Cockroaches 28.6

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“So this is it,” Tattletale murmured.

“Just about,” I said.

“You ready?” Tattletale asked.

I shook my head.  I sighed, and glanced out over the fields of grass.  So much beautiful nature.  So many worlds to explore, now, each subtly different, each with its own hidden treasures.  But even a field of tall grass had an art to it.

For an instant, I felt a kind of pull.  The same sort of intrusive thought that made one think, ‘what if I stepped off the edge of this cliff?’ or ‘what if I opened the car door right now and threw myself into traffic?’  Not suicidal thoughts, but thoughts that were clear enough and alarming enough that we worried we might listen of our own accord.

What if I just left?  Walked away?

I only needed to travel a short distance away for a short time.  It would be so quiet.  No sound, people or artificial lights.  No pressure, no imminent danger.

I couldn’t think of the last time I’d truly enjoyed quiet.  I’d experienced it when I’d flown out over the ocean.  I’d never been a people person, and I’d spent so much time in the midst of a crowd.  I’d been around the Undersiders, then I’d been in the midst of my territory.  From there to jail, from jail to the Wards.

From the Wards to a small war with inter-global stakes.

Solitude had a pull.  I was an introvert by nature, and I felt so drained.  A little while by myself, to recharge my batteries, to think.  Me and now-distant storm clouds, fields of grass, trees and water crashing against cliff faces far below.

What worried me was the idea that I’d get caught up in that gravity.  It had happened when I flew out alone, before.  If I left to recuperate, to get centered and try to think of something I could do… could I say with confidence that I’d come back?  Would I fail to come up with any idea, and simply… stay until it was too late?

Was that cowardly?  Was it a mark against me if I couldn’t say for certain?  Or was it like how a person could be courageous at the same time they were utterly terrified?  I wasn’t terrified, wasn’t about to flee.  I had reasons for fighting… but a part of me definitely liked the notion of going.  Of not fighting.  Surviving up until Scion passed through this Earth and then dying in a flash, possibly unawares.

I clenched my teeth.

All a fantasy, anyways.  There was a tether keeping me here.  Several tethers.

Rachel scratched Huntress’ neck as she approached me.  She stopped right next to me, then bumped me with her arm.  A push, enough that I had to move my foot to keep my balance.

We stood there, my arm pressing against her arm, her attention on Huntress and Bastard, as the two canines vied for her attention.  I couldn’t articulate how much I appreciated it, didn’t want to look at her or do anything that might be misinterpreted as discomfort.

One tether.

“Reminds me of the movies I used to watch,” Imp commented.  “On the shitty kid’s channels, at noon on Saturdays.  My mom would be too out of it from the night before to want the TV, so I’d have to watch with the volume turned down and sit, like, three feet away from the screen.  But I could usually get a good two or three hours of brain-rotting TV-watching in before I got kicked out of the apartment.  Best part of my week, for years.”

“You’re rambling,” Tattletale admonished.

“Anyways, this is kind of like the movies where you have the stray dog the kid found and the first owner, and it’s the end of the movie and they’re both calling to see who the dog is willing to come to.”

“That’s the fucking stupidest thing I ever heard of,” Rachel said.

Imp only grinned.  “And the dog starts going one way, until the bad owner does something like bring a choke chain out of his pocket, gets out the riding crop he used to beat the dog in the beginning of the movie, or or says a fatally stupid line, like, ‘come on, my precious money machine.’  And the dog gives the abusive owner a final fuck you, peeing on him before going back to the kid, or something like that.”

“My precious money machine,” I echoed Imp.  “Really?”

“You know what I mean.  Just that line that signals, ‘I’m so evil.’

“Be better if the dog tore out the abusive asshole’s throat,” Rachel said.

“That’d be so fucking awesome,” Imp said, grinning.  “I went through this phase where, you know, I sort of wanted a movie to change it up.  Catch the kids off guard, show them that, hey, the good guy doesn’t always win.  Got to the point I was getting depressed after watching those happy flicks.  Then my mom’s new boyfriend Lonnie got her ‘cleaned up’, and she started waking up on Saturday mornings, and that was it.  No more movie time for Aisha.  Never got back into it.”

“That’s too bad,” I murmured.  Where the hell is she going with this?

Imp paused, frowning.  “Fucking Lonnie.  Anyways, I remember wanting the dog to go back to the first owner, and like, that’d be it.  Movie over.  Bad end.  Life doesn’t always fucking work out peachy.”

“Doesn’t,” Rachel said.  “But I’d probably stop watching movies if I saw an ending like that.”

“We’re rambling,” Tattletale repeated herself.  “And I’m suddenly feeling Grue’s absence.  He’d keep us in order, here.”

Imp gave Tattletale an annoyed look.  “Anyways, this is kind of like that, isn’t it?  Like the kids begging and pleading for the dog to follow them.  Except not.”

“The opposite,” Rachel said.

“The reverse, yes,” Tattletale corrected.  “Yeah.  Well, let’s get this over with.”

Rachel got on top of Huntress’ back, and I activated my flight pack.  Imp mounted Bastard, while Tattletale mounted a dog I didn’t know.  The same dog Bitch had lent to me while we were mobilizing to go after the Nine.  Each of us moved in different directions.

High above us, the Simurgh turned.  With the innumerable wings that extended behind her, she was capable of a surprising amount of finesse and expression.  There was an aggression apparent if her wings were fully extended, with only the tips drawn slightly forward, like a claw with the points extended forward.  There was a outward focus when she flexed her wings to their limits, as if she were watching, observing.  Conversely, she was capable of introspection, of focus on a single thing, her wings all folded in.  All the while, her expression was neutral, her gaze cold.

I wasn’t going to underestimate her, though.  Too easy for all of that to be a bluff.

When she moved, it was almost careless.  Two of her three largest wings unfurled as if she were waving a hand dismissively, aiming that gesture at the world.  She turned in the air, then threw every wing back behind her, driving herself forward.

Well, we knew who she was following.

“Fuck me,” I could hear Tattletale muttering with the bugs I’d planted on her.  The Simurgh came to a stop directly above her.  She repeated herself, as if for emphasis.  “Fuck me.”

I felt my heart sink.

Some of that was on Tattletale’s behalf.  Of course the Simurgh had picked her to follow.  Tattletale had done the talking.  Tattletale was a thinker, just like the Simurgh.  She was the de-facto leader of the Undersiders, in many respects.

But a small part of me had hoped that the Simurgh had picked me to follow.  That same part of me had almost believed it, taken it for granted.  It was horrible and scary and almost wrong, having an Endbringer at one’s beck and call, but I’d been prepared to shoulder the burden.  I wanted to handle it, so people I cared about wouldn’t have to.

Another part of me?  Maybe it had wanted her to be stuck to me, just to have one more tether keeping me connected, at a point where I felt like I wasn’t very connected at all.

And perhaps I wanted it to have the power so close to hand, so I could be relevant.

Humanity was being wiped out, settlement by settlement.  Continents rendered uninhabitable, ecosystems demolished, weather patterns shifting.  Our opponent was nigh-untouchable, capable of crossing between different Earths like we crossed a room, and we barely understood him.

And here I was.  Strip away all of the pretense, the reputation, the connections and the image, take off the mask, and I was only a girl with the ability to control bugs.  A hundred and thirty pounds.

I’d bemoaned my innate limitations before, but I’d never felt them as a crushing pressure in the way I felt it now.

The shock of seeing the Simurgh pick Tattletale had thrown me.  I forced myself to take a deep breath and get centered.  I turned to the relaxation techniques Jessica Yamada had taught me.

Tattletale needed support, and I couldn’t discount the idea that this was just the Simurgh being the Simurgh.  Explicitly or instinctively fucking with our heads.

We collected as a group again.  The dogs turned around and slowly made their way back.

I saw Tattletale’s expression as she looked at me.  The lines of worry in her forehead that she tried to mask with a raised eyebrow, the feigned confidence, the lopsided grin.

I knew she read me ten times as well.  The little shifts in her expression as she glanced at my hands, at my face.  There was no doubt in my mind that she was reading me like a book.  She knew every train of thought that had just crossed my mind, the worries, the anxieties, the shameful fact that I’d wanted the Simurgh to follow me.

Her lopsided grin widened just a little, but there was sympathy in her expression.

“Guess I’m going to hold the fort,” she said.  “Probably makes the most sense, really.  You guys go.  Do what Narwhal said.”

There were nods from Imp and Rachel.

“You know the drill, Scotty,” Imp said.  “Take me home.”

“Yeah,” Rachel added.

Two portals opened.

They passed through.  I stayed in place.

“I could stay with you,” I said.

“You could,” Tattletale said.

“But?” I asked.

“I don’t think you should, and I don’t think you can.  Go.”

“Tattletale… Lisa-”

“I’ll be fine.  I’ve got her for company.”  Tattletale pointed skyward.  The Simurgh had collected her guns and built several others.  The halo of individual components was now almost entirely made up of guns in varying sizes.  They were arranged in a careful formation, so the small guns marked the spaces between the large ones, and the largest gun barrels and nozzles radiated outward like the rays from a star.

I gave Tattletale a dubious look, she only grinned.

“I’ll be here,” she promised.  “Go.  Like Narwhal said, get your affairs in order.”

I didn’t budge.  Instead I looked to the fields of grass again.  It took me a second to figure out why one patch was darker than the rest.  Then I remembered the Simurgh.  She was casting a shadow.

“Realistic.  We agreed to go down fighting, right?”

“Right,” I said, turning back to Tattletale.

She shrugged.  “But we’re going down.  Let’s not pretend, because that little self-delusion isn’t going to hold up when push comes to shove.  Better to focus our energy on believing that we’re going to get wiped out, but we’ll take that motherfucker down with us.”

Not exactly the most encouraging sentiment.

“I’m… not so pessimistic,” I said.  “I think we can take him down, and we can do it without getting completely annihilated in the process.”

“There we go.  That’s the attitude I was looking for.”

I stared at her.

Was she bluffing?  Hiding something?

“You know something,” I said.

“I know lots of stuff.”

“And you’re deflecting.  What are you keeping from me?”

“Not just you,” she said.  Tattletale sighed.  “It’s not helpful.”

“Tell me.”

“I thought you wanted blissful ignorance.”

“Time for that is past.  Might as well share.”

Tattletale frowned.  “Contessa’s power.”

“It’s telling her victory is impossible?” I asked.

“No.  Well, maybe.  I don’t know.  Haven’t exactly had a long conversation with her.  No.  I’m saying… well… Scion has it.  Her power.  That line he fed Eidolon?  It was calculated to devastate the man at the point he was flying highest, so the fall would be more catastrophic.  It’s something I couldn’t pull off.  I watched some footage of the fight, where Scion’s power didn’t nix the cameras.  Corroborates the evidence.  He wasn’t actively using the power, but there’s a confidence there.”

“Scion sees the path to victory?”

“Or something close.”

“You’re sure?”

“The evidence, his attitude, as far as he has any attitude at all… yeah.  None of the limitations like Contessa has, I don’t think.  No blind spots.  Just… yeah.”

I nodded.  The wind was making a magnificent sound where it ran through the grass, punctuated by the crashes of waves far below us.  A flock of tiny brown birds took flight from the midst of the fields.   They deliberately avoided the Simurgh, as though there was a bubble around her that they refused to pass through.

“You have my complete and total permission,” Tattletale said, “to swear a little.  Swear a lot.  You’re doing this thing where you’re going distant.  It’s not like your body language isn’t hard enough to read anyways, but you’re lost in thought, and I figured you’d be flipping out.”

“I don’t really flip out.”

“You, um-”

I knew what she was thinking about.  It was almost a relief to find we were still on the same page, after all this time apart.  I understood her, she understood me.  We were friends.

Her thoughts were on Alexandria and Tagg.  The point where I’d killed them had also been the same point that I’d taken leave from the Undersiders.  Joined the other side.

“I don’t flip out on or around my friends,” I said.

“I’m telling you he knows how to beat us.  He only has to reach for that one power, and he’s got a solution to whatever we throw at him.”

“Every power has a weakness,” I said.

“A power that lets you win automatically is kind of hard to circumvent.”

“Hard, but not impossible,” I said.  “Is it odd that I almost feel more optimistic?”

“Yes.  Exceedingly,” Tattletale said.  She cocked her head a little to one side.  It was something I’d seen her do before, as if she was a bird, trying to see things from a different angle.  “What are you thinking?”

I shook my head.  “Nothing.  But… some of the best powers we’ve gone up against have had pretty fatal weaknesses.  When we went up against Butcher, her having fourteen consciousnesses to draw on might not have helped a ton when she was trying to deal with Cherish’s ability.  We used Echidna’s ability to absorb dead matter and grow to trap her in Coil’s base.  Bought ourselves time.”

“I think Scion’s schtick is that he doesn’t have fatal flaws.  We got our powers because they gave them out.  He crippled the powers, so we wouldn’t be able to fight back if it came down to it.  Crippled yours, limiting you to bugs, crippled mine by limiting my ability to analyze them.  He started all this because he was certain it would work, used that path to victory to map it all out.  Wondered if we’d fight back, then mapped out a path where he’d have enough power to take humanity on in every conceivable scenario.”

“Then we create an inconceivable scenario,” I said.


I shook my head.  “Don’t know.  But I’d like to think the Endbringers won’t fit into his grand plan.”

“Not enough,” Tattletale said.

“Cauldron too.”

She shook her head, a little too forcefully.  Strands of her blonde hair fell across her face.  “They’ve caused as many problems as they’ve fixed.”

Something in that, in the way she was almost too preoccupied to fix her hair, it flicked a switch in my head.  A warning bell.  I was already stepping forward in response.

“Tattletale,” I said, interrupting her before she could speak again.  I grabbed her hand with both of mine.  “Stop.”

She froze, like a deer in the headlights.

“Stop,” I said, again.  I pulled her into a hug.

The negativity mingled with the bravado… I hadn’t picked up on it.  Hadn’t truly understood my friend.  She was scared, and she’d been hiding it.

She stood there, the bridge of her nose hard against my collarbone, and I was reminded again of how she was shorter than me.

“Attacks that pretty much penetrate any defense,” she mumbled.  “We have yet to really hurt him.  Mobile.  Perceptions are out there.  And he wins.  He gets victory as a power.”

“There are options.  There are always options.  Ways to circumvent powers, ways to trip him up.  He really didn’t like it when I created multiple swarm decoys.  When anyone duplicated.  Maybe there’s a clue in there.”

“Maybe,” Tattletale mumbled.  I could feel her fingernails against the fabric of my suit, at my back.  “Fuck this.  I hate feeling so dumb.  So much shit I don’t know, shit I can’t know.  Like fucking Ziz here.  Fuck, I’ve barely ever given a crap about anyone except myself and my friends, and now I’m fucking caring what happens to everyone, when I can’t do anything about it.”

I held on.  I could have gone on, told her that there were ways to cheat.  That, with all the powers in the world, there had to be ways to cheat.  But she didn’t need reassurances.

She was a master of bluffing, wore a mask better than anyone I knew, and she’d adopted her persona in a way that nobody else in the Undersiders or Wards had.  In the midst of all of this, she’d been a pillar, a source that everyone had been turning to when they had questions.

But where was someone in that position supposed to turn to when they needed support?

A minute passed before she broke away.  She turned her back to me before I could see her face.

“All good?” I asked.

“Peachy,” she said, without looking at me.  She stretched, then wiped at her eyes.  “smudged my makeup, where I painted my eyelids black inside my mask, smearing it across your shoulder.”

I played along.  “I always liked the lenses.  The goggles, if you want to call them that.”

“Sure, but you can’t have too many people with the lenses on the same team, or you look like you’ve got a theme, and only the lame-ass teams do that.”

I smiled a little.

She looked up, “You don’t say a word about this to anyone.  Morons are going to get the wrong idea if they hear we were hugging.  Way overactive imaginations.”

Talking to the Simurgh?

She turned around, and I was momentarily confused.  Her makeup was smudged in a way that suggested it had been smeared by my costume.  No signs of the running makeup that had followed the rain at the Elite’s court, no sign of tears.

She smiled a little, conspiratorially.

“You and the Simurgh are a good fit after all,” I said.  “Fucking with people’s heads.”

“We’ll see.  Now, I think it’s time you stop babysitting me.”

I frowned.

“Come hang out later, if you don’t find anything more pressing.  Which you probably will.  I’ll be okay, now I’ve got something figured out.  Something to look for.  Plus I should get back to looking after Dragon’s stuff.  Reams of shit to cover.”

I nodded.

“Go,” she said.

I went.  There was a gravity here of its own.  If I didn’t go now, I wouldn’t go at all.

The introvert, seeking out people, and the extrovert left with only a silent Endbringer for company.

I’ll be back soon, I thought.

“I want to pet her.”

My turn!”

I could sense them with my bugs before I’d even approached.  A cluster of kids, an adult woman, a fenced-in area, a small furry animal.

I didn’t want to intrude, so I reached out and gathered a swarm of butterflies.

They stirred, gathering in a small, localized storm.

“What?  Oh.  Skit- Weaver’s coming,” Charlotte said.

I held back on using the flight pack, walking instead.  Wouldn’t do to use up too much charge, in case I found myself having to fight at a moment’s notice.

The cottage was one of the outposts that Tattletale’s crews had put together.  North end of town, overlooking the spot that would have been the boat graveyard, a forty minute walk from the Brockton Bay settlement.

Three stories tall, hidden from plain view by a line of trees and a short hill, the cottage had a small fenced-in area next to it.  Three dogs stood guard.

They growled at my approach.  I didn’t flinch or slow down, and the growling intensified.

“Hush,” Charlotte said.  “Stand down.”

The growling stopped.

I approached, and Charlotte gave me a hug.  She looked good, if maybe about five years older than she was.  She was dressed in a very utilitarian way, but I couldn’t help but notice the gun she wore at her belt.

The kids, for their part, hung back, wary, staring.

I pulled off my mask, then rubbed at my face where it had been tightest.  I put on my glasses.

“How bad?” Charlotte asked, her voice quiet.

“Hm?”  For an instant, I thought she’d mention my dad.

“The situation.”

Oh.  It was only that.  “The world’s ending.  About as bad as it gets.”

She nodded.  “You remember the kids?”

I did.  Two years olderMai, Ephraim, Mason and Katy.  Aiden and Jessie were gone.  “Hi guys.  Long time no see.”

They shuffled their feet.  Mai raised a hand in a shy wave, but that was it.

“It’s not anything personal,” Charlotte said.  “You’re famous, and we watched videos of you online.  The O.J. and-“

I groaned aloud.

Charlotte smiled a little.  “All of the clips.  I wanted them to remember you somehow.”

With that, the kids seemed to get even more shy, which only made me feel just as awkward.  My eye traveled over to the fenced-in area.  The fence looked like it had been made out of two different materials, one set layered over top of the other, attached with chain and cord.  Three baby goats were standing inside.

“Yeah.  Tattletale organized it so anyone who established a home could get goats to breed and milk.  If it comes down to it, a single goat goes a long way.  Milk, yogurt, cheese…”  Charlotte glanced over her shoulder at the five kids, then whispered, “Meat.”

“Makes a lot of sense,” I said.

I approached the fence and bent down, extending a hand for the goat.  When it didn’t bite or retreat, I reached through to run my hand along its wiry coat.  Coarse hair.  It bleated at the touch, but didn’t pull away.

I’d wanted to check in.  To see if they were doing okay.  They were.

Now I felt out of place.  So odd, considering this group had once been a fixture in my life.  I couldn’t just leave, but I didn’t know what to do now that I’d arrived.

“Lot of crazy rumors flying around,” Charlotte said.

“All true, I suspect,” I answered her.  I don’t want to talk about that stuff.

“Okay.”  There was no surprise in her voice, no questions.

“We’ve gathered our forces.  Scared the people who were causing problems.  The Yàngbǎn probably won’t cause any more trouble.  The Elite won’t be controlling access to key settlements, screening out people who have a right to be there.”

“You say that so matter-of-factly,” Charlotte said.

“It was very matter-of-fact,” I responded.  I stood, removing my hand from between the slats of the fence, turning to face her.

“Okay,” she said, again.

Again, no questions.  No hunger to know.

It would be unfair to tell her, to burden her with it.

But there wasn’t a lot to talk about, once I got the cape stuff out of the way.  I watched the goats cavorting about.

“Diana, Bruce, and Habreham,”  Charlotte said.


“Mai named him.”

“Ah.”  I glanced at the kids, saw Mai with her arms folded, looking very stern as she nodded at me.  She could be very serious about being very silly, I remembered.

They were all keeping their distance.  No smiles, no excitement at my approach.

What had I expected?  For some of them, I’d been gone for a third of their lives.

The kids perked up as the cottage’s door opened.  Forrest stepped outside.  He’d ditched the tight jeans in favor of looser ones, and wore a simple, short-sleeved flannel shirt.  He’d kept the heavy beard.

He smiled as he approached, then shook my hand.  “You’re here to see if we took the deal?”


He looked at Charlotte.  “You didn’t tell her?”

Charlotte shook her head.  “I’m embarrassed.”

I glanced between them, searching for a hint.  “Explain?”

“A group arrived, offering powers for sale.  They had crates of these glass vials.”


“An hour ago?”

After our discussion, I thought.  Rachel, Imp, Tattletale and I had stopped to eat, to talk about our next step.  Cauldron had gone right to work.

“A black woman, lab coat?” I asked.  “White woman with dark hair, wearing a suit?”

Forrest nodded.

“We didn’t take the deal,” Charlotte said.  “She sounded convincing, but… I can’t say why I didn’t agree.  Because there were the kids to look after, and I’m not a fighter.”

“A lot of people agreed,” Forrest said.  “It’s a chance to do something, instead of sitting around being helpless.  But Charlotte and I talked it over, and we agreed it isn’t for us.”

She said she doesn’t know why she refused, but they talked it over?

The statements didn’t mesh.  Charlotte was avoiding my eye contact.


Was I the reason they’d refused?

My heart felt heavy in my chest, but I managed to keep it together, to sound confident as I spoke, “I think it’s probably a great deal easier to accept a deal like that when you haven’t seen what capes deal with firsthand.”

“Yeah,” Forrest said, and there was a note of relief in his voice that only confirmed my thoughts.

“I don’t… I’ve imagined having powers, who hasn’t?  But I couldn’t… have them and not help… and I don’t think I could help,” Charlotte said.

“I was in the neighborhood when Hookwolf’s group attacked some guy’s store, and then nothing affecting me personally for years, until Leviathan attacked.  I was there when Mannequin attacked the Boardwalk.”

“I remember.”

I could remember Forrest grabbing the concrete block, hammering at Mannequin’s head.  He’d cracked the casing, even, playing a pivotal role in Mannequin giving up.

“We talked about it, and neither one of us wants to leave the kids without a… figure?  I don’t even know what we should call ourselves.  But I’ve seen how bad it gets when it’s bad.  I want to help, but I’m not sure I’d be better than the next guy when it came down to getting powers.”

I wasn’t so sure he was right.  Forrest had been more courageous than some capes I’d met.  He had a kind of conviction I was coming to connect to some of the best of us.  A conviction I wanted to imagine I had.

I realized I’d been silent too long, lost in thought.

“Okay.  No, no worries as far as the formula goes.  There’s a chance it mutates you into a monster, anyways.”

“She mentioned that,” Charlotte said.

“Yeah.  That’s fine.  Better you didn’t take it.  Just wanted to check in,” I told them.  “You have everything you need?”

“More than enough money,” Charlotte said.  “We’re doing pretty well for supplies, too.  Thank you.”

I nodded.

I was feeling a kind of restlessness.  It had been there from the beginning, when I’d realized I was out of place, that I’d intruded on this domestic scene.  It was building, getting worse.

“Will it last the next while?” I asked.  “The money, the supplies?”

Forrest gave me a funny look.  “A while?  In what sense?”

“A decade?  Two decades?  Three?”

He didn’t respond.  Instead, he gave me a very curious look.  I very nearly flinched.

“Yeah,” Forrest said.  His voice was soft, almost gentle.  “Enough to last us as long as we need.”

“Good,” I said.

Funny, that the weather was so nice here.  The sudden changes from night to day, good weather to bad were going to wreak havoc on my ability to adjust or sleep.  It had all been so chaotic, was still chaotic.

That probably wasn’t going to end.

I heaved out a sigh, realized in the process that I’d been holding my breath.  “Good.  That’s all, really.  I just…”

Needed a reminder about what I’m fighting for, before the last fight.

“…yeah.  That’s all,” I said.

Forrest extended a hand for me to shake.  I took it.

Charlotte gave me another hug.  I stepped away, then took flight.

Stupid, to fly when my fuel might run low, but I wasn’t up to anything more.

I was just out of earshot when my bugs caught Mai’s voice, “You said the money wasn’t any good.”

“Shh.  Quiet,” Charlotte hushed her.

“You did.  You said nobody’ll take it.  They only take barter.”

“Shhh,” Charlotte said.

“And you said we’re going to have a leaning winter if we don’t get more vegetables out of the garden, so why’d you say we’re doing okay?”

“Because we are,” Forrest said.  Bugs I’d planted on his sleeve tracked his movement as he wrapped an arm around Charlotte’s shoulders, pulling her close.

“We owe her everything,” Charlotte said.  “That’s enough, in the big picture.”

She’d said it, no doubt, because she knew I could hear with my bugs.  She wasn’t wily, as people went, but I could believe it was for my benefit more than Mai’s.

It still meant the world to me.

“Doorway, please,” I said.  “Faceti.”

The portal opened in the air.

“Ms. Hebert,” Glenn Chambers greeted me.  He smiled.  “It must be the end of the world after all, my old students paying visits.”

“Students?” I asked.  My eye traveled across the room to the man who sat at the opposite end of the desk.  Quinn Calle, my old lawyer.  He’d stood from his seat when I entered.

Mr. Chambers hadn’t.  He leaned forward.  “Weren’t you?  I’d like to think I taught something to everyone I worked with.  Maybe that’s conceited.”

“Conceit is a good trait to have,” I said.  “An overblown sense of one’s own abilities can be worthwhile, if you’re prepared to try to live up to it.”

Mr. Calle raised an eyebrow.  He was a little disheveled, having doffed both tie and suit jacket, and the makeup that de-emphasized the scar on his cheek was partially gone.  He glanced up as the lights flickered, then extended a hand.

I shook it.  “Didn’t expect to see you here.”

“A collaborative effort,” he said.  Smooth, unruffled, despite his appearance.  “Too much paperwork to sort through by myself, so I tracked down several people who’ve worked with supervillains.”

“Ah,” I said.

“I make costumes for anyone,” Glenn said.  “But the PRT makes more costumes for heroes, and they’ve discouraged other heroes from using my services, due to hard feelings.  It left me with a fairly one-sided customer base.  Well, I do fashion as well, but that’s proven to be more of a hobby than a paying venture.”

“Fashion and crime wouldn’t connect, ordinarily, but Glenn does have a passing knowledge of the nation’s rogue’s gallery,” Mr. Calle said.  “PRT likes that he’s keeping me from being too forgiving with old clients.”

“What is it you’re doing, exactly?”  I asked.

“Vetting capes,” Mr. Calle said.  “Not much work for a criminal lawyer in circumstances like these.  They found another job for me, helping decide who gets out of jail, when witnesses can’t be found.  Who leaves the Birdcage, who gets out of conventional jails, and so on.  Starting from the highest power ratings, working our way down.”

Building up our forces, I thought.  Cauldron passing around formulas like candy, guys like Calle releasing old prisoners.

What were the others doing?

“I just…”

“You wanted to thank me,” Glenn said.  “Naturally.”

“Naturally,” I said, my voice dry.

Mr. Calle spoke, arching his eyebrows.  “Rest assured, I’m not hurt in the least, that you chose to thank him before you thanked me.  I mean, I was only the man who stood by and helped you through the system after the ill-timed murder of Alexandria and Director Tagg, right in front of me, but yes.  The man who gives fashion  advice is a higher priority.”

I crossed the room, bent over and kissed Mr. Calle on the cheek.  “Sorry.  I wasn’t sure if you’d have hard feelings over that.  Thank you, for everything.”

“Quite welcome,” he replied, almost absently.  His attention was on the laptop in front of him.

“It’s refreshing, I admit,” Glenn told me.  “All of the others who’ve filed through have been telling me they had a last minute epiphany, that they realized the true import of what I had been trying to teach them about image and self-image.  Some of them might have even meant it.”

“That may be optimistic,” Mr. Calle said, without glancing up from his laptop.

“Probably.  But this young lady took my words to heart before the world started ending.  I could see it.”

“I didn’t make a good hero, I’m afraid,” I said.

“Somehow,” Glenn said, leaning back in his seat, “I’m not surprised.”

“Yes, fancy that,” Mr. Calle said.  “I would have thought you’d be a model hero.”

“I did try with her,” Glenn said.  “And, to her credit, she did try with herself too.  Stellar effort, but…”

“I don’t think this is a world where heroics work,” I said.

Glenn looked genuinely annoyed.  “Chevalier.”

“He’s running the Protectorate from a hospital bed,” I said.  “And they’re trying their best to keep Ingenue from visiting.  He’s refusing to be healed until all of the other patients have been treated.”

“Clever,” Glenn said.  “Only way he’ll be able to sit back and do his job.  The bosses can’t order him to be a face for the public if he’s confined to his bed.  Moment the battle starts, he’ll accept a visit and be on the front lines, I guarantee you.”

“I figured it was something like that,” I said.

“See?  Proving both my points.  You were an excellent student, and Chevalier is exactly the kind of hero we need,” Glenn said.  He looked up as an employee entered the room, dropping off a box of files.  “Thank you, Carol.”

She glanced at me and Mr. Calle.  Mr. Calle, for his part, made a gun with his index finger and thumb, winking and clicking his tongue as he ‘shot’ her.  She smiled, shaking her head.

“Really?”  Glenn asked.  “Crass.”

Mr. Calle didn’t take his eyes off the laptop.  “I can be crass when I’m not with a client.”

“There’s no need to be crass at all.”

“It works.”

Everything works when you’re good looking enough.  Which is, again, why there’s no need to be crass.”

“Oh, but it’s fun,” Mr. Calle said.  “We all have our vices, don’t we?”

Glenn gave his stomach a pat, nodding sagely, “I admit that’s true.  I must admit a predilection for show tunes.”

“I’m starting to wonder how you guys get any work done,” I said.

“You have to keep alert somehow,” Glenn replied.  He turned his laptop around.  “You know him.”


“I do, kind of.  I didn’t think he’d get arrested.  What did Über do?”

Mr. Calle answered for Glenn.  “Attempted murder.  Bit of a loose cannon, but not so loose they’d stick him in the Birdcage.  Shacked up with Circus for a while, but it didn’t take.  Relationship-wise or as a partnership.  They stood to lose more than they could ever gain if he got loose again, so they made it a secure facility.  He hasn’t escaped.”

“Something happened to Leet,” I concluded.  “Only way he’d be that… rudderless.”

“Crossed the wrong people, got offed,” Glenn told me.

We could have used him.

“Über’s… he should have been better than he was,” I said.  “I remember thinking he’d have been a stellar cape if Leet hadn’t been holding him down.”

“Apparently not,” Glenn said.  “Would you accept him or reject him?”

“Accept,” I said.  “But I’m biased.  I’ll take pretty much anyone.  I took Lung.”

“You took the Simurgh,” Mr. Calle said, apparently unfazed.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Enough said,” he replied.

“Put Über in a hospital.  Let him give medical attention.  Easy, move on to the next.”

Glenn sighed.  “Until we accidentally release the one person psychotic enough to derail the entire defense effort.  I do seem to recall Chevalier, Tattletale and a….”

“Accord,” I said.  “Yeah, I get your point.”

Glenn smiled.  “I have missed talking with you.  There’s no stopping and waiting for you to catch up with us.  Smart people are so few and far between.”

“So true,” Mr. Calle said, including himself among the smart people without a moment’s hesitation.

“Which means,” Glenn said, “I shouldn’t act dense.  You came here for a reason, something that isn’t thanking me.”

“I just… I guess I wanted to say… I’m a lot closer to figuring out who I am.  Where I fit.  A bit ago, I would have said I decided, but-“

“Doubt in the final moments,” Glenn said.  “Well, that’s something I understand.”

“Mm hmm,” Mr. Calle acknowledged him, agreeing.

“I’ve seen capes change their outside to reflect a new inside, after close calls and lifechanging events.  You’re wondering where you stand, now that you’re at the brink.  Only natural,” Glenn said.

“Wholly unnatural,” Mr. Calle said.  “Most change their tune when they get a slap in the face and a one-way ticket to the Birdcage.  Who’s the real individual, the man who they were for twenty years prior, or the man they become after the handcuffs go on?”

I asked, “You’re saying this me isn’t the real me, that it’s a product of the crisis?”

“You?  Hmm…” Mr. Calle paused.

“Her behavior after her arrest was remarkably in line with prior behavior,” Glenn commented.  “Including the, as you describe it, poorly-timed murder of two very notable figures, after she was provoked.  Essentially word for word what Miss Militia had put in her file.”

“Point conceded,” Mr. Calle said.

“I’m not sure that’s how I want to be defined,” I said.

“Take it for what it is,” Glenn said.  “You’re very scary when angry.  Perhaps… now is the time to be angry?”

“Being angry at Scion is like raging against a natural disaster,” I said.  “It doesn’t understand.  It doesn’t react.  My screams are drowned out in the chaos.”

“You weren’t screaming when you attacked Alexandria,” Mr. Calle commented.  “In fact, I remember you were very quiet.”

I nodded.

“If you’ve decided who you want to be,” Glenn said, “Accept all of it.  The good, the bad, the ambiguous.  Vulnerabilities and strengths.  The anger, that’s part of it.  The fear for people you care about, that’s a strength too.  Doesn’t feel very good while you’re experiencing it, but it’s a well you can tap.”

“Right,” I said.  I thought of Charlotte and the kids.

Fuck, I didn’t want to fail here, to let them lose what they were building.

“And with luck, knowing who you are means not having to waste time and effort on putting up a facade.  Maybe that extra time and effort you have at your disposal will make the difference.”

A portal opened behind me.  A member of the New York Wards.  A little bedraggled.

“Take care, Ms. Hebert,” Mr. Calle told me.  Making it easier for me to take my leave, for the new arrival to step in.

“Goodbye,” I said.  “Thanks again.”

“Goodbye, Taylor,” Glenn said.  “You, Weaver, Skitter and the strategist all give him hell, understand?  For all of us who can’t be on the front lines.”

I nodded.

“Doorway.  To Miss Militia.”

The doorway opened, and a small crowd shifted from around me, their attention elsewhere.

It took me a minute to figure out what I was seeing.  A hundred people, sitting on folding chairs or standing off in the grass to either side or behind the collection of chairs.  They were watching a movie that was being projected onto a massive white sheet, some holding paper bowls with soup, others holding beers.

My bugs moved over the crowd, and I located my teammates.

Parian and Foil in their civilian clothes, sitting together, holding hands.  I might have missed them, if not for the rapier that Foil was keeping close at hand.

Aisha, sitting next to Rachel, with the dogs under their seats where they’d be out of the way.  The Heartbroken were filling the seats immediately around them.  Eerie distortions of Alec, with different frames, hair colors, genders and fashion styles, but close enough for me to notice.

The movie showed a dog on screen, being chased by a group of kids.  I could see Imp’s face in the dark, looking as pleased as Rachel appeared annoyed.

It’s not the same dog,” Rachel hissed the words.  “Why isn’t anyone seeing that?  Same breed, but totally different dogs.

Pretend,” Aisha said, her smile not faltering in the slightest.

One of the younger Heartbroken shushed them.

I saw Miss Militia off to one side, with a group of kid capes.  Crucible, Kid Win, Vista, two more I didn’t recognize, and Aiden.  The kids were watching the screen, while Miss Militia watched the crowd for trouble, with a fair bit of her attention being aimed at Aisha and Rachel.

I didn’t want to interrupt, didn’t want to spoil this for the kids.

It was a distraction.  A stupid movie, apparently, but a distraction.  For the capes, it was a chance to not think about what came next.  To not dwell on the fact that, a minute, an hour, a day or a week from now, we could be fighting with everything on the line.

I drew a small notepad from my belt, then a pen.

Miss Militia,

Once upon a time, I wanted to be a hero.  On the night I changed my mind, the same night we attacked the fundraiser, I was going to write you a letter.  I suppose it’s time I finish it…

It wasn’t an easy letter to write then, and it’s not any easier to write now, for very different reasons.  I wasn’t a good hero, and I use the past tense there because I can’t genuinely call myself a hero at this point.  I’ve been visiting people tonight, and I suspect I might visit others tomorrow if circumstances allow, thanking those who need thanking, making sure that maybe there’s a legacy, someone to remember me if we all make it through this.

When I was a hero, when I did it right, I think I was emulating you and Chevalier.  Looking back, I can imagine that maybe things would have turned out okay if I’d joined the Wards, because you would have had my back.  I can’t say I regret what I’ve done, but I can’t say I don’t, either…

Sorry.  Don’t let me waste your time.  All I wanted to say was thank you.  Thank you for having my back when it counted.

– Taylor Hebert.

I folded it up and gave it to my swarm to deliver.  I didn’t wait to see her reaction before whispering, “Doorway.  Tattletale.

Barely an hour spent, all in all, on running my errands, looking after people.

Not all of the people I should have contacted.  I’d left out some of the most important ones.

The most important one.  My dad.

Perhaps I was a coward after all.  I knew the answer, I just didn’t want to hear it.

I couldn’t be absolutely positive I could hear it.  I couldn’t take a gut punch like that so close to such a crucial fight.

I was nearly silent as I made my way through the building.  Tattletale’s soldiers acknowledged me as I passed.

Not her place.  Somewhere out of the way.  A secure building, quite possibly one only Cauldron could access.

I found out why as I entered Tattletale’s room.  She was asleep, curled up on a couch with a laptop that had a black screen, glowing lightly.

I heard a murmur.  Mumbling in her sleep?

I bent over her, saw the track where the black makeup she’d used to color in her eye sockets had run.  A tear, from the corner of one eye, down the side of her face.  Crying a little in her sleep.

I found a blanket and draped it over her, then sat on the edge of the couch.

“Nobody really left for me but you guys,” I said.  “Everyone else has moved on.”

Another murmur.

Not from Tattletale.

Not from any direction in particular.

I listened for it, and almost immediately wished I hadn’t.

Music.  A lullaby, so quiet it was almost imperceptible.

I wasn’t hearing it with my ears.

I crossed the room, and my hand touched thick glass that was quite probably bulletproof.  I could see men standing guard outside, their night-vision visors glowing.

The Simurgh was outside.

The lullaby continued as she worked on expanding her arsenal.

Stop,” I whispered.

She stopped.

The silence was deafening.  No noise in the area, no wind, no people.

It made me wonder if the lullaby had been louder than I’d thought.  How was I supposed to gauge the volume of it when I had nothing to measure it against but my own thoughts?

I’m sorry.

The words crossed my mind.  My voice.

Not my words.

The Simurgh turned, her hair flowing in the wind.  Her hands were still held up as she worked her telekinesis on yet another weapon to add to her arsenal.  Her eyes met mine.

I found my way back to the couch, sitting next to Tattletale.

I didn’t sleep at all that night.

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369 thoughts on “Cockroaches 28.6

  1. Thanks for reading. This concludes the arc, but for one or two interlude chapters. I’m putting it out there just as an FYI, I did get a PO box. It’s noted on the donate page. Please limit the hate mail and mailing of severed body parts (unless they’re really good body parts, in which case, go ahead).

    If it’s no trouble, please vote on Topwebfiction.

    • Please limit the hate mail and mailing of severed body parts (unless they’re really good body parts, in which case, go ahead).

      Now I’m wondering what cuts of meat would ship best.

      • Beef Jerky travels the best, though there are companies that will deliver luxury cuts of meat right to a person’s doorstep in refrigerated boxes, if that’s what you want. You might want to check to make sure Wildbow isn’t vegetarian or something first, though, before you send him $100 of fine sirloin 😛

      • If we send hate mail it’s just because you killed our favorate character.

        If we send severed body parts it’s just because we were trying to get you to sew on more arms so you’d write faster.

      • Wildbow estimated Worm might be around 30 arcs long, but it was just an estimate and he admitted it’ll probably be longer than 30 arcs. I doubt the next arc will be the last, unless it’s going to be a really long one.

    • in the beginning of the movie, or or says
      –> could be an accidental repeat or just exactly what she says….
      Plus I should get back to looking after Dragon’s stuff.
      –> Plus, I should…
      The introvert, seeking out people, and the extrovert left with only a silent Endbringer for company.
      –> comma after extrovert (parallel to introvert)

    • “Peachy,” she said, without looking at me. She stretched, then wiped at her eyes. “smudged my makeup, where I painted my eyelids black inside my mask, smearing it across your shoulder.”
      Smudged should be capitalized.

    • “On the shitty kid’s channels”

      I’m guessing this is supposed to refer to shitty channels directed at kids, rather than to channels owned by a shitty kid, so the apostrophe should be after the S instead of before.

      “Glenn does have a passing knowledge of the nation’s rogue’s gallery”

      I don’t think the phrase “rogues gallery” is supposed to have an apostrophe; it refers to rogues in the plural, not a gallery owned by a single rogue.

    • or or says a fatally stupid line, like, ‘come on, my precious money machine. –> two ‘or’

      Another part of me? Maybe it had wanted her to be stuck to me –> ‘i’ had wanted her?
      Wow. You go Simurgh ^^ I don’t know if that was really cute or really scary. The end is nigh, it seems like

    • or or says a fatally stupid line, like, ‘come on, my precious money machine. –> two ‘or’

      Another part of me? Maybe it had wanted her to be stuck to me –> ‘i’ had wanted her?
      Wow. You go Simurgh ^^ I don’t know if that was really cute or really scary. The end is nigh, it seems like :p

    • Here there be over date typos, which have rotten and festered for too long already:

      or or says a fatally stupid line, like, ‘come on, my precious money machine. –> two ‘or’

      Another part of me? Maybe it had wanted her to be stuck to me –> ‘i’ had wanted her?
      Wow. You go Simurgh ^^ I don’t know if that was really cute or really scary. The end is nigh, it seems like :p

      • Ok, duplicate comments screwing me over. Might have happened before. Wildbow, if you ever see this, could you please delete the redundant ones -__-

    • Ingenue made a moue in response.
      – *move*, I assume, unless her power has her make cow noises 🙂

      “You and everyone else we released from the Birdcage had a tracker implanted in your arm.”
      – I’m a little rusty on my grammar, but since he’s referring to multiple people here (ingenue and everyone else released from the birdcage, shouldn’t it be “their” arm. At the least, a comma after you and birdcage would make it flow better, a little awkward when I first read it, but the meaning is clear, anyway.

  2. The S singing a lullaby. Which is sweet. I guess.

    “She looked up, “You don’t say a word about this to anyone. Morons are going to get the wrong idea if they hear we were hugging. Way overactive imaginations.”

    I have to say these jokes are getting a little old. They seem too directed at the audience. But just ignore me (the peanuts are fine by the way).

      • I’ve just been noticing it a whole bunch in the past arc and it feels really weird. There isn’t much indication that such a joke would exist in-universe so every time a joke like that is made it feels like pandering.

        It might just be me though.

          • I thought it was extremely interesting because she told the Simurgh not to talk about it.
            The previous ship jokes were between friends: Aisha, Clockblocker. Including the Simurgh in the list, even if not a plot point, is … telling.

            Looking at the work as a whole, those moments came in a serie, not much distant in time.
            You friendly banter with… well, friends, or at least human beings, sophonts at the worst. Imo it was a very humanizing moment for the endbringer, if you add in the wing movements and the lullaby it makes you think. (I like stories that make me think)

            As an example, the first thing that came to mind was:
            Her main endbringer power, after all, is being smart. What if she’s trying to be a person too? She probably can manage it, using a human as an example.
            Sure, the “all knowing” bit might get in the way… unless she finds an human who already has similar problem to be her template. Cue the Simurgh saying “hi mommy” to Lisa.

            I -do- doubt it was the actual reason behind that line. But whether it was subconscious on Wildbow’s part, the Simurgh breaking the fourth wall and mind whammying him, or happenstance* IT WORKS.
            It works -really- well.

            For the work as a whole it feels even better. No matter how crapsack the setting is, if there’s a chance of redemption… well, it immediately lifts up the underlying tone, without touching the overlaying grimdarkness.

            This, btw, is why I liked how Riley ended up, and why I hope she can redempt herself. Both her and the Simurgh are in a Jekyll and Hyde situation, that makes becoming “human” both engaging and free of a lot of writing overhead.

            Meh, I’ll stop rambling…. Wildbow, I hope it helps somewhat. I dislike backseat commentary, and usually do not do it, but this time I think it could be useful telling you what are my feeling about it so far.
            Sorry for the wall of text too.

            * quantum warning: while nearby a perfect precog, “happenstance” might** mean “exactly as planned”.

            ** quantum warning: while nearby a perfect precog, “might” might mean “certainly” and/or “I’m fucking with your head using footnotes”.

          • Tight or revealing costumes. Women being more likely to trigger than men. I can see all sorts of potential for shipping jokes on top of the normal Super Heroine In Peril stuff…that’s right, a particular fetish I’ve heard of actually shortened to SHIP. They’d fit as a running gag if they were added in earlier chapters.

          • Honestly I really like the shipping jokes. Sure I see them directed at the audience as well but honestly it adds to the realism. Everyone gets shipped with everyone in real life especially if they are celebrities. Having jokes about shipping wars in story helps make it feel a bit more like it is actually happening rather than just a story.

        • This one felt tacked on but there were some really golden ones. The one Aisha made like a chapter or two ago made me laugh. It flowed naturally from their conversation, since they were talking about lesbians, so I could see why she made that joke.

        • I could see it coming from imp. Maybe(?) foil depending on how lively she is and how much she’s warmed up to the other undersiders. Lastly they DID have an Internet and the undersiders + Taylor were/are pretty high profile.

      • Tattletale protesting too much? Another mask? [Ducks rain of rotten vegetables from anti-shippers]
        Taylor is pretty definitely straight. Tattletale is harder to read, especially considering she knows at least everything we do, and she hates looking stupid or being embarrassed. If she did have any feelings toward Taylor she’d hide them, probably behind jokes just like these.

        That said, because I am a terrible person, I have started shipping Tattletale with the Simurgh.

        • Well there might be something to your suposition about Tattletale. If she know’s she doesn’t have a chance due to Taylor being straight/end of the world… She would wait. If there ever were a time it might work out she could go for it, but I think just as she subtly worked to get Taylor too deep into the undersiders and friendship to betray them for real I think she would be working on other goals as well. So as sad as it seems, she may actually be speaking honestly about this.

          That or it’s the slowest seduction I’ve ever seen. 😉

        • I had the impression from a few chapters ago that Tattle’s not really one for sex. She said something about too much info being squicky. And there have been a couple of comments now about her only recently starting to really give a fuck about other people, so I’m guessing that she’s probably been too emotionally repressed to form many relationships outside of her team. Functionally asexual, aromantic?

        • Of /course/ you would. Rather than a mother/daughter relationship. Or adopted siblings. Of course. Well, now I know where the Spacebattles debate about her came from. “Not mentally nine”, indeed.

    • Playing Persona 4 ruined this whole heartwrenching chapter for me -.-
      After the word persona came up, I couldn’t stop imagining(??) that Taylors is running from person to person to max her social links…
      And when Lisa was compared to the undersiders pillar, I thought that she’s the manor arcana tower ^^
      Frikkin’ video games 😦

        • Since I’m playing Persona 4, I feel I should defend it; In many ways, that is what Taylor is doing. She’s reaching a sense of closure and completion, exploring the relationships she’s had to the full, to make them complete, because our tethers to other human beings is what gives us strength- Sometimes metaphorically, sometimes by letting you summon a big crazy monster. Hey, kids, which one do you think this is going to be?!

          • Well for the last few chapters this has felt a bit like the endgame to a JRPG to me. The Endbringers are the summons. The Dragonfly is the Airship. The Yangban are the fuckers you can’t take five steps without getting into a random encounter with. As for the ultimate summons you get from doing all the sidequests…

            Scion gets teleported to an alternate earth. Some massive object comes down knocking Scion all the way through the earth. Then we cut to a space view. It’s Atlas Zero! Atlas now bigger than the earth! Which he throws at Scion. Then after the earth collides with Scion, Atlas shoots a beam from his horn blowing the planet up. You can also use it on random encounters, but that’s just overkill.

    • Eh, it’s been pretty well-developed that pre-“END OF WORLD” there were substantial in-universe fandoms for famous capes. The Undersiders (and Taylor specifically in particular) were pretty dang famous…
      Ergo, I’d say that Tattletale would definitely have basis from past experience to make a joke like that.

  3. I absolutely loved getting to see Calle and Glenn interacting- their personalities complement one another’s so fantastically. I think they’re the two smartest people around, excluding thinkers.

    Also, that ending. THAT ENDING.

    Holy crap, the Simurgh apologized. The implications are staggering.

    • Apologized… for what?

      Killing so many? Disturbing Tattletale’s dreams? Getting caught? For Taylor’s own losses?

      For what the Simurgh is going to do next?

      And all those assume a sincere apology; this is a wholly alien being whose specialty is messing with people’s minds – the possibility that the apology is purely instrumental cannot be discounted.

      • Yeah, my initial thoughts where fairly similar. First, is this a genuine apology, or something else? If it’s genuine, then what exactly does it mean? Can the Simurgh actually feel regret? And was she sorry for something she did or just getting caught?
        It could even be pity, a sort of “I’m sorry you have to go through this”.

        Just so many possibilities.

      • Am I the only one that thought… Maybe she apologized to Taylor because in some indirect way she was actually created by Taylor and not Eidolon???

        • The main problem with that is the fact that Ziz existed way before Taylor got her powers, possibly before she even started getting bullied.

    • When the world’s best precog apologizes to you, it’s time to get paranoid. At least Taylor doesn’t have to cut ties this time…

    • Yeah… I didn’t really read it as an apology. I read it as “You have my sympathy.” Between what she knows from seeing into Taylor’s head about how shit her life is right now and what she can see of the future, there’s plenty to pity her for. She just chose to offer that sympathy in a moment where it could be mistaken for a trivial apology.

      Either way, it’s huge. An Endbringer, talking. The SMURF, talking. If Taylor could get her to do that more, just imagine what she could tell them. Further, it’s an Endbringer acting in a humane, emotional manner. Is it just a ploy? Almost certainly, but it’s a way more complex ploy than we’ve ever seen from her, which is saying a lot.

  4. Such a sad chapter, and more paranoia fuel with the Smurf and her “lullaby” for Lisa. So Leet is dead, Uber shacked up with Circus, and now he is back. You know all that extra formula Cauldron gave out could mean alot of old characters could come back as parahumans. Piggot, Greg, maybe Emma if she survived after all. If Scion attacked other realities then we might see the Travelers again. Liked the fact that we got a glance past the persona of Tattletale toward the woman inside. Good chapter.

    • I’ve noticed Taylor has become somewhat of a background character in the past few arches. Interesting that it was more or less explicitly stated in this chapter that she isn’t really relevant at this point.

      • For a long time now she’s been an observer, a negotiator, a catalyst. She doesn’t have the personal power to do anything directly now that the fights are happening on a multiglobal scale, but she can cause things to happen and shape events through the people she influences.

        Especially when those people include the fucking Simurgh. For better or much, much, much worse.

    • Piggot doesn’t want powers. Back when Calvert told her he hoped to trigger during the Nilbog attack she was actually surprised someone could really wish to become a parahuman. Now Greg…

      • I could see Piggot taking a formula to fix her kidneys.

        Greg, the only question is if he can argue his way to get a “good” formula. Maybe he’d ask for one of the unstable ones that lead to Alexandria and Eidolon, if he knew about the difference. And if that’s not what’s being handed out.

  5. Very quiet, very much the calm before the storm.

    Useful callbacks to Glenn and Quinn, and good to see Forrest and Sierra.

    Correct call in denying Taylor the use of Simurgh. Too simple a prospective solution.

    A week given as the maximum expected delay – not really sure which way that cuts. Scion could take longer – who knows, perhaps he’s got a full blown Chinese water torture on his agenda, and it’s going to take him a few months to execute his next individual victim. Would let everyone gear up in preparation; would permit room for serious infighting as well.

    Simurgh’s lullaby is a lovely touch, for horror is always strongest in defamiliarized circumstances: the known and trusted out of place, or skewed.

    The provocation foreshadowing is… interesting. It’s not as if she currently lacks reason to fight, though I suspect she’ll have more soon enough.

    • And, ulterior motives aside, the conversation ran basically thus:

      Taylor: Shut up a second kid, I need to think.

      Simurgh, i.e. Earth Beta’s Loki: Yes sir, sorry sir.

      The pair-bonding with humans seems to be something like “child adopts a puppy”, but the dynamic with Taylor, at least so far, has an element of authority to it– a kid trying to impress its mum, maybe only partially understanding what she’s asking for but still. She wishes them to band together with humanity… every Endbringer adopts a human. She suspects big sister Simurgh of betrayal, Simurgh pouts about it with an air of being slightly wounded, then over-compensates by showing off how helpful she can be with the magical upgrading and dotes on mum’s favorite puppy to an extent that’s outright creepy.

      For bonus points, they’re trying hard to impress Mum with how good a set of kids they can be because they used to live with dad, and he was an insecure, junkie asshole that intentionally exploited them and beat them regularly. For the final dose of the anvil, the interludes revealed that dad’s power literally relies on making himself feel big by draining the life force out of other, weaker people. We’ve been short on our domestic violence/bullying theme for a while, so there you have it.

      So… yeah. Endbringers: not a solution to anything, another set of abused kids thrust into Taylor’s care without warning. Will she try to break the cycle of violence and neglect this time instead of passing the buck, truly accepting the role of an adult instead of running away from the responsibilities that she feels the adults in her own life failed to fullfill? Probably not, there’s probably a couple more arcs! She’s gonna ditch at least once more! But still! Themes and stuff! Emotion! Drama! Next time on Dragonball Z!

      (At least I assume this is the intentional shape of Taylor’s coming-of-age arc, since our benevolent author has already called her out on taking the mother role with Bitch and then bailing, taking the mother role with the Undersiders and then bailing, and taking responsibility for a literal gaggle of doe-eyed orphans and then bailing… plus, she’s actively abandoning her Wards team the moment they started looking to her as a leader… If all that was unintentional, someone has a lot of bad issues and I hope it’s not me.)

  6. “So this is it,” Tattletale murmured.

    “Just about,” I said.

    “You ready?” Tattletale asked.

    Nope i need a full night rests before i start on this.


  7. Starting to wonder what an interlude from the perspective of simurgh would be like. Very, Very interesting in my opinion.

        • Hey! This is almost my first post and I didn’t get a Gecko-ism.

          I’ll be offended once I’m done eating these mood regulators like popcorn to see if it stops me from getting post-traumatic stress from reading said Gecko-ism.

          • Well you know me. I’m good at being someone’s almost first. Then somebody’s dad breaks the door open wondering who I am and where you buy snakeskin condoms with the little fake head and fangs on the end. You’ll never feel quite the same watching Anaconda after that.

            The shame was, each time I try, that’s a bunch of balloons I have to leave behind. I have yet to get to pull that cord. You know, pull the cord, balloons drop, the fireworks set off outside go off, the parade I have on retainer gets to marching on the street nearby.

            At this point, the drum majors are getting more tail waiting for me than I am. The brass are getting more ass. The wood winds are all blowing each other. Percussion keeps banging away. You don’t even want to know what the people with the triangles are doing.

            But now that you’re caught up with the story, feel free to face the (porn) music and make your own noise around here. Welcome to the comments, Scratch.

      • Also, let’s keep in mind that this is an apology from the finest precog in all of creation. The precog so good, she starting building a nanotech sword to turn Leviathan into Mecha Leviathan before the Undersiders even knew where they were going or that Leviathan would be there.

        It’s been said before, but i’ll say it again- When a precog (especially Smurfette) apologizes, it’s time to get paranoid.

        Also, I wonder if the other Earths have Endbringers. This is what the final battle looks like if there are-

        *Bowser’s theme from Super Mario 64 Plays, Scion arrives*
        Scion: The mewling sounds your children make as they melt in my laser vision is the only thing that mak-
        *Fifty Behemoths burst from below the earth and dogpile him*

        I bet the Simurgh is just being a bro though. Or giving Tattletale a second trigger event.

        • Given how there has been no indication of significant numbers of non-Cauldron-made capes on earths other than Bet (and the refugee worlds, of course), I’m guessing that the other Earths are mostly barren of parastuff.

          Besides, the Endbringers were made by Eidolon, remember?

  8. it just occured to me. scion hates exponential multiplication because its what caused the original downfall of his species. his been following the order to stop exponential multiplication ever since.

      • So we need exponential growth. That means Nilbog’s creations, maybe give Blasto’s body to the fairy queen, Taylor can do her multiplying bug trick again, maybe Bonesaw can clone Echidna for a force multiplier, Cauldron’s formulas which will surely piss Scion off, and that is all I can think of. I’m curious about what non crippled shard could have meant for Taylor after Tattletale said that. All non sentient animals?

        • She seemed to have the prime communication shard. I’m not sure it would just be limited to non-sapient animals. I’m not sure it would have been limited period.

        • “When it knows the configuration is absolutely decided, it reaches for the last fragment it will cast off. This one, too, it cripples, even largely destroys, so as to limit the host from using it in the same fashion.”

          “The entity came to a complete stop. It could see the connection to the female’s shard, the activity as it broadcast signals, reaching out to contact lifeforms throughout the area, coordinating them.”

          Jack’s shard handled communication between the entity and its counterpart. I think the Queen Administrator shard handled things inside the counterpart – acting almost like a nervous system for a god, short-range but precise communication and control of shards. They seem to have a lot of redundancy in their systems as a result of their reproductive cycle, which could explain why he was willing to cast it off (plus this is the only way to improve it). Once he’d disposed of most of his shards and determined his configuration, he could run off of a less complicated ‘nervous system’.

          • Yeah, I think that if Taylor’s shard hadn’t been crippled, she’d have been able to use it on Scion like Regent used his on humans.

            • Riley! Quick! Clone Regent, and give him access to Taylor’s shard! Then he’ll have an army of shard peoples to fling at Scion, especially if they’re mixed with Nilbog and Echidna so that they can mass manufacture other people without the need for such silly things as Materials.

            • Assuming I’m not mistaken, the broadcast shard handled communications between the Entities. Who knows what energies they used to converse with each other, and in what magnitude? Jack’s knife extensions are probably the shard adapting its capabilities to something simpler, like, I don’t know, using fiber optics to make road signs.

              Sharp, lethal road signs.

              I feel like my analogy breaks down a bit there.

              • LoL. xD

                Perhaps a better analogy might be that it’s the kinetic equivalent of a communication laser – intended for sending signals over distance, but easily tweakable into something that HURTS. Most forms of communication require energy that can be damaging if it’s amped up enough…

            • Scion mentions that the broadcasting signal works by sending and receiving a kinetic pulse. The slashing is just the more overt effect of his power. Had Scion not crippled the shard and/or had Jack not been such a psychopath, it probably would have been something different than extending the edge of a blade.

          • They fired a bigger version of a weapon designed to take out the moon, talked to the Simurgh and are handing out powers with only the most cursory of psychological evaluation; I think we’ve reached that point.

      • Perhaps that’s why the powers that be banned interdimensional trade and travel. Humanity spreading into the countless uninhabited paralel earths would have probably ticked off Scion. At least once this is all over, assuming humanity survives, there will be plenty of resources to go around.

        • Hmm, could be… the main reason given before was to stop anyone reaching the physical bodies of Passengers and Scion, but your idea fits as an additional motivation.

    • I think mostly it’s that recognizes emotionally that it can get out of hand, but the pruning shears and the straight-edge were in the now-dead thinker/destroyer toolbox, so he’s currently trying to trim the hedge by improvising using the tools the brute/creator half can access, which unfortunately happen to be a fifteen-pound sledgehammer and a half-gallon of sulfuric acid.

      Less malice/fear than frustration at being completely out of his depth on this half of the task.

    • Your good thought triggered mine:

      Scion hates exponential multiplication because it robs the worlds (remember that parahuman abilities draw power from other worlds) of the energy his species needs to grow, reproduce, and eventually blow up the planet with. If only a fraction of the shards started hogging a lot of the energy then the Worms’ breeding cycle would be threatened. So he goes out of the way to stamp down on powers that do that.

      If that is true, that implies that Cauldron’s strategy is two-fold: recruit parahumans to fight, but indirectly amplify the energy drain by creating more outlets (parahumans). This would not be a problem in a normal many-worlds scenario because each decision forks another reality (my quantum mechanics may be off) but since Scion is limiting branching, the amount of power is less infinite than would normally be expected.

      • Yeah, how dare someone use the energy from the alternate versions of their own world before he can steal it for himself! Damn cosmic parasite.

  9. Somehow, this chapter just really drove it home that the end is coming.

    Can’t really think of much more to say than that.

  10. First time I’ve left a comment. I just feel I have to express my gratitude for creating such a spectacular tale. You’ve made my Tuesdays and Saturdays something to look forward to.
    If you ever decide to publish a paper copy of Worm, I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

    • Wildbow feeds on your gratitude.

      And your tears.

      The only way to avoid losing your tears are to stay here, in Worm’s patented Comment Section. You’ll use up all your tears as we continuously enter into shipping wars. You want to see hot Leviathan on Lung action? Only in Japan, and we’ll throw in a sentai team for free. Trust me, when those rangers explode, it looks horrible, there are sparks involved, and at least one of them flips.

      Stick around here for the experience you can’t get just reading a book: crazy people saying stupid funny insightful things.

      Stay and join the Worm “End of the World” Party here under the story each and every update. Worm: Prepare to be skullfucked by awesome.

      Welcome, Jean S, to the comments.

      • “Worm: Prepare to be skullfucked by awesome.” sounds like an awesome name for a band!

        Also like the title for a crossover with Adam Warren’s Empowered… Say hello to Wily Pete everyone!

        … … … crap… I think he actually COULD take Taylor…
        Pun not intended but there anyway.

      • Thanks for the warm welcome. Now that I have shed my anonymity like a butterfly crawling out of its chrysalis (quite sorry, just couldn’t resist making an insect reference) you can expect to see me around a lot.
        I have to say, it’s quite nice to see that such a spectacular community has sprouted around Worm.
        Again, thanks for welcoming me. Glad to be here.

      • Never, ever come to my site, Gecko. Leviathan on Lung action? Oh god. Please. Just… The climax of Lung’s power? No. Fuck No. Is Leviathan even sexual? Wait… Okay, probably not a good idea to think about that.

  11. Holy crap.

    An Endbringer is *sorry*. An Endbringer *can be* sorry.

    Yeah. It feels like there’s more to learn there….

  12. Glenn Chambers Interlude for occupying some of that 2 year time skip? He’s a nice guy to see in the story and it reads like he’s important to Taylor’s development but we’ve seen so little of him.

    This a quite late but hey, some more detail on the Butcher death. I don’t know if that was an experiment on your part but it really required some extra thinking and attention to detail/reading through 200 comments for me. If anyone wondered like I did here’s the simplest way to put it: the Undersiders & Ambassadors zoned Butcher14 into a quarantine area with the captive Cherish (the quarantine was mentioned once by one of Coil’s mayoral candidates), Skitter and Bitch were in that suicidal misery aura with the Butcher but apparently the 14 consciousnesses of the Butcher made him/her more susceptible. I didn’t see the quarantine mentioned the first time and I was wondering why Skitter and Bitch didn’t react and also kill themselves.

  13. I still don’t trust her She’s been singing to Tattletale for what might have been hours and I suspect that her ability to even talk to Taylor means she screamed in her head long enough to fuck with her if need be.
    Nobody seems to have ever attempted the diplomatic approach with the Endbringers. Weird that no one was ambitious/crazy/stupid enough to try.

    • The first encounter with the Simurgh involved her floating in a city for days or weeks, as people came up and tried to communicate. After the world’s pre-eminent researchers were all gathered, she launched her first attack.

  14. IIRC Tattletale had her trigger event while sleeping and right now she’s at one of the lowest points in her life, end of the world and all. Maybe Simurgh is just being a bro and upgrading Lisa’s passenger.

    Or Tattletale is going to go fucking crazy at some point.

  15. “I don’t think this is a world where heroics work,” I said.

    The whole story, right there. If Worm was a movie, this would be in the trailer.

    • I can hear the trailer voice-over now, a deep smoked-too-many-cigarettes male voice speaks dramatically…

      “In a world where heroics don’t work….”

      • Weeeeeell, heroes are counterproductive in that *any* conflict feeds the shards and leads to kablooey (which would probably happen on schedule anyway even if the information yield were disappointing).

        But other than that, I don’t know that it’s true that heroics don’t work in the Wormverse. The vast majority of times where things went downhill came from people choosing expediency over the moral/heroic course of action.

        The whole story *started* with a ‘hero’ bullying a teenage girl. We lucked out on that one – Taylor was a fundamentally decent enough person that she made something good of it. And it’s not like it was just Shadow Stalker – when push came to shove, the PRT helped her sweep it all under the rug.

        Move onto ABB crisis where the villains were the only ones to pull together, then onto Armsmaster backstabbing Taylor. Don’t get me started on Cauldron – their “tough love” bullshit is behind maybe half the problems in the Wormverse.

        I would hold off on saying “heroics don’t work in the Wormverse” until such time as they actually *try* it.

    • Seems that Worm would be too long to fit in one movie. An arc per movie, on the other hand, would be much too short. Maybe divide it up into five movies or so…first one can be up until Lung gets caged, followed by one that reaches through the Slaughterhouse Nine arcs, then one that ends when Tattletale asks for the air raid sirens to go off, then one that reaches to when Taylor becomes a hero or right before the time skip, and finally…one to the end.

      Worm: Origins
      Worm: Threats
      Worm: Betrayal
      Worm: Dominance
      Worm: Destruction

        • SyFy channel? Nooooo! That would subject this story to SyFy’s Five Season Curse – i.e., nothing ever lasts longer than 5 seasons on SyFy. (Remember, Stargate: SG-1 came over from Showtime after 5 seasons there.)

          Better to plan on no more than 5 seasons, at la Babylon 5.

          • I didn’t think about that. However, I am confident that Worm would be the first to break that curse! 😀

            So long as fucking Fox don’t get it…remember what they did to Firefly? Morons!

            Showtime would be good as well. They’ve done wonders for Dexter – 8 seasons.

            FX, I guess would be ok…

            • Sci-Fy has a tendency of killing a popular cult show whenever they get a new exec. Stargate, Farscape, etc. Even the New Battlestar Galactica had a real hard time of it.

              • Does that explain the boxing episode in Battlestar Galactica?

                New Executive: Forget science fiction! Let’s make this the ghosts and wrestling channel!
                Staff: Sir? There’s a reason this channel is called “Sci Fi”….
                New Executive: Then CHANGE THE NAME dammit! Make it Syfy!
                Staff: But “syfy” means “syphilis” in some languages!
                New Executive: How DARE you question my infinite wisdom! You’re fired! I want all TV shows to either be about ghosts, or at least have sports in them!

            • Yeah Fox is evil incarnate for TV shows. It’s the Devil. When the Devil decides to be extra dickish. Get your show on TV! Oh wait I mean get your show for one season! Because now no one else can get it! Hahaha! Wait, why aren’t you laughing?

              Firefly is simply their best known destruction. I can name at least two or three others off the top of my head. SyFy at least gives a show a few seasons before they become idiots.

              • Seems to me that, with rare exception, SF *needs* a season or so to find its footing. I’m hard-pressed to think of a popular SF TV series from the last 40 years that *didn’t* have a shaky first season.

                Producing an SF series without a willingness to give it at least a couple of seasons is an exercise in frustration.

                If you lack confidence, do what Buffy did and start with (deliberately-intended-to-be) short seasons…

              • Oh I completely agree. Very few scifi shows are any good until probably about halfway through their first season when the basis and mythology and backstory is finally established and the characters are starting to grow up. That’s why I hate Fox so much. They kill shows that have finally become good and when they finally picked up their viewer base.

                Syfy goes the opposite route it seems and tends to kill shows that have a large fan base and are well established. I try to give it the benefit of the doubt that they try to end the show before it can stagnate like people tried to do with Lost and Dexter but that justification doesn’t always hold. Sliders was cancelled for Farscape which was then shortly after cancelled on one of it’s best seasons if I remember correctly.

                Sigh, scifi has it hard on TV.

    • So, remember when Contessa said “Say goodbye” to Riley, and that was the triigger for Riley’s transformation? It echoed the Jack saying “Say goodbye” to Riley when she was with her dying mom.

      I think the Smurf might be echoing Dinah’s words to Taylor – “I’m sorry” – to push her into evaluating her choices (like leaving the Undersiders in order to save the world) from a different perspective, and to perhaps, even, (dare I hope?) recognize that if saving the world means losing herself then it’s just not fucking worth it.

      Wish I had been reading this when it was being written, but I continue to comment into the void and appreciate that the void still accepts comments.

      • Casting a comment to *void is always acceptable, but rarely leads to predictable results.

        –Dave, in other words, like HP&tMoR, you ain’t seein’ where this one’s goin’, even now

  16. You know, I just had something of an odd idea that results from two other unfounded ideas.

    The first unsupported idea is that Ziz’s song let’s her understand and analyze things. That’s why she was able to use Kid Win and Defiant’s tech after singing near them.

    The second unsupported idea is that the Endbringers seek to aid their imprinted human in fulfilling their long-term desires. Before, this was Eidolon’s desire for fulfillment, and that was strong enough and dependent enough on the Endbringers that it overrode pretty much everything else. Now Ziz’s imprinted on Tattle Tale.

    If you combine those two points and the fact that Lisa’s power means the type of companionship she gets from others is a bit limited, you might come to the conclusion that Ziz might actually not have a purely malevolent intent anymore. Maybe she actually wants to be there for Lisa.

    Before, when she was around humans, especially when she was singing, her goal was to be a terror; she might have never paid much attention to the intricacies of human thought and emotion, instead just looking for what she’d need to poke for the best reaction. Now that she’s just taking the time to listen and understand, she might be evolving in that area.

    Under that interpretation, her apology to Taylor might have been a genuine apology for disturbing Lisa’s sleep when she was actually trying to help.

    • Smuffy might even be sincere at the moment, but does that really change her nature? Makes me think of a certain fable….

      A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?”

      The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

      The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

      Replies the scorpion, “Its my nature…”

      • And now a certain song from Devil’s Carnival is in my head again.
        …That movie ruined Aesop’s fables for me for-ev-er.

        • Leviathan’s a tough little tadpole to love. Naughty lilies and lures, but he was knocked to the floor. Never tasted as sweet a nanotech as Simurgh had. Now he’s a surge that can never be cured.

          Simurgh’s a bad little love and you’re hers. So trust her, trust her, darling dear, she’s so sincere, there’s no need to tear. Trust her, trust her, honey dew. Just like she trusts you.

        • I suppose I need to follow Churchill’s advice now.

          “If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time-a tremendous whack.”

          The point here is, Smurffy might be sincerely apologizing, but that doesn’t mean Smurffy won’t return to old habits mayhem and destruction.

      • I call bullshit on that fable. Aesop’s trying to have his cake and eat it too on this one.

        Either the frog and scorpion are dumb creatures driven by instinct *OR* they can negotiate and thus, are presumably intelligent enough to have the capacity for choice. Aesop’s trying to draw an analogy between animals that run on instinct and humans but we know that, in practice, sentient creatures have a capacity for reflection and change which purely instinctual animals lack. Leopards may not change their spots, but people can and do all the time.

        With regard to Simmy, it really depends to what extent she is actually a thinking being capable of change. If she *is* just running on instinct and using her powers to navigate the world, then it depends a lot on what those instincts *are*. If they’re ‘smash puny humans!’ then we have an issue. But they could just as easily be “fulfil my master’s desires” – it’s just that her last master’s desires were “I need a fearsome enemy to show off how awesome I am”.

  17. I’m actually halfway wondering if Simurgh is actually reacting to Weaver, but has gone with Tattletale so Weaver can get her head together…

    The whole thing with Weaver telling Simurgh to stop the lullaby, and Simurgh not only obeying, but also apologizing …?

    Yeah, creepy.

    • Yeah you can see it that way. That the Smurf is doing what Taylor wants deep down inside, and keeping an eye on Taylor’s friend.

      The other possibility… Endbringers are shards. And Taylor had a shard for commanding other shards.

  18. Here’s a question I felt like asking: if there was an alternate universe version of this where Taylor joins the Wards in arc 2, does she turn in the Undersiders?

    Additionally, if she does turn them in, and Tattle doesn’t see it coming and they do get caught and the alternative is even worse so Coil doesn’t use his power to fix it.. do the any of the Undersiders join the Wards?

    • OK, this is assuming that all the bad scenario doesn’t happen and the PRT doesn’t just chuck them all in jail like trash so they can spend their entire lives as pariahs like the top brass probably thinks they should.

      Brian: Being the leader of the Undersiders would be a knock against him but if they bothered to do any kind of psych evaluation or in depth interview they’d find his pretty enormous superhero potential. He could get a more lenient version of the deal Taylor did. Any chance to get custody of Aisha would be fucked but atleast if he became a Ward the government would be forced to act on it.

      Alec: Probably going to jail, but then again they can’t honestly argue to judge him very harshly considering the circumstances of his crime, and he’s a source of intel against Heartbreaker. Probably no Wards though. He could probably get a comfy, minimum security incarceration.

      Lisa: Garunteed to get a deal with her power. She’d be invaluable to the Protectorate assuming she isn’t picked up by Cauldron. She could probably end up as support staff to a Wards team. Actually, I always figured that even if Taylor betrayed them Lisa would try to pull for her anyway. She didn’t really care that Skitter was a double agent after all.

      Rachel: This is where the PRT runs the risk of setting off my scumbagdar the most. Because any murder charges brought against her would be bunk considering the circumstances, Rachel Lindt is in the system, they can look it up, and then they can show their ass to the jury by trying to argue she a “murderer”. But she’ll probably go to jail or juvie anyway, which is shit because she wouldn’t be able to have dogs and they would make her situation even worse, a good scenario would involve her getting some kind of social services deal.

      This is all assuming the planets are in alignment and the PRT and Protectorate do the moral and responsible thing. Considering the force s involved here (Piggot, Pre-Defiant Colin, Calvert etc.) it isn’t very likely and they’d probably end up being chucked into the fucked prison system and forgotten about.

      • Honestly, given the bending over backwards the PRT did to cover Sophia’s ass I wouldn’t be surprised if they did support Brian’s custody of Aisha. Especially since they could easily leverage that to keep him inline.

        Alec’s probably going straight to the Birdcage for the same reasons Canary did.

        Agreed that Bitch will probably be screwed over royally, especially given her lack of media-friendly powers and thus lack of usefulness to them.

  19. Sooo….. I’m sorry, I know a lot of more important stuff happened here, but all I can think to say that hasn’t been said already is that now we can ask Uber exactly what gender Circus is.

    • We should know already. IIRC there were naked Echidna-Clone Circuses running around. Sex never got mentioned though. As for what gender Circus is, we may never know.

        • it matters to me when I draw nude circus clones being hurrggged up by Echinda , do they get a innie an outie …it’s all so confusing ! 😛 honestly though I agree with WB it’s not a really big thing to me .

          • >Circus is whatever gender Circus identifies as. Biologically, well, what does it matter?<
            Well their are medical conditions that are far more likely to happen to one Biological sex than the other. A biologically female Circus isn't going to have to worry about Testicular Cancer for example.

          • Imagine if Circus can literally be whatever s/he wants to be from moment to moment.

            In that case, his/her default mode might be as smooth as a Ken or Barbie doll, and s/he can choose to be either an innie or outie depending on mood and the person s/he is with.

        • > well, what does it matter?
          lemon fics mostly… not that not knowing is going to stop anyone from writing one, but at least the bitching between slashers would be reduced

        • While I fully agree with your comment, Wildbow, I have an extreme curiosity about what parts Circus has. Relationship and character wise yeah it only matter to Circus and hir partner but from a purely observational standpoint I am morbidly curious. Hell even TATTLETALE was confused which makes me even more curious!

      • “Whichever Circus feels like”

        *cut to Circus out by a pair of street vendors, glancing between their wares. One is selling tacos, the other is selling hot dogs. Circus’s hands thrust into the air* “I don’t knowwwww!”

  20. Wow, that was an excellent chapter, really felt chilling to see Taylor make her goodbyes once more in such a way.

    I am not sure whether I left an earlier review or not but in case I didn’t, thank you so much for sharing this story with us. Worm took over a week of my life as I did practically nothing but read. I loved the concept and characters and the world you have created here. It has become one of my favourite all time stories.

    I concur with the poster above, as soon as this becomes buy-able in paper-form, am going to strike so hard.

    Thank you.

  21. Still waiting to see if the unpowered individuals end up being somewhat more outside of Scion and the Endbringers “vision” and step it up. Would mean that Cauldron passing out powers like candy could actually be detrimental considering it would handicap people who were willing to help…

  22. I think Simurgh is following Taylor and not TT. She was just shadowing Tattletale to engineer a situation where Taylor would get more tethers and keep her in the fight more. She wanted Taylor to go around and talk to all her old friends and acquaintances, including making Taylor become Tattletale’s pillar. And with Taylor bemoaning her basically useless power against the opponent she’s up against, Simurgh wants Taylor to be ready for something.

    I think Simurgh is creating the conditions for Taylor’s second trigger event.

    • She’s already had three triggers. Once in the locker from the trauma, again in the locker from sensory overload, and then in the aftermath of the high school event.

  23. In my defence, I did not have the original idea, and I’m only writing on it because I’m desperately trying not to do actual work.

    Well, we knew who she was following.

    “Fuck me,” I could hear Tattletale muttering with the bugs I’d planted on her. The Simurgh came to a stop directly above her. She repeated herself, as if for emphasis. “Fuck me.”

    The Simurgh gently descended on the ground, lightly caressing Lisa with a wingtip. She was stunned for a moment, and when she opened her mouth to speak the Simurgh leaned forward and french kissed her.

    I felt my heart sink. I’d hoped to be her first girl.

    Of course the Simurgh had picked her to follow. Tattletale had done the talking. Tattletale was a thinker, just like the Simurgh. She was the de-facto leader of the Undersiders, in many respects. That’s why I too loved her.

    But a small part of me had hoped that the Simurgh had picked me to follow. That same part of me had almost believed it, taken it for granted. It was horrible and scary and almost wrong, having an Endbringer at one’s beck and call, but I’d been prepared to shoulder the burden. I wanted to handle it, to cuddle with her in full view of everyone so Lisa’s power could not pick up I was trying to make her jealous, urging her to make the first move I was too scared to attempt.

    But it seemed the endbringer had taken Lisa’s curse as an order. I filed away, I could not take a gutpunch like that right before the battle.

  24. I found this chapter pretty sad. It showed how distant Taylor has become from some people. And it felt like it was a bit of a goodbye chapter.

    Also just how low do the Chicago Wards rate for Taylor? I mean you’d think she’d want to go visit someone from them at some point, since she was with them for two years.

    • I think she might want to avoid ankwardness… she knows them and she probably feels she’ll be an outsider, like it was with her “family”.
      Besides she has yet to bring up the Aster thing with Golem IIRC.

    • I think she was kinda friends with them, judging by her convo with Tecton just before the S9 sequel. But there was still that kind of arms length trepidation about it like Tecton thought she was a bomb ready to go off or something. She really doesn’t need that kind of shit right now.

      Not many heroes have made those kinds of personal empathic outreaches to her, I’m not expecting them to start now.

    • Yeah. I found it a little sad that she felt the need to send Defiant to collect *Golem* of all people for worry of what he might think to find her with the Undersiders.

      After the shiz those two have been through together over the last couple of years that she would still have those doubts… 😦

  25. LOL I just thought of something funny, Just as everything gets blow to smithereens, Taylor hears wake up honey it’s time to go to School.

      • I think that Simurgh is following whoever she feels like following 🙂 Next chapter she might follow Taylor, or maybe Lung, or whoever.

        Think about it. Simurgh is obviously capable of somehow using the powers and abilities of capes near her. Who better to stay near if she wants to use a cape power to learn how to communicate with humans than a human thinker whose power is near-perfect understanding of humans?

        So,,, Simurgh stays near Tattletale, uses Tattletale’s power to learn human language and expressions, and then starts talking to humans. Seems pretty linear to me.

        • Replying to self…

          Umm, and in a fight, Simurgh stays near Lung, and copies his power? Simurgh-Lung? With Lung hopefully unaffected, perhaps Simurgh could actually keep the fight going long enough for Lung to get worked up to a point where Scion can’t kill him instantly.

          No evidence yet that I’ve seen of Simurgh copying anything other than tinker and thinker powers though, unless I’m failing to remember something?

      • I think the Simurgh listens to Taylor, in a way that she might not with Tattletale (and vice versa, I’m sure). I don’t believe that either is controlling them. Remember that she wanted the Simurgh to stay with her, as “one more tether.”

  26. Now that I’ve reached the last of the posted chapters, I’m actually a little sad to have hit the end, Thank you for the fantastic read so far wildbow, it was a definite source of stress relief in an otherwise difficult week.

    I’ll look forward to the last few chapters, and if that paper copy ever get’s out there (and isn’t too dramatically altered I suppose, since this work is immense) I would buy it in a heartbeat.

    Also the Simurgh apologizing to Taylor was both profoundly creepy and oddly sweet…after the building storm feeling of the rest of the chapter it gave me chills.

    • Aha! You have been lured in by my lack of comments on this chapter! Ok, so you wound up here more due to that story thing up there, but fear not! The comments are here to pick up the slack. Ok, so you’re probably not going to be overly interested in the constant shipping of the story’s women with each other. That’s fine. For all we know, you prefer to think of having the male Heartbroken, aka the Bishonen Brigade, crawling all over the male characters. Just remember, what happens in Grue’s smoke stays in Grue’s smoke.

      They used to say that about Vegas, but then Pretender shot his famous video “One Night in Alexandria”. Cauldron claims it was leaked. Yeah, leaked. As if an organization like Cauldron, which somehow had Shamrock and the Case 53s and Manton and Gray Boy get away from them was actually capable of losing a video. Obviously they meant to put it out there and in no way was it indicative of how out of touch they are with actual people and saving the world in the light without sacrificing everyone.

      By the way, I hear their next plan is to team up with a strapping youngish starship captain named Zapp Brannigan to stop Scion with wave after wave of his own men.

      No need to be sad that you’re all caught up. I’ve been all caught up for a long time and I’m perfectly ok with no mental defects whatsoever. So be like me and hang around here in the comments having a grand ole time.

      Jennifer H, welcome to the comments.

        • Yeah, same. And replying to them.

          I don’t think it’s exaggeration to say that, of my time reading Worm, at most 20% was spent reading Worm itself and the rest was spent in the comments section.

          Given that the story alone is three and half “Lord of the Rings”-worth of words that’s… kinda scary.

  27. – alas poor Cauldron, still trying to be relevant, huh?
    – very interstitial chapter, this one
    – Tattletale Revealed! ‘sokay though; she’s still a bawse. Good thing she never met Hatchet-Face, the experience would have broken her
    – Charlotte et al! Bitch getting Dan Browned by Hollywood! Tattletale feedng the shippers! Wildbow feeding the shippers! Win!
    – Simurgh is … sorry? @_@

  28. “Everything is going according to our plan, we have a contingency for every outcome, we know the path to victory. Of course you should trust us!”

    *An hour later*

    “Powers! Powers! Get ya powers here! Could turn ya into a monstah, but you’d still have powers! What d’ya mean ‘get us killed by Scion’? Of course everythings fine! Don’t worry bout it!.”

    Seriously, do they really think the Zapp Brannigan strategy is going to work to Scion? There’s got to be a point where these knuckleheads learn that you can’t beat this guy by chucking mooks at him. All these new unblooded parahumans will probably turn things into a clusterfuck.

    No. No, no, no. Something fishy is going on here. You know what I think? Once the Undersiders step through the portal they’re going to run into a truckload of Cauldronites and Teacher goons there to hogtie them. Actually I really hope that’s the case, really dreading the final battle here. Fingers cross atleast Taylor and Rachel make it through alright.

    • I still think that going on an all-out recruitment drive is Cauldron’s Plan B, and Plan C is releasing all the Case 53s they still have. (If I were Cauldron, I’d maneuver the Irregulars into jailbreaking one cell block at a time, moving the formula stockpile and equipment as they made progress, but that’s what I’d do if I was a manipulative mastermind that wanted to release its prisoners in a way that boosted morale)

      • Frankly, I’m surprised with their actions. I would have thought that first they would have unleashed all those Case 53s (it’s implied that they have some really scary guys in that basement of theirs) and start handing formulas only as a last resort. Oh well.

      • There wasn’t a “sudden increase in supply,” tho. Judging from Eidolon’s interlude flashback, (spec. the one where Legend calls them out) they had enough formulae “for the foreseeable future” as of the end of the Echidna fight. However, D-M refused to let Eidolon tap that supply to bolster his own abilities, presumably to get as many capes as possible here and now. Any new ones made since then would have had their Balance levels lowered, in the hopes of getting new Alexandria/Eidolon caliber powers.

    • I’m late to the party, but I wanted to say that I don’t think Cauldron really expect to win against Scion. I think they are aiming more to get on last “fuck you” on Scion before the inevitable. You know what would be fantastic fun? If the final conflict is not against Scion or something like that, but is instead against Cauldron and Theacher. Which means that Worm may end with the death of Taylor and NOT with the defeat of Scion.

      By the way “fantastic fun” should be read as “the ultimate troll ending”.

      I’m also dreading the battle, and reaaally hope that Taylor and co. make out alive, but there is so much going on that I really can’t see how they manage to all stay in one piece.

  29. I am thinking that there is now a second way that Dragon could be restored. Willing to bet that Simurgh could handle that job pretty easily, especially now that she is demonstrating language skills. She was able to fabricate Richter command code and use it to block off Dragon’s ability to view certain data, I bet she could remove Richter code blocks too.

  30. Well that pretty much settles the telepath theory.

    Maybe? I mean she did speak to her IN her MIND, so she’s at least a projective telepath.

    You wanna throw me a bone wildbow?

  31. Well, then.

    A few thoughts.

    1. A popular theory is that the Smiurgh is trying to screw with Taylor with that apology. In my humble opinion, if it was, it would have probably “spoken” with Dinah’s voice. Besides, how are apologies so much stranger than everything else Smiurgh has done?

    2. The end of an arc? Shorter than a lot of recent ones…

    3. The end of an arc? Next arc is going to be pretty big…

    4. If I don’t hurry up, Worm is going to be concluded before I finish the first chapter of my fanfic.

  32. Cauldron creating Capes without proper limitations could be useful, if it breaks the path of victory, that Scion established. Endbringers were indirectly created this way. So yay for Cauldron! Thanks for creating Endbringers!

    I wonder why Simurgh was sabotaging the temporary end of the world prevention. Was it to speed up confrontation with Scion? If she has precognition she could work towards that goal. This seems outside of ”fight Eidolon, because he needs worthy foes” paradigm. Unless it was done to have Eidolon fight Scion.

  33. Wow. Excellent chapter. Transition chapters like this often turn out to be my favorites – there’s a lot of room to really see the characters’ personalities come through. Seeing Tattletale’s façade start to crack hit hard. She’s always been the one coming up with the crazy plans to face impossible situations, so seeing her so hopeless and out of ideas really makes you feel the desperation that everyone’s feeling right now.
    Nice to see some of the more minor characters from previous arcs (like Charlotte, Glenn, and Calle) come back. I’ve always liked normal people doing mostly normal things that just happen to be adapted for a world with capes (characters like Glenn, Calle, and Jessica Yamada). I do wish we’d gotten to see a little more of Taylor’s thoughts when deciding who she was going to see – she acknowledges that she left out a lot of important people, but doesn’t really say why.
    If there’s one thing worse than having a precog tell you “I’m sorry”, it’s having the world’s best precog tell you “I’m sorry”. Anxiously awaiting next update.

    • Worse than that: Having two of the world’s three best precogs tell you, “I’m sorry.” Which is where Taylor is now.

  34. Now the next question… If the Simurgh can reprogram another Endbringer, and is suspected of having programmed people years in advance for destructive acts or tendencies, can she reprogram passengers? Is it possible that Simurgh can remove the blocks that Scion put in place to limit the powers of human capes?

    Is that what all the guns she is building are for, reprogramming capes, rather than shooting Scion? A different gun for each cape she expects to meet?

    Hrm. So many different possible paths forward 🙂

  35. As other nice transition chapter, but there a few points I really focused on

    1. Who Simurgh is following. It makes perfect sense, but there was that little spark of hope in the last chapter that that would be awesome if Taylor controlled an Endbringer. (Thgh I don’t have a clue of why she seems to have singled out Taylor, but time will tell.) Something else was that it really does feel for that Tt got her. There are a lot of powers that don’t appear to pack much of a punch in the Undersiders, but I think Tt has it pretty much the worst. Her power is awesome, but can only be used ten minutes a week. She needed this.

    2. Taylor seems to be really speaking and matching for the reader. As Taylor’s battles have gotten bigger, something I’ve been thinking a lot about is when her luck will run out. When guts, strategy, intelligence, determinton, and her power and equipment will no longer suffice. And…she seems to be wondering the same thing. The great thing about this story is, I have no clue what could happen. In most stories, the main character beats the final enemy- that’s why that person was chosen to be the main character- and everyone goes yay. But I wouldn’t be that much surprised if Taylor didn’t play too much of a roll in the final battle. Especially n the nonadministrative parts. Though I hope she will.

    Looking forward to the final battle, whenever it may start!

    • I wouldn’t be so sure that Taylor won’t play a major part in the final battle. I doubt it will be her punching Scion so hard he explodes, but I suspect that she has a key role to play. She’s sort of working through certain things. That Scion is upset that by relpication abilities. That there is something up with Contessa not being able to convince Forrest and Char to take the formula even with her victory power. That every power has a weakness. Something is building here. I just can’t put my finger on it.

      • That and Scion’s major malfunction is that he’s missing the half of space-whale-god responsible for organizing, maintaining, and repackaging the loose shards at the end of the space-whale life-cycle. Shards that have the capacity to interact with and organize other shards, owned by hosts that aren’t young children, haven’t been bloodily murdered, and haven’t been snipped out of the very universe? Yup, pretty much just Taylor.

        Well, technically you could achieve a similar effect by standing everyone by the Elf queen and murdering them all, but resolution by bit character/deus ex machina isn’t very popular for a reason.

        • Skitter and the Faerie Queen are both using Scion’s shards. In order to complete the cycle, he needs the /other/ worm, the one that died. Though the idea that the cauldron capes have shards that are “not dead, but not [Scion’s]” (mentioned in his interlude) is interesting, and may hold a bit more promise.

          • Contessa’s the only one who’s been mentioned as having a shard that’s neither dead nor Zion’s. The Cauldron-born have dead shards.

  36. Wonder if they’ll make more tinker tech available to the Simurgh, for a broader array of weaponry. Or go balls deep and have her ‘recruit’ the Yangban. They’re pretty useless as they are, they’ve broken the truce, and they’re a risk — they’ll totally run raids while everyone else fights Scion, maybe even snipe human forces while they’re in combat against Scion.

    Tattletale seems unlikely to be overjoyed to have been sung a lullaby by the Simurgh. Sure, it could totally be benign, even *gasp* affectionate, and the fact that she stopped when asked and apologized supports that, but yeah. Taylor sure doesn’t seem ready to believe that.

    The patter between Calle and Glenn was fun, I’m glad to see they survived, same for Charlotte and the rest even if the reception there was a little doubtful. Sucks for Taylor to see how the unpowered people she lived with remember her.. as part of something they want no part of. I suppose, for her they were three intense, amazing months of friendship and growth and glory and hardship.. for the kids and Charlotte and even Forrest, they were mostly hardship.

    The letter to MM was a nice gesture, but I’m surprised she didn’t have anything to say to the Wards, if not Golem. I kinda don’t get just how it is that after almost two years of working with the wards, after a handful of months with the Undersiders, Taylor has no chemistry with the Wards. Is she meant to have burnt bridges that badly? Tecton at least seemed to still have some love for her, even if it sounded strained.

    • After two years, she’s been talking with them for two years. There might be more that needed to be said, but less of it that has not been said.

      That’s my interpretation, at least.

    • Taylor did say she would probably visit more people later. I wouldn’t be surprised if she decided not to visit them though. From what was said in Golem’s interlude, she and the Wards didn’t get along well. She was always Weaver with them, hardly ever Taylor.

  37. Late to the party so I will just make some random comments.

    -This chapter felt not sad but melancholic. Also it may sound stupid, since the apocalypse has been going on for a couple of arcs now, but I think this chapter really drove it home that we’re nearing the end. I is sad. 😦 .

    -Simurgh apolgising. Can something be sweet and horrifying at he same time?

    -Calle and Glenn should totally get their buddy cop movie. I’d watch it.

    -Lot’s of old faces. Charlotte., Foster, the kids, Calle, Glenn, Circus, Uber…

    -That letter to Miss Militia made me think: how different would things have gone if it had been her instead of Armsmaster to mmet Taylor on her first night out? For want of a nail, eh?

    -Poor Lisa.

    -Oh and Chevalier is once again hospitalised before a massive battle against a seemingly invincible enemy. If I were Scion I’d start running and never look back 🙂 .

    • -That letter to Miss Militia made me think: how different would things have gone if it had been her instead of Armsmaster to mmet Taylor on her first night out? For want of a nail, eh?

      Well, I think she would have atleast made sure Taylor was down from the fucking roof before driving away, perhaps escort her a few blocks if she’s feeling generous. Maybe don’t jump on the “who gets the credit” shit immediately.

      I think an even better question would be what if Miss Militia was the leader of the Brockton Bay heroes? A position that Armsmaster was completely unsuited for. Sophia bullying Taylor may not have even happened in the first place.

  38. Wilbow, to start off, I just wanted you to know that I wasted one (wonderful, amazeing) week reading this every spare moment of every day. I loved it, it was the only instance of the superhero genre I have ever found not only palatable, but worth reading for itself.

    It had characters I could relate to as people, which is someing I search for but rarely find. You could have sold this, made millions, probably. At it’s most memorable, Worm has the makeings of a classic. Leviathan and the knife, the first real betrayal. Coil, and the first true lone stand. The nine, the emergeing courage. The warlord, and the people she fought for, bled for, wept for. Alexandria, and the meek who triumphed over the mighty. Weaver, and the woman in bloom, the building light of a nighttime-noon.

    And a future suddenly hollow.

    There is one aspect that did not sit well with me.

    I was not, mind you, overly invested in it- but Grue’s leaveing Taylor hit me hard. I suppose it might have been emotional fatigue. You really ought to put up a warning for reasders attempting to read the whole thing in one go! I’m not kidding about the one week thing.


    But… I guess reading it the way I did also gives me a perspective I wouldn’t have otherwise. I can see the way your characters have spread themselves thin, stretched themselves until they were like paper, and further. I can relate to that, and I wonder if I’m not reading too much into it, if I’m projecting my own problems… but I found myself a little hollow after that betrayal.

    Something had been taken away, when Grue left her, especially in the way he did so- something was taken from the future Taylor had been fighting for.

    I suppose I must ask, and you are perfectly justified in not doing so… but please give her a guy who loves her. Cherishes her. That beautiful future.

    I’m a romantic, I admit it. I admit the gentle world, the idealized world, is something I have always seen in myself and others. I understand that the route you have taken here is the ‘people suck’ perspective. I have always been of the perspective that people are wonderful, despite sucking. If they are not, what is there to fight for?



    • Can’t really delve into my thoughts on this, but I do think it’s very, very interesting that people are so invested in seeing Taylor have a relationship. It feels forced. Interesting, too, that a male protagonist can walk away at the end of a story/series without a romantic partner, but you look at any series with a teen/young adult protagonist female and they almost always wind up with someone. But the rule seems to be ‘You have to attach them to someone.’ I mean, Harry Potter, Katniss, Bella Swan, Beatrice Prior, Lyra Belacqua…

      If Taylor winds up with someone, I want it to flow with the rest of the narrative.

      • Pretty sure shipping knows no gender.

        In most of the conceivable ways that sentence could be interpreted, actually.

        For published works, I’d put most of it down to audience demand: reader identification is biased toward same gender protagonists, and if you look at the the demographics of the romance novel market… well, there’s no surprise that there’s a strong correlation between female protagonists and romantic story elements.

        If you want to ask why the audience demand is located where it is, I intend to fall back on ‘some combination of nature and nurture… it’s complicated’.

      • > Interesting, too, that a male protagonist can walk away at the end of a story/series

        Most interesting male characters are already paired up or already dead tbh.

      • I want it to flow with the rest of the narrative too, but at this point ending without happiness would seem… I don’t know… hollow.

        It would be like beating cancer, only to get hit by a car in the hospital parking lot and die.

        It is, and always will be your call. But out of the sources you listed, I would liken it to Katniss- who, by the way, did not end up with the ending I oulined.

        Geeze, I don’t even know what to say here… Look, In Hunger Games, by the resolution of the plot, Katniss was too burdened by PTSS to live a happy life. She was afraid to, to make herself vulnerable enough to do so. It’s expressly stated. I found that unbearably sad.

        And I would have felt the same way had the gender roles been reversed, incidently. There is no rule- but the books you mention all have those moments where the reader is treated very condescendingly, so I’ll let it slide- those aren’t the type to break any rules.

        And for the record, it is possable to end something like this without romance- what I said was that the way the story is set up, Grue and Skitter’s relationship evolveing like it did, and then getting the rug pulled out from under us… it was an emotional blow that hit everone rather hard. And I know you picked up on that. To give up everything, includeing what she desired most? And carry on? Now that is heroism. I applaud you for it.

        But I was not able to finish reading the Hunger Games, not due to the relationships/lackthereof, but because of the senselessness of it all. I found Harry Potter cheap and pretentious. I know you can do better, or so I hope.

        But to survive cancer, only to get hit by a car would take the wind out of anyone’s sails. And it makes me so very tired.

        • You really shouldn’t comment on how a series ends, and then admit you haven’t finished reading the series.

          Not to spoil things too much for those reading the Hunger Games trilogy, but your conclusion that Katniss lives out her life without ever finding a relationship is incorrect.

          • I read the end, last three chapters, just to see if it was worth finishing. It wasn’t, really, but that’s a matter of taste.

            and I said ‘happy’ not ‘in a relationship’ very different things. The destinction being Taylor specifically hoped for a particular kind of relationship and a particular kind of future.

            • When you consider most teenagers have unrealistic expectations in what they hope to get out of life, “Happy” isn’t that common, but I think most people at least wind up contented perhaps. It’s been a while since I read the Hunger Games Trilogy, but my recollection for Katniss is, while perhaps not ideal, she at least found a stable, caring relationship.

              I think that’s the best we can hope for with Taylor, assuming anyone survives.

              There’s a joke about what single people look for in a life-partner in order to be happy, depending on age.

              Teens: My life partner must be rich, famous, exciting, a world traveler, and caring.
              20’s: My life partner must be exciting, a world traveler, and caring.
              30’s: My life partner must be caring and not too weird.
              40’s: My life partner must be breathing.

        • I don’t know man, I think she can still be happy without getting back together with Grue. If she survives and gets to live with her friends while they all work together to make what’s left of humanity in a Post-Scion world into something better than it once was, I’d see that as a happy ending.

          • Dosen’t need to be Grue. But… I just hope for that home and family she wanted. She earned it, I think we can all agree on that.

      • Most people see companionship/romance/intimacy as part of their victory condition, isn’t it natural for them to project that onto protagonists they like? I mean, you figure almost all extroverts, and a lot of introverts too, count that as a must-have in their own lives. Particularly for extroverts for whom solitude is a cuss word.

        • To be absolutely fair, the other big, traditional ending to an epic coming-of-age arc in a closed setting is for the hero to, um, die.

          That is, as the other guy put it “part of the standard victory condition”, possibly more frequent and certainly much more traditional than the “everybody gets married” ending. There’s a name for stories in the English language and root Greek that end in a figurative or literal marriage and/or a couple riding off into the sunset. They’re called “Comedy”.

          The stories with epic heroes overcoming impossible odds that realign the cosmos are generally… the other one. If you’re lucky, the death gets all metaphysical and you ascend to the sky as a constellation instead of keeling over with a spear in your back. If you’re unlucky, it gets all metaphorical and it’s the emotional death of someone else paying the price for your awesome and/or hubris, leaving you to wander empty with all your friends and family dead and the shamed feeling that it should have been you.

          Just thought I’d share that bit of cheery knowledge of standard genre tropes so your day could be a bright as mine.

          • That doesn’t really match my experience. I’ve got maybe a thousand paperbacks and not even fifty of ’em don’t have the hero winning. Many of them have qualified victories, some few of them pyrrhic. Very few of them had “hero ascends to Yu-Shan/The Matrix/Heaven/Whatever” as part of it.

            Hundreds, maybe more than half, had protagonists who “got the girl”, so to speak.

            • I think what Dan meant is more that if you look at the great building blocks of Western culture like, say, Greek and Norse mythology, Arthurian lore, Shakespeare (let’s face it if you ask people what’s their favorite pay it’s more likely they’l name a tragedy than a comedy), it’s more likely for things to end in tragedy than with a happy ending

              • *play not pay. And I guess that literature it’s a better word than culture in this contest.

              • Yeah, but which are actual influences? The books people blow off in high school, or the books that people willingly read?

            • I think you’re underestimating how deeply rooted the works I mentioned are in people’s minds. Everyone know Achilles had a problem with his heel or that Romeo and Juliet couldn’t stay together because their parents hated each other, even if they’re not familiar with the actual work. Heck, the Cohen brothers claimed they could write a screenplay obviously based on the Odyssey ( Brother Where Art Thou?) despite never having read Homer, due to sheer cultural osmosis.

              But fine let’s look at “popular” works. Since Worm is a superhero novel let’s look at comic books. Watchmen sure didn’t have a happy ending and Gaiman pretty much said that The Sandman is a Greek tragedy. And those are two of the most popular comic books of all time.

      • You’re aware Harry Potter’s not female, right? 😛

        You make a very interesting point about the different expectations of different genders and it’s definitely valid, but I think it’s far from the whole story.

        I don’t know to what extent people would be expecting/wondering about/hoping for a romance for Taylor if Worm hadn’t already taken the story in that direction. Taylor’s relationship with Grue (and for that matter Foil and Parian’s) indicated that romantic human relationships are part of the theme of Worm.

        You watch a story where the hard-as-nails hero faces down a gang of thugs, you root for him to beat those thugs. You watch a story where the hard-as-nails hero faces down a gang of thugs and has a relationship end, you root for him to beat the thugs *and* have a happy ending romantically.

        As to feeling forced, I think that would depend a lot on the timing. If she went “Well, that’s Scion offed, now to make babies!” then, yeah. xD (Note: speculation only! I haven’t read past this point yet and don’t know what happens re: Scion). But a few years down the track (if the worlds don’t end) I can see her finding someone. She and Grue only ended things because they couldn’t see a future. If there’s one on the horizon now I can see her revisiting the idea…

      • To be fair, Bella Swan’s relationship was the entire point of the entire series. It wouldn’t have been realistic or fair to the readers is at the end of the series she wasn’t in a relationship with one of the guys.

        I do agree that it should be realistic in story for Taylor’s relationship. Part of the reason I want her to end up with someone so badly is because she is just so beaten down and broken and having someone there to help her stand up when she needs the grounding would go a long way to repairing her shattered will. It’s just heartwarming to see good people end up with good relationships at the end of a story. That being said, I think she and Lisa, Dennis, Rachel, Golem (whose name escapes me for some reason) and Tecton all had superb chemistry that would’ve had good relationships. Golem wouldn’t have ended well probably though. The only ship that I love but I do admit feels forced is Taylor and Char. While it is cute as hell and makes some sense Char definitely seems to have too much of a hero worship/respect for Taylor to enter into a relationship.

        • See, I have the exact opposite reaction. She is the hero of this story and when the hero is down and beat and broken I don’t *want* someone else to swoop in and save her and get her back on her feet. I want her to succeed or fail on her own merits, demmit. I want to see her fix herself, or come to terms with her broken self or, at worst, make a resolute final stand in a fight she cannot win.

          After establishing such a resourceful character, having a prince ride in on a white horse to save her would just feel like a copout. Even *Disney* seems to finally be realising how tired that shtick is.

          • I can understand that. It’s not that I’m looking for a prince to save her. I’m more hoping for someone to basically bitch slap her and tell her to stop moping and remember that she’s a badass. To me that is a good relationship. You support each other and remind each other of why you are strong on your own merits. Disney princes aren’t the ideal because they handle everything and the girls are just left on the mantle. Taylor’s problem for most of the series is that she has horrible self confidence issues. She masks it well and Lisa and Rachel are two of the only ones who actually see how horribly insecure Taylor constantly is. I think if Taylor had strong healthy relationship then her partner would be able to see it as well and help remind her of just why she keeps getting invited to the decision making tables.

            In short I don’t want her to have a prince. I want her to have an equal because she deserves to have some happiness.

            • You make good points. I don’t really see how that requires, or would benefit from, being intertwined with romance.

              I can *totally* see Clockblocker or Miss Militia giving her a (metaphorical :P) rocket. “Is that the warlord of Brockton Bay sitting there, moping? Dude, don’t tell me I got my butt kicked *repeatedly* by some little girl who’s just gonna fold when the going gets tough. If Tagg could see the big bad Skitter now…” xD

              (Actually, I’d recommend more pep-talky, reminding Taylor of how often things had seemed hopeless and she’d pulled out a win anyway)

              • Thanks. So do you.

                It doesn’t necessarily have to be intertwined with a romance. Lisa tends to do a bang up job for her as does Rachel in her own way. I guess it’s just that to me a partner has a deeper more intimate relationship than even your best friend can. I just see people partnering up after the end of stories to be part of the happy endings. It isn’t strictly gender related for me.

                See that is why I loved the Clock/Skitter ship! He has the perfect amount of snark and feeling. Had…RIP Dennis.

    • So why doesn’t her relationship with Rachel count? She loves her. The platonic one, not the one we’ve cooked up in our collective imagination.I’m pretty sure that counts as the main relationship of the serial, more than anything else. Even Taylor’s friendship with Tattletale didn’t get the amount of development that the one with Rachel did.

      Besides, Rachel has dogs, that’s just as good as romance, if not better.

      • The finding love after all the trials has been a part of stories so long it’s in our DNA. We just assume it’s part of the reward the hero has earned after going though hell. Honestly Taylor and Brian breaking up didn’t upset me. Sort of funny, it’s normally the pairings I really love that get shot down (it’s happened enough I’ve started trying to aviod liking pairings). I guess he assumed that it would be over, and moved on in those two years.

        Actually Taylor really hasn’t done to great forming relationships since she left the Undersiders. As I stated earlier she hasn’t even paid them a visit. Glenn and Calle both apparently rate higher to her. She spent two years with them. And going back to her birthday… When Tecton calls her up he seemed pretty hurt. A sort of “What am I chopped liver?” It’s like your girlfriends ex is in town and the moment she hears it she runs off to see them. Your left wondering if she ever cared about you at all.

        That said, there’s also what Theo noted. Taylor was always on during those two years. She really was only forming working relationships during that time, and her actions did damage her relationships with others.

      • Ya, but that’s because her relationship with Rachel *needed* more development.

        I don’t disagree with your point, BTW, although I would say that Worm’s not ‘about’ any one relationship. It seems to be about Taylor and the world’s journey as well as a number of themes such as ‘working together works so much better, you freaking idiots!’, ‘hard men making hard choices leads to derp as often as not’ and ‘people can change’.

    • Welcome to the pit of despairing souls. The cairn of kilted kitties. The pillar of popped puppies. Welcome, ye idealist, to Worm. Worm: it feeds on your tears.

      People may indeed suck. In that way, they’re much like vampires. Another way they’re like vampires: some of them wear glitter. Others don’t like to go out into the sun. Some are bloodsucking parasites, while others don’t like being stabbed with your wood shaft. They can be some bad mothers- shut your keyboard! I’m just talkin’ bout shaft.

      But enough about sweet transvestites from Transylvania. You’re here about Worm. As you may have noticed, Worm is long and it can get deep in there. Many of us enjoy the thrust of Worm, if not always for its ideology then at least for its story. As you may have noticed, it can be a little much to take it all in if you do it too fast and without being ready for all of it.

      Luckily, Worm has been shared with a lot of us. It can be hard to sit still afterward, but that’s why many of us stick around and give our fingers a workout in preparation.

      Stay with us and keep on stretching out your mind into new and receptive shapes. And welcome, Rachekt, to the comments section.

      • Vampires are lucky, they can feed on others. We gotta eat away at ourselves. We gotta eat our legs to get the energy to walk. We gotta come, so we can go. We gotta suck ourselves off. We gotta eat away at ourselves til there’s nothing left but appetite. We give, and give and give crazy. Cause a gift that makes sense ain’t worth it. Jesus said seventy times seven. No one will ever understand why, why you did it. They’ll just forget about you tomorrow, but you gotta do it.

    • I will have to completely disagree with the trope that the heroine “has” to have a romantic happy ending.

      I like it when my mind is blown because someone with a spark of brilliance decided to totally mindfuck the audience by going against all literary conventions.

      So, my opinon, wildbow, you fucking do what you got to do. Finish your masterpiece and it will always remain that way. No conformity, no status quo, no regrets…own it like you have been.

      • Ya, I don’t think anyone’s telling Wildbow that he should end things anything other than the way he wants to. We were just responding to his observation that we expect a romantic happy ending for a teen girl but wouldn’t necessarily expect it for a man protagonist.

        I agree with you, incidentally, but it takes skill to go against literary conventions without alienating your audience. Do it well and the audience goes “Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting *that*! O_O”. Do it poorly, even in an otherwise excellent work, and your audience will go “Oh wow, he can’t write for crap!”. In short: you need that ‘spark of brilliance’ bit to pull it off.

        I strongly suspect Wildbow has the skill to do so if he wants to.

  39. Excellebnt chapter as always. Don’t really have much to say that I havent said in replies.

    I did find this though,

    and while not exactly relevant, it seems like the folks here would enjoy it. Also Taylor REALLY should have one of these. Please please please give her one if she survives the story.

    • You were smart about it. I did it in a week. Not reccomended- mental/emotional fatigue, insomnia, and lack of appetite. I ought to have known better…

      I’m still recovering.

      • I’m beginning to understand why some people have gone “That’s it! Too much dark, I’m outta here!” while I’m all “I don’t find it that bad”.

        I’ve taken my time working through the archives, reading 1-2 chapters a day, reading all the associated comments and joining into the conversation. I can’t imagine mainlining all that in a week or two. Did you guys read the comments? I find they take me significantly longer to get through than the actual chapters.

        • The first time I did it in a week and didn’t read the comments. I was kind of at loose ends and bored, so I started re-reading almost right away with comments (most of them) and made it to the time skip in another week or so. I had nothing else going on, though, so it wasn’t terrible to spend 12 or 15 hours a day reading. And then I went on a break for a couple months (no internet, it was /horrible/), and now I’m back to finish it off…

          You’re right though that reading the comments takes way longer than reading the chapters, especially once you get to maybe arc 13 or 14? The comment sections used to be really short, and I’m not sure exactly when they started exploding.

    • Ah yes, Worm. The story so good, so shocking, so full of teenage girls in skintight outfits that it knocks your stomach clear down to your feet.

      July may have been hot enough for you, but now is the winter of Worm’s discontent. Your spirits may fall, but the end readies to spring out at you, like Jack Slash from a box.

      But in the meantime, keep up with Worm via the comments, like a mighty hunter seeking game, but at leisure, such as if you were on a throne. Yes, our comments are the game of your thrones. Because here at Worm, no one needs to know if your friend Winter is in the process of having an orgasm.

      Now sit around, try not to look to closely at the naked giant bird lady, and remember: the End is coming. Not the Endbringer, maybe. We don’t know that yet. But the End at least.

      And, Cephalo the Pod, welcome to the comments.

  40. “We look forward to putting your strategy into action. Contessa, get right on it,” Dr. Mother said. Contessa nodded and walked away.

    “I can’t help but notice you have quite a sensual figure for both a doctor and a mother. Might I interest you in an intimate wine tasting in my room?” asked the new military advisor for Cauldron.

    Dr. Mother shook her head. “We will follow your sound strategies in desperation, but this partnership is purely one of self preservation, not procreation.”

    The figure in the shadows nodded, “Fine, fine, but how about your girl Contessa? She looks like she’s desperate to get something off her chest. Her bra, perhaps?”

    “We appreciate you taking an advisory capacity and the copy of your big book of war, Mr. Brannigan, but we only want you for your mind, not your body. Doorman, take him to his quarters.”

    Zapp Brannigan was lit up by the opening of the door. He opened his mouth to object, but his chair tipped back and he fell through the doorway, which quickly closed behind him. There was a relieved sigh from over Dr. Mother’s shoulder. “You have something to add, Kif?”

    “Hmm? Oh, uh, um, ah, you want my input?” stuttered the squishy green man.

    “Nonetheless, if you have something to add, I would hear it.”

    “Oh, um…I was just wondering, if your master plan was to conscript as many subjects as possible and use them against Scion, why didn’t you do that when half the world hadn’t been blown up or scattered across different directions? As I understand it, there were entire trained armies with unit cohesion and discipline that could have taken powers.”

    Dr. Mother thought this over for a minute, then spoke, “Kif, go scrub my personal toilet. And use your toothbrush. That’s best for getting the really small stains out.”

    Kif sighed deeply and turned to go.

    • Hey, since he lacks the Delta Brainwave, Fry would be immune to the Smurf’s song. Perhaps even precogs in general! So once again it’s up to Phillip J, Fry’s superior, yet inferior brain to save the day.

      • Due to time-travel shenanigans, Doctor Mother is really her own mother. She has a sick sense of humor and won’t stop reminding everyone about it.

        • Every time I read “Doctor Mother,” I keep thinking, “Mother of a Time Lord from Gallifrey.”

          And if Doctor Mother is her own mother, that would make her both mother and sister to a certain Time Lord from Gallifrey.

  41. Ok, the true heroes of this story are the soldiers standing guard when the fucking Simurgh is floating overhead. I mean, there’s loyalty, and then there’s “Oh, there’s the eldritch abomination with a death toll that’s probably pushing nine digits and a propensity to drive men mad. Don’t mind me, I’ll stand guard all through the night.”

  42. I’m finding the lesbian jokes a little off putting at this point. One of the things I appreciate about Worm is an underlying assumption that people are as likely to be gay as straight. But lately some of the main characters are acting like they live on 20th century Earth Alpha.

    Also, to author and commenter alike: There’s always an underlying sexual tension between any two people who care about each other. All those greek words for different kinds of love? Basically bullshit. We have our taboos and boundaries for a good reason and I support a lot of them, but when you get right down to it, feeling connected to someone and feeling attracted to someone are all part of the same evoluntionary, bio-chemical, physiological (and so on) process for mammals, and especially for us primates and other social animals.

  43. Is it bad that I understand exactly what Taylor is thinking at the beginning? That horrible curiosity of just what would really happen by taking that one fateful step? Wildbow, you keep proving how great a writer you are with being able to capture these things that we barely even think about for more than a few seconds.

    I can also understand why Taylor feels a bit more optimistic finding out Scion has an “I win” button he can use when he wants. It’s a fallback. A Use In Case of Emergency. It means that they have a chance and if they can hit him hard enough fast enough in just the right way so that they kill him before he realizes that things progressed too far then they have it in the bag. Eidolon was on the right track but they didn’t push hard enough all at once. They gave Scion time to get frustrated and annoyed and frightened and reach for his instant win. If the group can surprise him quickly enough they have a chance.

    “I don’t flip out.” Wow. That was utterly hilarious. How was Skitter known? Flipping out on anyone not considered a friend. What was Skitter’s first act upon meeting the group? Flipping out on Bitch. What did Tagg/Alexander get when she flipped out? Dead. Hell even Weaver seemed to be known as the girl you kept your distance from if you knew what was good for you. Taylor has herself pegged in pretty much everything except her temper.

    Aww! That cooldown hug was cute. Taylor is so much better when she takes care of others. And Tattle’s reaction to it afterwards “Smurf don’t start any shipping rumors!” was gold. It’s not going to stop the shippers though. I know, I am one! Deny it all you want author, those two are good for each other!

    Well damn just when I think I can’t like Char and Forrest more you go and show us that heartwarming scene. I’m proud of Char for deciding not to take the powers but I admit I’m a bit surprised with Forrest refusing as well.

    Haha oh god Glenn as a fashion designer! That is a hilarious picture! And I love the lawyer. Calle is badass. Maybe a bit murky but still badass. I also greatly enjoyed that nobody really expected Weaver to turn out to be a model hero. Poor girl just can’t catch a break. Those two guys make a very good team. The entire section where they all talk about scary when angry, yelling at a natural disaster and then turning it right back around to her defining herself as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge when she really is a Tranquil Fury type which is FAR, FAR more dangerous is spot on.

    Of course Rachel would notice that they used different dogs in the movie…never even considered that bit of minutia about her…People really need to stop referring to Vista as a kid. She may be young but at this point she and Kid Win are the only surviving members of the Brockton Bay Wards from the beginning and she is the longest standing person. (Not counting Clockblocker who is obviously just hiding somewhere and totally not dead…). I love how Aiden is with the Wards! Good for him! The letter to Miss Militia was heartwarming. Utterly and totally heartwarming. My only real concern at this point is that Taylor is throwing up death flags everywhere just like the fight with Behemoth.

    Umm…so the Smurf just literally sang Lisa to sleep…and apologized for being creepy when politely asked to stop…that is…umm…I can’t decide whether it is disturbing, heartwarming, scary, or hopeful. Maybe besides the Endbringers just joining the fight for against Scion they will actually HELP and perhaps even be on the right side for good afterwards…or at least stay quiet when everything is done.

    A slight aside, the mention of Grue here yet again makes me feel like he is dead. Neither he nor they would’ve let Grue walk away like that. Any Tattle seemed to be speaking of him past tense. The only thing that throws me off a bit is Aisha but even that I can get around by thinking that she is still thinking of trying to hide it from Taylor. I still think this is going to blow up in their faces when the truth gets out…

    • Uummm…Glenn was always part fashion designer,his PR job contained that,as well as other duties.

  44. The movie showed a dog on screen, being chased by a group of kids. I could see Imp’s face in the dark, looking as pleased as Rachel appeared annoyed.

    “It’s not the same dog,” Rachel hissed the words. “Why isn’t anyone seeing that? Same breed, but totally different dogs.“

    Perfect. xD

  45. I just realized. Everyone Cauldron allied with against Scion has access to Doormaker now. And it’s not like they’re all wearing microphones or anything. He can hear requests from anywhere. He can open doors to specific people, without the client knowing where their target is when they call.
    He can see and hear EVERYTHING- or at least, a big enough chunk that the difference doesn’t matter. He can locate and observe specific people across continents, across universes.
    How much of that information does he retain? He might be a bigger tactical asset than Dinah, if anyone ever thinks to ask.

    • Its not Doormaker,if you remember the number man’s interlude,its his partner who helps direct him…

  46. I noticed an interesting callback to Accord’s interlude (Interlude 20.y). At the beginning of this chapter, Taylor thought:

    “For an instant, I felt a kind of pull. The same sort of intrusive thought that made one think, ‘what if I stepped off the edge of this cliff?’ or ‘what if I opened the car door right now and threw myself into traffic?’ Not suicidal thoughts, but thoughts that were clear enough and alarming enough that we worried we might listen of our own accord.”

    From Accord’s interlude:

    “Intrusive thoughts continued to plague him. He’d once described it as being very similar to the sensation one experienced on a train platform, a ledge or while standing in front of fast moving traffic, that momentary urge to simply step forward, to see what might happen.”

    I wonder if that’s deliberate, and if so, what does it mean?

    • That is interesting. Good catch! I would definitely think that is deliberate. It’s way too similar not to be intended.

  47. Oh, Simurgh, why you gotta be so creepy?

    Taylor kissing Calle seems weirdly uncharacteristic.

  48. This is the second time a precog apologized to Taylor. Plus, this is the best one in current existence, except maybe contessa.
    That probably isn’t a good indication of her future

  49. My favourite Endbringerrrrrrrrr


    Holy worm is the Smurfziz gonna become a “good” person

  50. I think that Eidolon didn’t create the endbringers. My theory is that The Simurgh is scion’s counterpart and the endbringers attacked humanity to destroy the shards that scion was spreading and it created the endbringers to help with that but the endbringers don’t have empathy so they don’t give a shit about collateral damage, only now, The Simurgh has found someone it feels it connects to (tattletale) and it sang the lullaby as a gift to tattletale

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