.  Even the Dragon’s Tooth officers that accompanied them were a little more at ease.  There were no answers in this situation, but there was a possibility.  An option, vague as it was.

“Okay,” Defiant said.

Then, without so much as a farewell or a ‘good luck’, he hit the enter key.

Golem appeared a full four feet above the ground.  He hit the ground and let his legs sink in, absorbing some of the fall.  A second later, he pushed himself out.

Just the use of his power gave him a sense of the area.  Touching the pavement gave him a sense of how all of the pavement around him was organized.  It had been folded into itself, folded around, thinned, thickened, bent at right angles.

Looking around, he could see how the buildings had been altered.  Textures had been removed, similar materials blended into one another, everything fortified, thickened, weaponized.

All around them, the buildings were like tombstones.  Windowless, angular, all expression and human touches removed from them.  Spikes studded corners and blocked alleyways, criss-crossed in front of doors, and carpeted pathways.  Some were metal, others camouflaged.

They’d figured out how to fight Tohu and Bohu during the Los Angeles attack.  The trick was responding quickly, stopping them before Tohu had her masks and Bohu managed her influence.  They’d won, for lack of a better term, managing the fight without the casualties they’d seen in the prior attack, but they’d still lost a chunk of the city in the time it took them to beat and batter the towering Bohu into submission.  Now Santa Fe Springs and all of the neighboring districts were uninhabitable, due to the traps that riddled it, the way the infrastructure had been completely and totally compromised.

Easier to found a new habitable area than to try to fix this, routing new pipes and power, managing traps both subtle and blatant.

Those same traps would be a problem here, but they weren’t entirely incapable.  They’d dealt with this before.

Bitch’s dogs grew abruptly, then shook, sending blood and bits of flesh and bone everywhere.

“HQ, come in,” Chevalier murmured.  He continued to speak, delivering the information about Jack and the target areas.

“Area’s empty,” Weaver said.

“A trap,” Golem responded.  “Has to be.”

“Has to be.  Why else come here?”  Foil asked.

“Nyx illusions,” Tecton said, “He doesn’t know we’re aware of who he brought, so he’s set them up to stall us.”

Nyx.  Her gas is concentrated into solid shapes that move at her will.  Break that shape and it becomes a cloud of poisonous gas.

“Not that easy,” Weaver said.  “Maybe he knows we know, and it’s a double-bluff.”

“Parian?” Weaver asked.

Parian nodded.  She unfurled the bundle of cloth from her back, then quickly shaped it into a roughly humanoid shape.

A moment later, it was stomping ahead, forging the way.

Golem fell in step beside Tecton.  Every footfall on a surface concentrated his awareness, informing him of every surface of a matching material in the area.  Lightning flashes in his consciousness, showing the landscape around him.  He deliberately stepped on other materials to inform himself on concrete, on brick, on steel and glass.  His heavy boots made for a rhythmic sound, accompanied by the sounds of Chevalier and Tecton’s own heavy footfalls, and the rougher patter of the mutant dogs.


A girl’s voice, over the comm system.  Not Tattletale.

Golem, tell them to stop.  Now.”

“Stop,” he said.

A second later, he wondered if he should mention this phantom voice.  A trick on Screamer’s part?

Thirty one,” she said.

“Thirty one?”

More uses of my power.  I’ve been testing it, straining it, figuring out my limits.  I can’t make promises.  Might be less.  Might be able to squeeze out more.  But it’s the best I can give you.

The numbers clued him in, belatedly.

Dinah Alcott.

There’s bigger problems,” she said.  Her voice was quiet.  “In two minutes, everyone but you dies.  Seventy-two percent chance.

He stopped short.

“Golem?”  Hoyden asked.

“Solution?” he asked, he raised a hand.

Can you think in abstracts?”


“You’re… kind of scaring me, Golem my boy,” Hoyden said.

“He’s talking to someone in the comms,” Weaver said.  “Tattletale?  Not Tattletale.”

Red means forward, left, attack, team.  Blue means back, right, retreat, solo… I can only ask a certain number of questions a day.  Ask, I can narrow it down, but it’s less help I can give later.

One keyword, and he had to figure out what option it led to.

Blue, Tecton.  Retreat.”

“Back up,” he said.

Collectively, they retreated several steps.

A moment later, one small group of the Nine appeared, pushing their way through solid doorways, leaving colored smoke in their wakes.

Each was young.  Teenagers.  Each had a matching mask, a snarling face, complete with fangs and glowing dots in the dark eye sockets.  Their clothing flowed, with hoods peaking above their heads.  Each carried a different improvised weapon.  A fire axe.  A two-handed shovel.  A makeshift spear.

“Harbingers,” Weaver said.  “Don’t let them get close!  Finish them quickly!”

“Color,” Golem whispered.


He went with his instincts more than anything else.  “Retreat!  Run!”

Parian’s doll reached out, and the Harbingers slipped out of the way of the hands, dodging by virtual hairs as they spun in tight circles, ducked and rolled.  It was like the thing was moving in slow motion, but it wasn’t.

A fire axe and two kitchen knives slid through the creature’s body, severing seams.  It deflated explosively.

Foil opened fire with her crossbow, aiming so it was on a path to hit two of the enemies, and the Harbingers dodged the shot.

She’s not supposed to miss.

Tecton shattered the ground, but it didn’t make the slightest difference.  The Harbingers didn’t slow down.

They turned to run, belatedly.

Hoyden and Chevalier held their ground as others mounted dogs or took flight.  Golem ran his fingertips along the panels at his armor, feeling the connections to the various substances around him flare, touched the one for pavement.

He thrust his hand inside.  A small hand, emerging as fast as he could shove his hand inside the panel.  He reached for the closest Harbinger’s foot.

The young villain pulled his leg up out of the way, virtually spinning as he stepped to the side, planted the same foot on solid ground, then resumed his forward momentum.  No luck.  It was like Harbinger could see it coming.

Weaver’s bugs were swarming the Harbingers, but they took to spinning, relying on the movement of their hoods and the flowing black clothes to drive the bugs away, batting them aside.  Even the threads seemed to fail to do anything substantial, getting caught up in the approaching villains as they moved.

Like whirling dervishes, they closed the distance.

He thrust his hand into the pavement again, and this time, he created a platform like the one he’d fashioned in Ellisburg.  Raising them up off the ground, out of reach.

If there was any difficulty getting down and resuming their search for Jack, he’d deal with that when they weren’t all about to be murdered.

The Harbingers scaled the sides of buildings as if they were running across horizontal terrain.  Weapons, fingers and boots found traction in the surfaces, and they climbed with an easy, almost eerie ease, as though they were almost floating.

Climbing faster than the hand was rising.

Three reached the top of the building, and as if they’d coordinated, planned this well in advance, they set foot on the edge of the rooftop and kicked off.  They ignored the bugs that plagued them as if they weren’t even there, weren’t binding them with silk.

They flipped heel over head, their backs to Golem, Hoyden, Tecton and Chevalier, the two Dragon’s Teeth.  Rachel, Parian and Foil were on the dog’s backs, and Weaver was airborne.

The Dragon’s Teeth aimed containment foam at the three Harbingers.  The clones pulled off their flowing jackets with sleeves that almost covered their hands, catching the foam, then landed.  One swept the bundle of foam to try to knock a D.T. officer off his feet.  The officer hopped up, then struck out at the Harbinger clone.

No use, Golem thought.  A mistake.  Harbinger caught the arm, almost effortlessly turned around, pulling him in the direction of the turn.  A little push, and the soldier fell.

He’s okay,” Dinah said.  “Blue!”

Run, retreat.  As if there was a place to go.

Two attacks struck in concert, a kitchen knife and a fire axe, and a heavy piece of Tecton’s armor was decimated, one gauntlet ruined.

No use.

One more landed on the heel of the hand.

Revel opened fire with a dozen orbs, but the enemy avoided them with an almost casual ease.  She reprogrammed them, altering the orbs’ properties, and this time they homed in on their targets.  The Harbingers dodged them, used the changed trajectories to lure them into nearly striking the D.T. officer and Chevalier.  She stopped, hanging back.

Chevalier swung his sword, pulled the trigger mid-swing to shoot at one Harbinger that stood on a fingertip of the reaching hand-platform.  Both attacks missed.

The Harbinger closest to him stepped close, almost casually, and drove a paring knife through a slit in Chevalier’s visor.

His good eye, Golem realized.

Nobody had figured out Harbinger’s power, before Harbinger disappeared off the face of the planet.  It was an ugly reality that such questions weren’t always answered.  The best guess suggested a hyperawareness of space and the movements of their own bodies.

But being able to figure out that Chevalier was half-blind, being able to blind his good eye?

One stepped close, holding a ball-peen hammer in each hand.  He closed on Golem, invading his personal space, until their noses were touching.

Golem tried to wrap the Harbinger in a bear-hug, felt only the faint drag of cloth against the metal of his gauntlets, empty air.  His intended target had ducked low.

He drove a knee forward.  Tight, contained movements, give them as little to work with as possible.

No contact.  Of course.

He was rewarded with a swat of the hammer against his mask, shattering one lens.  He’d thought he was out of reach, but the boy held only the very end of the hammer between index and middle finger.  He tossed the hammer in the air, letting it spin head over end.

Golem struck at the flying hammer, but another strike of the hammer caught his arm.  His fingertips fell short, and the handle of the weapon rolled over the back of his hand.  The Harbinger caught it, then thrust it forward in the same motion, driving the top of the hammer against Golem’s nose.

“Don’t kill him,” another Harbinger said.

“I know,” was the reply.

They didn’t even sound winded.

None of the others were doing demonstrably better.  The remaining D.T. officer was holding his own, but the others were being slowly, systematically beaten.

He’s dragging it out.  They’re making this into a game.

No use letting this go on.

He retreated, only to find one Harbinger sticking a foot out, planting a foot on the small of his back.  He was pushed forward, then promptly struck in the abdomen.

Rather than try to defend himself, he tucked his chin to his collar-bone, let himself fall, and thrust his hands into the armor panels for pavement.

Double-thrust, one hand extending from the other, pushing Chevalier off the hand.

Another motion, simultaneous, to bring a hand of stone out of the wall behind Chevalier.  It emerged slower, but it formed a shelf, and Chevalier landed on that ledge.

The Harbingers could dodge, but his teammates were valid targets.

Another thrust, this time for himself.

Selfish, maybe, but he couldn’t save anyone if they were interfering with him.

One struck at his leg as he launched himself off the hand.  It altered his trajectory, put him on a course where there wasn’t anything nearby to catch himself with.

Two hands, into brick.  One connected to the other.  While they were new, he could move them.  Trouble with having them against the side of his body was that he couldn’t get a full range of movement like he could get with his arms.  No matter.  He caught himself by the mask, then pulled himself closer to the building.

Another hand, another shelf.

Hoyden exploded, but the Harbingers didn’t get hurt.  They spun, spreading the damage around like a person might roll to absorb a fall, ducking and sidestepping to put themselves at the periphery of the effect.

Scion’s closing in,” Dinah said.  “Blue, Golem.  It’s still blue.  I can’t use my power too many times today, but your numbers are getting worse and the answer keeps turning up blue.  Retreat, go right, go solo or go back.

Someone needs to intercept Scion,” Weaver said, over the comm system. “We can’t have him get involved.

You go,” Chevalier said.

Golem searched the sky, then spotted Weaver at the fringe of the battle, surrounded by a cloud of bugs.

She took off.

Golem grit his teeth.  More immediate things to focus on.  He tried to launch Tecton to freedom, but the Harbingers intercepted him, driving Tecton out of the way in the same instant the hand appeared.

The D.T. soldier managed to deliver a glancing blow.  Golem couldn’t tell if it was intentional or not, because the hit was followed by the D.T. soldier being caught with a length of cloth wound around one wrist.

Tecton stepped in, drawing attention and striking out with his gauntlets, one damaged and one intact.  It bought the D.T. soldier some room.

Golem took the opportunity to launch the soldier to safety.

There were others on the ground, approaching.

One of these bastards could probably take us apart.  Eight of them, we can’t hurt them, we’re losing time, burning resources.

Tecton glanced at Hoyden.  A communication seemed to pass between them.

They struck the palm of the hand, and the entire thing shattered.

Hoyden, Tecton and five of the Harbingers descended with a shower of rubble.

Hoyden and Tecton broke their fall with uses of their respective powers.  Hoyden hit the ground to generate an explosion.  Tecton punched the earth with his piledriver in the instant he reached solid ground.

The Harbingers didn’t have that ability.  A five-story drop.  People had died or been seriously hurt after a three-story drop.

Nobody told them that.  In the midst of the thin cloud of dust and the chunks of debris, the Harbingers moved without wincing or giving any sign of pain, their black-clothed forms rising from the ground like spectres.

“Talk to me, Dinah,” Golem said.

Situation’s getting worse.  Numbers are getting worse, across the board.  I’m not asking any specific questions, but I can sense it, just… the big picture.  It’s not working.

There’s an answer here, and we can’t see it.

“Blue… Backwards, go right, retreat, solo?  What’s that last one?”

Abstracts.  Nothing specific.  It’s only as meaningful as it helps you come to the right decision.

He stared at Hoyden and Tecton, surrounded by the eight Harbingers.

“If I leave… how does that change the numbers?”


“Chances for Tecton and the others?”

Better than they were.

This was hell, Golem mused.  This was the nightmare that had driven Weaver from her home city, drove her to surrender.

The right path, but god damn, did it look ugly.

He bit his lip, then formed another pair of connected hands to launch himself skyward.  He reached the apex of his flight, then created a shelf to land on.  He did it again, and this time the shelf he created was just at the edge of the roof.  He stepped over onto the rooftop, then broke into a run.

“Saving Tecton, red or blue.”

Golem, we didn’t get a chance to go over this earlier, but you need to know… I can’t ask that many questions.  I’ve been saving my power for the last big confrontation.  Tattletale said this is the time to act.  I used my power twice to answer big questions earlier today.  Another three to figure out who I needed to talk to, and that told me-

“I’m the best partner for you?”

Right now, yes.  Listen.  Twenty-six questions left.  We haven’t even found Jack.  I can’t figure it out.

He stood on the rooftop, then extended his arms out to either side.

She couldn’t read his mind, so it was only identifying options.  Everything to the left of his nose was blue, everything to the right was red.

“Red or blue.  Now.”

Blue.  Twenty-five.

“Jack’s to my left,” he said.  He turned ninety degrees.  “Again.”

“Blue.  I’m-  My power’s getting fuzzier.”


He looked up at the sky.  Weaver with her swarm was there, forming a great wall across the sky, as if to draw attention to herself.  Scion was approaching, a ray of golden light streaking across the overcast sky above.

Scion shut down precog abilities.

He felt something knot in his stomach, an ugly feeling, ominous.

“Let’s get as much use out of it as possible.  Saving Tecton and the others… Red or blue!”

“Red.  Twenty-three.”

He hesitated.  “It’s not me going back?”

“No.  I don’t think so.  I just asked and it said no.”

Break it down.  Attack, left for blue.  Group, forward for red.  “Again.”

“Golem, we can’t waste questions like this.  We-“



Group or forward, he thought, assigning colors to each option.  “Again.”

“Blue.  Somewhere between eighty and ninety percent chance.  I- I’m going blind here, Golem.”


Group, but not returning to join the others?

He went with his gut.

“Tattletale, are you listening?”


“Reinforcements.  Call in the big guns.”

“With Jack close?  That’s against the quarantine.”

“Dinah, does it improve our chances, everyone’s chances, as far as this end of the world scenario?”

Yes.  A lot,” she sounded genuinely surprised.  “Twenty.”

Cauldron’s refusing aid,” Tattletale said.  “They said it’s because Scion’s presence is blocking their clairvoyant.  They’re lying.

High above, Scion reached a stop, hovering in front of Weaver, who hung in the air in turn, using her flight pack.

Golem tore his eyes away from the scene.  He glanced down at the street, where Bitch, Parian and Foil were reinforcing Tecton and Hoyden, backing them up as the Harbingers approached.  One Harbinger threw something, and a dog dropped like its heart had stopped.

He shook his head.  He could watch forever, but they were better served by having him elsewhere.

The sooner he got Jack, the better.

“Jack is southwest of my location,” he reported.  “Heading off solo on precog advisement.”

He bolted, running.  His power bridged gaps between buildings.  He set his foot down on the corner of one rooftop, then vaulted himself over a trap that he sensed just a foot in front of him.  His landing jarred it into motion, provoking a deadfall, a slice of building that toppled and dropped onto the narrow street below.

Another hand broke a row of spikes that lined the edge of another rooftop.

Once, he’d been fat.  Once, he’d been out of shape.  Two years and a mission had given him the chance to remedy that.  He wasn’t conventionally fit, still had a bit of stockiness to him, but the fat was gone.  He had muscle.  Running with Weaver had made this doable.

Twenty more precog answers.

“Numbers if I stay on the rooftops?”

Twenty to thirty percent chance of injury or being taken out of action.

“If I’m on the ground?”

Fifty-something.  Eighteen questions left.

Her numbers were getting less accurate, the picture of the situation cloudier.

Too many powerful individuals in the area, too many chances of disaster, too many unknowns.

He set foot on one rooftop that had changed less than most, and the lightning flash was a staggered one, as his feet first touched gravel, then the material of the rooftop beneath that gravel.

The next rooftop wasn’t made of either material.  It wasn’t made of brick or concrete.

He created two hands, chaining them together, and extended the hand into the building.

It detonated into a massive cloud of smoke.

He launched himself away to avoid it, but it wasn’t enough.  The smoke flowed towards him like a wall, too vast to avoid.

Too vast to avoid so long as he remained on the rooftop.  He shoved himself off, created more hands to form a series of ledges that might serve as a staircase.

The smoke still loomed.

He got as close to the ground as he could, then launched himself to safety.

Golem was panting as he rested on the ground.  Psychosoma’s monsters emerged from the smoke, one using the same ledges he’d created to descend, the other crawling on the outside of the building.  Homeless, to look at them, twisted into monstrous shapes.  False shapes.  He could deal enough damage and break the effect, and they’d be human again, unhurt.

Simpler than it sounded.  If he broke the effect for one, the other would tear the freed victim apart.

Golem rose to his feet, backing away as swiftly as he could.  He was out of reach of the smoke, but these things, they were a distraction, a speed bump.

He waited, dropping into a fighting stance as they approached.  They broke into runs, charging him blindly, two figures so thin they didn’t look real, their fingers and feet twisted into claws as long as his forearm.

They plummeted into a pit in the middle of the road.

Golem rose from the fighting stance, then hurried on.  His footsteps continued to mark the surfaces around him, making it clear where there were more of Nyx’s illusions, more traps left over from the Tohu-Bohu attack.

His other enemies wouldn’t be so gullible.

“Left or right?” he asked.  He had a mental map of the surroundings.

Left.  Somewhere around a ninety percent chance Jack’s in that direction.”

Each question narrowed down the possibilities.  From fifty percent of the area to twenty-five percent, then twelve and a half percent… now six percent.  It was a small enough slice that he didn’t need to wonder as much.  If he kept on this course, he could find his target.

Right route,” Dinah said.  “It’s… it’s really fuzzy, but I still feel like the bloody, ugly ends aren’t so close.

“A good feeling,” Theo said.

In a numbery way.

A numbery way.

“Status,” he said.  “Not a question.  Just… I need to know what’s going on.”

The others are… okay,” Dinah replied.  “Defiant just arrived in Houston with a giant robot that only has one arm and one leg, and we’ve got…”

Dinah’s voice continued, but he didn’t hear it.

Golem slowed to a walk as he saw his new surroundings.  The tombstones of Bohu’s area were still here, but they were scarred.

A thousand times a thousand cuts.

“Theodore,” Jack said.

Jack emerged, and he wasn’t holding a knife.  He held a sword, nearly four feet long.  A claymore.  His shirt was unbuttoned, showing a body without a trace of fat.  His beard had been meticulously trimmed, but that had easily been a day ago.  His neck had scruff on it.  Strands of dark hair fell across eyes with lines in the corner as he stared at Golem.

Golem had gotten this far.

Now what?

Jack let the blade’s point swing idly at calf-level, pointed off to one side.  Cuts gouged the road’s surface.  Theo let his fingers trace the panels on his armor.  Steel, iron, aluminum, woods, stone…

His second sense marked various items in the surrounding area that were made of the same substance, even marked the trap off to his left, but it didn’t touch any part of the sword.

“All on your lonesome,” Jack said.

“Yes,” Theo answered, sounding braver than he felt.

His finger touched other panels.  Brick, asphalt, concrete, porcelain…

The sword remained out of his power’s reach.  He’d put so much stock in being able to disarm Jack.

With each contact, he felt the accompanying flashes, tried to put together a mental picture of his surroundings.

Two false building faces, just a little ahead of him.  They had to be Nyx-made.  If he advanced, she’d break the illusion, and he’d be surrounded in the noxious smoke.  At best, he’d pass out.  At worst, he’d pass out and wake up to permanent brain damage and organ failure.  Or being in the clutches of the Nine.

Jack let the sword swing, and Golem tensed.  The blade didn’t come anywhere close to pointing at him, but Jack’s power cut shallow gouges into the surrounding brick, stone and pavement.

“Alone,” Jack said, again.

Because of you, Golem thought.

He clenched his fist.

Tears were forming in his eyes.  Ridiculous.  Wasn’t supposed to be what happened in this kind of situation.

Jack, in turn, smiled slowly.  “Quiet.  I was thinking that after all this time, we could have some witty banter.  You can scream your fury at me, curse me for killing your loved ones.  Then you do your best to tear me apart.”


“Oh!” Jack smiled wider.  “Show mercy, then?  Walk away from the fight and show you’re the better man, rather than descending to my level?  I’ve been waiting for someone to pull that ever since I saw it happen in a movie.”

“This isn’t a movie.”

“No.  It’s very, very real, Theodore,” Jack said.  He paced a little, letting the sword drag on the ground.  The blade was white, Golem noted.  White, exceptionally sharp.


Or was this Jack an illusion?  Nyx could imitate voices.  She could create the gouges in the walls by way of the illusory smoke.

Golem paced a little too, mirroring Jack’s movements.

“Well, I’m not sure what you expect, then, Theodore.  The fat little boy promised me he’d become the kind of hero that would put down monsters like me.  I gave you two years, and you’ve made it at least partway.  Did you change your mind on the killing part?”

“No.  I will kill you.”

“So tough!  So brave!  All of this from the-”

Stop talking, Jack.  You’re not that clever, not as sharp as you like to think.  You talked to me about keystones?  Bullshit.  You’re a sad, pathetic killer with delusions of grandeur.”

Jack’s smile dropped from his face.  He held the Claymore with one hand, the blade’s point touching the ground, and spread his arms.  His unbuttoned shirt parted, showing the whole of his bare shirt and stomach.  Showing himself to be vulnerable, exposed.

“Then do your worst, Theodore.  Because if you don’t, I will.”

Dinah,” he whispered.

With you.  Gray boy isn’t near.  Nyx and Hookwolf are.  Fifteen questions.  I had to use one to help the others.

He nodded slowly.

I don’t like the illusory building faces.  Too much poisonous smoke was needed to make that sort of thing, it had to be multiple Nyxes working in concert.  They’d be close, probably.

Which said nothing of the other threats that loomed behind the fog.  Psychosoma’s creations?

Golem reached up to his gloves, then tore off the protectors on his knuckles.  They fell to the ground.  Beneath were spikes.

“Nice touch,” Jack said.

Golem spread his arms.  “What do you-”


Mid-sentence, still talking, he let his arms fall, driving them into panels at his side.

Jack hopped back out of reach of the hands, seizing his sword.  He drew it back.


Golem created another hand.  Not to catch Jack, but to catch the blade.

It had backfired, if anything.  The hand caught the tip of the blade, but the sword slid free of the grip and flew around with more force.  Golem leaped back, letting himself fall, and let his feet slide into the pavement.  Two boots rose from the ground, shielding him as the slash caught the surface.

Weaver’s lessons.  Catching the enemy off guard by any means necessary, rolling with the punches, or rolling with the effects of the enemy’s attack.

Had to use Dinah’s ability, divide everything into two equally viable actions, so he wasn’t caught off guard.

Still prone, still shielded and out of sight, he reached into the ground with both hands.

Two hands, flattened, jabbed for Jack’s leg, stabbing at ankle and calf.  Jack backed away again before they made contact, slashed again.

This time, the slash caught a section of Golem’s armor that was sticking out of cover.  The cut made a mark nearly a foot deep in the ground, but it served only to split the pauldron in half.  A section of metal fell to the ground.

He created two connected hands of pavement, then whipped them to throw the section of pauldron at Jack.  The trajectory suggested it would fly a little to Jack’s left.

Golem jabbed one hand into the ground, and a flattened hand stabbed out from the spinning piece of metal, extending as the projectile flew.

Jack ducked, but Golem was already thrusting his other hand into the earth.  It jutted from the hand he’d created, doubling the length in short order.  More of a crude boomerang in shape than a chunk of metal.

It only clipped Jack, just barely.

“Clever boy,” Jack said.  “You-”

“Stop talking, Jack,” Golem responded.

For Aster, for Kayden, even for the others…

He thrust his hands into the ground, repeatedly, and they stabbed at the underside of Jack’s feet.  He leaped back out of reach and swung his sword the instant he touched ground.

The action cut through the remainder of the shield Golem had raised, but it also kept Jack in one place.  He caught the underside of Jack’s foot.  Jack stumbled as he pulled himself free of Golem’s grip.

He reached out to stab out with two interconnected hands, the same technique he used to launch himself.

But Jack evaded it, slid out of the way, almost as if he knew the strike was coming.

Golem moved to get into a position to strike again, and realized in the moment that it would take too long.

He was crouched, still, his hands remained buried, and Jack was already drawing his sword back.  He couldn’t mount a defense in time.

He braced himself.  With luck, his armor could take it.

The attack didn’t come.

No.  Jack laughed, instead.  His icy blue eyes were fixed at a point beyond Golem.

Golem chanced a look over his shoulder.

He saw a figure dropping out of the sky, trailed by what looked like a comet’s trail of black shapes.  Weaver.  Her course changed as she flew away, using the Bohu-warped buildings for cover.

And where she’d been, just moments ago, a dull gray light hung in the sky.

Scion.  Trapped in Gray Boy’s time-well.

Jack’s laugh rang through the area.

The figure inside moved, but only barely.  The well trapped powers within.  Kayden’s lasers wouldn’t exit the area.  Crusader’s duplicates wouldn’t be able to wander beyond the well’s limits.

And Scion didn’t appear to be any different.

“I’m sorry, my boy,” Jack said.

Golem whipped his head around.  Jack had backed up a short distance.

Jack chuckled, as if he still found something funny about the situation.  “Ah well.  I’m disappointed.  I’m not sensing it, your killer instinct.”

“I’m prepared to finish you,” Golem said.

“You’re prepared?  Maybe.  But not practiced.  No.  I don’t see this going anywhere interesting.  It’s about the ripples.  You remember our conversation?”

Theo nodded slowly.  The ripples from a butterfly’s wing.  The effects that extend out from any event. 

“You?  This?  It’s nothing.  What ripples extend from this?  You’re weak.  That?” Jack pointed at Scion, trapped in the sky.

Golem chanced another look.  Nothing had changed.  Scion remained fixed in place.

That interests me.”

He climbed to his feet, eyes on Jack’s weapon.

Jack reached into his belt, then drew a knife.

Golem tensed.  Faster than the sword, if not quite so capable of chewing through his armor.

But Jack didn’t attack him.  He struck at the building faces.

The surfaces dissolved into rolling clouds of smoke.  Golem vaulted himself back twice in quick succession to escape it, then continued to back away for good measure.

“You’ve failed to amuse me.  A shame your sister’s been shot, and there’s nothing interesting to do with the hostages,” Jack called out, his voice ringing along the length of the street.  With no details or features on the outsides of the buildings Bohu had altered, the voice carried in an odd way.

A shadow emerged.  Jack, riding atop a massive six-legged beast.

As Jack approached, he became more visible, and the nature of the beast became clear.  He stood on Hookwolf’s back, between the creature’s shoulders.

Other shadows appeared in the mist, and they, in turn, clarified as they approached.  Crawlers.  Mannequins.  Crimsons.  Others.

Done in by my dad’s lieutenant, Golem thought.  No way he was walking away from this.

“I suppose we’ll kill you,” Jack said.  “And you’ll just have to take me on my word when I say I’ll find something suitably horrific to do as punishment for your failing our little game.”

Theo raised a hand as a shield even before Jack used his power in conjunction with Hookwolf’s.  A hand of pavement, struck by a thousand slashes in a matter of a second, whittled to nothing.  Then he had only armor, and that, too, started to come apart.

The cuts that followed parted flesh.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

351 thoughts on “Interlude 26a

  1. I’ll be frank. Ran out of time/space/words. This wound up being 8k words long, but I didn’t get everything I imagined into the chapter. So I’m cutting the event into pieces.

    Interludes Thursday and Saturday.

    Thanks for reading. Stay tuned!

    And if you’re willing, votes on Topwebfiction would be appreciated – sitting at a relatively low 140 at the time of this comment.

    • Honestly, the cliffhanger was great. From the looks of it I’m kind of glad it turned out this way, deciding based off limited information. This is a great chapter.

      Not sure if it’s a spoiler or not so feel free not to answer, but are the remaining interludes Theo PoV or another point of view?

        • My god, Jack can use Hookwolf’s blades for his power? That is synergy taken to a truly unfair degree. Especially since it looks like he just has to touch one part of Hookwolf to use all the blades.

      • Also, can’t he only merge his arms and legs. Still possible he gets injured but someone (Skitter?) intervenes before he dies.

        As for Aster, if I were in the messed up head space of Jack, I’d probably find it funny to replace her with one of the baby clones. It’s possible that’s who Skitter killed. About surviving a gunshot to the head, wasn’t Purity about to jump out the window rather than let Gray Boy take Aster? Possible there was already a protective power we don’t know about.

        And lastly, next interlude- I’m guessing/hoping Scion. Now that he’s in a time loop, he should have plenty of time to reminisce… (too early for jokes?)

        Wildbow, you’re amazing.

  2. Shit they got scion. I would have though Scion would have been able to escape. I guess Gray boy is that fucking broken.

  3. Oh. What a cliffhanger this is. Scion incapable of escape, Golem on the verge of death. The bad guys are winning.

    On the upside Bitch is really getting the hang of the whole ’empathy’ thing.

    • On the upside Bitch is really getting the hang of the whole ‘empathy’ thing.

      Well, that’s something, at least.

      • I find it hilarious that Rachael of all people has a better read on their emotional ques than the rest of the group.

            • Come on, it’s been years. No way they’re still a ship. It’s probably all about Sveta/Victoria (Garrote/Glory Girl) now.

              • I actually think Bitch thinks of her as family, maybe something akin to a sister. Taylor outright admits that she has long since stopped thinking of her as anything but Rachel now. Garrote/Glory Girl would be difficult due to Glory Girl being unable to move, though maybe Dragon helped turn them into cyborgs to help them move around. It worked for the Defiant terminator and she mentioned 3d printers when it happened. They could use the firepower, and we have already seen Dragon tech start to me semi-mass produced.

              • Given that Glory Girl was remade by, well, kind of a sexual predator, she probably has some form of genitals or at least something that would approximate them for sexual use. She’s also invincible so Garrote would be unlikely to harm her accidentally.

                Bitch/Rachel is a bit difficult to psychoanalyze given she doesn’t have a fully human psychology or a fully canine psychology. She probably sees her as a family member, but “wife” is a member of your family as well, so the two are not entirely mutually exclusive. Personally I don’t ship her with anyone.

      • When you’re standing on a pile of dead bodies that includes your four year old baby half sister and staring at a spike where someone was crucified to a wall, sometimes you just need to scratch a puppy.

        • I don’t think that Racheal lacks empathy. It’s more like she goes to such a basic, primal level of emotion that most people don’t know how to deal with it, without all the normal social cues.

          • Also in Bitch’s mind Theo would have just lost his whole pack. I think she can relate. Remember when Leviathan killed all her dogs?

            • She knows who Theo is, knows he needs something and does something. she’s going to save the world with puppy therapy. The Simrugh will end up labrador puppied puppied into surrender

  4. I had a feeling Scion would be neutralized somehow, but I couldn’t think of how. I wonder what the limits on Gray Boy’s powers are. To affect Scion is impressive indeed, since nothing so far has even touched him. Even Eidolon’s forcefield that contained a nuclear blast was blown apart by Scion’s beam, so Gray Boy’s power is obviously quite conceptual, kinda like Clockblocker’s somehow or Foil’s in that it simply works.

    Big question for me going forward are:
    1. How did Gray Boy affect Scion?
    2. Will Gray Boy’s death or neutralization, if it ever happens, free the people he trapped?
    3. Will Scion, independent of Gray Boy ending the loop, escape?
    4. What’s Cauldron’s role in this?
    5. How will Gray Boy be neutralized, if ever?
    Can’t wait for more, this interlude was fun. Everyone did feel a bit Worfed in the fight scene with Harbinger, but there isn’t much you can do against a high level precog other than throw your own against ’em to confuse ’em. I think an attack or two hitting them would have served to distinguish them in terms of skill from Contessa (who stomps completely), since the Number Man’s interlude did have him thinking that the Case53 he tracks down come close to hitting him.

    • When Gray Boy talked to Kayden he talked about coming back to her centuries later because they had the ability to clone etc and he talked about the power continuing to work until the sun grew cold. This would imply that it goes on even after he is dead.

    • 1. Presumably Gray Boy’s powers are just that hax in some capacity. It indicates that other “perfect” effects may also have the ability to harm him in some capacity. It seems that his powers directly contain parahuman abilities, which explains why Purity didn’t fry Aster’s brain with a laser last chapter when Gray Boy took her.
      2. Almost certainly not.
      3. I suspect that this is probable but the removal of Zion at this point could be a great way of increasing the stakes.
      4. Impossible to say without more information. The weak answer is that Cauldron just doesn’t want to deal with the Harbingers given the circumstances.
      5. I suspect he can be killed relatively easily. He has great defensive powers, but he just resets himself as long as he can think.

      I don’t quite get Number Man. His own interlude had a fight I didn’t quite get where he won despite a power that seemed to counter his own quite well. I think he has something we’re not quite getting about his Thinker abilities like increased speed or some kind of telekinesis to explain his feats.

      • I can’t say I have a great memory of his interlude but doesn’t his power basically let him calculate his surroundings and the events which happen within them. His power reduces all given factors to raw data and gives him the ability to comprehend that data. So he is able to calculate the precise angle, force and timing of an opponents swing before they have even begun it proper.

        That said he could definitely have another more physical power.

    • I think the issue with all those Harbingers was how beautifully they complement each other. Their combined combat Thinking means the fuckers form a combat unit which is way, way stronger than the sum of its parts.

      • Yeah. Basically they were including what the other Harbingers did in their calculations, thus maxing their power’s effectiveness.

        • Why haven’t they just nuked the city? Sometime I was unsure about as well, what ARE the limits of harbinger’s power? Does it not work if he cannot perceive variables? He obviously can see down to the level of things like air currents at this point, but you can’t derive a result with inaccurate data all the time, and he’s not actually a precog. Wouldn’t his weakness be a cape with only partial control over their powers, and random activation that aren’t predictable?

    • Yeah, I would have thought Harbinger/Number Man would be an approximation of Contessa’s true perfection seeing as his power only show him the path, he still has to walk it. Contessa’s, on the other hand, guides her every step.

      Oh well. An approximation of perfection is still pretty damn powerful. One of them should have died though. Or been hurt at least.

    • 4. This interests me the most currently. Cauldron has the ability to end the clones (established that in the Bonesaw chapter, correct?) but hasn’t intervened much. Are they even trying to stop the end of this world? Do they have a bigger scheme/plan in mind? Perhaps phasing over to a world where everyone is “evolved” (with parahuman abilities) and Cauldron rules? I guess their holding out could be a result of Contessa’s power and strategically planning when to act.

      • Saint: Oh man, oh man, oh man. Doc, you gotta help. I really fucked up this time.
        Doctor Mother: Sorry, can’t. It’s the Shabbos.
        Saint: Wait, what? Are you even Jew-
        Doctor: I’m shomer fucking Shabbos! *click*

        • Will you come off it, Doc? You’re not even fucking Jewish, man.

          Doctor Mother: What the fuck are you talkin’ about?

          Man, you’re fucking Polish Catholic.

          Doctor Mother: What the fuck are you talking about? I converted when I got married. Come on, Gecko!

          Yeah, and five fucking years ago you were divorced.

          Doctor Mother: So what are you saying? When you get divorced you turn in your library card? You get a new license? You stop being Jewish?

      • If they really do want to establish a new world order, having a strike force of powerful, monstrous parahumans on tap would surely strengthen their hand. The nine are ideal in a way.. they’re already trained to fight, to kill, they like it, and nobody on earth cares how anyone treats them.

        • Controlling them is the only problem. I think they may be waiting for Jack to die, as he controlls all the goddamn psychopaths and so could ruin a Slaughterhouse takeover even if Bonesaw betrays him.

  5. I wonder if freezing Scion was already the trigger. Without him they won’t be able to fight the endbringer effectively and it might spell the end of the world in a way even if everything else goes well.

    Dinah apparently has gotten better in using her powers.

    How did Defiant end up building this to quickly and why did he build a giant robot when his specialisation is integration and microtizing stuff? How did weaver help with that? Some sort of control that makes the pocket dimension go faster in time compared to the rest of the world?

    I can’t wait for part B.

  6. Is this it for Scion?

    I doubt it, personally. Scion’s power is godlike, and his narrative is still ongoing. There’s been no real build-up to him being taken down. And we still don’t know what his deal is, so…

    I predict that either Scion will escape or he’ll do something story-relevant from inside the well. Maybe we’ll see an interlude from a trapped Scion’s perspective.

    Regardless, pretty sure we haven’t seen the last of the guy.

      • I knew about that. But having someone say “let’s do it” one chapter earlier isn’t much in the way of foreshadowing.

        • Remember Gray Boy said that people eventually work through all their issues? Maybe being stuck in the loop drives Scion SANE? And maybe that won’t be a good thing. Scion is definitly at the world ender level.

  7. So this chapter answered a question I had after the last one: if someone was locked in a loop by Greyboy while, for example, firing a gun, what would happen? Would they just run out of bullets? Would the bullets return to the magazine and undo any damage done? Or would they return to the magazine but NOT undo any damage they caused?

    It looks like I was wrong on all of my guesses, and the bullets would splat against the edge of the time-bubble (or just vanish).

  8. Given how Scion spends a lot of his on-screen time floating in place in midair, it might be premature to assume that he is unable to break free!(Though for the narrative it makes sense.)

    Great chapter.

  9. What the heck is Taylor’s solution that allows Defiant to have more time … or more thinking power in the allotted time (Wildbow you tease – it is becoming clear you enjoy doing this)? Possibilities:
    —A fast Dragon reincarnation. Unlikely – Weaver doesn’t know enough about Dragon to work that.
    —Compressed time. Unlikely – Dispatch isn’t here; time-loopers aren’t here, e.g. Perdition.
    —Super thinking speed. Unlikely – power transfer from a Chuckles?
    —Transferred memories (Toybox member Cranial). More likely, but how the heck can he know which memories are which? I would rather chop off a finger than play with mental stuff Bonesaw had access to – safer in the long run.
    —Compressed time, part two. Unlikely and an ugly, ugly possibility if at least one of the babies is a Gray Boy with active powers. Step into the kid’s area of affect. As long as he hauls the kid around, he can continue to work. When he wants out of the loop, kill the kid. Rinse and repeat for as many Gray Boy babies exist. However, this doesn’t give him more time, it just resets him regularly, unless Gray Boy’s power is different when used in the area around his body.
    —Super thinking speed, part two. Unlikely, and very ugly again. Similar to the above, Chuckles has to be able to take people into his area of effect; otherwise, the acceleration would have killed Cherish and Screamer when Chuckles tried to rescue them in an earlier encounter. Pick a Chuckles baby, abuse him until his power activates, and hope like hell he takes you with him into super speed. If the baby dies, rinse and repeat.
    —Neural net (literally). Ridiculously unlikely. There are all these bodies around, too bad someone like Bonesaw isn’t around to get them started again and link the brains.
    —(from Loki-L) Altered time in the pocket dimension. Very unlikely – Defiant would know of that before Weaver.

    • That is an intriguing idea. No bets on what happens if an Endbringer core contacts the power, though. Either effect could arguably collapse the other one.

      • But an Endbringer’s core is contained within non-core materials. The core might not be impacted but the rest of the body would be. If I’m reading it right.

      • I agree with FarmerBob. Endbringer cores don’t do much except grow Endbringers. If the thing they grow is time looped there’s not much they can do about it.

        Assuming that counts as an endbringer defeat, I’d hate to see what powers the next endbringer has in response, though…

    • I have a feeling that his power might be limited by physical space. As in I doubt he can interfere with an entire room. I’m guessing the space limit is about the size of a car and doesn’t work if biological matter isn’t fully encapsulated by the loop.

  10. Harbinger was indeed a nasty customer when he was young. Still not sure how they survived a five story drop. Predicting the future is one thing, but he still has a human body. Unless Bonesaw did a few upgrades to make him better.
    Kaiser is a cat person. Figures.
    Cauldron lied about Contessa being blocked by Scion. The question is why did they lie and what is their plan? My guess is that Scion is an enemy of Cauldron. He won’t attack their public heroes because they help against the Endbringers but he might have reached the same conclusion Dragon did if he showed a disgusted face at Eidolon. So the Number man and Contessa can’t show up in front of him because he will simply kill them. I don’t think this thing with Scion will work or last. Jack is a catalyst for the end of the world, but he himself doesn’t end it. It’s possible Grey boy does it but I don’t buy that. There is still too much we don’t know about Cauldron and there is a reason they still haven’t taken control of the 9 yet. Especially because while stopping Scion pretty much dooms the world, it still won’t end right away. It will still take a few decades before the Endbringers destroy everything and the End of the world is supposed to happen today not later on.

      • No, I’m allergic to cats. They have also NEVER liked me. I’ve been scratched/attacked pretty bad when I was little by one for no god damn reason. They’re not all bad, it’s just that I have bad luck with them and they aren’t loyal like a dog is. They also eat your eyes when you die.

          • Well they are vicious. I remember reading somewhere that several species are endangered because they just go around killing, and torturing for no reason. There is a reason that a evil mastermind sits stroking a cat. I am honestly curious, what would you name your evil little furball?

            • I just found this and figured you’d like it.


              And if you must know, the Siamese-looking one was named Cassandra, the fraidy cat was named Demeter, and the outgoing, curious one was named Tugger.

              They were viciously murdered by a dog, except Demeter, which than ran away.

              Yep, three kittens, good way to take care of a bunch of rats starting to infest the place, but the asshole with the dog that killed cats didn’t want to chain her up or put her in a fenced in area or anything. The cats were killed by the dog as a result, and the rats then chewed enough wires in his boat to strand him way out in the water with no flares and a wet cellphone he dropped in the water earlier that day.

              Said person never learned their lesson. There’s a reason some people should just be killed and done with.

              • Where the hell can I get the stuff the makers of this video were on when they made this? You made me all depressed with a kitten story. Reminds me of a commenter who worked in a vet’s office and told a horrifying story that even freaked out Wildbow. I think it was around a bitch heavy chapter.

              • To quote Christopher Titus: “Do what Jesus would do, cowboy up.”

                Sometimes you just have to look at your favorite cat’s splayed intestines, dig it a grave, and then go read a story where people are tortured forever and a baby gets shot. Nah, don’t worry, it wasn’t recent when that all happened.

                The world can be mean. Sometimes, you can make mean funny, because the mean isn’t going away, and people don’t always deserve to be stomped on by every bit of entertainment out there.

                Also, I like throwing videos at people that elicit that response, though. I would suggest Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches and I Fink U Freeky by Die Antwoord.

              • But don’t worry. I’m not just saying that because people may think that because my stuff is stupid that I lack depth, that I’m not some tortured, brooding soul.

                That way, people can walk away going “That guy was really deep.” and “Yeah, I noticed that. Really deep, eh?” “Shit yeah.”

                But, hey, I can have a dark side if you want me to.

                I can have a dark siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiide. I can develop my brooding potential if pain’s what you want in an act. Pain I can do. I can have a dark side too. I can have dark siiiide…Yippy!

                Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go imagine Jack Slash in a kilt farting lightning bolts from his arse. You want to know why they call it a kilt? Because they started out as pants, but he got tired of them being so boring and kilt them.

              • Too bad Skitter never had a giant spider or bug to pet for her “throne” room. There is also a giant crab somewhere that would also have worked out perfectly.

            • Heh-heh. Cats are the shit. I really connect with cats. Psychotic, narsiccistic… No concept of “not mine,” a love of raw meat, sleep, killing, fighting, attacking everybody… Switching between happy, aggressive… Ah. Love ’em. They’re like mini-me-s!
              -Zeta & Khan.

      • Kaiser liking cats made him far more terrifying then an avarage dog person.

        He does not want brainless stormtroopers, he liked selfthinking minions.

        • I’m more of a cat person myself. Dogs require too much attention and I don’t have the patience to really deal with them. That said, A cat. Maybe two. After that it’s too many to deal with. And yes, cats are horrifyingly efficient killing machines. What do you expect, they don’t gang up on their prey like dogs have to.

            • And to add to that. Bitch would be far more psyco and deadlier as a cat master.

              Beware of “Queen” (That is the selfgoogled term for a female cat)

              • Hmm, and I just imagined tattletale. Independent, knows she’s the smartest one there is, is superior to her canine housemate and I would not be surprised if one day she has a video feed, swing round to face the viewscreen and is stroking a damned Persian Moggy whilst smirking.

    • I believe the Harbinger’s survived the falls simply by knowing how to break it, slow it down. Remember, their power isn’t only seeing the future. They see everything in terms of numbers. They know the exact spot and strength to use to split a skull with a pen, they can make the perfect shot by knowing exactly what motion the bullet will make at that precise distance, etc.

      • I understand that but there is a limit to what the human body is capable of so he might also be a breaker/brute of some kind and just never told anybody. A person can survive dropping out of an airplane and survive apparently but they’ll be in full body cast. That energy has to go somewhere so he should have broken a bone at least.

        • It’s a much shorter fall than an airplane. They had their cloaks and such, as well as falling rubble, and chances are they know the famous “Way Wrestlers Fall” aka “land with as much surface area as possible and hope you don’t break something”.

          Maybe they formed a sort of ring where their heads rested on another’s belly as they landed to prevent a little bit of concussive psychiatry.

          • IIRC cats are more likely to survive a five story fall than a three story one as they have more time to spin and stretch and stuff. Also the S9+ are cheats.

        • I’ve seen videos of people survive jumps of several stories without injury by rolling properly. There’s some crazy Russian free runners out there. Imagine doing that with perfect physical control.

    • It’s Contessa. Obviously, her power told her that helping Scion or stopping the Nine right now wasn’t going to lead to victory.


    • Cauldron didn’t necessarily lie about Contessa being blocked by Scion – I’d expect she is. What they said was that Scion was blocking their precog /and hence they couldn’t help./

  11. Not a good one as far as the killcount goes, but I figured I’d update a few puns y’all all have problems with:

    Mannequins poisoned by anti-plastic: 3
    Cherishes put on a bus: 9
    Siberians imprisoned in Kolyma: 8
    Shatterbirds eaten by gluecats: 0
    Crawlers turned into crullers: 2
    Burnscars put on ice: 0
    Hatchet Faces at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake: 2
    Murder Rats scared by the munster: 3
    Kings left a-hunk, a-hunk of burning flesh: 1
    Screamers punched in the uvula: 3
    Harbingers assuming a direct dirtnap: 0
    Breeds inbred: 3
    Crimsons eaten by a big bad wolf: 1
    Nyxes zeroed out: 3
    Psychosomas all in their head: 3
    Damsels of Distress in another castle: 0
    Winters ended by global warming: 1
    Chuckles’s hit in the faces with pies: 0
    Hookwolves arrested for hooking: 0
    Skinslips given a pinkslip on life: 0
    Night Hags defeated by the Day Man: 4
    Nice Guys friendzoned: 2
    Miasmas kissin’ my ass, ma: 3

    Bonus Round:

    Snowmenn lost their magic hats: 1
    Nighty Nights bitten by bed bugs: 0
    Laughjobs had it handed to them: 0
    Tyrants hiding in spiderholes: 1
    Spawners violated: 0

    Bonesaws boned: 0
    Grey Boys whited out: 0
    Jacks hammered: 0

    Nilbogs slain by a +1 Sword of Asskickery: 0
    Saints had his computer shined up real nice, turned sideways, and shoved straight up his candy ass, stomped a mudhole in and walked dry, tombstone piledriven straight to hell, had a catheter repeatedly stuck in and pulled out, given an orange juice enema, fed high protein cupcakes with laxative cream on top, beaten in the head with a shoe, recircumcised, had his nipples scraped off with sandpaper, dragged through mud, hit with carrots, had a rabid badger tossed in his pants, tarred, feathered, drawn, quartered, had his tongue ripped out, shot, and then had his tongue shot, and trimmed that scraggly beard: 0

        • Heh. I made a comment a few chapters back about Jack killing original Cherish and becoming Butcher XVI. Given that he’s starting to get pushed back and make serious mistakes, he might as well compensate with raw power by going Highlander on her.

          Only a Butcher is fit to lead the Slaughterhouse, after all.

          • I don’t know that he would find Cherish where he left her. I seem to recall something about her new Mannequin provided apartment being snagged by a hook and being drug out to sea. I’m just not sure if that was done in story or if it was someones wishful thinking in the looney bin… errrr… comments section.

              • Whew. Well, alright. Looks like he can’t get at it without somebody like Scion having a go at it.

                And I’m hope Butcher XVI Scion’s just crazy talk. If it happens, those 15 voices might be able to influence him into pulling a Butcher III. And that’d be pretty much impossible for anything less than an Endbringer to beat.

  12. And in our occasional hobby of scoring the chapters, I have a song for Theo on this one. A bit overused though.

    This ain’t no place for no hero.

      • Damnit, now I can weaver with insects attacking Jack from on high to the tune of well this lot but just imagine insects instead of hawkmen:

  13. Well that just happened. Things are either going to go very bad or very well soon and my money is on it being very,very bad.

  14. And now, brainstorm how Golem gets out of this:
    —Second trigger event. That would take down all parahumans, including Jack, in the vicinity. Enough increased power and speed in his main powers might swing the fight.
    —Second trigger event, part two. He overcomes the Manton Effect and can affect flesh. Jack needs an extra pair of hands … or three. Actually, what Jack really needs is a foot up the ass.
    —Second trigger event, part three. Golem can now affect gasses. When the air in your lungs sprouts a fist, you are in trouble.
    —Second trigger event, part four. Golem can now affect forces. He can reach through time loops, freeing Scion.
    —Bypass the Manton Effect. Can Golem affect Hookwolf when Hookwolf is all metal? This gets really fun when you realize that Golem’s power is not mass-conserving. He could bulk Hookwolf up to ridiculous levels, maybe beyond what Hookwolf can work with.
    —Bypass the Manton Effect, part two. Can Golem affect Jack’s non-organic implants (not my original thought, others have speculated on this).
    —Deus ex Weaver. Weaver did come down from attempting to divert Scion. (Looks like Gray Boy can affect things at range.)
    —Deus ex Other Allies. Others come to Golem’s aid.
    —New use of powers. Can Golem affect Nyx’s gas? It can mimic a solid. Being able to turn it against them would be fun. Unfortunately, several members arrayed against him are immune (Manton, Crawler, Hookwolf (maybe), Jack may have immunity courtesy of Bonesaw).
    —New use of powers, part two. Does Golem have something approximating Manton’s armor and can he affect it (another non-original thought)? Jack would just let the affected Mantons die, but it might be a distraction.

      • When you have Little Miss Frankestein making you functionally unkillable and an army of monsters at your call, I guess you can ignore the finer points of the list.

      • Well, he fails “40.I will be neither chivalrous nor sporting. If I have an unstoppable superweapon, I will use it as early and as often as possible instead of keeping it in reserve.” because of how little he’s used Gray Boy and his gradual escalation.

        He also breaks “47.If I learn that a callow youth has begun a quest to destroy me, I will slay him while he is still a callow youth instead of waiting for him to mature.”

        and “92.If I ever talk to the hero on the phone, I will not taunt him. Instead I will say this his dogged perseverance has given me new insight on the futility of my evil ways and that if he leaves me alone for a few months of quiet contemplation I will likely return to the path of righteousness. (Heroes are incredibly gullible in this regard.)” though that one is a bit out of place in the Wormverse.

      • Well, she didn’t against the Slaughterhouse Nine in Brockton Bay, Leviathan, Behemoth, Bakuda, the Merchants, Empire 88 outside of maybe the rump of Fenir’s Chosen, Heartbreaker, or…

        The only time I can think of her actually saving the day against a really major threat was Echidna. Sure, she contributes, fights, coordinates, and really helps, but the Slaughterhouse Nine survived with few casualties she was responsible for, Scion handled the Endbringers, the Nine handled Empire 88 and the Merchants of Death, Imp beat Heartbreaker…

        Well, there’s Coil and Alexandria. That was pretty cool on her part.

        • I’d say she contributes quite a bit despite the lack of firepower she brings to the table. And despite all of the other shit going on, this is sort of a culmination and I hope she’s at the center of the resolution.

        • Maybe not saved the day, but she did to damnedest to. Considering who she is and what she was fighting, I think it’s safe to say she kicked ass without actually sending Leviathan and the Nine running from the hills singlehandedly.

          • Now your just making me nostalgic.

            Can’t Taylor, I dunno, kill one more reactionary jackboot? Just a little one? There’s got to be someone at the Chicago HQ that no-one would miss.

  15. I wonder how nasty the effects of Scion busting out of Gray Boy’s power will be.

    Probably have to be some consequences from smashing open a looped section of space-time.

    Find it interesting that nobody knows that Harbinger became the Number Man. Although I guess that’s one of the many things that would have gotten Contessa sent out to kill someone for knowing.

    I’d wonder if there might be a solution to the “Gray Boy locks people in a never-ending recursion of time thing”, albeit a somewhat unpleasant one (thanks to the necessary mind control), by taking a Hatchet Face next to a victim and turning his effect on.

    And I really hope somebody jams a wedge into Jack’s little inferiority complex with respect to Gray Boy and starts prying that sucker wide open. I mean, when all’s said and done Gray Boy was the one who actually accomplished something more momentous than just murdering a lot of people and claiming that the blood spray was art. Jack, at this point, is boring. Passe. He has nothing new.

    I suppose I just want to see Jack break, preferably before his self-congratulatory line of bullshit induces Smugnarok.

  16. Ok, remember when I said that I could think of capes more broken than Gray Boy? Well, I was wrong. Because no other cape we’ve seen have ever manage to use their power on the amazing golden man. Now, despite the tone of this series, I’m somewhat confident that Scion will manage to save himself. Still, even if that’s true, and not just desperate wishing on my part, even temporarily trapping Scion, DOES make your power horribly unfair. I’m sorry for the lack of respect Mr Boy, please don’t trap me in a loop of eternal pain.

    Now, I’ve been more lenient, sort of, than other posters in regards to Cauldron, but this chapter really PISSED me. I’m not saying that Number Man has to reveal that he was Harbinger or explain every secret of his power, but a HINT, a fucking hint, just to not let them fight an enemy completely in the dark. I thought you wanted to help with this end of the world thing, huh Cauldron? Must have been wrong. Bravo, truly bravo.

    And uhm Jack? I thought you killed King because you couldn’t live up to his expectation of being the next Gray Boy. You do realise your great triumph only happened because of him, yes? Still you did make me laugh about really wanting an enemy to not kill you just to prove he’s the better man (any guess on what movie with that situation Jack would have rally enjoyed?), so I guess you may have a career in comedy acts when this is all over. Still, that Jack+Hookwolf combo wasn’t bad. Who will seep down to save Golem?

    • Swooping is Bad. Everybody has forgotten about imp again, my guess is that she proceeds to stab Hookwolf in the eye to throw Jack off balance but not before tossing a Bakuda bomb Jack’s way.

      • Hrm, yes, imp carrying a piece of sheet steel and carefully propping it right behind Jack might do quite nicely. Especially if Golem can detect the presence of the steel even if Imp is carrying it.

        In fact, I’m REALLY surprised that we haven’t seen imp carrying around a bunch of other tools besides simple knives. Think of the mischief she could cause with a squirtgun full of hydrochloric acid, or just a couple cans of mace. Or even a laser sniper rifle.

        Imp with a knife is pretty nasty. Imp with an imagination would be downright scary.

  17. Oh and just wanted to throw something in. I remember during a reread that one of Yamada’s patient, detained in the same center where Garrotte and Glory Girl are, is called Sadboy but his true name is Nicholas. He’s mentioned but we never see him.

    A boy with superpowers called Nicholas. Rings any bells?

    • Possible son? We know from Jack’s comment he wasn’t a child originally so he might have fathered a child. I wonder what Garrotte and Glory Girl have been up to? Talking about obscure characters, I’m waiting for the hero mentioned in the Number Man Interlude. The dreaded hero, THE COCKATOO!

    • Guys, I think Sadboy actually might be the Gray Boy.

      Quote from the cast page:

      “Gray Boy (Status Unknown) – Once a member of the Nine, one of Jack’s first teammates. Has been referenced in passing several times, with a measure of awe or fear.”

      Interlude 21:

      “Jack,” Jacob said. He kicked King’s body again. “Fuck it. He always called me Jacob, practically purring. His little killer in training. As if I could match up to his Gray Boy. I want to be more than that. Get out from under his shadow.”

      Unless I am missing something I am fairly sure I have looked at all the major references including Bonesaw’s in a few interludes. I don’t think they ever actually said he died.

      We know that Bonesaw cloned people who didn’t die such as Harbinger.

      I think Sadboy is the Gray Boy. He’s locked away in the Asylum having never died and never freed his victims.

        • I think it is quite likely.

          A slightly more detailed search for every reference to the Gray Boy does provide absolutely no confirmation of his death. It just seems like too awesome and subtle a move not to come up. The name Nicholas. The very specific lack of any statements about his death. The codename “Sadboy” is quite reasonable for a semi-reformed Gray Boy.

          I toyed with the idea that he grew up to be Eidolon before, though that never made a particularly large amount of sense.

          • Yeah, it does look as some obvious foreshadowing, in retrospect.

            My only real problem with this theory is that one would think that the major players would be able to know it if a monochromatic boy was hiding in a psychiatric center. Both Cauldron and the Protectorate would probably like to put their hands on him.

            • I suspect they do know and like him exactly where he is. Given how the Nine have been treated he almost certainly had a kill order on him. In this theory he probably CAN’T die. They also might be trying to figure out how to reverse his power to prevent the infinite torture loops from lasting forever.

              Under this interpretation he would absolutely have to be docile and probably repentant. The whole name of Sadboy indicates that he doesn’t exactly want to hurt people anymore and may be sad about it.

              • Or perhaps he got all repentant one day and decided to use his power on himself, locking himself into a continuous loop.

  18. Well that ends badly for Theo. I ain’t gonna hold out hope for a last second rescue here either.

    I suppose it’s too much to hope for that Jack will die sobbing and begging like the little bitch that he is? Or even a give a big no as something goes horribly wrong with his plans?

    • I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. That arrogant facade has top crack sooner or later. Actually, i wouldn’t be surprised if Gray Boy turns on him and traps him in a loop of eternal pain.

      • There’s a chance of Hookwolf turning on Jack. Remember Theo is Kaiser’s son, and Hookwolf was a part of Empire 88 at one point. Theo might call in a family debt of some sort if he knows of any way that his family helped Hookwolf, and Hookwolf might honor it.

        I believe Hookwolf mainly joined the S9 because if he didn’t, they would destroy the remnants of Empire 88 which he was trying to rebuild. I would not be surprised if he’s been planning on this moment for a long time, knowing that Jack is going to fight his ex-leader’s son at some point. Now that the fight has started, Jack might be distracted enough to be assassinated so Hookwolf can try to go back to rebuilding the Empire 88.

        Of course, Jack might be ready for this, but I think a Hookwolf vs Jack fight would be a lot more even that others might believe if the other S9 members stay off Hookwolf and let Jack prove he deserves to win the fight.

        • Hookwolf joined the Nine because he’s still under the effect of the agnosia mist and is disoriented. There’s a scene where he sort of objects at Jack’s actions (he sees himself as the honourable warrior), Jack gives an explanation and Hookwolf comments that there are thing that don’t fit but he can’t say what exactly.

          • Don’t be ridiculous. Panacea gave very clear instructions that Taylor should get drunk in a week or two to remove the cure-prions from her system. Are you seriously suggesting that Taylor would ignore such clear instructions?

            Seriously, though, that’s a possibility. It wouldn’t be the first time that a plot element comes back many arcs later to dramatic effect.

          • That would involve kissing him, and I think it’s safe to say that Taylor won’t go for the hair metal skinhead shitkicker look.

    • It is definitely too much to hope for.

      Jack Slash will die painlessly. Emma will kill him, having won the superpower lottery of a dangerous Cauldron dose. He will have just killed Bitch and beaten Taylor soundly. Taylor will then have to work on Emma’s team in the Protectorate.

      I am being optimistic.

  19. What does everyone think to the idea that Clockblocker might be able to save people from Gray Boy? Freezing people whilst in the loop might break them free of it? Not sure how the loop interacts with other powers, though.

      • Before this chapter I would have said it would have probably worked.But now Gray Boy has trapped Scion. Even if the effect is temporary and Scion frees himself in the next second, Gray Boy has still showed a power never well above everyone else. Up until now, Scion simply seemed immune to anyone else’s powers: precogs are shut down, Eidolon’s forcefield is shattered, Behemoth’s dynakinesis is no-selled…

  20. Oh Jack you used to be such an artist, a rock star even. But now you’re just a spoiled kid with too many toys who throws something away if it doesn’t give you instant gratification.

    Seriously, taking down Scion? Could you be any more obvious? You gonna start hauling nukes, because that’d be par for the course for your current creativity level.

    You’re not gonna figure out that Weaver is your true nemesis until her boot in on your neck, are you?

      • “Eh, I could take y…”
        *Weaver cracks knuckles*
        …oouu to lunch. Yeah! There’s a Tex mex place right over there. Why don’t we, y’know, sit down, get some beers, talk thing ou-OH GOD NOT THE FACE!”

        • Bah, Jack should be a man and take the punch. Sometimes you just have to get your ass beat by a woman, get right back up, and proceed to tear her life apart while destroying a city.

          I know that’s what I would do if I hadn’t already done it.

          • Oh his ass is going to be beating by more than just her. They gonna really give him a pounding, because they know how he likes to be on top, so they’re gonna put him back on the bottom. He’ll take a few thousand hard ones to the face, then Chevalier’s gonna stick him with his cannon and blow his load all over Jack’s insides.

    • Clearly, he needs to get locked in a time loop by Gray Boy until he works out his issues and starts being effective again.

  21. You know, Scion being trapped… may not be a bad thing. He’s autistic or effectively so due to sensory overload, right? Capable of only simplest action and without any real initiative of his own. And now he’s tapped inside an isolated area, with a constant sensory input, or perhaps with no (relative to what he normally experiences) sensory input at all. Just a thing to reorient himself for the first time after he got his trigger event.

    Or I may be completely wrong.

    • I frankly doubt Scion had a trigger event, if only because I doubt he was ever human to start with. I think he’s connected more with the Endbringers/passengers/both than to the parahumans.

      • Not the point. The point is, that from all indications, he’s suffering form massive constant sensory overload. Being trapped like this may help him get his bearings / regain his mind.

        • Or he gets even worse because not only does he get sensory overload but he’s overloaded by the same information again and again and again. For ever.

            • Grey Boy’s power doesn’t prevent new signals from being heard, it just repeats the physical function and state of the body. Remember how he has conversations with people while they are under the effect of his power?

              Scion is probably uninjured in the loop, since Grey Boy hit him in the air, which means he’s not in constant pain.

              Which in turn means we might actually see a Scion interlude where people can talk to him, and if he’s not able to run off, maybe he will talk back.

      • > I frankly doubt Scion had a trigger event, if only because I doubt he was ever human to start with

        You mean like AIs cannot have trigger events because they’re not human? 😛

    • MIght be he’s not trapped, but rather has no incentive to move. Not input -> no output.

      But Scion interlude will come, and I doubt it’ll be all him in his cell for 10k words,

    • It’s an interesting idea, nevertheless. Scion finally displaying his sentience after thousands of years of acclimating to the world.

      I wonder what his first real words would be…

      “Holy shit, I can fly!”
      “Was there something I was just doing? Naaahh, hey what’s that awesome smell?”

  22. Oh, Wildbow…the things you make me think.
    Hopefully soon I’ll get my little bit of writing polished up, and then I can post it and we can be best friends until everyone realises you’re a better writer than I.

    Great stuff.

  23. Behold the ACCORDBOT! Its rage at being asymmetric fuels his power!

    There’s a slight time discrepancy here… it could be explained with time differentials in the pocket dimension.
    It might be difficult to bring the giant robot up to speed. If Defiant got enough time, maybe he managed to use, appropriate, or learn about something else. (i.e.: girfriend creation chamber)
    He has to check out the stuff anyway to kill the clones anyway. Might as well clone Aster and get Dragon’s memories inside her.

    And Scion’s actual power is finally revealed too! He is a superpassenger that can move at will between hosts.
    The closest one when the old self was trapped is Taylor.

      • Epileptic trees, if I’m reading it correctly.

        Although, that said, if you were looking for a cape to imbue with Scion’s powers, Butcher-style, it would be hard to find a better one. She has a demonstrated ability to drink a firehose of information in combat situations and use it to good effect — I think Scion-senses would synergize well.

        • > Epileptic trees, if I’m reading it correctly.

          I prefer “I just get those headaches trees”, but yeah, pretty much a flight of fantasy.

          And ACCORDBOTS!

    • Oh, Dragon/Aster is so wrong…and so right. I suppose the question would be if being humanized would impair(no more superspeed thought processing) Dragon or free her(no more AI shackles).

      Bonesaw/Riley could definitely do it. If I’m remembering correctly the girl who got kidnapped is one and the old Bonesaw is the other. Can’t quite remember if the kidnapped girl is the new Riley or the new Bonesaw. Can’t wait for Riley to make an appearance. Especially if Scion is still in the greyzone and she has time to ponder him.

      I kind of like the idea that Scion is incomplete, like maybe his other half somewhere else.

      • Be careful with your use of ‘/’ marks. Please. For the sad remaining shreds of sanity that I still possess.

        • I remember one day I was on the Worm IRC channel and tried to develop a theory by which I could measure the crackiness of crackships.

          I believe I gave up after five or so iterations were invalidated by crackships they couldn’t account for. What made it especially disturbing was that none of the refutations were intentional — no version of my model made it onto the channel that hadn’t already been disproved by people randomly conversing.

          Just saying.

          • How about by how much it makes you think about it?
            A crackship like Taylor/Rachel provokes consideration of its evidence.
            A crackship like Grue/Atlas is the kind of thing you never want to think about, for a random example plucked from the seething insanity that is my mind’s random pairing generator.

            • I don’t think that really works — I’m pretty sure I put at least as much thought into Danny/Piggot as I have into Theo/Taylor, and the former is significantly crackier than the latter.

            • I don’t even know if I could recreate it, now – I think the last refinement I remember was a two-dimensional system of measurement. Roughly, I hypothesized that a ship is more cracktastic if it either:

              1. Involves characters separated by greater canonical distance – from a minimum of “they know each other well in-universe” through “they live in the same universe and never met” to “they do not occupy the same continuity”. (By this metric, the ship between Taylor and Theo dropped measurably in crack when they actually met, and the ship between Regent and Imp got a lot more crack when Regent died.)

              2. Involves personalities less well suited to work together – from a minimum of “they get along like a house afire” to “they would almost certainly set each other on fire”. (Thus, Bitch/Skitter is a lot more plausible than Bitch/Tattletale, because Bitch does not like being subjected to the crazy verbal manipulations of people like Tattletale, and Skitter is much more willing to ditch the words and just … be there.)

              I suspect this system was flawed in that it did not account for the necessarily paradoxical nature of a good crackship: to be truly excellent, there must be some criteria which justify the ship despite the way it is obviously demented. Danny and Piggot are actually similar in a number of ways – focused, self-controlled in spite of their fiery natures, competent leaders, &c. – but the match is pretty clearly ludicrous in ways that I am too brain-dead right now to enunciate. It’s probably flawed in other, important ways, too, but like I said: brain-dead.

  24. Augh, holy shit, this chapter was… excellent. In a way I have yet to process. Poor Theo.

    In other news, I found a song for Mannequin. Everything You Ever from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog works great from him, although you need to change the implications of some of the lines.

  25. Okay one little thing that bugs me, no pun intended. Is it just me or are there way to many people who can counter or shutdown Taylor’s power? It’s like every member of the Slaughterhouse is made of Kryptonite!

      • There is also the line from ‘Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot’ I love. “Sure you know it’s coming. You’re psychic. But there’s not a sweet thing you can do about it.’ That is to say there is simply no way to defend with the options avaliable to you, or you opponent is moving so fast that you cannot possibly react in time to utilize your predictions. An example of the latter was the fight between Mr. X, armed with Odin’s battle spear, and Quicksilver armed with a lead pipe. Mr. X has a form of Telepathy that grants him combat claryvoiance. It didn’t help him at all. Quicksilver moved so fast that by the time Mr. X began to move to block the attack at his elbow, Quicksilver was breaking his knee. If Jack could throw out enough attacks that Numbers Man wasn’t sure he could win, Taylor should be able to attack from so many vectors as to make a complete curbstomp out of it.

        • To be fair, Mr X was always pretty lame. The fight with Quicksilver wan’t the first time his clairvoyance was useless. But, yeah, I don’t really buy the swarm parry. Number Man himself comments that he’s better at long range than melee.

          • Better at long range doesn’t mean crappy at melee. Also, Harbinger’s combat precog is levels better than Mr. X’s, and he isn’t facing against somebody who easily breaks multi-mach speeds.

            • True, but Harbinger is afraid of fighting Jack because he can be attack from multiple directions. This fear of multiple attacks it’s what brings him to close the fight with the Cauldron’s escapee with a Break them by Talking speech. YOu’d think that an attack from a massive swarm of bugs is the perfect multiside attack.

              • Yeah, it’s hard to dodge a giant bug swarm. I still say Contessa said what she said and retreated during the Behemoth fight because that was the only way for her to come out ahead. Her power saw that a direct fight with Weaver would end in a loss, so it showed her what steps to take so she didn’t have to fight her. A human body has limits do what it can do in terms of how fast it can move. It’s an easy fix though. All wildbow has to do is add in a line saying he is a brute, a mover 1 with added flexibility, or that Bonesaw did some work on his bones/muscle fibers.

              • The difference is how they defend against those attacks. Those clothes would not defend against knives or that one escapee’s multi-directional strike.

                Bugs, however, are a different story. Taylor doesn’t have any bugs that can simply pierce right through those clothes. So, the Harbingers have an easier time of things. They just need the optimal way to deflect as many bugs as they can with every movement.

                After all, the bugs are not tiny blades. They can’t hurt the clones just by coming into contact, they need to land and start attacking.

                That said, the clothes are the key. If they didn’t have that specific gear, the Harbingers wouldn’t be able to enact that particular strategy flawlessly.

    • It’s not so much that the S9 is full of people with the ability to counter Taylor, as that Taylor’s power is actually pretty weak offensively to begin with. She swarms people with insects. Lots of capes are tough enough to weather that, or make things inhospitable for bugs by producing heat, cold, gas, etc. etc. Even normal humans can weather it for a bit, especially if they keep moving and dodging so it’s hard for the insects to get a solid lock.

      A big difference between this fight and the one vs Contessa is that they fought Contessa underground in an enclosed space where Taylor’s swarm would’ve been able to corner her. Harbinger has a lot more room for evasive manoeuvres.

      Taylor beat Alexandria because she caught her off guard, in a moment when she thought she had the upper hand and that Taylor was bugless. An on-guard Alexandria wouldnt have stayed still long enough for Taylor’s patented “drown them in bugs” technique to work.

      Harbinger’s power gives him the intel he needs on the swarm to avoid the worst of it. I suspect he’s still getting bit, but not enough to incapacitate.

  26. Another interesting thing. Did Jack manage to find and take Theo’s “keystone”? I don’t think so. Despite everything Theo didn’t break mentally. It reminds me of Commisioner Gordon in the Killing Joke. Joker couldn’t give him a bad enough day.

    • I think most people don’t have keystones, not even in Worm — certainly not in the Purity/Aster or Panacea/Glory Girl sense.

      That said, while I’ve never read The Killing Joke, I think the analogy to Commissioner Gordon might be quite apt — personality-wise, Golem is much like the Gordon to Weaver’s Batman.

      • Classic batman story, and the ending joke was hilariously relevant to both of them. I don’t know about Theo not breaking. It usually doesn’t really hit you until you’re alone and think about things. He has a goal and object of revenge, so I think even he doesn’t realize how badly he is hurt until afterward.

  27. OH GOSH, that cliffhanger! Y’know, at first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Theo. But now, I’m super attached, and I really hope he makes it outta this one.

      • Yeah. Like, every time I get attached to a pairing it gets shot down. I try to avoid it, but nooo, I just had to start liking Finn/Flame Princess. Ah sorry, getting back on topic, I’m gonna hafta assume Theo is dead. Unless Jack wanted to leave him all sliced up and in pain to fuck with the others and be a bastard.

        • ” Unless Jack wanted to leave him all sliced up and in pain to fuck with the others and be a bastard.”
          You may have just answered yourself.
          And yes, I’d say that based on the previous chapter, Aster/Anyone has indeed been shot down.

      • Ah, I see now. Dinah’s “Cut ties” was actually advice for the comments section. … That actually makes entirely too much sense. Cool parallel.

      • Ah, now it becomes clear. Dinah’s “Cut ties” was intended for the readers as much as it was for Taylor; maybe more. And we failed, so now we will be hurt.

  28. I think that, beyond the whole “massacre artist” thing they have going on, the greatest wrong Jack (and King) did to their world was depriving it of some of the mightiest anti-Endbringer weapons we could ever have seen. Imagine Jack and Chevalier working together. Imagine Jack and Foil working together. Imagine Panacea extending Siberian’s operational range relay-bug style so ‘she’ can fight the Endbringer safely. Imagine Bonesaw using the bodies of all the dead capes to make necrotech Voltrons.

    • She specifically can’t do anything too small. It’s what prevents her from doing stuff like sense people based on their microbiology.

      • Just because she can’t get a response back from them doesn’t necessarily mean she can’t send them instructions. I’d be surprised if she hasn’t sat in front of a few beakers and petri dishes, trying to figure out how to make microbiology move opposite gravity, towards an electrical source. That’s all one would need to do, is just have all the microbiology in the body start moving against gravity, towards the site of greatest electrical activity.

        I do not remember her ever trying to deal with microbiology though. I do remember her controlling a crustacean once.

        • It’s mind control, not telekinetic control. Microbes don’t have a brain for her to influence, they pretty much just run on their DNA and basic responses to their environment. She can’t move them around because they can’t move themselves around anywhere.
          Think of it this way – she needs a basic mind to control, like an insects simplistic speck of tissue, but bacteria don’t have any mind at all.
          Tapeworms and other parasites, on the other hand… Hmm… That would be disgusting but effective. Maybe.

          • If nothing else sensing them means she would know exactly where someone is at all times. Making it impossible to get the drop on her. But with Bonesaw that won’t be a possibility for the Slaughterhouse.

          • I’m thinking that Taylor controlling only bugs doesn’t come from a hard coded rule with her passenger, and more of a psychological imprint from the circumstances of her trigger event.

            If Sophia had gone off more psycho than usual and filled the locker with rats we’d have gotten Scurry, and if she had been a complete weirdo and used birds we’d get Flutter.

            • There is serous evidence for that. One of Taylor’s Echidna clones was controlling rats, wasn’t she?

              • Yeah, it was even called Scurry. Part of me hopes she’s survived, and that Echidna’s psychological imprinting brainwashing thingie she did to her clones wore off after her death.

                It’d be interesting if the Protectorate got that kind of second chance, to learn from their handling of Skitter to do better for the clone.

        • Actually, that’s exactly what it means. Taylor’s power is to sense, understand and command bugs. It’s a package deal. We have had zero indication that there are some types of bugs that she can sense but not control or vice versa.

          The fact that she can’t sense them means she can’t communicate with them, means she can’t control them.

          She could probably do truly horrific things if a person already had lice or tapeworm or something though…

  29. Hrm another thought. Weaver was trying to distract Scion, or make him stay away, but then he was caught in Grey Boy’s power anyway.

    If/when Scion breaks free, does he come after Weaver, thinking she entrapped him? Or does he know where the power came from.

  30. After all of the angst, last chapter, over Taylor’s state of mind, I’m surprised that no one has yet to mention Theo’s views on Taylor / Weaver. As he is staring at the wall that used to hold Nilbog, Theo reflects on the possible reactions of the various capes present. He saves Weaver for last. He notes that she is so still that for the occasional movement of her head, she could be a deactivated robot. He also notes that Weaver is notoriously hard to read. ( I think this is a defense mechanism to foil people trying to ‘cold read’ her. ) Taylor is also the only one there who he seems to separate into two different entities. He recognizes a shrug as being from Taylor, yet when she starts talking with Chevalier and the others about their destination, he thinks to himself “There she is. There’s Weaver.
    Does he separate them because he has a closer relationship as a long term teammate than he does with most everyone else there? Is this simply a friend / professional separation here or is Theo seeing enough of a distinction to separate the two in his mind?

    Afterthought – The hard to read thing could also just be Taylor losing herself in her bugs. She has been using them to meditate.

      • Yeah. I can see the connection. If Taylor is transferring her emotions to her bugs, leaving her body to appear calm, would make her difficult to read like anyone else. Now that you’ve drawn my attention to it, Ms Militia also noticed it during the interview with Dinah while Skitter was in her cell. Looks like Imp may have it figured out and MM has a clue, if you want to ‘read’ Weaver, look at her bugs, NOT her.

    • I don’t think the Taylor/Weaver split is anything more than the Lily/Flechette split was.

      I actually half-thought you were suggesting that Theo might have feelings for Taylor. Mostly because I half-think he might.

      • I wasn’t trying to ship them. Although, if Theo IS interested in Taylor, he may have a problem. I kinda got the impression that he was perfectly content with ‘Taylor’, but ‘Weaver’, spooked or disturbed him on ‘some’ level

      • Taylor/Theo would be a hard sell. Not just because she shot his sister, but why would Weaver settle for beef jerky when she’s had filet mignon?

        • I know Taylor/Theo is unlikely — honestly, I think Taylor/anyone is unlikely. I was just wondering if there was a bit of an unrequited crush happening.

          • You want unlikely??

            Weaver / Defiant

            After Clockies rant a few chapters back, I wonder if when this is all over, Weaver will throw him a bone?

            I give both of those a -9.9 on a probability scale.

            • …I think you mean “plausibility”. Probability is specifically related to the likelihood of an event on a scale from 0 (impossible) to 1 (inevitable). That said, I don’t suggest trying to calculate probabilities of ‘ships anyway, so there you go.

              Also, I don’t need unlikely — I can come up with ‘unlikely’ just by taking the cast list and and rolling a few times. Watch, I’ll do it now.

              *spends twenty minutes making a list of names from TV Tropes*

              Omitting the known(-to-me) dead, the Pure (currently looped), the non-sapients, the extradimensional (i.e. the surviving Travelers), the Blasto-clones, and the insufficienty(-for-me)-characterized, I have 99 names, and says …

              – Rune/Imp
              – Wanton/Menja
              – Parian/Tattletale
              – Valefor/Jessica Yamada
              – Lung/Emma Barnes

              …and I swear that none of these were faked. (Actually, does anyone want my list? It’s actually slightly amusing making these. Dovetail/Saint! Bitch/Foil! Bonesaw/Leet! Actually, are Circus, Uber, and Leet alive?)

              Anyway, I don’t need unlikely. Likely is much more compelling. Although, to back off what is beginning to look like an overly strongly worded response to an innocent remark, it is interesting to check a character’s fellows to see if there are any possibilities, so on those grounds I guess you might have just been riffing off my remarks about Theo’s attitude towards Taylor.

              • Circus, Uber, and Leet all got caught by Echidna. Echidna’s interlude shows Uber getting away, with her remarking he was useless anyway. Don’t know if Weld managed to rescue the other two or if Sundancer killed them along with Echidna. Probability suggests they got away.

            • Actually, that pairing seems completely plausible. Taylor and Colin have grown to have a lot in common over time. So long as the age difference isn’t an issue (and it shouldn’t be – Taylor’s mature for her age and Colin only just grew up), they’d fit well together. They’re both pragmatic, happy to have/give time apart as well as together, have similar goals. And Colin’s had an AI as a partner – he’s going to be more comfortable than most with a chick whose mind spends it time distributed amongst swarms of bugs.

              Honestly, it seems a much likelier pairing to me than some I’ve seen suggested…

        • For one thing, beef jerky is pretty long. Filet mignon, on the other hand, comes wrapped in bacon and I like my bacon separate from my beef. Also, in my experience it doesn’t take seasoning as well.

    • I just re-read the first part again. I’m more convinced NOW, that Theo sees a schism between Taylor and Weaver. He deals with them in different manners.
      I’m still not sure if that is simply a personal vs professional distinction or if this is hinting at something more. Either way, it does establish one thing.
      Weaver is a hardass. Plotting, planning, always focused on the job. But then we already knew that.

  31. I just want to say, this line:

    “Stop talking, Jack. You’re not that clever, not as sharp as you like to think. You talked to me about keystones? Bullshit. You’re a sad, pathetic killer with delusions of grandeur.”

    made me so happy it was practically obscene. You have no idea.

    And then the ending, such a downer. Not because of Scion, we’ve basically seen how he’s practically useless when it really matters. But Theo….damn.

    • Yeah. Jack made his career on two things. Building a reputation so fearsome that people would hesitate, giving him an advantage, and hiding behind his actually tough teammates. Honestly have we ever seen Jack do anything solo? Notice he tries to have a Siberian near himself at all times?

      • Much as I despise Jack, he *did* take down Oni Lee solo and was perfectly prepared to go toe-to-toe with Purity, enough so that he could bluff her into not starting shit in the first place.

        Hmm. I suppose the latter falls under the trading-on-rep rubric.

        • I think he was bluffing Purity. Granted he’s fast and she’s probably not wearing cut-resistant armor (?? can’t recall; certainly not to the degree that Weaver is), but she totally could have taken him.

          • He was playing his reputation to the hilt*, I’ll grant you, but given the enhancements he got from Bonesaw, I think he might well have won that fight.

            * No pun intended.

    • Jack reminds me of a cult actor who’s particular schtick makes him popular in a series of niche movies, but the moment he steps out into the mainstream and does something with wider demographic appeal it falls apart and shows just how shallow his typecasted role really is.

      Soooo, pretty much Johnny Depp, except nowhere near as successful and a hundred times more full of himself.

    • “Clever boy,” Jack said. “You-”

      “Stop talking, Jack,” Golem responded.

      That was a pretty good part too, because he cut Jack off before he could really even speak. Would have worked out better had he actually won though.

      • Even better would have been
        “Are those gold teeth?” Theo smiled as he unfolded out the gold panel. He’d have to let the PRT drones who’d complained about the expense know about this.

        • What about real teeth? Would that hold up against the Manton effect?

          Of hair? That’s dead tissue so it might actually work.

    • I can understand people wanting Jack Slash to get comeuppance, but calling him pathetic kinda misses the point. Word mean things. Jack is not particularly vulnerable or deserving of pity, by all appearances he loves his work, and has proven himself more than adequate in it.

      • Yes, that’s why I consider him pathetic. He’s like some Jackass who call himself an artist, but is really just serving dog shit on plates in order to shock people. In the wormverse Jack is the worlds most successful Troll. Also I’m applying the armor of contempt for the duration of this fight. Once my emotions settle down, and I can look at the whole picture, I’ll reapraise Jack.

        Oh and he losses a lot of points for his constant underestimation of Weaver. Maybe now that all his base belongs to her he’ll stop that.

      • I don’t consider him pathetic per se. Just doomed. He seems to think that his status as the “man who ends the world” places him on some sort of pedestal, but all he really is is a catalyst, and everything he did will be rendered insignificant by the shitstorm to come. And if the heroes actually manage to save the world, he’ll be even more of a favor.

        He may have numbers and raw power on his side, but he’s been put into a situation that he’s never been in before. His enemies are no longer prey but predators, who are coming to tear him limb from limb regardless of what he says or does.

        • failure, not favor. You’d think I’d be on top of this shit considering my inability to shut up around here.

  32. Hey Hookwolf, remember when you at least had some damn pride? Used to be all code of the Gladiator? I mean you were still an asshole, but now your just Jack’s bitch for when he needs to do a lot of slashing all at once. Pathetic.

      • A razor-sharp edge on a sword is not normally a good idea, actually. It’s to brittle or to thin to stand up to more than a few good hits without getting dull or chipping. A knife, on the other hand, tends to be honed to a much finer edge.

        I’m not exactly certain how Jack’s power functions, but it could be that he keeps the sword around for big, tough opponents, and the knife for the less-well-defended types.

        • I assumed that his power didn’t actually use the strength of the knife edge to cut people, but if it does, that would certainly explain why he would need a claymore.

        • A razor-sharp edge on a sword is not normally a good idea, actually. It’s to
          brittle or to thin to stand up to more than
          a few good hits without getting dull or
          chipping. A knife, on the other hand,
          tends to be honed to a much finer edge.

          Bear in mind Jack isn’t using the blade itself but an ‘imaginary’ projection of its cutting ability. Thus, while he can only cut things the real blade would have been able to cut, he can do so without damaging the physical blade.

          At least, that’s my understanding. I’m sure I will be Jossed at some point in the near future.

  33. Now, I had a question that’s been bugging me for a bit, and I have asked it in other places but want to get an answer so I am asking it here: Siberian (Manton) was a Simurgh victim right?
    He was shown to have two tattoos when Legendary saw him, a “C” from Cauldron on one hand (similar to the case 52’s) and a tattoo of a white swan on his other. One Hero (Eidolon?) mentions that they used to tattoo a white bird on the hands of people who had previously encountered the Simurgh, but stopped due to social stigma attached to those marked.

    And on a more relavent note, what if every time we see scion he is actively looping?
    This would explain the near unresponsiveness he has…

    • That would cast Siberian’s protection of Jack in a scary new light, and bring up the possibility that the Smurf has some cards on Jack’s apocalypse table.

      And since Cauldron has been offhandedly shielding the Nine, Manton in particular, it cast doubts on Cauldron’s invisibility to the Simu- Pffthahahahahahaha!

      Those poor, dumb bastards.

  34. Well, *yeah*. The S9 are dangerous and bugs are fragile, yo.

    Miasma – poison gas
    Crawler – duh
    Winter – freezing temperatures
    Bonesaw – oh let me count the ways
    Crimson – invulnerable
    Siberian – hah!
    Nyx – poison gas
    Burnscar – fire
    King – outsources his bug bites
    Hatchet Face – invulnerable
    Mannequin – full of useful devices

    Leaving the Nine aside, Cricket had ultrafrequency sound, Stormtiger had wind, Night and Fog have forms she can’t touch, Tinkers all have ways of dealing with bugs … yeah, the fact she’s able to hurt so many parahumans at all is a testament to her versatility and cleverness.

  35. I grew so excited I had to pause halfaway through.

    Fuck Yeah Harbingers are the best villains!
    At the very least they sure don’t dissapoint, that was quite the showing. I read up until Chevalier got stabbed in the eye.
    They are terrifying with the synchronized attack. That’s how you do combat clairvoyance.
    I hope they won’t all be killed off. So much potential for future fights. This is the type of battle scene I like to see. In the same vein I also hope we can keep a Murder Rat as a villain, with the acrobatics she pulled off she made for really cool fights. Love the nimble villains. Maybe a Mannequin , too.
    There’s others I’d like to see more of, you make simply too many intriguing characters in such a short time.
    Another thing, Jack only made eight harbingers. Does that mean he still considers Number Man a member of the S9 ?
    On a final note, I hope Taylor sets one of the spiders on Saint that made Lung’s dick rot off. Without Lung’s regeneration…. After that Defiant can finish him off.

    • “On a final note, I hope Taylor sets one of the spiders on Saint that made Lung’s dick rot off. Without Lung’s regeneration…. After that Defiant can finish him off.”
      This would be the only point I fully agree with. Saint needs a few Brown Recluse placed on mr johnson and the twins.
      As for the rest, yeah, they make for good exciting fights. I want to see them ALL dead. Ten minutes ago.

    • The Harbringers aren’t clairvoyants. They should have died, or at least been injured by that 5-story drop. They weren’t. I’m guessing they have some kind of narrative control, but that might be too much Warrens of Oric the Awesome…

      • As others have pointed out, people have fallen out of *aeroplanes* and survived (IIRC, completely understand injured in at least one case). It’s all in how you fall, and if there’s anyone in a position to know the perfect way to fall, it’s Harbinger.

  36. Holy carp. The catalyst never was Jack, it was Gray Boy. Who Jack allowed to exist, but still…

    And to think, the Nine-clones would likely have never been made if Jack hadn’t heard he would end the world.

  37. I don’t quite understand how the Harbingers could dodge Chevalier’s swings, using the flat of his blade he’d be swinging too fast with too much volume affected for them to dodge.

  38. “Left. Somewhere around a ninety percent chance Jack’s in that direction.”

    I think there is a problem here. Dinah’s power works on a model that is some variant of modal realism probably with libertarian free will. But the above quote implies that her numbers are actually measures of subjective uncertainty. That is: Jack is either to the left or to the right. If Dinah can actually see the outcome of each action, then 100% of the time when Golem goes left, he find Jack, as compared to 0% of the time when he goes right.

    (There’s a second problem, in that the prior description of Dinah’s power means that each a-or-b question should actually cost two power uses, because she has to ask “in case a, what is the probability of a good outcome”, and compare that against the same question for case b)

    • As I understand Dinah’s power, she actually does a stocktake of parallel universes ala the many worlds theory (see her interlude for what this looks like). Every time something could happen, the universe splits in two – one universe where it does happen and one universe where it doesn’t.

      When she says “90% chance that Jack’s to the right.” she’s actually saying “in 90% of all possible worlds, Jack is right of your current position”.

      It does raise questions as to what her baseline is, though. It can’t be 90% of *all* possible worlds – since humanity would never have existed in many of them…

  39. Continuity flaw. Sorry if someone else has already mentioned this, and maybe I’m wrong with everything that’s going on, but . . .

    Weaver is flying is this chapter, but one of her wings was shattered in 26.4: “I commanded the flight pack instead, flying it into him with both wings extended. He was brained, and the pack ricocheted off his skull, one wing shattering.” Not sure if/when she had time to fix it.

    • She can still fly without the wings because of anti-grav; the wings just give her more maneuverability/speed. She switched between wings/no wings several times in the Behemoth fight to reduce the risk of damage.

  40. Awww I love Bitch even more. She kept up her Therapy Puppies program! That’s so awesome!

    Loved Theo’s analysis of everyone and how they’d all react. It was interesting to yet again see how Taylor is just weird with her regular mannerisms now. She really is getting a bit altered with her thinking and reactions just like Rachel which is kind of cool.

    The reactions of Theo and everyone else in this chapter in addition to Weaver’s actions herself make me much more comfortable with her decision regarding Aster.

    Number Man is damn annoying. Yeah sure there are ways to statistically fall and not have any sort of major damage but weaponizing that is just annoying. I mean awesome yeah but to borrow a phrase from Fate/Stay Night, people should die when they’re killed. I guess that applies to Bonesaw and Weaver as well in hindsight though…

    Oh damn Dinah has evolved from Little Miss Badass into Lady Badass! Totally awesome creative use of her powers plus massive amount of questions boost equals epicness. I love this girl so much right now. Plus she has go and say “numbery way” which is just too cute!

    Theo did massively well all things considered!

    Hmm, honestly I have a very hard time believing that Scion in honestly trapped. He’s either too apathetic to want to get out for the moment or we just haven’t given him time to actively try yet.

  41. See, I said Gray Boy was significant. And now he has a tag.

    I wonder what the limits are on his power. It looks like he creates localized time loops, which trap people by periodically resetting them- like Perdition but self-sustaining. The resetting affects people’s bodies, but their minds stay continuous across instances- Kayden could hold a conversation; she was processing some input from the main timeline, even if most of her was caught in the looping one. Like a video loop playing on TV while a DVR records the signal- the DVR knows time is passing, so each repeat of the signal gets recorded with a new timestamp.
    But the loop isn’t perfect. He said he could hurt Kayden, even after he’d started looping her, and the injury would become part of the loop- it would keep hurting her, over and over.
    Perhaps more significantly, he wouldn’t become part of the loop. The results of his action would get recorded, but the action itself wouldn’t- otherwise, he would get looped along with her. That seems like an exploitable limit.
    Do the loops lock to people, or to places? If outside influences stick, could you shove someone free of one, by getting them far enough away from the starting point before they reset?
    What if you applied Clockblocker’s power? What happens if they’re frozen in place (by time itself, inviolable, sooner rip the universe in half than break it) when the loop wants to reset them?

    How does Gray Boy’s power furnish him with clothes? Riley said it did, in her interlude, when she decanted him, but I can’t think how.

    If it really is permanent… how did we never hear about the first Gray Boy in detail before? If he was with the first Nine, and his power traps people in these loops forever, he ought to have left horrifying statues all over the world. Did his loops end when he died, like Hatchet Face’s power? Or have those statues been out there, this whole time, just with no one talking about them?

  42. Hmmm…..since Scion has shown no timerelated powers yet hes probably fucked.
    Thats what you geht Wien you are an empty shell filled with only power (or maybe More? 😉 )

  43. Once again the author has failed the readers. Far to often in this story when something truly important occurs the author idiotically sees fit to switch perspectives. This is supposed to be Skitters story yet here we are at an incredibly important juncture watching what really amounts to a pointless fight as weaver tries to commune with scion, but no, the authors inability to apparently write important events into the story has failed us once again. It really is to bad that we miss every really important event for ones that mean jack all on the end. But its sadly a weak point that can’t be fixed since the story is already completed. Just sad the readers have been let down so so badly

  44. Hmm what happened now with Fog and Night? Were they trapped by Gray too?
    I don´t get what´s with the Colors and how Golem came to the conclusions.
    btw, doesn´t Scion have power nullification?

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