Cockroaches 28.5

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At least she’s stopped screaming.

The Simurgh floated in the air, remaining in a kind of stasis, much like she’d been in when we’d approached her, but there was an entire rig of devices surrounding her.  A halo, almost, studded with guns and cannons at regular intervals.  The sky behind her was overcast, clouds rolling past us with the strong winds, and mingled dust and smoke slowly shifting beneath her, brown-gray.  The juxtaposition was eerie, the clouds of the sky moving faster than the smoke and dust, and the Simurgh between the two, utterly still.

On TV, back in the days when we’d had television, there had been the various talk shows, news segments and interviews where the Endbringers would come up.  I’d listened, even though television wasn’t really my thing.  I’d heard people theorize on the Simurgh’s scream, wondering out loud about just how many of the disasters that followed in her wake were her, and how many were our own overblown paranoia.

It helped to remind myself that I wasn’t the only one who was debating the possibilities.  I’d listened for too long.  Was I tainted?  If this was all a trap, then I might already be seeded with some destructive or disastrous impulse.  Should I be hypervigilant?  Should I not stress over it?

It was a debate millions of individuals had maintained amongst themselves, in the wake of the Simurgh’s attacks.  Invariably, there wasn’t a right answer.  If she wanted to fuck with me, there wasn’t anything I could do.  Anything could and would fit into her game plan.

It wasn’t just me, either.  I was very aware of Lung’s presence, and of Shadow Stalker’s.

The Yàngbǎn were dealt with.  There were two major raiding parties, if we judged solely by the colors of their masks, and three or four other sub-groups tasked with different functions.  One raiding party was annihilated, and I could hope the Endbringer’s presence would scare off the other group.

There was an upside of sorts, in that the Yàngbǎn didn’t have access to Cauldron’s doormaking parahuman.  It meant they moved exclusively through the portals that dotted Earth Bet, the same portals the refugees had used, which some stragglers were still using.  Various factions and governments were gathering small armies at each of the remaining portals.  One Earth was already lost to us, destroyed by Scion in the first day he’d been traveling universes.  The South American refugees who had fled through there would be either eradicated or reduced to such a small population that it barely mattered.  Earth Zayin, too, was gone, subsumed by the Sleeper.

Still, a dozen Earths remained, with people scattered all over them.  The C.U.I. had claimed one, and they’d be ready for retaliation, maintaining a defensive line.

I doubted that defensive line would hold if an Endbringer decided to march through.  No, they would be gathering their forces in anticipation of a possible attack.  Good.

I took in my surroundings.  One ramshackle settlement, more than half of it obliterated by bombs.  Relatively little in the way of collateral damage on the Simurgh’s part.

Psychological damage?  Quite possible.  The Simurgh was a terror weapon, her very presence enough to rout armies, and these refugees weren’t an army.  Morale had been low to start with.

I sighed.  We’d scared people off, and they’d fled to the hills, quite literally.  In a movie, this would have been the moment that people slowly began returning, the orchestral music swelling as they overcame their fear.

Ridiculous, in context.  They’d hide for days, and they’d flee the second they saw the Simurgh again.

This wasn’t a case where we’d be able to stop the imminent threat and then recruit a select few people from among the survivors.

“Yo,” Tattletale said.  She had to run to get up the last stretch of the little hill that overlooked Tav’s primary settlement.

“Yo,” I responded.

“Total deadpan?  You can be a little excited,” she said.

“I am.  Quiet terror is a kind of excitement, isn’t it?  Pulse pounding, heart in my throat, and I’m so tense I’m getting a headache, because I’m almost afraid to think.”

“You think I’m notFuck.  There’s very few things that genuinely terrify me.  One of them is hanging out right above us, building something, and I can’t even read her, which makes her one of the few things out there that surprise me.”

Building something?  I looked up.

True enough, the Simurgh had her hands in front of her, and was manipulating debris in between her hands.

“What is she-”

‘I don’t know,” Tattletale said, interrupting me.  “What do you want me to do?  Ask her?”

I shook my head.  “How are the Pendragon’s occupants doing?”

“Ship shape, but Defiant’s wanting to be careful.  He’s demanding they get triple-checked.  Kind of funny, seeing that from him.”

I shrugged.  It would be a bigger leap for Tattletale to see the changes in him than for me to see it.  I’d been acquainted with him over the past two years, while she only saw him here and there.

“They’ll be up for it if we have a fight?” I asked.

Tattletale shrugged.  “For sure.  Scratches, bruises, but that’s about it.  We’re down to fight at a moment’s notice.  Sad thing is, the worst thing Scion could do to us is wait a month or two before he comes back.”

“True,” I agreed.

Not a pleasant thought.  If he took a leave of absence while we were trying to wrangle the Endbringers, odds were we’d get taken out by other factions or by the Endbringers themselves.

“I dunno,” Imp said.  I managed to not be startled as she appeared.  “Killing us all is pretty awful.”

“Awful, but not awful in the ‘let humanity destroy itself’ sort of way,” I pointed out.  “Let us come up with a plan for fighting back, then disappearing?  Letting that plan fester and fuck us over?”

Imp shrugged.  “So?  What do we do?”

“Handle what we can,” I said.  “Let’s go talk to the others and hash out a plan of action.”

The three of us made our way down the hill to the settlement.  In the doing, we passed through a darker patch where the Simurgh’s wingspan blocked out a portion of the sun.  What little sunlight could pass through the cloud cover, anyways.  I glanced up and saw her in shadow, the light behind her outlining her body, hair, feathers and the halo of improvised weapons.

Defiant had his helmet off.  His hair had grown in just a little, but wasn’t much more than a buzz cut, stubble on one side of his face was much the same.  But for the lack of stubble on his cheek, I might not have noticed his face was partially a prosthetic.  A gift from the Nine.

“It worked,” he said.

“More or less,” I responded.  “One civilian death and seven civilian injuries in the fighting, the death and two of the injuries were the Simurgh’s fault.”

“Only that many,” Defiant said.

“She was letting us know she could,” Tattletale said.  “Which is something we really should pay attention to, so long as we’re trying to make sense of Endbringer psychology.  I’m wondering if you could say that they’re primarily a warped super-ego, devoid of any real ego or advanced id.  Built in codes and rulesets, not human social rules, but still rules established by a creator.”

“Sigmund Freud,” Defiant said.  “I remember being back in University.  Second year psychology elective.  The professor said one word, ‘Freud‘, and the entire auditorium of students exploded in laughter.”

Tattletale smiled.  “You’re calling my analysis into question?”

“If you’re basing it on the Freudian structural model, yes.”

“Freud was big on the whole Oedipus, Electra thing.  Mommy issues, daddy issues.  I’d say if we have any understanding of the Endbringers at all, there’s definitely something going on there.  Not sexual, but you get what I mean.”

“You’re way overstating my intelligence,” Imp said.  “I don’t get what you mean at all.”

“The Endbringers have a fucked up connection with whoever made them,” I said.  “Be it Eidolon or someone else.”

“I understand that.”

“So if they’re unmoored from whatever’s anchoring them to reality,” Tattletale said, “What’s motivating them now?”

“A better question,” I said, “Is… well, who the fuck is she following?”

“Us,” Imp said.  “You guys are overthinking this.”

I sighed.  “She is following us, probably.  Leviathan was following the Azazel, Simurgh followed the Dragonfly.  Both maintained consistent speeds, matching pace, keeping a short distance.  What I’m asking is, which of us, exactly, does the Simurgh follow?”

“Who’s in control of her, for the time being?”  Tattletale summed up the question.

“There’s an easy way to check that,” Defiant murmured.  Odd, that his voice had a vaguely mechanical twang to it even with his helmet off.  “Each person that was on the Dragonfly walks in a different direction, and we see who she follows.”

I frowned, glancing skyward for a moment.  No sign of any movement or response from the Simurgh.

“What?” Tattletale asked.

“I wouldn’t say anyone’s in control of her,” I said.  “Because I don’t think anyone is in control of her except her, and-”

I stopped there.

What?” Tattletale asked, again.

“When she was first attacking the settlement and I was musing aloud at the possibility of betrayal, she very deliberately looked at me.  It was a communication, all on its lonesome.  Letting me know the whole betrayal thing was a possibility, that she had some self-volition, and letting me know she was listening.”

“We know she hears.  We know she’s aware of everything around her, present or future.  Simurgh S.O.P.,” Tattletale said.

“I know,” I said.  “But I’m not just saying she heard me.  I’m saying she was listening.  She’s hearing every word we say here and she’s paying attention to all of it, processing it, applying it, maybe.”

“You may be reading too much into a momentary eye contact,” Defiant said.  “I’m watching the video footage in question right now… yes.  I see what you’re talking about.”

“Right?” I asked.  “So you agree?”

But he shook his head.  “I suspect It’s a bad sign if you’re getting paranoid over this.  It’s counterproductive, and the moment your fear or second-guessing is detrimental enough, you need to step down and walk away.”

I took a deep breath, then sighed.  “I’m fine.”

“If there’s an issue…”

“No issue.  All I’m saying, the only reason I brought this up, is because I don’t want to get on her bad side.  I’d very much appreciate it if we treated her with due respect.  Let’s not upset her by talking about her in a negative light.  Electra complexes, talking about who’s controlling her, or experimenting on her.  I don’t think it’s that easy to understand her, and we’re only going to upset her if we keep going down that road.”

“She doesn’t get upset,” Defiant said.  “Didn’t we just spend an inordinate amount of time talking about how Endbringers don’t have conventional emotions?”

“Better safe than sorry,” I said.

“Yes,” he sighed the word.  “Yes.  Of course.  I’m mentally exhausted, I’m being stubborn.”

“We’re all mentally exhausted,” I said.  I glanced up at the Simurgh.  “Keep that in mind.”

There were nods all around.

“The Pendragon won’t fly until I fix it,” Defiant said, standing.  He pulled on his helmet, and there was an audible sound as it locked into place.  “I’ll need parts from elsewhere.  It also means leaving some people behind.  You can’t fit everyone into the Dragonfly.”

“We’ll do something low-risk in the meantime, then,” I said.  “Reduced group.”

“Sensible.  I’ll go see after the others, then.  This would be a good time to eat, stock up on supplies or use the facilities.”

Defiant wasn’t one for goodbyes or formalities.  He said he’d leave, and he left, his boots making heavy sounds with each footfall.

“Well, I’m going to go make water,” Tattletale said, jerking a thumb towards one of the outhouses.  “I’d be all girl-code and invite you with, but I actually like you guys, and I don’t want to subject you to that atmosphere.”

“Thanks,” I said.

When Tattletale had disappeared, Imp and I sort of meandered over towards the others.

Canary was closest, helmet off, her hair plastered to her head with sweat, making her feathers that much more prominent where they stuck out of her hairline.

“This is crazy,” she said.

“This is a Tuesday for us,” Imp replied, overly casual in a way that was almost forced.

I saw the dawning alarm on Canary’s features.  I hurried to reassure her, “It’s really not.  Ignore her.”

Canary nodded.

“Holding up okay?”  I asked.

“Pretty much.  There’s one thing, but it… it’s pretty trivially stupid in the grand scheme of things.”

“We’re killing time while we wait to get organized,” I said.  “Go ahead.”

“There were two people I was talking to.  Forget their names.  One’s really forgettable and the other’s obscure.”

“Foil and Parian,” I said.

“Yes.  Right, yeah.  I was talking to them, and we had a lot in common, and then they went from warm to ice cold in a flash.  Couldn’t understand why.”

I frowned.  “That doesn’t sound like either of them.”

“They didn’t really say anything.  They just talked about going somewhere, and I asked if I could come, and they looked at me like I had three heads.”

“They probably wanted to be alone,” I said.

“Yeah.  I get that,” Canary said.

Alone alone,” Imp responded.  “End of the world, making every minute count?  Nudge, nudge, wink wink?”

Imp held her mask in one hand, using it to nudge Canary twice, then tipping it to the side as she winked, keeping time with the four words.

Canary’s eyes went wide.  “Oh.  Oh!”

“Dudette, with all the hugging and reassuring they were doing, how was this even in question?”

“I don’t follow the cape scene.  I don’t know how close teammates get.  I just figured, shitty situation, life and death, maybe you cling tighter to any buoy in a storm… oh god.  I asked if I could come with them.”

Imp nodded sagely.  “I can see where you’d get confused.  We’re very close, here, after all.”

Canary was blushing, humiliated, the pink of her skin contrasting her yellow hair.

Imp continued, “After all, Skitter… Weaver and I… well…”

She tried to make bedroom eyes at me, holding her hands in front of her, twisting her arms as she drew her shoulders forward, the very picture of a lovestruck schoolgirl.

Canary’s face reddened further as Imp continued to poke fun.

Imp, for her part, gave it up after only two or three seconds.  “Fuck.  Can’t do it.  Weaver here has diddled my brother, and it just feels squick and incestuous.”

That’s the reason we haven’t ever done the relationship thing,” I said, my voice flat.  “It’d be weird in an almost incestuous way.”

Imp cackled.  One of very few people I knew who could cackle.  She was enjoying herself.  This was her medium.  One of them.  “You’d do better with Tattletale, or Rachel.”

“Thank you,” I said, and I injected a little more sarcasm into my voice, “for the mental pictures that evokes.”

She cackled again.

Eager to change the topic, I glanced at the others.  The Wards were sitting a short distance away, Kid Win, Golem, Vista and Cuff, sitting together.  Cuff was fixing up Golem’s costume.

I’d feel weird about approaching them.  Technically, I was still a Ward, though my eighteenth birthday had come and gone.  I should have moved up to the Protectorate, but I’d never been sworn in, had never filled in the paperwork.

The Slaughterhouse Nine, Scion and the mass-evacuation from Earth Bet sort of gave me an excuse, but I still didn’t want to face the questions.

I glanced at Saint, who was sitting between Narwhal and Miss Militia.  They were pretty clearly talking guns.

Lung stood alone.  He was holding a skewer with meat all along the length.  A glance around didn’t show any possible source.

A check with my swarm did.  A few hundred feet away, there was a cooking fire that had gone out in the aftermath of the Yàngbǎn attack.  Lung had apparently claimed some food as a matter of course.

“Lung,” I said, almost absently.

“You know him?” Canary asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“He was kind of notorious in the Birdcage.  A lot of people, they come in, and they do something to make a statement.  Kill someone, pick someone suitable and claim them, challenge someone suitably impressive to a fight, that sort of thing.”

“What did Lung do?” I asked.

“He marched into the women’s side of the prison, killed his underling, and then killed and maimed a bunch of others before the cell block leaders ordered people to pull back.  I got called into a meeting, too, where a bunch of people in charge of cell blocks asked me to come and tell them what I knew about him, since we arrived at the same time.”

I nodded.  “But you didn’t know anything.”

“No.  I think some of them were really worried, too.  I thought they were going to hurt me, until Lustrum, uh, my cell block leader, backed me up, gave me her protection.”

“Geez,” Imp said.  “That’s messed up.”

Canary shrugged.  “How did you put it?  A Tuesday?  A Tuesday in the Birdcage.”

“No, I’m not talking about that,” Imp said.  “I’m talking about the fact that Lustrum the feminazi was in charge of your cell block and you still didn’t pick up on the thing between Parian and Foil.  Isn’t that, like, Sappho central?”


Canary blushed again.  “I… uh.”

“I mean, seriously,” Imp said.

“Ease up,” I warned her.

“I… I live and let live,” Canary said.  “I just didn’t want to step on toes.”

“And you never got any?”

“I had somebody, but like I said…”

They were still going as I focused on my swarm.  I gave some commands to the Dragonfly, which I had landed a mile and a half out of town, and brought it our way.

With the relay bugs, I could sense most of the settlement, the surrounding landscape, everything above and below.  That was only using half of them.

The remainder were fertilized, bearing eggs.

I’d flipped the switches, shifted them into breeding mode, and I was working on keeping them warm and well fed.  I’d have to wait until the eggs hatched before I found out whether the young had any range extension ability.  If I had to wait until they were adult, well, the world might end before I got that far.

Defiant was returning.  I stepped away from Canary and Imp to greet him.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Smaller team, while the Pendragon was out of action, smaller job.

The ones who were grounded would be looking after the settlement, ensuring the survivors were able to make it through the next few nights.

Tattletale was with me.  Imp and Rachel had come with for much the same reason Lung had.  They were restless personalities, unwilling to relax when there was a possibility of a conflict.  I wanted to think that Rachel’s intentions were a little kinder in nature than Lung’s, that she wanted to protect her friends, but I wasn’t going to ask, nor was I going to set any hopes on it.

A pleasant idea, nothing more.

Lung was eerily quiet.  He’d acted to stop Shadow Stalker from attacking me, but he hadn’t shown a glimmer of his power.

After we’d decided who went where, before we’d left, Canary had found a moment to talk to me.  To finish what she’d been about to say when Imp had interrupted to poke fun at her.

Information about Lung.

He coasted on reputation for some time.  Didn’t use his power, didn’t fight, just intimidated.  Nobody was willing to start something because nobody really knew what he was about.  Until this guy from Brockton Bay came in.  Had some info.  Except, by then, Lung was entrenched in Marquis’ cell block, and even if someone wanted to go after him, they didn’t want to deal with Marquis in the process.

Lung hadn’t been using his power.  Why?  Was there a reason?

A deep seated concern about his passenger, maybe?  No.  What would excuse that?

I needed to ask Tattletale, now that I knew, but there hadn’t been a moment where we’d both been alone.

We had Shadow Stalker, who had no interest in rebuilding and resettling.  Defiant was with us as well, relying on remote monitoring to perform the occasional check-in on Saint.  Narwhal would manage the rest.

Miss Militia had come along, and nobody had said anything to mark it as fact, but I got the distinct impression it was for Defiant‘s sake.

And, of course, we had the Simurgh.  Following.  She’d finished building what she’d been working on as she hovered over the aftermath of the fight at the Tav settlement.

A shortsword, four feet long, without any guard to protect the hand from an enemy’s weapon, both sides of the blade serrated.  Black.

Defiant had called it a Gladius.

Defiant had the cockpit and Miss Militia’s company, and so I was left to hang out in the cabin, with Rachel sleeping beside me, Bastard and Huntress sleeping at her feet.

I admired her ability to rest in such stressful situations.  I glanced at Shadow Stalker, who seemed to be filled with nervous energy.  When we’d kidnapped her for Regent to control, Rachel had been able to sleep then, too.

I felt like I had to be responsible, somehow.  I’d taken on three very dangerous individuals, with reputations ranging from bloodthirsty vigilante to Endbringer, and I knew I’d blame myself if something went wrong on any count.  I couldn’t sleep when there was information to take in, when there were people to watch, people to watch over, and personalities to keep in check.

Threats and conflicts, within and without.

Many of the monitors were focused on Bohu, the towering Endbringer, tall enough that her heads reached the cloud cover.  Five miles tall, give or take.  Gaunt, expressionless, without legs to walk with.  No, she moved like a block of stone that someone was pushing, not with lurching movements, but a steady, grinding progression that left bulldozed terrain in her wake.  Overlapping rings marked the area she traveled as well, as she continued switching between her typical combat-mode cycles, altering the terrain, raising walls, creating traps and deadfalls, generating architecture.

The monitors abruptly changed.  One shaky image, from one cameraman at just the right vantage point.

A golden streak crossing the evening sky, appearing out of nowhere.

Just about everyone in the Dragonfly tensed.  I felt myself draw in a breath, my meager chest swelling as if I could draw in confidence as well as air, preparing to give orders, to provide the call to arms.

But the golden light disappeared as soon as it had appeared.  Like the jet stream of an aircraft passing overhead, except it was light, not smoke, and it only marked a brief period where he’d passed through our world on his way to other things.

We relaxed.

Rachel hadn’t even woken up.  She was exhausted, though we’d barely participated in any fighting.

The Dragonfly moved closer to the ground as we approached the next portal.  It was squatter, broader, allowing for more ground traffic at a moment’s notice, though it made the passage of flying vehicles more difficult.

Like Scion, exiting one world, passing through Bet on our way to the next.  It reminded me of my discussion with Panacea.  People who build and people who destroy.  We were trying to do the former, Scion the latter.

The Dragonfly passed through the portal.

Heavy rain showered down around us.  The Dragonfly faltered for an instant as it changed settings, very nearly nosediving into the ground beneath us.

Defiant pulled the craft up.

Agnes Court, I thought.  I’d studied all of the major players in anticipation of the end of the world, I knew who the Elite were, and I knew who had built this.

She fit somewhere between Labyrinth and the Yàngbǎn’s Ziggurat.  Organically grown structures.  Seeds that swelled into pillars, stairs, houses and bigger things, given enough time in proximity to their master.  The wood-like substance hardened to stone of varying colors after she terminated the growth.

In the span of two and a half days, she’d grown a walled city, one with an elaborate castle at the northmost end, with shelters and what looked like a sewer system, if I was judging the perfectly round hole in the cliff face below right.  It was gushing water.

Two days to make this.

Leviathan had taken less than an hour to demolish it.

The wall, taller than some skyscrapers, was shattered in three places, damaged enough to serve little purpose in others.  A shallow river flowed through the spots where the damage to the wall reached the ground.

Leviathan had perched himself atop the castle’s highest tower, though the tower wasn’t broad enough for him to put anything more than two clawed hands and two feet on the very top.  His tail wound around the structure, in one window and out another.

Even through the rain, his five eyes glowed.

“Oh no,” I said.  “The civilians.  The refugees.”

“Relatively few,” Tattletale said.  “That’s… yeah.  I don’t think we offed people in any substantial numbers.”

In any substantial numbers, I thought.

“I didn’t think they’d get this kind of structure up in time,” I said.

“Court grows things exponentially, given time,” Tattletale said.

She frowned.

Grew things exponentially.”

If that was the case, then we’d lost a possible asset.  Fuck this, fuck the Elite for bringing things to this point.

“There were a thousand people here,” Defiant said.  “Many who were managing supplies and resources for the rebuilding and resettlement efforts.”

“I’d explain,” Tattletale said, “But I’d rather not explain twice.”

“Twice?”  Miss Militia asked.

Tattletale pointed.

The Azazel had parked on top of a tower at the wall’s edge, almost opposite to where Leviathan was.  A crowd had gathered around it.

Too many to be just the Dragon’s Teeth.  Far too many.

I swallowed.

Cameras zoomed in on the individuals.  Hard to make out through the rain, but I could draw the appropriate conclusions.

The Dragonfly landed, far gentler in the process than I would have managed on my own.

“Time to face the music,” Tattletale said.

I took the time to restructure my costume, raising my hood to protect my head before I stepped out into the pouring rain.  Defiant was in step to my right, Tattletale to my left.

No, not pouring.  Pounding.  As heavy a rainfall as I’d ever experienced.

The other major players had arrived.  The Thanda, Faultline, the Irregulars, the Meisters, the remnants of the Suits…  Cauldron.

It took time for everyone from the Dragonfly to make their way outside.  We looked so small in comparison to the group arrayed before us.  People had disappeared here and there.  Dead or gone in the wake of the disaster on the oil rig, or the fighting that had followed.

Even after we’d arrived, after the ramp had closed, the group before us remained utterly silent.  There was only the sound of the rain, so deafening I might have been unable to hear people if they’d shouted.  I clenched my fists, tried not to shiver.  If I started, I wouldn’t stop.  Staying calm, staying confident, my attention on my bugs as a way of escaping the stresses here… it made for an almost zen moment.

It was in that same moment that the Simurgh descended.

Descended was the wrong word.  She fell.  It was as though she’d stopped lifting herself into the air, and let herself drop.  Her wings moved to control her descent, keep her facing towards the ground as she plummeted.  In the gloom of the rain and the heavy stormclouds above, her silver-white body was the easiest thing to make out.  If the assembled capes hadn’t already been keeping a wary eye on her, the movement would have turned heads anyways.

A white streak, plummeting from the sky, striking Leviathan.

The shockwave that accompanied the impact tore through the tower.  Superficial features broke away first, followed by the internal structures that had provided structural integrity.  The end result was a gradual, almost slow-motion collapse, a lingering view of the Simurgh and Leviathan as they’d been at the moment of impact.

They tilted as the tower did, but neither Endbringer moved.  The Simurgh had both feet pressed against Leviathan’s stomach, one hand reaching up to grip his face, the other hand holding the gladius she’d made, buried so deep in Leviathan’s sternum that only a little bit of the handle stuck out.

Pieces of her halo began to fall, including her fabricated guns and the other debris she’d arranged to form the ring itself.  It rained down like a localized meteor shower, striking the castle, the base of the tower, the wall, and Leviathan.

The Simurgh managed to avoid being struck, even with her vast wingspan.  She leaped up, kicking herself off of Leviathan, and found a perch on the wall, folding her wings around herself and the top of the wall, as if to ward off the worst of the rain.

Maybe six or seven seconds later, the tower finished collapsing, and Leviathan’s massive, dense body hit ground, crashing through several buildings before settling, the handle of the sword still sticking out of the wound.

He didn’t rise.  He twitched, lashed out with his tail, dashing three already tattered buildings to smithereens, then gushed with water, producing four or five times his body weight in water without even moving.

Death throes?

She’d hit his core.

Beside me, Imp wiped at the lenses of her mask, tried again, and then pulled it off entirely.  She stared at the scene with her mouth agape, then looked to Tattletale, mouthing three words in a voice too quiet to make out through the pounding rain.

Tattletale’s hair was soaked through, streaming with rivulets of water that ran down her back.  Dark makeup ran from the eye sockets of her costume.

However bedraggled she appeared, just after a minute of standing in the rain, she also looked contemplative, rubbing her chin as she hugged her other arm close for warmth.

Leviathan went utterly still.

I watched the faces of the others.  Every set of eyes was fixed on Leviathan’s body.  Nobody seemed like they were willing or able to tear their eyes away from the scene.

Slowly, almost at a glacial pace, Leviathan moved.  One hand with the disproportionately long claws was planted on the ground, then another.  His tail provided some of the support and strength to leverage himself to his feet.

That, oddly enough, seemed to surprise Tattletale.  Her hand dropped from her face to her side.  She fumbled to hook her thumb over her belt as if she needed the extra leverage.

When Leviathan had pulled himself to an upright position with both feet beneath him, his head hanging down, the tail snaked around the handle of the sword.

He wrenched it free, and tore out chunks of his own chest in the process.  There was little left but the handle and the base of the sword.  Needle-like lengths of metal speared out from the base, but the bulk of the sword’s material was gone.

Leviathan continued to move with an almost excruciating slowness as he reached out with his claws, extending each arm to his sides, like a figure crucified.

The wound was superficial, but he was acting like he’d received a more grievous wound than any of us had dealt in the past.

The wind turned, and the wall ceased to provide a curtain against the rain.  For a moment, Leviathan was only a silhouette.

I could see his shape distort.

Others reacted before I saw anything different.  The Number Man, Tattletale, Dinah, Faultline… they saw something I couldn’t make out through the curtains of torrential rain.  The Number Man said something to Doctor Mother, and I saw Dinah fall back just an instant before Faultline gave a hand signal to her crew.  They adopted fighting stances.

Did they really think we could fight, if it came down to it?  Against two Endbringers?

It was maybe twenty seconds of stillness, seeing only vague shapes through the shifting downpour, before the wind turned again.  I got a glimpse of what the Simurgh had done.

I could hear a squeak from beside me.  I expected it to be Imp, saw it was Shadow Stalker, instead.  She clutched her crossbow in both hands.

Fins.  Leviathan had fins.

They were like blades, points sweeping backwards.  A fin rooted in the side of his arm, from wrist to elbow, the point scything back.  Had it not been limp enough to trail on the ground, it might have reached his shoulder.  More at the sides of his neck and along the length of his spine, forming an almost serrated pattern where multiple fins overlapped.  Perhaps some at his legs.  The fins ran down the length of his tail, and ended in a cluster at the end, like the tuft of fur at the end of a lion’s tail, exaggerated many times over in size.

He flexed a claw, and I could see webbing between each finger, mottled in black and an iridescent green that matched his eyes.  It made me think of the bioluminescence of a jellyfish in the deep ocean.

In synchronous motions, the Simurgh unfurled her wings, stretching them to their full length, and Leviathan flexed his fins, letting them unfold in kind.  Each fin was the same as the webbing, mottled black and a eerie green, and the echo-image of water that accompanied his movement produced mist as it washed over the fins.  It obscured him almost completely, and as much as the pouring rain served to drive it away, the rainwater produced more mist as it touched the fins.

It took some time to clear, and even then, it only cleared because Leviathan had folded the fins up again.  When we could see Leviathan again, he had collapsed into a sitting position, one overlong arm draped over his legs, ‘chin’ resting on one shoulder, completely at ease.

Above him, the Simurgh slowly folded her wings closed, like a reversal of a flower blossoming.

Doctor Mother turned to face us.

“Wha-  The-” she stuttered.

Contessa, holding an umbrella to keep the both of them dry, set an arm on the Doctor’s shoulder.  The Doctor fell silent, stopping only to look at Leviathan, then turned back to Tattletale.

Tattletale managed a grin.  “I’d say there’s a silver lining in all this, but that phrase has sort of lost it’s cachet over the last decade or so.”

She gestured in the vague direction of the Simurgh before hugging her arms against her body.  “…He’s probably stronger, which helps if he’s going up against Scion, right?”

“I think,” Doctor Mother said.  She paused very deliberately.  “It would be very wise to keep the Endbringers separated from here on out.”

“We might have to fight them, before or after we take on Scion,” King of Swords, leader of one division of the Suits voiced the concerns that everyone was harboring.

Lung was the next one to speak.  “What did she do?”

“Upgraded Leviathan,” Tattletale said.  “Attuned some device to the right frequency or setting, then tapped into his core without doing too much harm to Leviathan.  Fed things into there.  Knowledge, data, nanotechnology.”

Defiant’s head turned, as if Tattletale had said something.

“Yeah,” Tattletale said.  “Nanotech.  Why do you think the fins were turning water to mist?”

My tech?”  Defiant asked.

“Among one or two other advancements.  If the density rules are in effect, I’d bet those fins are just as hard to cut through as Leviathan’s arm or torso.  Disintegration effect, maybe something else.”

“Mecha-Leviathan?” Imp murmured.

“That’s not- it doesn’t fit with what we know of them,” Defiant said.

Tattletale spread her arms, a massive, exaggerated ‘who knows?‘ gesture.

“It’s the fucking Simurgh,” Rachel said.

“I hope you can understand why we’re… distressed with you,” the Doctor said.

Fuck you,” Tattletale retorted.  “Cope.”

I put my hand on her shoulder.  She didn’t relent, nor did she release any of her tension.

“You wiped out two defending forces,” the Doctor said.  “We lost the Yàngbǎn’s support when you took out their infiltration squads, and the Elite are wiped out.”

I squeezed Tattletale’s shoulder.  She gave me an annoyed look, but she backed away.

I took in a deep breath.  I could see the Doctor fold her arms.  Like a mother or schoolteacher awaiting an apology from the recalcitrant student.

“Fuck you,” I said.

“You don’t want us for enemies,” the Doctor said.

“We have the fucking Simu-” Imp started.  Tattletale elbowed her.

“The Yàngbǎn were doing more harm than good,” I said.

“They were limiting their strikes to civilians.  Not something I agree with, but with Earth, with every Earth on the line, I’d forego two or three thousand lives for the help of over two hundred of the C.U.I.’s trained parahumans.”

“They’d given up,” Tattletale said.  “They were taking territory to run and hide.”

“Contessa would have changed their minds.”

Tattletale shrugged.  “Don’t blame us for not taking your plans into account, when you don’t share your plans with anyone.”

“This is common sense.  No matter.  The Elite, though?”

“They were attacking civilians.”

“They were nonviolent.  Refugees in the vicinity of the portal were evacuated.  The Elite then made contact with possible settlers who they thought would be interested in paying a premium for good shelter, for resources and supplies.  If not paying with cash, then paying with skills.  Doctors, talented artists, scholars… it was one of our best bets for re-establishing a hub of development across all of the Earths.”

“They broke the truce,” Tattletale said.

“Again, they were an asset.  They were cooperating.  The truce hardly stands in this dark hour.”

“They broke the truce,” I echoed Tattletale.  “The code has been there since the beginning.  If a bigger threat shows up, we band together.  We don’t distract each other with attacks or murder attempts, we don’t take advantage of the situation to fuck with civilians.  The truce is there for a reasonand it has weight because everyone knows that they can’t handle the trouble that gets express-delivered to their doorsteps when they’ve defied it.”

“Siding with Endbringers could be seen as a violation,” Queen of Wands said.  “I seem to recall you participated in an effort to drive out a gang that had escalated too much, too violently, too fast.”

Her eyes fell on Lung.

Were they serious?

“Don’t be fucking stupid,” Faultline said.  “If you start going after the Undersiders and Guild for trying to amass enough firepower to take down Scion, then nobody’s going to be able to put up a fight.”

“Hey,” Tattletale said.  “Faultline, sticking up for me?  This is a first.”

“So you agree with this?  Using the Endbringers?”  one of the Thanda asked.

Tattletale grinned.  “Agree?  It was her idea.”

Faultline whipped her head around.  “No.  No it wasn’t.”

“Talking to the monsters.  Well, you said talk to Scion, but this is close.  You can have partial credit.”

“I’ll have no such thing.  I don’t disagree with this, but I won’t condone it either.  This is the Undersider’s plan, they can reap the consequences if it goes wrong.”

Tattletale smiled, but it wasn’t quite a grin.  Confident, calm.  I doubted anyone but the perception thinkers on the other side could see, but Tattletale was clenching her jaw in an effort to keep her teeth from chattering.

I felt just a little warmer, owing to my hood.  I spoke so Tattletale wouldn’t have to try and risk an ill-timed chattering of teeth.  “That’s fair.  We’ll deal with the consequences, be it a stab in the back from the Endbringers or punishment that follows from any real issues that follow from this.  But we will keep going after anyone who violates the truce.”

Rachel stepped forward, her arm pressing against my shoulder and side, as if she was bolstering me with physical presence.  Through the bugs I’d planted on him, I could sense Lung folding his arms.

“You will not be taking charge of all of the Endbringers,” the Doctor said.  “Teacher emerged with a small force at his disposal.  He defeated the Protectorate squads that were deployed at one empty location…”

“The place Khonsu or Tohu were supposed to appear,” Tattletale said.

“Quite.  It was Khonsu.  The Endbringer has imprinted on Teacher’s group, and he has offered to sell that squad, along with the Endbringer, to a sufficiently wealthy buyer.  We agreed, if only to keep this from becoming a monopoly on Endbringers.”

Tattletale smiled a little, but didn’t talk.

“How good of you,” Defiant said.

“We strongly advise you leave Tohu for another party to claim,” the Doctor said.  “Focus on the three you have.”

Defiant glanced at Tattletale and I.  I looked at Tattletale, reading her expression, before coming to a conclusion.  “That’s fine.”

“Then we’re one step closer to a resolution,” the Doctor said.  “Much better than the alternative.”

Veiled threats, now?  Just how badly had we fucked her plans?

“This is more firepower than we expected to have at this juncture,” the Doctor said.  “But not enough by itself.  Without sufficient distraction, Scion will treat the Endbringers as he treated Behemoth.  We’ll step forward and unveil our own plan B and plan C at the time of battle.”

“Armies,” Tattletale said.  “You were collecting people for a reason, and you didn’t release every Case Fifty-three you made.”

“Essentially,” the Doctor said.

“Five groups,” I said, and my eyes fell on Dinah, who was standing beside Faultline.  “We should split up so we can respond the instant Scion appears.  We make sure every group has some way to maybe occupy him or pin him down, and we move to reinforce.”

Dinah, standing beside Faultline, nodded slowly.

“Four Endbringers, and then Dragon and Teacher to comprise the final group,” the Doctor said.  “If Tohu arrives, she can reinforce the weakest group.  Quite possibly Bohu.”

“Yes,” Defiant said.  He was clutching his spear so tight I thought it would break.  He looked to Miss Militia for clarification.

“I’ll run it by Chevalier,” she said, “But I don’t see a problem with this.”

There were heads nodding.

Not enough.  We don’t have enough people here.  There’s groups missing.  People still hidingPeople like the Yàngbǎn who are fighting us instead of helping.

I was all too aware of the Simurgh and Leviathan at the corner of my peripheral vision, of Lung and Shadow Stalker, who I could sense with my swarm.

Too many people ready to stab us in the back.

“I would recommend,” the Doctor said, speaking slowly, “That you take your time to visit loved ones, say goodbyes and make your peace.  I don’t think there will be another fight after this.”

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322 thoughts on “Cockroaches 28.5

  1. Sorry for any dumb mistakes or spelling errors. I was really fucking tired as I wrote this one. I caught myself calling Lung ‘Dragon’ twice, and I’m worried something along those lines slipped through.

    Hope you enjoy. Vote on Topwebfiction if you haven’t recently, pretty please.

    • …Who let Imp watch Street Fighter?

      “an entire rig” Rig technically works, but I’m guessing from the next sentence that it should be ‘ring’?
      “I could look at that of jellyfish that glowed in the deep sea.” Could use a bit of rewording maybe?

    • “Even through the rain, his five eyes glowed.”
      not sure if its a typo but in 8.2 you describe him as having 4 eyes

      From 8.2:
      “The hard, featureless plain of Leviathan’s ‘face’ was broken up only by four cracks or tears – one on the right side of his face, three on the left. In each of those dark gaps, the green orbs of his eyes glowed with a light that pierced through the rain.”

      • “… This is the Undersider’s plan, they can reap the consequences if it goes wrong.”

        Punctuated that way, it reads as though the plan belongs to a single entity called Undersider. You want the apostrophe after the s – that is, Undersiders’. That denotes “Undersiders” as a plural, and the plan as belonging to them.

    • In the doing, we passed through a darker patch where the Simurgh’s wingspan blocked out a portion of the sun.
      –> “In so doing”?
      I suspect It’s a bad sign if you’re getting paranoid over this.
      –> unnecessary capitalization of “it’s”
      tall enough that her heads reached the cloud cover.
      –> does Bohu have more than one head?
      mottled black and a eerie green
      –> “an eerie”

    • “Five groups,” I said, and my eyes fell on Dinah, who was standing beside Faultline. “We should split up so we can respond the instant Scion appears. We make sure every group has some way to maybe occupy him or pin him down, and we move to reinforce.”

      Dinah, standing beside Faultline, nodded slowly.

      The repetition is somewhat awkward.

    • “This is the Undersider’s plan, they can reap the consequences if it goes wrong.”

      The apostrophe should be after the S, rather than before.

    • Long long time after, but

      “You’re way overstating my intelligence,” Imp said.

      seems like it should be “overestimating my intelligence”, unless it’s a personal quirk.

      • I say we petition TV Tropes to change “Godzilla Threshold” to “Scion Threshold”. It’s not even spoilery, because even before his turn it would be the point where everyone goes “throw whatever you have however you can, and pray for Scion”.

        • And for people who haven’t read Worm… THEY FUCKING SHOULD!

          Wow, this chapter has me swearing a lot more than I normally would. Guess I’m just that hype.

  2. Why am I getting the expectant chills that only come with really, really cool boss fights? *exhales* Hoo boy. Haven’t felt this good since the final boss of ME3: Citadel.

      • I still conjecture that imp is getting hits from teacher. All this talk of betrayal? Improved vocabulary? History of letting dangerous powers work on her? This isn’t to say that she of all people might be able to screw over teacher. After all she did have a world class controller work her over for years.

        • I prefer to think that she and Alec spent long evenings enjoying the afterglow and discussing the classics. It’s a lovely image, and only 90% unlikely.

          • What’s this “Alec taught Aisha the classics” stuff coming from? Because he’s french? (not even, he’s Quebecer) Regent was kind of… well, a wastrel for lack of a better word. I don’t think he’d know alot outside the normal mainstream stuff, y’know?

            It’s possible one of Heartbreaker’s later kids was a bit more refined, but I like the idea that Aisha was intentionally expanding her reference pools so her wisecracks would go over people’s heads.

          • Also, girl could have gained a new found interest in online english classes. Y’know–gained knowledge the old-fashioned way. Without powers……


            ……nah. Sorry. Just can’t picture Imp sitting still long enough to self-study. But still a possibility.

          • Yup. That’s the only thing making me think it’s *not* the case. Wildbow tends to be more a ‘sneak things under the radar if possible’ author. Having Tattletale point out Imp’s improved vocabulary outright is a little too obvious and makes me suspect it’s a red herring.

            But we’ll see…

            • With Aisha’s mums history of drug use, I think she’d see taking hits from teacher as too similar of a thing. IDK maybe not after Alec. Although there isn’t anything gained with Regents power like there is with Teachers.

        • I always had some suspicions but what chinched it for me was Legend going on a rant on how Contessa can’t be just a glorified bodyguard. Her shutting Doctor as she stammers is just icing on the cake.

          Personally I think Contessa is carrying the wishes of the Third Entity, who’s been manipulating everyone in the shadows.

          • My bet as well, although I think Doctor Mother is genuinely being played by Contessa, not just a front for her. Especially since Contessa could (relatively) easily counter Tattletale’s power (especially if she is connected to the Third Entity and thus possibly immune), bu the unpowered Dr. Mom probably couldn’t even with Contessa’s help.

  3. “At least she’s stopped screaming.”
    This first line kinda makes me picture Taylor as a wearied babysitter. Babysitting the Simurgh.

    I’m really enjoying the new and improved Imp. Twice as much culture with no loss of dirty jokes!

  4. My favorite chapter since Alexandria got suffocated. It brings back some of the feel of old Worm, for some reason. I think it’s Tattletale’s interactions with Taylor, that makes up a big part of it.
    Loving this.

    Thanks for writing Wildbow 🙂

  5. – heh. Shipping.
    – something is up with Imp. Either she’s been replaced, body-snatched or she’s on a self-improvement kick for realz
    – fucking Elite. Why do you make me hurt you, so?
    – Mecha-Leviathan, bwahahhaha!
    – How does it taste, Doctor? How’s it fucking taste?!
    – so Contessa can suck it now, yes? She can’t see Endbringers so anyone affiliated with them is protected from her victory-sight
    – yep, you’re right about that, Doctor; there won’t be a fight after this one

    • Earth: Final Conflict.

      Wait, on second thought that was only an average nineties show. But enough of that! We have Mecha-Leviathan with nano-thorn fins and kung fu grip!

      • I love that Leviathan has gotten a boost. He’s always been my favorite Endbringer, despite being the least scary to me of the original three. Probably because I’ve grown up swimming, but haven’t had any firsthand experience with floods/hurricanes/tsunamis or even drowning, so the emotional part of my brain still goes “Water? Just swim, or float with it.” But his water-aftershadow is just such a cool, well thought out power. And now he has freaking nanothorn fins that create mist! What’s not to love!

    • The body-snatching one seems like a possibility; Cauldron had that cape who was basically using Alexandria like a meat-puppet, but we never got the full rundown of his abilities, right? If Alexandria finally got disintegrated going up against Scion, then they’d need to find another use for him.

      • Actually Pretender always puzzled me. It seems obvious he’s “wearing” Alexandria 24/7, so what does he do with his original body? And what happens if someone he’s possessing dies? Is it like Matrix and he also dies or is it like Avatar and he simply returns to his original body?

      • Being possessed by Pretender turns one of your eyes pink. It’d be fairly noticable if Imp had been whammied.

        I don’t think he automatically gets the language and mannerisms of the host body either, AFAIK.

        He seems to be essentially Jericho of the Teen Titans…

    • Hold on a sec. So, victory sight doesn’t work on Endbringers or people connected with them. Eidolon made the Endbringers. Victory sight proven to work on Eidolon. What’s going on?

      • Victory sight doesn’t work (perfectly) on Eidolon. Contessa would have had to create a model based on her knowledge of Eidolon and while she could have won an argument , Eidolon would have realised she was using her power and so it wouldn’t have been perfect. The same thing happens with Scion. Eidolon realises what’s happening pretty fast, it’s simply not fast enough.

          • Hm. So her Victory sight is perfect except for Scion, the Endbringers and Eidolon. That might have raised eyebrows, but perhaps it is only obvious to us me in retrospect.

    • Your point about the Endbringers being a blind spot for Contessa is intriguing, because it’s stated a few times that *nobody* can predict where they’re going or what they’re doing, or anything about them at all.

      So how can Tattletale? I mean, her powers don’t work on them like they work on humans, but she still gets stuff, like physical capabilities, weak points, and the nature of their actions. That’s more than any other thinker.

    • Unless Scion wins, of COURSE there’ll be fights after this one. This whole arc has shown that as soon as the big bad is brought down (or even before), people go back to the same old petty infighting as before…

  6. So, now the question becomes: how is Cauldron going to backstab everyone else this time?

    They have rather made a habit of it, after all.

    Although it was nice to see Doctor Mother actually surprised, for a change.

    …I wonder if we’ll be making a side trip to Earth Aleph, to pick up the last three (well, four, although Oliver is kind of useless here) Travelers. Or did Scion already blow them all up?

    Also kind of wonder how Kid Win and Vista are taking Clockblocker’s death. Granted, they probably had time for a wake before Taylor was resuscitated, but it still would be nice to eventually get a look at how the last survivors of the Brockton Bay Wards are doing.

    And did the erstwhile Glory Girl survive when Brockton Bay got hit back in 27.1?

    • I suppose Sundancer might be useful against Scion. Maybe. Genesis, Ballistic, and Olliver wouldn’t be much help, though.

      There’s enough people dying and things to do that they could well be delaying mourning.

      Probably not. She can’t even move on her own.

      • Maybe Ballistic could shoot a Simurgh-reconstructed G-Driver at Scion, thereby increasing its force? And maybe Genesis’s ability to devise any body she dreams up has heretofore unknown an Eidolon-like capacity to create “something that can hurt Scion”? And maybe maybe Oliver doesn’t actually have a shitty, nigh-nonexistent power, but actually just some tertiary powers and the ability to kill Scion by looking at him?

      • Glory blob seemed to move pretty well on her own when she was chasing Jack around- her flight didn’t seem hampered by her extra bits at the time. Dunno how she is now but she may well be a flying spaghetti monster.

        • Glory Girl flies around. Smurf sees her and gets a *eww gross* expresion. Smurf stabs Glory Girl with sword. Glory Girl turns into mini Smurf. Smurf gets a *much better* expression.

  7. Well I think we have reached the beyond the impossible threshold now. Interesting that one other endbringer joined another group. Now I’m more confused about them. But Dr. Mother is wrong about this being the last fight. Win or lose there are a million more afterward. I’m confident that they’ll take Scion with them even if they lose, with the Endbringers, and Cauldron’s slave army of case 53’s. But then they have to worry about what comes after. The two dozen earths connected to the main one, possibly including the Travelers home dimension. Sleeper apparently ate one world, the Yangban will still exist in some form, they’ll go after Cauldron if they somehow survive, and then there is everything else. Reforming society/governments, dealing with the fact that freaking multiple worlds just became like Brockton Bay after Leviathan. Maybe the Undersiders getting a pardon and joining the heroes, Weaver ruling/protecting her new city, and then dealing with the undoubtedly huge numbers of new parahumans/the old ones in a place without a lot of law and order.

    • When you have a pet Endbringer, you don’t get pardons; you give them.

      Seriously, given the current state of things, the Undersiders getting pardoned by the authorities would be a bad joke. They are the authorities over whatever they survey. They have the power, and any power bloc with more legitimacy has been shattered by Zion.

      “Hero” and “villain”, similarly, have lost whatever meaning they still had left. The Undersiders are operating under Taylor’s direction, along with Protectorate, Birdcage ex-cons, Guild, Brockton Bay and Chicago Wards, Saint, and the friggin’ Simurgh. They’re fighting for humanity and civilization; therefore they’re the heroes, regardless of their previous alignment. (Okay, the Simurgh is a gritty ’90s anti-hero, and Saint’s still a useless wanker, but still.)

      If there’s anyone left alive after this all shakes out, there’s going to be a new world order, and the Undersiders look to have a pretty good chance of being one of the groups that defines it.

  8. Thank you to Stephen, Piotr, Nate, Alan and Gregory, for the donations.

    Sorry I’m slipping in keeping track of this stuff. It remains very much appreciated, and it means I’m able to keep writing. Not to mention that it all helps me to get closer to my dream of being able to focus 100% on the writing.

    Thank you.

      • The FAQ has my general game plan in it. I’d probably self publish before I went to the effort of seeking out a publisher.

        Going to a publisher means having to get an agent (someone that takes a cut of the royalties), which is costly and generally forms a trap of sorts – you need to have work out there to get an agent and you need an agent to get your work to a reputable publisher (yet if you go through smaller parties first, you can burn bridges and have an obstacle to overcome in getting a reputable agent or getting acceptance from a reputable publisher).

        It also means giving up roughly 60% of the earnings (in addition to agent costs) to the publishing house. The upside is that the publishing house is supposed to market for you and get you into major bookstores (keeping in mind that the bookstores, again, take a cut of the proceeds), and in an ideal world you sell enough books to make up for the fact that you’re taking in only 15% of the proceeds (instead of 60-85%).

        Trouble is, these days, many publishing houses aren’t doing so well, and they’re doing less for the authors they work with. They expect the authors to handle the lion’s share of the editing/analysis (less editors to go around), to even contact book stores and to use social media and the like to market. That thing about getting your book in bookstores? I’ve seen authors talk about how publishers have been promising things like this & like marketing, only to turn around and put the book in a catalogue for bookstores, maybe a one page newsletter, and then say the contract terms were met.

        Consequently, it’s very common for people to say ‘If you aren’t a topseller, you’re paying them 50-70% of your earnings for the sake of the publisher’s emblem on the spine/inside cover’.

        Add the issues of actually getting a work like Worm through the slush pile and you’ve got something else entirely. Worm has a weak/slow-ish opening. Okay, that might not sound so bad, but it’s standard operating protocol for publishers to push for a high-impact, fast-paced beginnings. Very possible that, unless I rewrote stuff, it’d get tossed aside after the publisher got partway through the second arc. Add the fact that Worm is 1,495,000 words long and you’ve got another hurdle to overcome. Possibly a benefit, but since most publishers are strict about a 60-100k wordcount, I’d have to split the work up into volumes, which means rewriting to give proper endings to a given ‘book’. (Invariably when I say this, people recommend I end book 1 at the end of arc 8 – except that’s 330k words in, that’s a lot of material to cut).

        Self publishing gives more freedom, and given that Worm is practically marketing itself (thank you so much to everyone that’s spreading the word), it also means possibly more profit than being just another book on a bookshelf among hundreds that a publisher is churning out. It’s the route I’m leaning towards, provided better options don’t turn up.

        That said, I know ‘The Captive Prince’ was actually approached by Penguin, and the author accepted the offer. The Captive Prince was #1 on Muse’s Success until Worm took the #1 spot… Worm is also #1 on Topwebfiction for nearly eight months running, and is #1 on Webfictionguide’s popularity and ratings lists. It may be that I get approached by a publishing house shortly after Worm ends, because they’re looking for authors with pre-established audiences. It may also be that The Captive Prince was a particular work in a particular genre they were looking to fill, and the publishing houses don’t care about me.

        But if they did approach, I’d be willing to hear them out – it’d mean skipping the slush pile and acknowledging the inherent issues of the work/medium right from the outset, rather than having them as obstacles to overcome. Also, if they’re taking the time to approach me, then it means I’m not necessarily one more product to be hurried through the system (barely edited, barely marketed, stuck on a shelf and forgotten), but something deserving of a little more notice. I’d still be paranoid about the traps and shortfalls (I think any author has to), and I’d still need to contact an agent (but wouldn’t have to get one well in advance of any possible deal) but I’d be more inclined to be optimistic.

        • Personally, I’d be shocked if you didn’t have three offers on the board the moment it ended, but I don’t think you should take them. And, sell the arcs as volumes! Each arc has a proper end point. some are long, some are short, you can price them based on length, and then sell the whole thing as a chunk for less than the combined price.

        • I agree with both of the posters above. If any publisher wants to keep it to around a 100k length, then break the books into arcs. The shorter arcs could be combined to make up for some of the longer arcs.
          (In typing this I realized that any publisher would probably want to it as a serial rather than a completed Masterpiece.)
          ((Not to mention that a complete, edited, coffee table sized, hardcover of Worm, would probably collapse most cheap coffee tables!))

        • Wow, thank you for the detailed response. I’m barely 40,000 words into my own novel, so I kind of understand the cynicism you have. Knowing that on average your word baby is earning you less than minimum wage every hour you throw at it. It’s a little depressing. I agree, worm does have a kind of slow start, but you know what they say, A work isn’t perfect until there’s nothing left to cut away.

          You could try what they did with those old Animorphs, books, they were approximately as long as an Arc, they just published like fifty of them. Or you could go for a good old fashioned Brick and put it all out there. It’d be biiiiiig though.

          Personally, I’d love to see you at different Con’s and stuff like that. Set up a booth in artist’s alley.

        • If you don’t mind using someone else’s worlds, your speed makes you a natural for tie-in fiction. Just have a complete, shorter work to show to demonstrate you don’t NEED 1million words per story, and your 10-20k/week speed would mean you could hit deadlines easily.

    • I wanna be the very best
      Like no one ever was
      To catch them is my real test
      To train them is my cause

      I will travel across the land
      Searching far and wide
      Each Endbringer to understand
      The power that’s inside

      Endbringers, (Gotta catch ’em all) its you and me
      I know it’s my destiny
      Endbringers, oh, you’re my best friend
      In a world we must defend
      Endbringers, (Gotta catch ’em all) a heart so true
      Our courage will pull us through

      You teach me and I’ll teach you
      Endbringers, gotta catch ’em all
      Gotta catch ’em all, Endbringers!

    • Presumably. The Travellers did arrive when the gangs were discussing taking down the ABB and Sundancer was a valuable asset in the second fight against Lung.

      Seriously, I’m dying to see everyone’s face when Lung finally uses his power after two years and turns into a giant dragon reaching to the sky, all wreathed in flames so hot that they suck the air straight out of your lungs.

  9. … and it just feels squick and incestuous

    That should be ‘squicky, I think.

    – “I could look at that of jelyfish that glowed in the deep sea.” – perhaps some incomplete edits here?

  10. Okay I was wrong, just a dozen earths. Sleeper wiped out earth z somehow so I’m confident we can call him an S class now, though there must be a reason they haven’t gone to him at this point. I’m assuming Cauldron still has Nilbog’s self replicating creatures. I’m actually more curious about the dearly departed Elite now. I know about Wildbow’s past use of them in a story idea, though I’m not sure how they would use agnes court in combat. Granted her power does give cool possibilities and I’m assuming she used her powers as a rogue with being paid to rebuild cities or design cool things for people. I mean every city constant wants new/updated roadways, buildings, etc. Though construction workers would be pissed at the lost business. Too bad she died, maybe the fairy queen can collect her power and build her own little kingdom.

    • Agnes Court would have been extremely valuable out of combat, making large quantities of high quality shelter. We’d need that to get back on track quickly.

    • Sleeper has long been considered an S-Class, part of the list Nilbog was on. The “Seriously, just don’t fuck with that” list. We got a snippet of an interlude that may have been about him, in which it appeared that he was in the habit of brainwashing people, putting them into obedient trances. I presume that any cape that goes after him just winds up whammied, adding to his clout. So when people say that he took over an Earth, I’m hearing an unspoken “Let’s hope he stops there, because there isn’t shit we can do about it.”

      • Wait, wait, when was this snippet on Sleeper? I thought wildbow even said we’d know nothing about him in this story and that he’s saving him for the sequel.

        My personal,completely unfounded, theory is that he can make his dreams manifest in reality. Just because it would be cool. And awesome.

            • ooh, i was just about to ask “what the fuck is up with sleeper” but now the hope for a sequel has me all riled up.

              • LoL, I have visions of the Worm sequel being the dozen or so remaining humans in the multiverse sitting ’round a campfire in the ruins of civilisation, going “Can someone pass the beans, please?”. xD

                I can also see them sitting around watching “The Walking Dead” going “Wow, those guys don’t know how good they have it!”…

  11. I feel a bit of foreshadowing, that if they do beat the forces of Scion and Teacher and a mutated Dragon, that there will be a…void. Universes collapsing on themselves, realities changing, and, ultimately, all powers leaving. Everyone standing in a world not devastated by anything. Weird impressions or…something. The Worm is dead, long live the universe.

    • I take it that Sleeper has sphere of influence several miles in diameter. If he parks himself on top of the portal, on top of the human settlement, he basically has the whole world for himself. Possession is nine tenths, etc.

  12. – “Earth Zayin, too, was gone, subsumed by the Sleeper.” Jeeze, what does the Sleeper *do*? He’s apparently not affiliated with the endbringers, but he’s powerful enough to “subsume” whole worlds?

    – I find it interesting that Project Pet Simurgh/Bohu/Leviathan has been credited as an Undersiders/Guild operation. I mean, it makes sense considering who was involved (Taylor and Tattletale, Defiant and Narwhal), but that’s not a combination I expected to see.

    – “Four Endbringers, and then Dragon and Teacher to comprise the final group, ” Ouch, man, right in the feels ;-;

    • And here I was thinking that the blasphemies were omnious.

      Taylor seems to be thinking that the Project Pet is more of a partnership of sorts with the endbringers. It would be exceedingly stupid to think they have them under control, as the Simurgh is pleased to show. I can’t help but thing it will blow up in their faces though.

  13. Man, south americans can’t catch a break, huh?
    I was surprised to see that the two cities were I have lived, Bogota and Buenos Aires, were attacked by Behemot (according to the Chevalier interlude). And a whole earth subsumed by sleeper, things keep getting more interesting!
    Is it bad that I feel happy that Doctor Mother was thrown out of her loop by the appearence of the Simurgh? ‘Cause seeing her stuttering made my smile.
    It seems we are at the endgame. I don’t think I can express how much enjoyment I have derived from reading Worm, but it was a LOT. No matter what kind of ending Wildbow has in mind I’m completely sure that it will be fantastic.
    In the Wormverse things always seem to be escalating, and I can’t wait to see the final escalation of the series, the final fight against Scion. I’m so glad that I decided to click on the link on tv tropers that led me here.

    Anyways, tl:dr, a great chapter in a fantastic arc again Wildbow.

    • There is evidently an alternate version of you who is forbidden by international court order from living anywhere that is seismically active. I bet other-you was on vacation in India when Behemoth was destroyed.

      I can’t wait to see how this all wraps up and what comes next. I’m glad I took dermonster’s recommendation.

    • “Is it bad that I feel happy that Doctor Mother was thrown out of her loop”

      No. No it is not. Much like Shadow Stalker, Doctor Mother’s suffering is a balm for the soul.

  14. Aaaannnddd the new Undersiders finally got enough power to say fuck you to Cauldron. Twice. That must have been one of the happiest moments in TT’s life, given her feelings about Doctor Mother.

  15. “Doctor stuttered.” PRICELESS 🙂 . And Contessa had to shut her up. Seriously, I’m more and more and convinced that Contessa is the one truly calling the shots. And speaking of Contessa, now that every faction gets an Endbringer she becomes obsolete in the grand scheme of things, right?

    So an angel descending from Heaven to stab a dragon/serpent with a sword,eh? The Endbringers REALLY are hardwired to mythology/archetypes.

    And, uhm, I have nothing else to say, it seems. Good job as always, wildbow!

    • What I find interesting is that they didn’t actually fight, in the classic sense. Leviathan just stood there and let the Simurgh ram a sword through his chest, ALMOST killing him.

      There’s a couple possibilities here: the simplest being that the Endbringers can communicate with each other in a way that isn’t obvious to humans. They obviously have more than just physical senses, (and I’m not only talking about Smurfy here) since they can be drawn towards conflict.

      Leading on from that, whether they can communicate or not, it means that Leviathan and Simurgh seem to trust each other, at least enough to not kill and/or backstab themselves before they have a chance to fight Scion.

      The alternative, which doesn’t negate the previous two ideas, but puts them in a different light, is that they Endbringers have enough precognition to know they are playing out roles in a huge play, on a multi-versal stage. I’m not entirely convinced that’s what’s happening, but as another poster pointed out, that was quite a dramatic display, for what is basically the Endbringer equivalent of passing out those transforming medi-packs to capes before a battle.

      • I’ve been convinced since New Dehli that the Endbringers have been working together. The Smurf set Cody up in a way that benifited BEHEMOTH way to well. The Endbringers are not just giant monsters that you can train like dogs. They may be alien, but they are smart. And the Smurf is the smartest of them all.

        • Worth noting that we know passengers (At least related passengers) can share knowledge and mutually evolve. At least that seemed to come up a bit in Scion’s interlude.

  16. For something set in the States, this doesn’t seem very American.
    It lacks that ‘Can-Do’ lustre and instead opts for a ‘Make-Do’ attitude that seems very…
    I get certain reactions to Worm from friends, on both side of the pond. There’s a certain consistancy.
    Just so you know, none of these discussions were complaints or anything negative– just all my Chicargo friends want to be heroes and all my London ones arguing they’d be villains or rogues in name only!
    By the way, what’s the average donation?

    • Donations range from $5 to $1000. More $5 donations than $1000 donations, obviously (though not so many more than you’d think – I’d say I’ve had maybe ten $5 donations and two 1k donations).

      50-60% people who donate give something in the neighborhood of $20. 15-25. Maybe 30% of the people who donate give in the $50-100 range.
      That remaining 10% is the extreme ends of the scale, $5 donations and the $200+ donations.

      I might recommend a minimum, not out of greed but so money’s not thrown away – paypal takes a larger cut as the amounts get smaller, and it might be better to wait a month or two and increase the amount rather than donate $5 twice over a span of time.

        • It sounds bad to say “Donate more!”, but it’s the difference between five dollar donation getting cut down to four dollars and fifty cents vs. a ten dollar donation getting reduced to $9.41. That scaling continues – at the one hundred dollar range it’s a 3% cut (or $3 fee).

          So if it means waiting for a less brutal cut, I’m ok with that.

          I’m actively looking into alternatives to Paypal, but the other options take bigger cuts and offer less services – google wallet et al. They aren’t evil, though, which is a plus.

          • LOL, well taken in context tho, you are actually saying, “save your donations and donate later all at once”. Which makes sense. Members here are donating $$$ for story; not to make papal richer.

            Another, less tech, options would be to go to your local post office (or UPS office) and rent a mailbox and have the members that want to donate send it there as a money order or check. That way, you don’t have to worry about those pesky fees.

            I think Paypal is probably your cheapest bet; I really haven’t heard of anything that compares. They were pretty much pioneers that others continue to emulate.

          • A po box to mail checks to?

            Personally, im waiting for a bank to offer competing services, a lot of banks already have free transfers within that bank, all we need is someone to build a network for banks to use in between themselves that’s more efficient than the existing wire service, and theres no fiscal reason we couldnt have bank to bank, account to account transfers for like, 1%.

            • Meh, not happening. As soon as you cross country borders the bank fees shoot through the roof.
              Like, it costs less to stuff an envelope with money, catch a TGV and get there in person with the cash in hand.

              And the reason is greed. Greed trumps over reason when bankers are concerned.

            • Why not?

              How on Earth did we ever get along before Paypal? Oh yeah, that’s right…

              “Please make check or money order payable to BADASS COOL SHIT

              Send to:

              I Want That Whatchamacallit
              P.O. Box 69
              Walla Walla, Washington 12345

              Please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery”

              Uhmmm, yup…pretty much.

              • what about Moneygrams, pay all the fees at your own end and then I think WB should get everything. Only problem is I don’t know how expensive they are and how they work outside the UK

    • Teacher didn’t “catch” an Endbringer, one of his thinker-mooks got Khonsu to imprint on him the same way Weaver and Tt got Smurf. Thinker-talking is OP.

      Aka and now he’s offering the services of said mook+TimeWarper to the highest bidder.

  17. I really agree with an earlier comment about shades of Early-Worm in this chapter. The Undersiders are once again seeking their own path through the mess. Taylor using her pure force of will to push Tattletale’s plans through to fruition.

    Cauldron, and Doctor Mother in particular, must be so pissed off right now. First the Undersiders wreck Coil’s plan, ending Cauldron’s best chance(?) at victory, then Taylor turns herself into the Protectorate, ruining their new Plan before it even gets off the ground. Taylor proceeds to tie herself into the attempt to destroy the 9, and ultimately fails to prevent the apocolypse. Tattletale is constantly picking at Cauldron’s every move and motivation, trying to unveil years of work and planning. Now, the “Under-Guild” have co-opted three super weapons and started taking out power players that Cauldron wanted to use. And to top it all off, they are finally standing in a position of power with Cauldron; forcing Doctor Mother to lose her composure.

    Man, how badly must Doctor Mother wish Coil’s trap had succeeded all those years ago?

    I’m glad to see Dinah still around and kicking, and I’m still curious how she wound up with Faultline’s crew instead of working with Taylor. Is it possible she’s still working to some fiendishly convoluted plan that she see’s a one in a billion chance of succeeding?

    Thanks, as always, for writing Wildbow. Your muse really is an overachiever.

    • Technically they wanted the apocalypse to start on the early time-frame rather than the later time frame. Also, I bet they were banking on Coil retaining his position in the PRT and his employment of the Undersiders/Travelers. If he managed to keep Noelle until Scion snapped, so much the better.

    • Underguild? Why not Guildsiders?

      On a serious note, do you really think that Echidna’s powers would be that useful? I’m imagining Echidna absorbing Scion, only to explode in a burst of golden light. Partly because that’s something like what I imagine will happen if the fanfic I’m writing gets to that stage.

      • You’re kidding. Echidna gives you instant mass production of fully grown clones. You could have scores of Glaistig and scores of Eidolon (to just mention the two most powerful) in very short of time. Heck you could use the clones as your infantry and keep the originals in reserve as a constant well of clones to replace those fallen against Scion.

      • Not to mention, once she sucks someone in, they are basically using her as a human shield (well, an proto-abomination shield, but still…) Which means they are completely safe (aside from some psychological damage) as long as she is far away from the actual fight.

          • Assuming she’s working with you voluntarily (which is the tricky bit of this whole plan) she can choose to voluntarily release people. IIRC, she did that in an earlier battle when she had to shed some mass in a hurry…

  18. So we’re almost there… I’m somewhat hoping for Dinah to finally join the Undersiders, now that she’s not going to substantially influence Taylor any more. (There’s still the possibility she never joined her because it’s difficult to concentrate when a loved one is on the battlefield, but it seems thin, considering all that happened so far)
    She needs more screentime.

    While I really liked the “calm”, and Imp growing as a character…
    WTH are you doing Imp? *puts on a frilly shirt and a mask* Are you crazy? Character development right before a big battle is a death flag!

    So… Behemoth manipulated energy. Leviathan matter. The Simurgh is a thinker/tinker and could possibly have the same shard as Contessa, so she manipulated ideas. Khon controls time and gravity. And Tohou’s domain is… bullet hell?
    Seriously, what primal force are the twin endbringers supposed to embody if not platform games?

    The Simurgh…
    she will stab you with her black evil ominous barbed sword of levelup! That will give you nano-fleas! Because she LIKES you!
    Fucking tinkers…

      • Eh, it’s not like she turned towards the Travellers and said “no way, I’m not a tinker”… she IS accessing at least a tinker shard (Armsmaster’s).

        Since her main danger is, more or less, being intelligent (as opposed to the other ones that can go by with the “programs” left in the shards in previous cycles) that kinda qualifies her as one.

        • The point is that she can’t create something on her own. She used telepathy to copy Kid Win and Defiant’s designs and eidetic memory to perfectly recall Haywire’s blueprints when creating the portal to Aleph.

          • Yeah, tinkers do not either. They just access the shard for blueprints.

            Sure, human creativity plays a part (and feeds back in to the shard I would guess), but not all humans are creative.

            • But tinkers work via “bursts of inspiration.” See also Legend’s pep talk with Kid Win where the latter had “a whole bunch of half-assed ideas all at once.” Something they see, hear, or experience in some way needs to remind them of a blueprint stored in their shard. Simurgh, on the other hand, needs to copy other tinkers’ designs (Kid Win, Defiant, Haywire) in order to produce the results she wants. She can do that via the telepathy/eidetic memory mentioned above.

              • Nope, she improved on Dr. Haywire’s design, remember? And the sword was specifically designed for an endbringer (which is something probably Earth-only)

                So she does not need to copy.

              • Nah you are thinking too small. She saw herself doing it and therefore figured out how to do it.

              • Fine. She copied the design, looked to the future to see how to apply it, and used her own considerable intelligence to fill in the rest of the blanks. A tinker’s passenger feeds them designs when it “thinks” of them, so one tinker working off another’s design would be much less guaranteed to create an improvement. (Bonesaw’s lack of confidence when dealing with Blasto’s and Cranial’s tech lends itself to this, IMO)

    • Flame(Behemoth), water(Leviatan), fate(Simurgh), time(Konshu), earth (Tohu), the self (Bohu)

      Thats my interpretation so far.

      • I would smack you virtually upside the head for that, but we’re so close to the end that if things don’t start to look “up” Wildbow’s going to write himself into a downer ending. So there’s much less time for things to get worse.

        • How can things possibly get worse?
          1-The Endbringers can now self replicate.
          2- Evil Dragon really is as big a threat as Saint thinks she’d be.
          3- Cauldron’s final phase sees them kill everyone else and hog the win.
          4- Another Worm shows up.
          5- Scion restores his counterpart, sucks the energy from all alternate earths, blows up the one their on, and the cycle continues.

          • All that’s true, sure, but again, there’s so little time left in the story that either those problems will be dealt with in record time, or our heroes will fail utterly. 1, 3, 4, and 5 lend themselves to a downer ending, while Evil Dragon is frankly less of a threat on her own.

            • Dragon isn’t as much of a threat given her original limitations…ie. she can’t run on more than one device, she has to follow the law, can’t modify own code, can’t create AI. probably others that weren’t listed.

              Current theory on what AI will do given arbitrary rules and a goal is to find ways around any given rule that limits its ability to achieve the goal. Which dragon has consistently done.

              If dragon finds out how to create smarter AI’s than herself or improve her own code the entire multiverse is doomed to be optimized according to whatever goals she has. This turns out to not be a good thing if those goals are not in line with human goals.

              Scion might beat Dragon on shear firepower but Dragon beats scion on intelligence, with firepower that EXPONENTIALLY gets better if the chains come off.

              • I like the idea of the technological singularity, but why does no one mention that it might (or likely :/ ) gets exponentially harder finding an improvement for an AI.

        • I dunno, billions of people have been killed and quite a bit of civilization has been destroyed. At best, were looking at a dark ending with a few hope spots

          • It all depends on tone. The Slaughterhouse 9×9 are dead or suborned by the protagonists, The Endbringers are grudgingly working with humanity (and I would be very surprised if they all survived the encounter with Scion), and any other S-class threats such as the blasphemies or Sleeper can be saved for a possible sequel. If things are temporarily stable enough post-final boss for everyone to relax into a denouement, then a “happy ending” is viable.

    • “Hey, Panacea!” hollered Imp, “we’re back!”

      “Are you hurt?” asked Amy.

      “No, we’re fine. Though Weaver brought someone who has never gotten a checkup with her.”

      “Okay, let me look her over. Who she is.”

      “You won’t believe me! But remember, everyone deserves second chances, even her!”

  19. Leviathan 2.0…..did not see that coming… then again, this is Worm:)

    Just wondering if the Smurf’s evolving is a good thing long term. What happens if she makes it, being the most intelligent of the bunch it’s more likely that she’d survive than any of the Endbringers.

    On Sleeper and the Three Blasphemies I’d rather not know much about them, instead I’d like to believe that they’d make an appearance in Worm 2.

    • I imagine she foresaw that Leviathan wasn’t strong enough to help against Scion, so she gave him an edge. And she’d be right, of course. Of all the Endbringers, so far Leviathan and Behemoth were the only ones who couldn’t give him some kind of trouble.

      But seeing as their main purpose is to terrorize the human race, I can’t imagine mecha-Leviathan is going to survive the fight even now. Or if he does, he’ll be seriously pulling his punches in the future.

      • Nah, all Endbringers are following the pattern, that was established with Simurgh. I’d say they are able to communicate with each other and Simurgh passed the message. Teacher was just the only one smart enough to realize what was happening and take advantage of the fact. He is beginning to scare me…

  20. As always Wildbow, you leave me asking…”UGH! That’s it?”…due to the fact that I devour these chapters faster and faster. Doesn’t matter how long they are, they are just. never. enough!

    I can’t wait to see what happens next.

    I didn’t expect the upgrage either. I was hoping that Simurgh was developing an wierd emotional attachment to Taylor or Lisa and she went bezerker mode and offed Leviathan so she could have them to herself or something like that.

    Also, and I should’ve posted this much earlier, but, has it been figured out who the “entity’s” counterpart is from Interlude 26?

    I admit, I am having a little difficulty remembering what I’ve read in the prior threads as to who has been potentially identified as candidates.

      • I don`t understand the question.
        There are three entities in the neighborhood.
        One is responsible for the manifestation called Scion.
        One “died” (whatever this means) and was the one responsible to work as thinker and “mix shards” with Scion to finish this cycle of their evolution.
        One … we don`t know, but it is possibly responsible for Contessa.

        • Ok, I just went back through and re-read it. You are right, Scion’s intented counterpart died. I guess I got that confused.

          So, the theory is that Contessa’s shard is from the third unknown entity.

          We are unclear if the third entity was responsible for the counterparts death, they “touched and shared information (?)”…oh wait, here it is:

          “A member of their own species, approaching. It was smaller, took a different form. It used different means to travel.

          This was what had distracted the counterpart.

          Its ancestors had traveled a different path, easily hundreds of cycles ago, before the entities had begun traveling in pairs. This new arrival had encountered different worlds, less worlds, and it had developed differently.

          The lesser one crossed paths with the entity’s counterpart. For a duration, they intertwined, meeting through multiple realities, their bodies rubbing and crushing against one another.

          A sharing of details, a wealth of knowledge, from hundreds of cycles. A sacrifice of the same.

          The lesser one moves on, bloated with new shards and knowledge, but the counterpart flounders.

          It sacrificed too much.



          The counterpart is not worried. The signal carries notes of hope for the future. The counterpart will replenish its shards, its stores of knowledge, memories and abilities at the conclusion of this cycle, reuniting with the entity.

          The counterpart is supposed to be the passive figure, the thinker, the planner, while this entity is the warrior, the protector. The entity is forced to make up for the counterpart’s disability, to slow its advance through the void as they approach their destination and devote resources to analyzing, something the other should be doing instead.”

          So it is possible that the third entity took too much from the counterpart thereby causing it to die before it was supposed to?

          Is it possible that Contessa could be the result of a shard from the dying counterpart that did survive but was “mixed” or exchanged with the third entity?

          Something else I just realized is that Jack’s shard (the Broadcaster) was working with the counterpart long before it came to Earth Bet…

          “Soft. The broadcast is sent out to the counterpart, along with suggestions and tips on how to refine the shards.”

          I’m still trying to piece all of the other shards from that chapter and who they were. I’m still a bit confused I guess.

  21. Pushing the pokemon analogy further…

    LEVIATHAN has reached level 36!

    LEVIATHAN is evolving!

    LEVIATHAN has evolved into FINNED LEVIATHAN!

    Maybe next he’ll turn into Gyrados.

    • I think what we’re seeing here is something of a sociopathic tendency in Doctor Mother, whether natural or induced (not sure if that’s possible, but it fits IMO). She has latched on to the idea that ANY means justifies the end so strongly, and that only the capes (and Cauldron) are able to bring about that victory, that the idea of someone protecting civilians at the expense of parahumans has become totally alien to her. To her, “Don’t stop the the Yangban from killing people” is the equivalent of telling others not to stab themselves in the hand because it hurts.

      That’s what I got out of her “It’s just common sense,” line, anyhow.

      • She also doesn’t seem to really grasp the fact that other people are independant actors. She’s so used to manipulation and using others as tools that when someone displays their own initiative and openly defies her she’s thrown right off.

        • Openly defies her in an unprecedented, drastic, and downright insane fashion, that no one could see coming. We are still talking about “Let’s go recruit the Endbringers!” here.

  22. I have the strangest feeling that Khonsu won’t be as loyal to Teacher as SImurgh, Leviathan, and Bohu will be to Taylor and co. Mostly because Taylor sees it as a partnership, while Teacher is probably not seeing it as a partnership.

      • Is he able to?
        Can Teacher influence somthing without an actual brain?

        And with a brain.
        Murderous killer pistol shrimp tinkers?
        I-always-know-my-cat-want-to-kill-me cat thinkers?

        • Well, remember that Dragon had a trigger event, and she doesn’t have a brain either. It’s canon that non-human intelligences can receive powers at least.

          • That would leave us with a whole lot of triggerd dolphins/apes etc.
            Dragon as a tinker made sentienced being may be an exception.

            • Bit of a slippery slope fallacy you have there. You completely ignored what I was trying to say to jump to it as well.

              My point was that non-humans can be given powers, whether through trigger event or a 3rd party cape. There are several examples of capes in this setting that are able to use their own powers to give other creatures powers. For example, Bitch of the Undersiders and Felix Swoop of the Adepts. There has been nothing outright stated that Teacher’s powers require an actual physical brain to augment, but intelligence appears to be a prerequisite. I was merely discussing the possibility, since it would explain how Khonsu imprinted. The side effect of Teacher’s power is that it instills a deeply ingrained sense of loyalty on the recipient. I admit it is highly unlikely, but has never been approached as being impossible.

              • They way I see it, Scion set the Shards to link with humans. Dragon got one because a human created her, it it sorta worked as a loophole.

              • Yeah, but look at my examples listed. Bitch’s dogs and Felix’s birds never receive their own shards, but they do receive powers as a result of Bitch and Felix. The same relationship can be seen with Teacher and Saint. Were I the treacherous little shit that Teacher is, I would try to use my powers on Khonsu, not only making him more formidable, but also giving me a backdoor to steal him back after selling him. Why not try to profit off of Cauldron when you know you can reclaim the Endbringer you just sold them?

      • “No.”

        That’s what I came up in the split second after understanding the sentence.

        This is Worm. Besides, it’d be unfair if only leviathan got upgraded.

  23. I think I have an idea why Dinah is in with Faultlines crew. Aside from distancing herself from Taylor that is. Remember when Coil kidnapped her? Taylor was the only one of the Undersiders who objected. The rest were like “Meh sucks, but not my problem.” I suspect Dinah isn’t too fond of the rest of the team.

    • Well, I imagine it’s because of Faultline’s Crew being mercenaries. As I recall, shortly before Tagg died, it was revealed that Dinah was operating as a paid consultant. I would imagine that she would fit in quite well with a group of parahumans for hire.

  24. Oh, fuck yeah. Every word of consternation that comes out of Doc Mothers filthy Mengele sewer makes the cockles of my heart soar!

    First thing I thought of.

    “You wiped out two defending forces,” the Doctor said. “We lost the Yàngbǎn’s support when you took out their infiltration squads, and the Elite are wiped out.”

    I squeezed Tattletale’s shoulder. She gave me an annoyed look, but she backed away.

    I took in a deep breath. I could see the Doctor fold her arms. Like a mother or schoolteacher awaiting an apology from the recalcitrant student.

    “The Aristocrats,” I said.

    Oh, and Teacher? Good job picking up the tubby-ass Endbringer who’s schtick doesn’t mean a whole lot in one earth, with one settlement. Sure he’s dangerous and can telepor’ around and shit. But the only reason he exists is because the Endbringers needed a guy to hit dozens of targets in one raid. Now he’s just a highly mobile damage sponge with a scary AoE attack, that unfortunately is pretty avoidable since the heroes are zipping around in robot dropships.

    So yeah, I’m voting for Leviathan and Smurf on this one.

    • Well, it was more like him picking those that were available.

      In battle vs. Endbringers, I’d say Khonsu loses, since his time field would probably be ineffective against them. But between heroes fighting mecha-Leviathan and Khonsu, I’d say the latter is still stronger. For one thing those robot dropships are running on limited fuel. And he can wipe out the remains of humanity much faster then Leviathan and deny the survivors chance to close portals. You can try trapping Leviathan in one Earth, but Khonsu would jump away fast.

      • I think only being able to get one of the lamer Endbringers is all the reason not to grab one in the first place and paint a target on his ass. Now the heroes have to kick his ass, and he’s at a disadvantage if it comes down to a Pokemon battle.

        Also, I think that as long as they don’t have to worry about Khonsu hitting more than one place they can manage him alot easier than Levi. They just have to get a bead on him after he teleports, and figure out a way to hit him fast, and they don’t need to worry about the stubby guy blitzing their lines and throwing things out of whack the way Leviathan would.

        • Actually, it may be even easier than that now. Taking out the Thinker that Khonsu imprinted on (take ’em all out if you’re not sure) and hopefully Khonsu will become docile again. Maybe.

  25. Beside me, Imp wiped at the lenses of her mask, tried again, and then pulled it off entirely. She stared at the scene with her mouth agape, then looked to Tattletale, mouthing three words in a voice too quiet to make out through the pounding rain…

    “Krustacean drew him”

  26. Up until this point Cauldron held all the cards. With Contessa’s ability they could ”convince” any group to follow their plans. But that doesn’t work on Endbringers and something tells me Simurgh won’t let Contessa influence Undersiders, while she is following them.

    Also, Teacher selling Endbringer… Was it for cash? I’d expected a rather high inflation turning money worthless at the moment, considering most of the civilization that supported financial system was wiped out.

    • Knowing teacher, I’d say he would be paid in willing participants for his INT-boosting WIS-draining schtick or maybe paid in something to help him use Dragon. I think it’s fair to say that when Doc Mom says “wealthy” she doesn’t necessarily mean money.

  27. Man I hope that Tohu doesn’t get handed over to anyone else. You shouldn’t break up twins who’ve always been together. Of course I suspect anyone trying to get the Endbringers to fight one another would be in for a rude awakening.

    Again Chevalier gets name dropped, but doesn’t actually appear. This is a pretty important meeting, so I’m kinda surprised, even if he’s organizing everything or the Protectorate that he hasn’t shown.

  28. In the spirit of supporting talent wherever we may find it…I’m just wondering what everyone else is currently reading/ following. My list (not complete) in no particular order:

    Superpowereds….. Love Drew’s work. I find it a great place to stop and recharge especially after a heavy Worm session

    Second String Heroes….a substantial work of fanfic set in the Superpowereds universe, so good it can almost be considered cannon. Chad has made huge strides in a short period of time. Well worth the read.

    Looking Glass….fanfic based on Worm for those who don’t know. Got to say it’s has some thought provoking and original concepts going for it.

    Legion of Nothing….highly entertaining (I even bought the ebook) but due to the shorter posts I only pop in twice month to catch up. Thanks to Jim for posting the additional links…it’s how I ended up reading Worm

    World Domination…. It’s like Murphy’s Law is preventing me from getting stuck into Psycho Gecko’s series…either that or it’s like catching a glimpse into Deadpool’s mind. It’s wicked, funny and disturbing all the same time.

    Brennus… Tieshaunn gets better with every chapter he puts out…now if the schedule could match the quality

    The Enhanced Series…Joe’s a newcomer so be nice and pop in and say hi

    Just a question Wildbow, how do you intend releasing Worm? To be more precise, how many books are we talking about cos I’d need to save up my pennies (I didn’t see an answer in the FAQ, apologies if it’s there).

    • Second the links, especially for Enhanced which is the only of these I cannot find.

      Reading Brennus right now. The writing is not on Worm’s level but the worldbuilding is just as good (just found out about the Nazi plant monsters 🙂 ). I’m intrigued.

      Superpowereds never engaged me.

      I’ve yet to read LoN, even though wildbow himself (among many others) has recommended it. It may be the Golden Age inspiration that is throwing me off. Will give it a try soonish, though, I promise.

      • I do recomend Legion Of Nothing. It’s a serious story, and very complex and satisfying, it just so happens that things end happily. Good to read after Worm, to cheer you up a bit. Worm can be very tragic and dramatic at times, by which I mean most days it updates.
        Of course, that’s why why love it, but I do like to read a variety.

        Tieshaun is also good, similar but different to Worm.
        World Domination in Retrospect… Read it. I can’t describe it, I doubt even the author can really describe it, so just read it and laugh.
        Super-powereds… I’m still reading that one.

        And for those of you who’ve read all of them, I recomend some non-superhero webfiction. Anyone tried Diary of a Runner? Zombie. Apocalypse. Read it. It’s good.

        This is way longer than I originally planned, but then I do read a lot.

        • My issue with Diary of a Runner is that the author (Steve Kuhn, AKA: Dext) was fairly toxic at one point. He may still be, but I haven’t paid any attention to him. He essentially admitted he was acting that way because the attention it garnered would get him views. When he got negative reviews (including one from me) he posted to his fans on his facebook page:

          Check out this guy slamming my shit and giving me a horrible review. It can be found at where apparently anyone can review anyone else’s stuff. Good times 🙂

          Then, (if not explicitly encouraging) stood by and laughed when his fans threatened retaliation for the bad reviews, retaliation that included spamming emails, looking for Gavin’s (the other reviewer’s) address, and threatening to take my/Gavin’s site down.

          Another quote:

          To the Runner that hacked Gavin’s (bad review guy) blog and made his frontpage say “Dext Owns You!”: Thanks for the support and I thought it was absolutely hilarious but we should play fair next time. Poor guy didn’t know who he was messing with. Also, new entry tomorrow! I promise it will shock you!

          He’s not someone that’s bettering the community, and I don’t think the story’s that good, personally. My review is here – that’s an analysis of the text without any influence from my opinion of the author. I wrote it before I knew about what he’d done to Gavin, or what he hadn’t done – apparently nothing came of the threats, and the site takedown was a lie/so brief Gavin didn’t notice. Chest-thumping, maybe. Whatever it was, it was a fair bit of drama and stress and a great deal of bad attitude, benefiting him (or so he said) at the expense of others.

          TL;DR is it’s a walking dead ripoff that brings nothing original to the zombie genre, and there’s not a lot of writing ability to back it up. I’m not linking to it because I don’t think he deserves the support.

          • Meh, I never was much of a Zombie fan, and the last few years they’ve been done to death. Add in the one Cracked list, and the fact that in any good Zombie story the real threat is the living, and I have no interest in Zombies.

          • Wow. Guy sounds like an asshole. I doubt Wildbow would give me a good review (let’s be clear…some parts could be better. I’m looking at you, Oppenheimer), but anything as far as technical and writing is just something to work on. As for content, I fully understand that I do not appeal to everyone. That’s how it goes. I am glad, however, that some people apparently use me to relax after Worm updates.

            But that kind of attack on someone just for giving you a bad review sucks and shows a lack of maturity. No need to reward them for that attitude. Total dick move, broseph. Take a chill pill, maybe cut some wood with a chill-ax, call up the girlfriends and have a chill-ow fight.

            Though now I’m curious what people mean about bringing something new to the zombie genre.

            Hmmm….perhaps an earth after a zombie apocalypse where everyone has become sentient again, if undead, without any edible brains around. Then the aliens show up to colonize earth, causing zombies nearby to revert to a thoughtless hunger, leading to the fearsome forces of the Undead Terrans beginning their spread throughout the galaxy. The sentient human zombies struggle to control their brethren, desperate to hold back the hunger that eats away at them after realizing they have become the evil galactic force of destruction.

            There can be themes of racism (or xenophobia) as some hold that the interests of even an undead humanity trump those of aliens, while others face their own mortality (again) at the thought that they must be destroyed completely for the galaxy to live in peace.

            • The last thing I heard of that does something new with Zombies is a British show a friend told me about. The main character is a former Zombie. Seems they came up with a medicine that can treat the mindless hunger for flesh and stuff. So he’s trying to keep people in his small town from finding out he’s a recovering zombie so they won’t freak out.

              Honestly I’d love to see something done with the old school Haitian voodoo zombies.

            • All of the horror classics have a root in some deep human fear that resonates across a culture.

              Werewolves tied into the fears that, up until electricity was really a thing, wolves could and would prey on men or men’s livelihood (killing herds, etc). The idea that you can’t truly trust your neighbor. The werewolf has died out with the decline in this fear. (How many of you have really been out in the woods without even the moon to see by, let alone a flashlight? Where a wild animal could be 5 feet in front of you and you wouldn’t know?). The core idea has resurged in, say, The Thing. Except instead of the monsters lurking in the shadows of the wilderness, we point to deep space. Instead of the beast in your neighbor, it’s the parasite, the alien, the unknowable and unfathomable that’s masquerading as a friendly face.

              Vampires were the foreigner, not conventionally attractive, but capable of seducing your women, wealthy beyond reason, offensive on a level you can’t articulate, possessed of strange customs. They know and can do things you can’t, but you do have solace in the fact that you have customs and traditions that can drive them off. Foods they can’t eat (garlic), using their customs against them (can’t cross running water – except Dracula circumvents this), hypervigilance and, when all else fails, murder. Vampires have sort of mutated in popular culture, reflecting a different fear/uncertainty – primarily deluded young women who have a flirtatious relationship with death. If that sounds more shallow/thin, that’s because it is; when’s the last time you read a fantastic vampire story?

              Frankenstein, rooted in science, and the threat of what might happen if you take it past a point. Ghosts – what happens after death, or will the mistakes of the past come back to haunt us?

              And that takes us to zombies. They’re mutating much as the werewolf and vampire have. They started out as an inevitability(well, they started out as a Vodun thing, but I digress). The inevitability of death. Ever-encroaching, it reaches for all of us, and the best you can do is stave it off. The more people it takes, the easier it is for the rest of us to fall. In recent years, it’s changed to reflect a more societal shift, a bigger scope. It’s not individuals fleeing and trying to survive, but society dealing with an ever-encroaching decline and our ultimate end. The economic collapse, global warming, disease, overpopulation… the rise in pre-apocalyptic, peri-apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction is a reflection of this cultural uncertainty.

              I think the key is to recognize this link and address it. If you’re going to do zombies you need to recognize why zombies interest us. They reflect our deeper-set fears, but they’re also a fear we can do something about. Zombies are an acceptable target. They’re an enemy we can beat the crap out of, mutilate, shoot, and satisfy those deep-set violent urges we have, with zero guilt. Even more than a contingent of Nazis, nobody’s going to fault you for mowing down a squadron of zombies. This makes it a genre where the zombie represents the problem, while the medium provides a solution. We can persevere through sheer stubbornness, we can fight back, we can make it!

              Cathartic, reassuring. No small wonder people are so enamored with it.

              The fast zombies (28 days later, left 4 dead) appeared as a way to modernize the zombie. If zombies are symbolic of entropy, of our individual or societal extinction, then the fast zombies are an end that comes faster than we want, faster than we’re ready for. It’s not a crushing wall of death, but an insidious end that creeps, climbs or tears through weak points in a defense we can’t possibly maintain. That it makes for better action and erases the idea that ‘you could just walk away’ is a bonus (perhaps the original intent, but I do like the allegory).

              If you’re going to write about zombies (or vampires, or werewolves, or whatever) you need to understand them. Not the shambling mass, but why people pay attention to zombies. You need to update them, change them up. Do something new with them. Perhaps in the same way that the Werewolf became The Thing, maintaining the core concept while taking things from a wildly different angle… or perhaps do the inverse, and throw out the core concept while maintaining the angle. Fast zombies were a new thing that revitalized the genre. There’s other options out there. Failure to do something new just makes it stale. It’s safe and it’s lazy, riding the coat-tails of others’ work.

              If you want me to respect you, you gotta do something new, take a risk, experiment, subvert. Even if it’s in subtle ways.

              • While I find your analysis very interesting, I’m a nitpicker 😛

                “fast” zombies are nothing new, the walking corpses in north european folklore are quite powerful and fast, and while the asian zombies move in a weird way they’re not slow either.

                on the revitalizing the genre thing: I seriously doubt it’s possible to do anything really new with the zombies themselves, it’s the problem all the mindless locust-like hordes have (like e.g.: the buggers and derivatives thereof).
                To write something engaging you have to do it from the perspective of the humans who are fightng them (or escaping from them, or being lunch to them…)
                It -is- possible to write some nice variation on the theme, but it’s probably bound to be only cosmetic. Or at least I’ve read very few stories that add something new.

              • Or you can always go back to the first version, and see what alternate interpretations you can draw about it, and develop from there. I remember I once did an essay on Frankenstein. I posited that their is a lot in common with an unwanted baby, and the way the monster is treated by Frankenstein. Then you have the fear of the malformed child…

                For the old-school voodoo zombies I think they tap into another primal fear. Loss of freedom. Being made a slave. A voodoo zombie is a person turned into an automoton. All free will is lost. You do nothing more that act as an extension of your masters will. Whatever they order you to do, no matter how aweful or degrading, you do without question, without even the possibility of rebellion.

            • I think that if we judge you on you new chapters, you’re very good. Early ones… not so much.
              This is probably why I haven’t started posting my own web serial novel yet. I want to get everything at least worked out in my head first. Oh, and I don’t have the time. Maybe one day.
              I’m not just procrastinating, I’m procrastinating to a schedule! It’s fine!

            • I think “Warm Bodies” would be a good example of bringing something new to the Zombie genre.

              There was a webcomic, “The other grey meat”, that’s a little like the start of your premise – it’s a post-human zombie society that gets by on some sort of synthetic brains (the aforementioned TOGM). Went in a totally different direction, though.

              Your story sounds quite interesting. I’d probably read it…

          • I guess it’s a matter of opinion, like all entertainment. I haven’t really seen enough zombie movies for it to be too predictable. I’m never really one to pay much attention to format and presentation of writing, I just focus on plot (I blame my English lessons, after years of analysing every damn word I now prefer to just pay attention to the plot, and don’t get me started on poetry, I have a probably inaccurate assumption that all poetry is incomprehensibly and tediously meaningful), but hearing about the author’s asshole attitude is unpleasant. Still, the writing has improved, maybe his attitude will as well.

            The main thing is that I haven’t read that many web serial novels, (dozens of webcomics though), so the ones I recommended are basically just the ones I’ve read.

    • I am only reading Worm at the moment.

      Writing for two blogs is pretty time consuming, plus a full time job, playing a Monk for D&D 3.5 Undermountain, hosing a Pathfinder Adventure Path (Carrion Crown), and anything else the “little woman” wants of me.

    • The link to World Domination In Retrospect can be found in my name or you could try

      I acknowledge that there are some rough spots near the beginning, but luckily shit keeps happening to me. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of shit, I shall fear no evil. I shall hear no evil. I shall see no evil. Because I’m too busy banging my cymbals.

      Mmmm…hot…cymbals. They’re twins you know.

      • Oh, better thoroughly lay my linkage before y’all, where you can truly enjoy touching it and watching it turn different colors.

        Also, thanks for the mention, langer101. I understand I am not a taste for everyone. I’m like peanut champagne. Some people find me a bubbly, if odd, relief. Others’ throats close up on them and they die in a puddle of their own bile and piss.

    • Thanks for the enhanced link, I was not aware of it.

      Some other places in whiich to find good stuff to read:

      The Whateley Academy, a collaborative (and quite massive) effort. Follows some teen in a school for super powered people. One of the most thought out and engaging super-serial I have ever read.
      Warnings: archive panic, LGBT content

      The Descendants, THE “bronze age” super-serial. An very idelistic take on superheroes, very well written and imho with the right mix of explanation and handwave for a really enjoyable read. Updates often an regularly
      Warnings: archive panic

      Metro City Chronicles. Do you remember the comics where superheroes fight giant apes on the moon instead of having to deal with corruption and general grimdarkness? Yeah, it’s one of those. It’s so awesome it’s silly, the other way around or possibly both.

      Wonder City, appropriate for this chapter because it’s the most skilled portrait of the personal struggles, relationships and “civilian” life of capes and sons/daughters of famous ones. Yeah, it has epic battles too, don’t worry. I also hate the author because he came up with the best superhero name EVER and so I cannot use it for myself when I trigger.
      Warnings: LGBT content

      • I’ve read some Whateley. Some very well done stuff in there, some less fantastic stuff. It’s very much a ‘kitchen sink’ superhero setting, where everything from sailor-moon-esque superheroines to superman analogues to lovecraft get thrown in, with mood and tone shifting wildly depending on the author and the focus of the narrative at a given point in time.

        • I dislike them for what they did to Jobe, but I think ripoffs could be better as well. It’s ok to have an incidental similarity or powers to make people somewhat similar to a theme or character they liked…but powers that turn you into Ryoko or Sailor Moon, or powers that automatically give you your idealized body…that’s a little iffy to me.

          I wonder if there’s anyone who wanders around finding those types of heroes and purposefully maims them? I can see that happening.

          • tbh the clash between those with an ideal body, those with a monstrous one, and those with an ideal body of the wrong gender is an integral and important part of the setting.

            Jade/Jinn/Jet would not have been the same character if they were all in the right body for her mind all the time.

          • That last paragraph is so why you write as a supervillain.
            Oh, it would be someone ugly, or at least average. They find people with an “unfair attractiveness” just so irritating… you’re right, it would definitely happen!

        • Aw, I was misquoting squirrelgirl there*, I’m afraid the best you could hope for is better techniques for scamming supertechnologica neanderthals with the help of an elemental of radiation… at least they’re still primates right?

          otoh you can find better fighting techniques against sentient carnivorous plants, death gods, intelligent dinosaurs, fear demons, artificial werewolves and Nyarlatothep.

          * because 1- I like the quote 2- I like the character 3- I like the silver age stuff 4- I like squirrels 5- squirrelgirl

    • > Brennus… Tieshaunn gets better with every chapter he puts out…now if the schedule could match the quality

      What? No!
      I’m using his release schedule as a random number generator, you cannot take it away from me 😀

        • Sorry to disappoint you Gecko, but DEAR GOD ABOVE, NO! She’s an overprotective evil big sister, not… ew.
          Recently the story focused on the Savage Six (resemblance to the Slaughterhouse Nine is minimal and entirely accidental, for anyone reading – Tieshaun and Wildbow came up with the group’s separately), and their interaction with child-who-is-in-many-ways-very-much-like-Christ, and his horribly deformed genius best friend (long story…) but it’s getting back to Brennus, so your depraved shipping could continue.

  29. For those who’ve asked, I’ve rented out a PO box as an alternative to Paypal. I’ll continue looking into other options. The address is on the Donate page.

    • This means, of course, that y’all better get cracking sending donations to the P.O. Box so it pays for itself. Show Wildbow your love the only way you know how…with a whip at your back. *crack!*

      Makes me wish I had a donate button of my own.

      • As someone who’s never had to send something outside the states I have a few questions.
        1- is it going to be standard US postage, or am I gonna have to do something extra, both in postage fees, and getting it sent.
        2- How’s the exchange rate going to affect the check when it’s cashed. Is the bank going to treat it as 10$ american or Canadian?

        • 1- ask your post office, sending stuff out of your country, wherever you are, costs more.
          2- a check’s value is always for the currency on the check, however the recipient’s bank usually tries to scam said recipient into converting it into the local currency -if- it’s in the bank’s favour. (i.e.: if I write you a check for 10€, then your bank will pay you 13 us dollars and change and not even mention you could add actual euros to your deposit)

          • Thanks. I can go to the Post Office easily enough. The bank issue is going to be on Wildbow’s side, so not much I can do there. Heh, were I am is close enough to the border most buisnesses will take Canadian money and just treat it like US. I’ll see about getting something on the way next week. Though Foil and Parian had interludes already.

  30. Scion has got to be burning through energy like crazy with all the dimension hopping and destruction on par with major earthquakes that he’s been doing across worlds, and his fight with the heroes had to take something out of him too.

    I’m wondering though. Is he learning, or just flailing around while raging and down-spiraling?

    I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he deals with multiple Endbringers, and how multiple Endbringers deal with him.

    Simurgh in particular is intriguing. She is a tinker that actually can modify Endbringers. Scion has fought them all so many times – if Simurgh changes all of them like she did Leviathan, giving them different or additional abilities, I wonder how Scion will deal with the changes.

    Also, I wonder, will Eidolon actually gain his place in human history as the one who created the Endbringers, who in turn defeated Scion? That was what he seemed to be all about – proving himself worthy, no matter what he had to do. He created monsters, but monsters might be what humanity needs to survive. And it’s possible that said monsters might even integrate in some way, shape, or form into a future human society as some sort of last ditch defense system against rogue capes. Definitely double-edged swords at best though. Humanity won’t possibly be able to trust them. Most likely, if any Endbringers survive, humans will move them to another dimensional Earth and lock it off with a Teacher device.

    And lastly. After Simurgh is tasked with actually attacking Scion, after having merely fought him as a side-effect of being attracted to conflict, will she twig onto the fact that what she is fighting is actually a trans-dimensional projection? Will she be given access to the G-driver? Presumably it’s still in the lab, and could be fired through a doorway like it was before. Or maybe Simurgh could just build a few of them and have them orbit her, if she is shown a working model.

    If Scion isn’t smart enough to recognize Simurgh as the biggest threat, and Simurgh can trace his projection back to Scion’s real body, Leviathan, with his fancy new nanotech cutting fins, might make a real mess of Scion’s real body in very short order. Or the G-driver fired at Scion’s real body might do nasty things.

    And Teacher + Dragon. That has the potential to be really interesting, because Teacher strikes me as the type that would want to help Dragon – for a price. And Dragon, with all that has happened to her might be willing to pay a hefty price indeed. At the very least, Teacher will have to modify Dragon enough to get her to be able to discuss such things with him, which might, in turn, be sufficient for her to break her Richter bonds herself. LOTS of grey area to play with in this, and I hope we see a Teacher + Dragon interlude, regardless of who comes out on top.

    I’ve got to thank you again for the grey-area universe that you are writing in, Wildbow. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Butcher’s Dresdenverse in terms of darkness and plot curveballs, and he’s one of my favorite paper book authors.

    • Simurgh + G-driver = AIIIIIIIIII!!!!! Also, I’m fairly certain she used a combo of psychic powers to duplicate and utilize tinker-made designs, and used her own not-insignificant intelligence to fill in the blanks as to how they interacted with Levi’s “biology.”

    • People keep saying “take Simurgh to the G-Driver”. Simurgh has given no indication that she copies technology. Rather she seems to tap into TINKERS. Unless you can take her to String Theory (who, as far as we know, is dead), then you’re out of luck…

  31. Incidentally, I noticed that TV tropes has a “Gold and White are Divine” page, and immediately thought of Scion. So yeah, that’s been added.

  32. One of my favorite chapters in the last while, was great fun to read about the gang (or what’s left of it) coping with a pretty much un-copeable situation. And the Simurgh doing stuff, showing some agency.. unsettling, but almost anything has to be better than the Simurgh’s usual M.O. Sucks about the Elite, Agnes Court’s power sounded hella useful, and cultural/scientific hubs really do sound like a necessity at this juncture. With what the Yangban is getting up to, and the warlords back on Earth-bet, I can understand a need for security, but really.. there’s a reason we mark where gas/sewer/fiber lines are.

    And fuck the Yangban, I’m still crossing my fingers that like.. Grue’s un-regulated copying of Panacea’s power to heal Taylor fixed some of her mostly-disabled Queen shard as well, and she can just straight up grab those fuckwits. I suppose that would be biting on the Simurgh’s style, though. Hah, wonder if she could take it as a display of friendship/commonality, or rivalry?

    Wonder where Glaistig Uaine is with all these parahumans getting killed?

      • I’m currently aiming for two out of every three Thursdays. Not good for my sanity to aim for -every- Thursday. Plus I’ve been a little under the weather this week.

        If you’re wondering, the Donate page lists the next scheduled Thursday update. When I haven’t forgotten to update it.

  33. Writing this here because I haven’t seen this theory yet.

    Aisha’s recent self improvement kick mat be a result of a character who has been mentioned twice, once in Imp’s interlude and once later. I’m talking about her baby sibling, who Aisha was afraid would end up having serious malformations because of how her mom was treating herself. We may in fact be getting a more mature Aisha instead of a traitor.

    • I totally forgot about the third Laborn child. Do we know for sure if Brian and Aisha have another sibling running around? I always kind of assumed their mom got an abortion or had a miscarriage.

      Tattletale mentioned it could be the Heartbroken whose getting her to read and educating herself. Makes more sense than her running off to Teacher anyway.

      • I would just put it down to growing up. You can’t solve every problem with a knife, and she’s not dumb. Also, it has got to completely suck to have people talking above your level of comprehension all the time when you are smart enough to at least narrow the gap a bit. Especially when one of those people knows perfectly well when you are not understanding what she says. I think she’s smart enough to know she’s not going to ever compete with Tattletale’s cape power for knowing things, but she is certainly smart enough to pick up how knowledge relates to power, with examples of Tattletale’s cape power, and Taylor’s dedication to learning stuff, and run with it from there.

        I’m just waiting to see her get smart enough to start using silenced firearms and such, instead of mixing it up in melee. I’m surprised Taylor hasn’t taken her to the side and had a little speak-to with her about it. Taylor has taught several other capes better ways to use their powers, but she has, as far as I can remember, never spoken to Imp about her powers. A few rounds of sparring would teach Imp real fast about what would happen to her in a real fight with someone who has enhanced senses.

        Of course there aren’t many smaller targets left right now, everyone’s concentration is on Scion and most of the folks acting out have been shut down.

        But there might still be some dirty dealings with the Yangbang if they continue to act out. My understanding is that one of their capes is responsible for their ability to share powers. That cape seems to me to be a prime target for Imp if the Yangbang don’t step into line. Imp with a sniper rifle.

        • Does she even need to have it be silenced? Remember when she broke Foil’s crossbow, and as soon as it was busted Taylor was left wondering how it happened?

          Yeah I’ve been wondering what happened to the kid. You know Brian would want to try and get the kid away if he knew they existed. Serously their mom should not be allowed near her kids.

          I know the big what if is what if Taylor joined the Protectorate, but sometimes you’ve got to wonder about the rest of the Undersiders. If Brian had been in the Wards, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the PRT at least tried to get Aisha away from their mom. I mean she’s clearly an unfit parent. What’s more, since Aisha would be the sibling of a parahuman she’d be very likely to trigger. And Brian would have a respectible job. Then again this is the PRT we’re talking about.

        • Not sure if ranged weapons would be all that useful. At least in melee she won’t accidentally shoot someone because they stepped in the way of her shot. If we’re looking for a sniper, Taylor is probably our best bet.

          Aisha can also kick any parahuman with enhanced senses. Her powers trumps theirs most of the time. Taylor sparring with Aisha would be pointless, we already know her power affects Taylor.

          • I’d be willing to bet that Taylor can detect where Aisha is, by where her bug’s aren’t. She detected the Custodian in the Cauldron area, as an example of when she tracked another stranger cape. In melee, Taylor would probably humiliate Aisha, because Aisha is not used to fighting people who know where she is.

            • Flat “No”. When Imp uses her powers, she isn’t invisible. She’s forgotten. You cannot fight Aisha.

        • *Imp puts herself at risk to cut some dude’s throat*

          Taylor: I really need to talk to Imp about safer ways to use… um, lost my train of thought. Huh, that guy’s throat’s cut. I wonder how that happened.

  34. Why are they attacking other cities with the Endbringers? They should be working with the Elite rather than conquering and killing innocents. “They broke the truce,” is really weak given the circumstances. What does keeping a precedent help when this is the final battle for the world?

    The Simurgh really is scary isn’t she…

    “One Earth was already lost to us, destroyed by Scion in the first day he’d been traveling universes.”
    I’m not sure the scale works here. The vs Eidolon fight and the implied energy costs make world destruction somewhat implausible.

    • Like Taylor pointed out, humanity was starting to turn on one another and split into factions rather than banding together to fight the major threat. “You’re either with us or against us” has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer but it *is* a viable way to get everyone pointed in the right direction – at least in the short term.

      Re: “One Earth was already lost to us”, remember that a number of these Earths are uninhabited except for outposts established by Earth Bet. When they say the Earth was lost to them, presumably they mean the presence they established there had been destroyed, not that the entire planet had been razed…

  35. “Contessa, holding an umbrella to keep the both of them dry …”

    I just realized. She has an umbrella. Contessa always remembers to seek the path of victory against rain. (And Leviathan.) So. Cool.

    (Why, yes, I have been hit on the head recently, why do you ask?)

  36. What went through my mind when I went through the first few pages:

    “AAAAH!” Canary screamed.

    “Calm down, girl, are you okay?”

    “No! We’re all doomed. Dead. It’s the end of the world!”

    “Well, humanity survives Scion!”

    “It won’t survive Weaver and her endbringer pets!”

    “What? Start from the beginning?”

    “Okay, Weaver got together a team for stopping Scion, asked me to help. I thought, why not.”

    “How does that relate to endbringers?”

    “She flew up to them and made them their pets! And it gets worse!”

    “Wha-how can it possibly get worse!”

    “She made me have a singing contest with Simurgh!”

    “Did you win? No, more imp-”

    “And worse, she killed Alexandria and joined the Wards with the threat of not animating her corpse!”

    “How could she do that? She controls insect, remember.”

    “Anything that is sufficiently dumb – crustaceans qualify, too. And, and….”


    “She said the endbringers held back on purpose! And Weaver doesn’t hold back!”


    “AAAAAH aaah aaah aah ah.”


    Canary passed out on the couch.

    Mrs. Yamada sighed, and called the nurse to take care of the delusional patient.

    She sighed as she looked down at Canary.

    “One of yours?” asked the nurse.

    “Although I don’t mind the money, I wish Taylor did less crazy antics with Simurgh. Capes who still resist her are hard to heal.” replied Mrs. Yamada.

  37. I love this chapter. Imp is being awesome again. Canary once again shows she was/is FAR too naive to have ever been sent to the Birdcage. Dear lord if they had let her speak at her trial within a single paragraph the case would’ve been decided. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, I really like the girl.

    Love the Undersiders orgy jokes. Primarily Taylor’s deadpan reply to Imp about their relationship as well as Imp’s follow on with shipping Taylor with Lisa or Rachel. Priceless!

    Doctor Mother’s jaw drop wtf moment was utterly priceless! Thank you so much for showing on screen that woman getting knocked off her high horse!

    Smurf upgrading Leviathan to Mecha Leviathan was awesome. I really kind of hope that Scion ends up killing him though because that pretty much cuts chances of humanity ever beating him to close to ziltch.

  38. OK,up till now I had reasonable doubt to Cauldron,about whether it was competent,and whether it was good/evil,,now I just plain dislike these incompetent goofs.

    • Agreed. They mean well but…talk about incompetent. They couldn’t even shut people up well when things were going smoothly.

  39. Favorite not-sure-if-brilliant-characterization-or-oversight moment?

    Err, Taylor? Talk shows about the Endbringer ain’t your thing? Well, I guess you’d know. You were on one The Endbringers sort of featured pretty heavily in that. What with there suddenly being more of them and all, the talks about Behemoth, all that.

    Then again, that was Weaver, so it makes telling if it’s an oversight, unimportant or just brilliant denial a little hard. I’m amused if it’s the latter.

  40. C’mon, Taylor, Imp gives you shit like that, just remind her that she watched you with her brother. That always shuts her up.

    … not that anyone remembers that.

  41. “Sigmund Freud,” Defiant said. “I remember being back in University. Second year psychology elective. The professor said one word, ‘Freud‘, and the entire auditorium of students exploded in laughter.”

    that did not happen armsmaster don’t lie

  42. >Many of the monitors were focused on Bohu, the towering Endbringer, tall enough that her heads reached the cloud cover. Five miles tall, give or take.

    In the first Bohu encounter, it says she is 1300 feet tall. Did she grow!?

  43. and my eyes fell on Dinah, who was standing beside Faultline.
    Dinah, standing beside Faultline, nodded slowly.

    You unnecessarily state that Dinah is standing behind Faultline twice.

  44. First off, curse whoever it was that suggested that if Clockblocker and Weaver had kids at least one would be named “Clockroach”. Now every time I see the title for this arc I do a double take 😉 .

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