Venom 29.7

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It wasn’t the most comfortable journey.  I could handle uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable was better than being upstairs and staring down the bastard that was exterminating humanity.

The opening of the tunnel had ridges, bumps and uneven edges that scraped past me with enough speed and force that I worried it would damage my costume.  Probably intentional, giving traction to the ones who weren’t digging.  But we passed that area and we hit smoother metal.  Traction was harder to come by, the tunnel almost a winding waterslide.

I slid, as the others were doing, bracing my feet against the sides to slow my descent.  The bugs I’d planted on my teammates let me track the turns and drops, angling and bracing myself as I ran into steeper drops, sharp turns and outright ten foot drops.

It reminded me of an anthill, in a way.  Winding tunnels, irregular, exploratory, treacherous and impossible to navigate.

Cuff slid down and hit the end of the tunnel.  A dead end, with a person there.  She didn’t slow, instead using her power to hammer her way through, splitting the steel apart and driving herself and the individual at the end through the resulting hole.

The instant Cuff was through into the room on the other side of the tunnel, she and the individual she’d collided with were attacked.  Lung was the next in line, followed by Canary, and they were ambushed as well.  Lung was pinned against a wall, Canary liberally tossed back into a crowd that waited to disable her.

With Golem behind me, I didn’t want to stop and get my bearings, but I was plunging towards a situation I couldn’t fully grasp.  Bugs I’d planted on my allies spread out, but it was too few to get a good picture of who and what was waiting for us.

I didn’t have Defiant’s knife.  Floret had encased it in crystal.  I could drag it here, maybe, or use relay bugs and wait for the crystal to expire before carting it my way, but that didn’t help me here.  I called for my bugs to bring the knife anyways.

Rachel had paused before entry, getting herself sorted out with her pets, meaning she was only just arriving.  Her reactions were fast, the commands to her canines quick and efficient.

They swelled as they put themselves between her and the waiting group, growing in size and manifesting their natural weapons.  It was fast enough I suspected she’d been starting their growth as she approached the literal light at the end of the tunnel.  Bastard’s changes were more fluid, faster, and more symmetrical than Huntress’, but he was younger, just a little smaller.

A group advanced on the canines without fear.  Two people to Huntress, two to Bastard.  Young men, if my swarm-sense was correct.  The animals weren’t as big as they could get, but they were about as large as a couch.  Yet the men didn’t show any fear.

They moved fluidly as the animals lunged, snapping and biting.  Confident movements.  Two caught Huntress’ head, wrenched it to the side, while the others avoided snapping jaws to catch Bastard’s forelimbs, bodily hauling him up and then throwing him to the ground.

The two animals were brought down in as many seconds.  Pinned, as inexplicably as Lung was pinned.  Except this wasn’t sheer strength.  They were strategic, targeting body parts, one of the young men leveraging his whole body between Bastard’s forelimbs, forcing them apart in a way that the dog’s musculature couldn’t combat.

It was like holding a crocodile’s mouth shut.  Jaw strength aside, the crocodile wasn’t built to force it’s mouth open.  The wolf wasn’t built to draw its legs together against its chest, but couldn’t get feet under it to stand without dislodging the offending attacker.  The other had his head caught and twisted to one side.

Huntress, for her part, was caught by the head alone, which had been forced down.  The woman who had Lung pressed up against the wall had one foot on the dog’s muzzle, and was holding it down.

They made it look so easy it was almost effortless.  A fifth boy approached Rachel, now disarmed of her dogs.

I forced myself to slow down as we approached a flatter spot.  Theo’s heavy metal boots hit my shoulders.

We were still sliding down, but slower.  Only seconds before we were through.

“Ambush below,” I managed.

No response.  Whoever had dug the tunnel had been digging down when they reached the edge of the room.  I supposed they’d stopped when they reached a layer made of a different material, going up to check.  Our entry was a straight drop into one end of the room, and I landed flat on my back, nearly colliding with Rachel.

A boy.  A teenage boy, clean-shaven, if he even needed to shave, wearing a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up the forearms, his blond hair slicked back, and black suit pants.  He backed away a step as Golem and I appeared.

His appearance, the way they’d fought… like Contessa?

Each of the boys were identical.

Lung and Huntress were pinned by Alexandria.  Or by Pretender wearing Alexandria’s body, in a way.  Lung was changing, the canines swelling in size, and yet she didn’t look worried.  Bastard was still on the ground, one of the boys looking as unconcerned as one could look while holding down a half-ton animal.

Behind the boys, a small crowd had gathered.

Doctor Mother, a Manton with the Siberian… or a Manton clone with the Siberian, a claw pressed to Gully’s throat.  There were three more case fifty threes, all burly, all bound with heads hanging.  Rounding out the group was the Number Man, who had a pen pressed tight against Cuff’s jugular, her costume already torn open at the throat to expose flesh.  His foot was propped up on a sphere.

I could see the resemblance between the Number Man and the boys in dress shirts.  Twenty or more years of difference, and the Number Man was dressed in a full suit, which somehow made him more imposing, pocket protector or no, but they were too similar to be anything but related.

Was Cauldron cloning?  Another contingency plan?

At the very back of the room, separate from the group, were two pale young men, laid out on desks that sat on either side of a reinforced door.  A twenty-something guy with flat skin stretched over where his eyes should be, and a guy that was maybe ten years older, with enough bloody bandage around his head and face that I couldn’t make out his features.  Doormaker, I could assume, based on what I’d heard upstairs, along with the clairvoyant the Doctor had mentioned in the past.

The boy in the suit closed the distance, and Rachel struck out.  He batted her fist aside.  She kicked, and he casually caught it and leveraged it to throw her off balance, tossing her to the ground.

Maybe a little harder than he had to.

I saw how she fell, saw her back arch, the way she held her arm as she rolled over.  She didn’t cry out, didn’t make any sounds of pain, but the degree of pain was clear.

A lot harder than necessary.  Had she broken something?

He turned his head towards Golem and I, and he smiled a little.  A tight, narrow, mocking smile.

“I’m not your enemy,” I said.

“You came out fighting,” Alexandria-Pretender said.  She looked down at Rachel.  “Or she did.”

“Bastard was acting like there was fighting going on, ears, hackles up.  You attacked us.”

The Number-Man clone kicked her.  Casually cruel.

I tensed, but I didn’t act.  The fall had knocked the wind out of me.  Catching my breath, then-

“Disable her,” the Doctor said.

The young man closed in.  Still smiling.  Fuck me, was that smug smile irritating.  I felt a moment’s sympathy for people who’d had to face down Tattletale.  I sicced my swarm on him.

He moved through the incoming insects, eyes open and unblinking as he closed the distance to me.  Only a few landed, and they landed in spots where they couldn’t target more vulnerable areas.

That he wasn’t closing his eyes was telling.  I used my bugs to try and blind him, to keep him from seeing how I was moving, and I reached behind my back, going for the pepper spray.

He blocked my wrist with his palm, keeping me from aiming at him.  Not just sight.  Or his sight was more acute than I’d realized.  Hearing?  Something else?

Be unpredictable.

Pepper spray killed bugs.  I didn’t aim for him, but for the pair of us, spraying into open air, into my swarm.

I’d hoped to make him back off, but he didn’t.  He ducked low, simultaneously bringing one foot up, catching me in the chest.  In the same movement, he rolled to one side, getting away from the mist of pepper spray that was still hanging in the air and simultaneously avoiding Golem’s reaching hand of concrete.

For just an instant, my feet left the ground.  I landed, but I landed with one foot on Rachel’s calf.  I fell.

Too much like fighting Contessa.  Everything winding up positioned just right.  Damn it.

On my back, I was vulnerable, but Golem was covering me.  This kid with the dress clothes was slippery, efficient, but the way his movements played out… maybe not quite on Contessa’s level.  Contessa would have found a way to attack and defend at the same time, instead of being stuck evading Golem’s power.

I tried to haul air into my lungs and coughed instead.  If they killed us before we got far enough…

Stupid, all of this, so stupid.

Stop,” I spoke through my swarm.

The kid drew knives from his pockets.  Small knives, with blades no longer than a finger.

Still confident, still sure of his victory.

A connection formed in my head.  I knew, in an instant.  Harbinger.

Cauldron had collected some of the remaining clones from Jack’s army.

The Number Man used to be in the Slaughterhouse Nine?

No, couldn’t get distracted.  I was up against a kid with an analysis power that was off the charts, he’d dodge whatever I threw at him.

I used my pepper spray again.  This time, I aimed at the two boys who had Bastard pinned.  Opponents who couldn’t dodge, not without giving up an advantage.  They moved out of the way, and in the process they let Bastard climb to his feet.  He was half-again as large as he had been, a ridge of stegosaurus spikes along his spine, more spikes and barbs framing his face.  He growled, and it wasn’t a dog sound.  It wasn’t a wolf sound either.

Bringing two more of the kids into the fight, but now I had Bastard for backup.

Up until Alexandria-Pretender grabbed Huntress and hurled her at us.  Me, Golem, Rachel, and Bastard were slammed into the far wall by Huntress’ bulk.

Lung was still growing, still changing, and his throat was broad enough now that she couldn’t do more than dig her fingertips into the front of it, but he still couldn’t break free of her grasp.

He opted for a second option, leveling a hand at the Doctor, Manton, the Number Man and the crowd of boys.  Fire erupted forth.  A half-second’s worth, before Alexandria threw him down and kicked him full-force into the wall beside us.

No use.  The Siberian had saved them with her ability to grant her own invulnerability effect.  Thankfully.  If he’d torched them, all of this would have been for nothing.

Had to account for Lung’s behavior.  Keep it in mind.  He had a kind of pride, and it had nearly fucked us on two occasions so far.

“We’re-” I started to speak.

But Lung roared, drowning me out as he pulled free of Alexandria’s grasp.  Not breaking her grip, but rending his own throat, tearing jugular and vein, windpipe even, in his furious attempt to get free.

Alexandria turned as Lung fell into a fighting stance.  Less a martial artist’s stance than an animal, low to the ground, chest heaving to pull air through the gushing wound in his throat, a glare leveled at his opponent.

“Stop!” Imp called out.

It took me a second to place her.  Behind the Doctor, a knife pressed against the Doctor’s throat.  She pulled the Doctor back, away from Siberian.  “If any of you move, I cut.  This is-”

The Number Man fired something from hip level.  A spark marked the bullet’s contact point at the mouth of the hole we’d come through.  The weapon flew from Imp’s hand.

“-pointless,” Imp finished.

The Siberian crossed the distance, then stopped beside the Doctor.  She put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder.

More fighting.  I clenched my fists.  Stupid.

“Scion’s here,” I said, taking advantage of the momentary pause in the fighting.  

Two and a half words to cut through the tension.  I could see the change in the Doctor’s demeanor, the Number Man, even the Manton clone.  One of the most powerful groups in the world, in every sense of the word, in raw powers, in political power, influence, knowledge, and they were spooked.

I hadn’t wanted to win, only to buy a chance to talk.  Now this was it, and I had to get them to listen.  Simpler was better.  Straight to the point.

“We don’t have reason to trust you,” the Doctor said.  “We’ve interacted, Weaver, I have a level of respect for you, but that doesn’t extend to equal measures of trust.  You’re dangerous, and I can’t rule out that this is an assassination attempt.”

Translation: pure denialYou don’t want to believe me.

“He’s upstairs and he’s coming now,” I said.

“That-” the Doctor started.  She paused, as if reflecting, taking in the implications, then shook her head a little.  “That doesn’t change anything.  I still can’t take your word for gospel.”

That sounded less like pure denial and more like outright suspicion.  A step forward, I was pretty sure.

The whole structure rattled.  I felt things sway a touch.

The Doctor looked up, then looked down at me, her gaze level, eyes narrowed slightly.  It was the first time I’d seen her with her hair down, rather than pinned up with chopsticks or some ornate pin.

“I don’t know what to say, except that things are pretty fucking dire,” I said.  “Satyr’s dead, for one thing.”

Alexandria flinched as though I’d slapped her and she had felt it.

I looked at her.  “His team, dead.  The prisoners you guys had on the second, third and fourth floors, all dead or dying as we speak.  Read my expression, use Alexandria’s power, tell me I’m wrong.”

When Alexandria replied, the voice wasn’t quite Alexandria’s.  “I’m afraid I haven’t had the chance to study that in depth to the degree she did.”

“It’s fine,” the Doctor said.  “I’m willing to believe it, if this is an assassination attempt, I’ll take the risk.”

“If it was an assassination attempt,” Imp said, appearing at the far end of the room, “I’d have offed you.”

The Doctor glanced her way.  “And you are?”

Imp sighed.

“We’ll make our way downstairs,” the Doctor decided.  “William, please rotate the column while our… guests pick themselves up.”

Manton approached a computer terminal set into the wall and began typing.

Pick ourselves up.  As if they hadn’t just bludgeoned their way through us.

Manton’s work at the computer produced results.  The swaying feeling I’d experienced a moment ago hit me again.  Everything I could see was still, but for people trying to catch their balance, but my non-parahuman senses told me we were moving.

It faded.  Rachel ordered her dogs to stand, and the pile of us got ourselves sorted out.  Lung was just at the midway point between human and monster, covered head to toe in overlapping metal scales, his neck a little too long, his shoulders too broad, had a claw pressed to the bleeding throat wound.  By all rights, he should have been dead, but regeneration and an inhuman constitution went a long way.

Huntress got out of the way, and I made my way to my feet.  I could feel the dull pain where bruises would emerge.  If I lived that long.

There was another rumble, and a feeling like I was swaying, my sense of balance not quite right.  Not Manton, so it had to be Scion.  Had the steel column moved a fraction?  Had it been intentional on Scion’s part, or a result of the action upstairs?

The Number Man gave Cuff a hand in standing, and she began folding up the metal around her neck, repairing the armor.  She withdrew the wickedly sharp spikes at the knee and the base of her wrist, where she’d been shaping weapons in case she needed to fight her way free of his grip.

He only smiled, tapping one spike with his pen before it slipped into her costume.  Cuff’s expression, where her lower face was visible beneath the layered visor she wore, wasn’t the slightest bit amused.

The boys with suits tended to the three prisoners and the two wounded.  Alexandria tore off a thick metal table leg and wound it to bind Gully’s hands behind her back, before hoisting the unconscious case fifty-three up, carrying her.

“I’m sorry,” the Number Man said, to Rachel.  “For the behavior of my clones.  They’re inaccurate, based on hearsay and speculation more than fact.  I was more polite, back then, more efficient.”

Rachel just gave him a funny look and shrugged her way past him.

I was tense.  It wasn’t just the fight we’d left behind.  Here, we had answers available, but so little time.

I held out my hands.  Floret’s crystal with my knife inside dropped from the hole in the ceiling.

The Doctor typed a code into a keypad at the end of the room, and the Siberian opened the door beside it, turning a wheel to unlock it, then pushing the thick metal door open with a disconcerting ease.  Clone or not, she was still the Siberian in power.

With the door now open, we were faced with a corridor, wide enough for my group to walk side by side, the Doctor’s group leading the way in front of us.  Vials lined the walls around us, set into an arrangement of metal wires that kept them lined up, multiple vials of the same color lined up beside another arrangement of vials.  Except nearly every vial was empty.  There was only glass, no fluid inside.  Where fluid did exist, the light filtered through and cast dark blotches of color on the gray walls behind.

But if I counted them, if I used my bugs to note the ones that had contents…

One or two hundred, maybe, with fluid still inside.

“Our stock,” the Doctor said.  “Nearly depleted.  We gave the formulas out for free, in hopes of turning out parahumans that could do damage to Scion.  We retained only the volatile ones.”

“Volatile can be good,” I said.  My eyes noted the sheer number of vials.  Tens of thousands, even, virtually covering the walls on either side of us.

“Volatile can kill three quarters of the people who ingest it,” the Doctor said.  “Or generate case fifty-threes we can’t use.”

“Right,” I said.  “Nevermind, then.”

Each was marked with a combination of letters and numbers, and a title.  I read the names of the ones that still had fluid inside.

Abel.  Abbatoir.  Access.  Ace.  Aegis.  Air.  Alchemy.  Alias.  Alpha.  Amaze…

“So many,” a voice said.

The ball with Sveta inside.

“Quite a few,” the Doctor said.

“All tested on people?”  Sveta asked.

“Yes,” the Doctor said.

“I remember, you know,” Sveta said.  “I dream of home.  I was a fisherman’s daughter.  There were these beautiful little huts with flat roofs, orange clay brick against gray mountains, with green-blue grass and ocean.  It was cramped, and I had to share space with my family, my siblings… but I was okay with it.  There weren’t any boys my age to marry, and I didn’t want to move to another town to look for a husband, so I just stayed by myself.  I’d draw, and there was a peace in it.  I still like to draw, I find it helps me relax… but it’s hard because my tendrils break the brushes and pencils.  And then I don’t feel relaxed anymore.”

“We’ve caused you difficulties,” the Doctor said, not even looking at Sveta.  She walked quickly, her eyes roving over the rows and columns of vials.

“I can’t remember my mother tongue, Doctor.  I can’t remember my daddy’s face, or my mommy, or either of my brothers.  I’ve just got the faces I see in dreams.  Every morning I was in the asylum, I would wake up and I scramble to draw something, to put words in a diary, and I’m so excited and panicked and desperate I’d break things.”

The Doctor wasn’t reacting.

“I know I used to draw, but I can’t find the style I used to draw in.  I dream about the night you took me, you know.”

“Not me, surely.  I sent others.”

“You sent people like me to take me.  Case fifty-threes.  Branded.  Abominations.  Demons.  There’s names for us all over the world.  It was storming, I was delirious, and they came, they grabbed me, and I all I could think was that the old stories were true, and I said something I can’t remember.  You took me to a lab and you unraveled me with that drug of yours, and then you dropped me in the middle of nowhere, with just enough memories to know that I should be human.

“We gave you a second chance.”

“I didn’t ask for one.”

“It’s very possible your town stood to be destroyed by a storm-”

“If you’d asked, I would’ve wanted to weather it.”

“Or by plague, starvation.  It could be the cause for your delirium.”

“I would’ve stuck it out.  You’re not listening to me, Doctor.”  A flare of anger.  The ball bucked with the movement inside.

“There are more immediate problems to focus on,” the Doctor said.  “I understand where you’re coming from, but this isn’t the time to play ‘what if’.”

“I’m not playing,” Sveta said, and the anger was gone, just as fast as it had appeared.  “I’m- I’m telling you that if you’d asked, at any point along the way, I’d probably have told you I’d rather be dead.  I’d rather be dead than live this new life you gave me, where I spent years killing people by accident, unable to sleep, killing stray animals for food because my body decides when I eat, not my mind…”

“I understand,” the Doctor replied.  She sounded a little impatient.  “Then damn me.  Curse me.  Tell me I will go to hell for what I did.  At the end of this, I will face any and all punishment that I’m due, alive or dead.  For now, we see our way through this.”

“You don’t get to do that.  You don’t get to get off with… words and sentiment.  Gully told me she’d break down in tears all the time, because moving her arms, being strong enough to break things, it reminded her of what she is, every time she did anything.  Her power reminded her, being constantly aware of the ground around her.  Weld… he told me once that he felt like he was going crazy.  All he had was music.  It was the only human thing he could enjoy, because he couldn’t taste.  He couldn’t feel, even when I squeezed him hard enough to dig into him.  And Gentle Giant-”

“Are you going to run down the entire list?”  The Doctor asked.  Her voice was a little harder.  “Do you want an apology?  You said you don’t want words.  Would a gesture do?  Should I take a scalpel to my face?  Carve myself up so I could experience what you have?”

“It wouldn’t even be a fraction of what any of us have experienced,” Sveta bit out the words.  “Because you’d have had the choice, Doctor.  The choice to do that to yourself.  Because we’re all going to die when Scion comes down here and you would live minutes like that, instead of years.”

“Then what do you want from me?”  the Doctor asked, and the hardness in her voice had become anger.

The structure rumbled.

The rumble was followed by a heavy crash.  With my bugs, I could tell it was in the room we’d just vacated.  A virtual waterfall of debris, of metal slag and concrete.

There was no order, no signal, but we broke into a run.

“I want my name, Doctor,” Sveta said.  She wasn’t running, so her voice was level, free of panting or anything of the sort.  “Not even my old name, from before you wiped my memory.  Tell me the name you gave me, after you sent me to the fourth floor.  Because you do that for the ones you think are worth studying, right?  Or tell me the name I took after you released me into the wild, as some kind of smokescreen for Scion.  It starts with ‘S’, if that helps.”

No response.

We should be strategizing, I thought.

But I didn’t interject.

“You wipe our memories when you send us down to the third floor, Shamrock told us, so I just had a number for a while.  Tell me you remember my number, even.  Tell me that what you did to me had some merit, that you did all this for some purpose, and turning me into a killer with a triple-digit body count mattered enough for you to remember!”

The Doctor huffed out the words, panting as she ran, “You can’t have any successes without failures.  There was nothing of use in your case, nothing memorable but your durability, but it was one formula we could rule out.”

“That’s not good enough!”

The Number Man spoke, “He-”

“Not you!” Sveta hissed.  “You remember, probably, but-”

“He’s here,” the Number Man said, talking over her.

We stopped, turning.

A golden light at the entrance to the corridor.  A figure stood in the middle of it, darker in contrast to the light surrounding it..


He advanced on foot.  One step, then another.

His eyes moved to the vials.

He touched one, gentle, almost inquisitive.

“Oh fuckballs,” Imp whispered the word.

We backed away, slowly.

Scion reached out and cupped his hands around the vial.  I could see fragments of the wire that held the vial upright falling to the ground, glowing gold where his power had burned through the edges.

He cupped the vial in his hands, staring down at it.

“What are they?” Golem asked.  “The vials?”

“Powers,” the Number Man said, unhelpfully.

Scion stared, his eyes roving over the rows of vials.  He reached out for a patch of empty vials, without any color behind them, but he didn’t touch them.

Sensing the traces of what they’d once contained, maybe?

Nowhere to go.  Gully might have been able to dig an escape route, but she had a hole in her shoulder I could have put my arm through, and she wasn’t conscious, let alone coherent.  Either the impact with Cuff or the fight with the Doctor’s people had disabled her.

She’d been with the group that had tried to lynch the Doctor, so maybe taking her out of action had been a preventative measure.

The Doormaker, none of it worked.

“Doctor,” I said.  “You don’t have powers, right?”

“I don’t,” the Doctor said.  “But I have a corona pollentia.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.  “You have the potential for power?”

“I do.  I could theoretically trigger.  If someone has the potential and takes the dose, there is a higher chance of deviation.”

“But you were fine with doing it to others,” Sveta murmured.

“Natural powers tend to fall more in line with the subject’s nature,” the Doctor said, ignoring Sveta.  “Complimentary to their personality, their needs, and so on.  Better to leave that door open, in case it comes down to it, or to retain the ability to take a vial at a crucial juncture.”

“I believe,” Lung growled, his voice strangely thin despite his size, with his partially healed injury, “this would be a good time.”

“He’s not moving,” Canary said.

“His attention is consumed,” the Number Man said.  “We’re insignificant, compared to… this.”

“A healing power,” I said.  I watched as Scion reached out for another vial.  He held it next to the one he’d already retrieved.

I could almost sense something from him.  Confusion?

“There aren’t any healing powers,” the Doctor answered.  We continued backing away.  “When they crop up, it’s a fluke, pure chance, an extension of another ability with a different focus.”

“A tinker power,” I said.

“A tinker power would take time,” Cuff said.

“A tinker power would be flexible enough to cover multiple bases,” I said.  “One of which could potentially get us out of here.”

“Perhaps,” the Doctor said.  “But I would like to remind you all what happens when someone undergoes their trigger event, natural or induced.  You would be rendered comatose.”

“My dogs can carry us,” Rachel said.

“Point conceded,” the Doctor replied.  We were moving faster now, with Scion not making a move.  “But there is another concern.  The trigger event might draw his attention.”

Which would spell out our deaths, I thought.

“Let us put some distance between ourselves and the being,” the Doctor said.  “One thousand feet seems like the safest bet.”

A thousand feet, I thought.  “Is this safehouse even that big?”

“Certainly,” the Doctor said.  “William.”

“Doctor,” Manton said.

“I’m going to ask you to position Siberian up here.  We’ll see if she can do any damage.”

“Yes,” Manton agreed.

The Siberian stepped forward.

Manton leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Out of sync.  Doesn’t fit.  Like Number Man was complaining about with his clones.

But I was happy to have someone expendable standing guard.

We turned to leave, and I used my bugs to watch the scene, perching them around the Siberian, turning their cloudy, distorted senses on the golden man.

I could infer, rather than see, that he dropped a vial.  It hit the ground and shattered, the contents splashing out onto the ground and the walls.  He reached for another.

He held it for only seconds before letting both of the vials in his hands fall and shatter on the concrete floor.  He rose in the air to float over the mess, reaching out for more vials.

“Here,” the Doctor said, as we reached the next floor.  “These were the vials we were trying to find.  I sent Contessa to find recipients for each of them.  I kept only three.”

There was a table with the vials set in what appeared to be a centrifuge.  The liquid inside was nearly black..

“Why these?”  I asked.

“There is a foreign agent in them.  The entity altered each power he granted to give them certain restrictions.  No power would be able to truly affect him, no power would cross the boundaries he set in dimension, or in affecting other powers.  There are no alterations to the elements in these, only to the accompanying abilities, or complimentary powers.  The powers granted from these vials don’t cause the recipients to forget the visions they see.  Eidolon was one such case.  The extreme deviant cases on the special containment floor make up much of the remainder.”

“Extreme deviants,” Sveta said.

“I’ll need to dilute this, or I’ll be no use to anyone.  The Balance formula, Number Man?”

“Where?” he asked.

“The fridge,” she said.  She leaned over the table, gazing at the vials.  “Extreme deviants.  Some had only a trace of the foreign element, which we discovered later, others had known quantities.  Others… perhaps they received some and we weren’t aware or able to check after the fact.  Deviants like our friend in the ball here-”

“Sveta,” Sveta said.  “Garotte was the name you gave me, when I refused to take one for myself.  I was recipient one-six-one-six.  And I’m not your friend, Doctor.  I like to think the best of people, but I think you’re far, far gone.”

“-Sveta,” the Doctor said.  “Deviants like Sveta are a rare thing, particularly with the Balance formula in the mix.  Extreme deviants form a subset within a subset, with physical mutations that go well out of bounds of any solid reference point we have here on Earth.”

“Why?”  Golem asked.

The Doctor took the vial from the Number Man.  It was clear.  She used a funnel and tongs to pour the contents of the clear vial into the darker vial.  Though both vials were nearly full, the mixture didn’t cause any overflow.  The color found a middle ground.  A deep red.

She turned it around, then clamped it in between two rubber bumpers.  She hit a button on the side of the table, and it began shaking, like a paint machine.  “Two minutes.  Best freshly shaken, so the layers don’t separate.  William?  Status?”

“He’s floating down the hallway, knocking the vials to the ground.”


“Rate he’s traveling… I’d say a few minutes.  Three or four.”

“We’ll finish the mixing and then run,” the Doctor said.  She stared at the vial.  “This may be the closest you get to your revenge, Sveta.  I’m left with no choice, and chances are good I’ll change physically, even with the Balance formula.”

“You keep referring to that,” I said.  “What is it?”

“I’ve come to believe it’s the opposite of what we had with the foreign agent.  One power, or a collection of powers, calibrated in advance by the entity, with humans in mind.  By mixing it into other vials, we borrow this particular quality, at the cost of having more physical changes with any such power we grant.  We retain humanity more easily, safeguarding against deviant cases.”

“You found a way to collect powers,” Golem said.

“In a sense,” the Doctor said.  She sighed heavily.  “You came for a reason.”

“I did,” I said.  “We did.  For answers, for insights on the entity, and because we need Doormaker if we’re going to win this fight against Scion.”

The Doctor looked at Doormaker, who was being held by two Harbingers.  “We’d hoped to use Doormaker in conjunction with Khonsu, for a mobile force that could safely pressure the entity.  A last measure.”

“You had an awful lot of plans,” I said.

“We did.  I can tell you about them, or I can answer your questions.  What information do you desire, Weaver?  What insights on the entity could win this for us?”

I swallowed.

“Second Triggers,” I said.

The Doctor frowned.  “Too many people have come to me about that.  It’s a promise of more power that manifests just often enough to tantalize, infrequently enough to leave countless disappointed.”

“What is it?”  I asked.

“When powers manifest, they come with safeguards.  The same programmed safeguards that I seek to circumvent or ignore with these foreign agents.”  She tapped the desk.  “The agent, the power, seeks to protect the host, so it prevents the host from harming itself.  It’s a crude measure, one the agent applied with broad, general strokes.  Not every agent can receive individual attention, and the ones that do, I believe, were more hampered than not.  With the second trigger, the agent reaches out, makes contact with others, networks and draws on collective information to refine the restrictions and save its host.”

“Is it always around other parahumans, then?”

“Not always, but frequently.  Circumstances tend to mirror the original trigger event.  The resulting power ignores restrictions that were previously set.”

The shaking of the machine began to slow.

“You’re involved with a lot of powerful parahumans,” I said.  “Do you have a means of causing second triggers?”

“We’ve done it for several clients in the past, with varying degrees of success.  Because of the time it takes, and the arrangements involved, we put a high premium on it.  We’ve had more clients die trying to collect the funds for this premium than we’ve had clients go through with the procedure,” she said.

“A catch twenty-two, if you will,” the Number Man said.  “If you’re powerful enough to have the necessary funds, then you don’t need a second trigger to thrive.  If you need a second trigger, you lack the funds.”

“I get the feeling you didn’t devote much attention to this,” Golem said.  “Why not?”

“Because reducing the restrictions that are in place only gives us a power that has less restrictions, when we need powers with none.  We needed to luck into a formula that had an applicable power as well as a whole, untainted foreign power within, and we needed it in a vehicle we could use, an individual without crippling mental, psychological, emotional or physical deviations.  Eidolon was that, and Eidolon had a fatal flaw in the end.”

I nodded, biting my lip.

“We should go,” the Doctor said.  “Where is Scion?”

“Still upstairs,” Manton said, pointing at the ceiling, off to the right.  “He’s gone still.  He’s got vials in his hands again.”

The Doctor nodded.  “This way.  Just a little further down, and I’ll ingest this.  With luck, we’ll have a weapon or a way out.”

“What about these vials?”  I asked.

“The powers wouldn’t help.”

“If they’re special, if they could give us an answer-”

“The powers are poor,” the Doctor said.  “Foreign, yes, but poor.  When we tested these, we got a defensive power utilizing warped space and a power that allows one to take over a nearby parahuman’s mind, body and powers automatically on death.  The one I hold should have attack or mover capabilities, if not both.”

She input a code by the door, and William Manton set about opening it.  Another wheel-lock.

“What would happen if a person with powers drank one?”  I asked.

“Nothing at all,” the Doctor said.  “Believe me, we’ve tried hybridizing natural and Cauldron capes.  You might as well drink water, for much the same effect.”

I nodded, but I didn’t take my eyes off the table.

“You hoped for a way to increase your powers?  Or the powers of everyone here?”  The Doctor asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Downstairs,” she said.  “We’ll see.”

I nodded.  I used my flight pack to travel down the stairs more quickly.

Ever downward.  Descending.

“He’s coming,” Manton said.  “There’s nothing left between us to slow him down.  I’m- the Siberian will fight now.”

The Doctor nodded.

I could sense the two meeting.  The Siberian dashing forward.  Scion apparently uncaring.

The Siberian cleaved deep.  The way her body intersected Scion, it was like ghosts fighting.

Tattletale says he closes wounds as fast as they appear, so fast our senses can’t perceive it.

If that was so, the Siberian was doing horrific amounts of damage.  She passed bodily through him, and glowing motes followed her as she emerged on the other side, landing and wheeling around.

“Intersect him,” I said.  “It’ll burn through his reserves.”

Manton nodded.

“Number Man,” the Doctor said.  “The-”

“EM readers?”

“EM readers.”

The Number Man ducked into a side corridor.

“This is it,” the Doctor said.  She pointed down.  “The last room.  Lowest room in the complex.”

I could see it, a flight down.  A heavy door, vaultlike.

“Then it is a dead end,” Lung rumbled.

“Fuck,” Imp said.  “Fuck it, fuck damn shit.”

We reached the door, and Lung set his claws on the wheel to open the door.  He’d just started turning when the Number Man appeared, a paddle-like wand in each hand.

Manton took one of the paddles.

The Siberian was standing in the middle of Scion, their bodies overlapping.  If her presence tore into him, then every passing fraction of a second was a good one-hundred and some pounds of flesh being eaten away.  Depending on how fast he regenerated, it could be vast quantities.  Turning a strength into a weakness.

But he didn’t seem to care.  He floated there, his back turned to the doorway we’d used to travel to the next floor down, staring at the rows of vials.  Uncaring about the Siberian’s sustained assault.

“He doesn’t care,” I murmured.

The Doctor and the Number Man looked up from the paddle the Number Man had in hand.  He was apparently calibrating it.

“Scion doesn’t care that Siberian’s tearing him up,” I clarified.

“Of course he doesn’t,” the Doctor said.  “He’s alien.  He doesn’t have human feelings.”

“He’s a force of nature,” Number Man said.

I shook my head.  “No.  Human feelings are why he’s a danger.  Without them, he’d be some nebulous threat, three hundred years in the future.  But he’s lashing out, trying to find himself, and that’s why he’s dangerous.”

The Number man waved the wand around my head, then frowned.  He waved it around his own head, read the digital display, then tried the Doctor.  He tried waving it at Lung, but Lung swatted at it.

“He’s alien above all else.  Abstract.” the Doctor said.  Her eyes fell on the vial.  “It’s through alien, abstract methods we’ll defeat him, if it’s even possible.”

“The door is stuck,” Lung said.

“The way the column has settled may have put undue stress on this part of the architecture,” Number Man said.  “If you’d let me-”

“I know,” the Doctor said.  “If I’d let you have a hand in designing this… but you were new to the team.  I didn’t yet trust you with sensitive matters.”

Number Man nodded, taking it as something matter-of-fact.

Lung heaved on the door, putting all of his superhuman strength behind it.  It barely budged.

“Take her,” Alexandria said.

Lung took Gully’s body.

Alexandria pushed.  A crack appeared in the ceiling, dust showering down on top of us.

“Structural,” Number Man said.  “If we open it, it’ll cave in on us.”

“This does not concern me,” Lung said.  “Stand back, and I will push my way through.”

Golem shook his head.  “Eventually, but what about the time it takes to burrow through?  We can’t afford it.”

The Doctor was looking down at the vial.

“If we’re going to win this,” I said, “I want it to be because of our strength, not an abstract one.  And I know that sounds corny.”

“A nice sentiment,” the Number Man said.  “But I’m afraid that power you’re digging for is out of your reach, Weaver.”

I looked at him.

“Or it’s already in your reach.  You can’t have a second trigger because you already had one,” he said.

I blinked.

“Given the signature, it’s very possible you had two trigger events in quick succession.  Not uncommon.  The horror of manifesting your power, it prompted another trigger.”

“No,” I said.  “There’s got to be something.”

“If there is, a second trigger event isn’t it,” the Number Man said.  “I can check your allies, but we can’t do much more.  We used to rely on Contessa’s power to determine the exact event needed for a second trigger.”

I nodded numbly.

“I’m sorry,” Imp said.

I shook my head.  I’d staked hopes on this, despite promises to myself that I wouldn’t.

Beside me, the Doctor removed the black rubber cork from the vial.

The Siberian appeared beside us in the same instant.  Manton spoke, “He finally took action and struck my Siberian.”

I could sense Scion above.  Staring at the corridor with the vials.

He reached out, and a golden light flared.  It was like a flicker of the lights, and it was so vivid I thought for a second I was seeing it with my own eyes.

The vials each shattered simultaneously.

Glass and fluids rained down onto the floor.  My bugs were swamped all along the corridor.

Scion moved, killing my bugs on contact as he headed down to the next floor.

With my bugs, I could sense Number Man letting the wand go.  It clattered to the stairs below him.  “Broken.”


Lung created flame for us to see by.

The Doctor stood there, her hands mangled where she’d been holding the vial, bleeding wounds at her throat.

“Your hands,” Manton said.

She shook her head.  “S- superficial.”

There was a pause.

“Did you drink any?” I asked.

She shook her head.  “Barely any.”

I looked down at the stairs.  Lap it up?

No.  Something Skidmark or Newter had said, once upon a time.  My first introduction to the vials.

And she’d said she needed a whole power.  Would a partial dose only give half a power?  A distorted one?

I could only guess.

“Okay,” I said.  “Siberian… make us a path around the door.”

Manton nodded, as if I’d talked to him.  Siberian walked into the wall, her power crushing stone.  The rest of us moved up the stairwell, closer to Scion.

“Guys,” Imp said.

Lung had to move to cast the light on her.

She held Sveta’s sphere.  Fractures marked the entire surface, and they spread with every passing second.

I withdrew my crystal-encased knife.  “Lung?”

He took hold of it with one hand, nearly singing me with the heat of the flame that had surrounded the limb moments ago.  He crushed it, winced as the knife ate through the claw at the end of his thumb.

I gingerly took hold of the knife, switched the settings to remove the disintegration effect, then started it up again.

It took a full four seconds.  The calibration was off, stuff clogged.  Not a big surprise.

“Halfway,” Manton said.  “No sign of collapse.”

Scion appeared at the top of the stairs.

Leaving us without a place to even run to.

“A third trigger event,” I said.  “Is it-”

“No,” the Doctor said.

“There has to be a way.”

“There isn’t one,” she said.  “You have the power you have, nothing more.”

“Okay,” I answered.

“Hey,” Imp said, “Your power isn’t the only one that’s shit in this circumstance.”

The orb bucked, the fracturing doubling in quantity.

Then it broke.

Sveta hit the ground, and then unfurled.  Tendrils extended up the stairs, encircling Scion.

“Focus on him,” she said.  “Oh god.  Focus on him.  It’s him and me, we’re the only people here.”

The others were disappearing into the tunnel.  Rachel, Imp, Canary, the Doctor’s group…

“Can’t…” Sveta said.

The Doctor headed into the tunnel.

A tendril encircled one of the Doctor’s ruined hands.

The Doctor screamed.  I could hear bone breaking, see blood welling around the thin tendril of living razor wire.

Sveta’s tendrils continued to extend, stretching out.

Each one chose the Doctor as the mark.

“Had to pick someone,” Sveta whispered.  “Couldn’t focus on him alone.  I’m sorry, but you’re the best choice.”

The tendrlis found points closer to the Doctor’s midsection, crushing.

The Doctor’s screams became strangled.

Sveta coiled around the Doctor, burying the woman beneath overlapping tendrils, until there was a cocoon and a girl’s face, curled up on the stairs.  Blood pooled beneath them.

Scion continued his approach.

I held my ground, forming swarm-decoys.  They hadn’t worked last time,  but-

Nothing.  He walked past them.

I held my knife, waited as he closed the distance, standing in his way.  I slashed at his throat, dragged the blade along his chest.

Smoke rose, billowing in quantities I couldn’t have imagined.

He pushed me aside.

Walking towards the door.

I realized what was about to happen.  My mind was all noise as I screamed out a warning using my swarm, telling the others to get away.

I reached out and grabbed Sveta’s face, the point from which all the tendrils extended.  An action carried out in panic.  I felt a tendril or two wrap around my forearm.  Hand and arm obliterated.

I just got a new one, I thought, almost dazed.

Scion pushed his way past the door.  The door that was bearing the load of the ceiling above us.

Sveta dropped the doctor, and I felt the tendrils brush past me, ensnaring bugs.  Then they snapped out, grabbing the door at the top of the staircase.

In the next instant, we were pulled to the door, virtually thrown.  I used my flight pack to try and break the fall, to stop from being turned into a smear, but Sveta caught the brunt of the impact, webbing out to ensnare our surroundings.

The ceiling came down.  A whole section of the substructure, apparently damaged, cracked by the fall or by some native impurity.

The dust settled.

And I saw what Scion had come for.

His partner.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

352 thoughts on “Venom 29.7

  1. Cut it pretty damn close with finishing this one. Wanted to expand the end, but I’m sort of okay with it being damnably vague, on a level.

    Thanks for your support, guys. Just yesterday, Worm broke 26,000 views. Beat 23,000 for the first time, by a considerable margin.

    And thanks for reading. Please vote on Topwebfiction, if it’s no trouble.

    • That’s a lot of hits. Congratulations.

      C’mon Wildbow, take a screenshot of some stats and publish it somewhere. You’re allowed to gloat some more😉

    • I, ehmmm… I have a confession to make. I’ve been voting for “A Grey World”, since it’s much newer than Worm and needs the support – and it’s an amazing story too. Wish topwebfiction allowed multiple votes, or tiered votes even. Every time I see you mention topwebfiction I’m reminded to go vote for him.

      BUT I only do that because you have hundreds and he usually has like 10 votes. Which I think is a crime; it’s such a good story, it deserves better. (He had 30 today, so I voted for you.) Otherwise, you’re first in my heart. ^_^

        • I know for a fact that this wasn’t true a month ago. I voted for ‘A Grey World’, then for Worm. A Grey World went UP one vote, then DOWN one vote.

          You might be able to do it now (I haven’t checked yet) but as of september topwebfiction only counted your latest vote.

      • Well, hell, if anyone wants to toss a vote my way…well, if they can even find it on there. I think it’s supposed to be eligible over there, but I wouldn’t be surprised if certain people award me negative votes for every joke regarding the human anus. Butt maybe I’m just over anal-yzing things in assuming they’re that cheeky.

        • I’d vote for you if it were on there.
          But it isn’t, although I do keep checking. I worry that your jokes may have rectal your chances of getting on the site though, they may feel that they’re a little crude.
          (What? Am I supposed to let him have all the fun with butt jokes? Heh heh. Fun with butt jokes.)

        • “I called for my bugs to bring the knife anyways.” I’ve been willing to ascribe previous uses of “anyways” to the idiolects of the characters who were speaking it, but this one isn’t in dialogue. I’d like to think that Taylor is well-educated enough that she’d used the more standard “anyway” when writing down her story, but maybe her hatred of her english teacher led her to hate standard grammar as well?

    • “Canary liberally tossed ” Literally? Though the mental image of her being liberally tossed in a nice vinaigrette IS hilarious…
      “a Manton with the Siberian” Should that be just “Manton” and not ‘a’ Manton, since she corrects herself?

    • Every morning I was in the asylum, I would wake up and I scramble to draw something, to put words in a diary, and I’m so excited and panicked and desperate I’d break things.

      I think that “I’m” should be in the past tense. “I’d be” or something like that.

    • “Jaw strength aside, the crocodile wasn’t built to force it’s mouth open.”

      Should be ‘its mouth’.

    • “I’m willing to believe it, if this is an assassination attempt, I’ll take the risk.”

      The first comma should be a period.

      “The Number man waved the wand around my head”

      “man” should be capitalized.

    • He floated there, his back turned to the doorway we’d used to travel to the next floor down, staring at the rows of vials. Uncaring about the Siberian’s sustained assault.

      “He doesn’t care,” I murmured.

      Uncaring –> he doesn’t care feels a bit repetitive. Maybe “Ignoring the Siberian’s sustained assault.

  2. Skitter, really. I’m pretty sure you’ve beaten out Anakin Skywalker for number of limbs lost at this point.

    Also, I find the dynamic between the various Cauldronites to be lovely.

    Also also, Sveta is awesome.

  3. Clearer than ever that brute force won’t answer.

    DM’s comment that an abstract means is the only way to victory; Taylor’s comment on Scion’s human emotions; Taylor’s comment that she wants to win with what they have; DM’s comment that they already have whatever power they’ll have – all fragments of foreshadowing, clearly laid out to be tessellated into elegant sense. The shape formed is hauntingly familiar, but beyond my comprehension thus far.

    Remain tentatively convinced that this will end with a proposal, possibly a suicidal action, mirroring the Scion interlude.

    The vials, specifically the three critical vials, are seemingly off the board. Won’t be certain they truly can’t come into play for some time.

    Inutterably delighted by the Number Man’s fussy yet sincere regret that Bonesaw’s reliance on rumor led to impolite Harbinger clones.

    DM’s story arc – if this is its end, a fact of which I am in no way certain – closed well and indeed poetically; the conversation with Sveta and the finish both were fitting. Still… her natural trigger potential plus the exceedingly stressful situation she’s presently in, the bits of formula she drank, some further contingency… any or all of these could put her right back into this.

            • If you can get the nanites to leak over into his real body, then you’ve got a chance. As it is, I’m pretty sure Siberian was doing as much damage as is possible against Scion’s golden boy body.

        • You have, if you can’t kill the winner while it is weakened from the fight create another eldritch abomination and drop upon it. If whoever winner is weakened enough then kill it if not create another one, at one point you gotta get lucky. Or horribly unlucky.

          • Or the other RPG Players answer. Figure out how to turn a couple of low level spells and a harmless item into a city destroying nuke. I see a contrast here. Doctor Mother is looking for that one big abstract power that will stop Scion. But Taylor is someone who finds ways to use powers in unexpected ways, and combinations. Doctor Mother is hoping for someone who is a high end nuker wizard. But what we may need is a bard or thief with the right support.

            • Nah, the former is too straightforward and the latter is rather boring. I prefer my Eldritch Abomination infinite spawn.

              • Ohh, Mass Eldritch Abomination wins points for style without a doubt. But I’m frankly not sure the Wormverse can handle too many more giant monsters running around.

                Besides, didn’t we already try throwing the Simurgh at Scion, to no effect?

              • Well we still have to see what tha blowgun did. Somehow I doubt that it only ruffled Scion’s hair.

        • something similar to a bomb of barrakuada’s design, detonated in whatever demiplane of exodimensional location zion’s REAL body occupies? all anyone’s been able to do is fight his/its projection. tinker tech or Doormakers ability, set something and catastrophically distorts reality right next it? makes up down and north upwards, green purple and gas vaccume? i figure no matter how bizarre your environment is by the standards of baryonic life, something distorting the livening shit out of the bit of space-time ( or equivalent) you occupy would HAVE to be distracting ,especially if you’d never had anyone actually attack your actual BODY before..

          • I’m not sure they can get to Scion’s dimension. He specifically limited powers so that they couldn’t break through to where his body was. Their best bet may be the portals that were Part of Eve’s body, but its unlikely that the two entities have their bodies in the same location.

  4. So Sveta just killed the doctor, maybe. So Skitter DID have a 2nd trigger and that’s why she looked so powerful to Chevalier. The Vault doesn’t sound that big, so I’m guessing his partner is a projection like Scion’s body. Still find it odd that the number man can dodge bugs as a baseline human. Contessa I could believe it because she could just portal away if surrounded, but in this situation the bugs should have encircled and swarmed him. He can see it coming, but he has human reflexes, and there shouldn’t be any space to dodge. But other than that good chapter and we can add more sadness to Sveta and the case 53’s. I don’t think we added both of Cuff’s parents being killed either to the tropes page.

      • So sad though for all the other predictions. No turning into a swarm or monster, no ironic Tinker power, no thinker power, no giant bugs, no lazerbreath, or freeze vision.

        • Oh god, Taylor as a bug tinker. Come to think of it, if Taylor got a chance to really sit down and get some help from Bonesaw or Panacea she could be even more fucking terrifying.

          • “If [something], she could be even more terrifying” is basically what every discussion about Taylor’s development as a cape turns into. Especially with Panacea.

              • I have to say that Taylor already is a Thinker. Maybe not a high end one but she’s definitely a thinker. She can controll every bug in her range individually. She reads books how fast? The PRT even classed her as thinker 1 I believe. It’s fairly obvious she’s already a thinker, the only question is if shes a really really powerful one or not.

              • @will: I think so, but I think she also tried removing Skitter’s free will. And that just won’t fly.

            • Skitter just needs to get Panacea to work on patching up a few of her weaker areas. FIre-proof bugs, bugs capable of dealing heavier hits (big bugs? explosive bugs? containment foam bugs?), EMP bugs (take that tinkers), capsaicin-producing bugs…

    • I’ve always hated Number Man/Harbinger’s power. Eventually if you throw enough numbers at him, he should have to divide by zero. I didn’t like Contessa’s, but at least she was basing what she needed to do on advance warning through foreknowledge, as opposed to present knowledge and really good predictions.

    • > Still find it odd that the number man can dodge
      > bugs as a baseline human.

      I suspect that as long as there’s a relatively unfeeling person nearby like Doctor Mother or the Siberian, he’s going to be inherently resistant to bug stings and irritants in general, which gives him more leeway. Because as cold to human emotion as Doctor Mother might be, and as physically unfeeling as the Siberian is, he is, of necessity, number.

      • Jesus Christ. That is the worst pun. The worst pun in the world. I am suffering because I read that.

        And since you’re here…I used some panels from your webcomic in a video I made. You okay with that?

        PS: I’m pretty sure that the Number Man can’t actually dodge bugs very well. He can run through a swarm to attack Taylor, but if he ever got attacked properly by a full-size swarm that’d be it for him.

  5. “Because reducing the restrictions that are in place only gives us a power that has less restrictions, when we need powers with none. We needed to luck into a formula that had an applicable power as well as a whole, untainted foreign power within, and we needed it in a vehicle we could use, an individual without crippling mental, psychological, emotional or physical deviations. Eidolon was that, and Eidolon had a fatal flaw in the end.”

    Damn, so my mentioning of “The perfect is the enemy of the good” and that fallacy where people don’t even try because it’s not the perfect solution had something to do with all this after all.

    And Dr. Mother’s utter discounting of human emotion says a hell of a lot more about why they’re all in this situation. She doesn’t realize by now that she’s the alien abstract being with no conception of human emotion, and she’s failed against Scion while being such. And the thing about the powers is her entire schtick write miniature. She does something contradictory to her stated goals by watering down the closest thing to absolute power even though she thought 2nd and 3rd triggers were useless to purse as only powers with less restrictions instead of no restrictions. She waits fucking forever to use her plan and it gets wrecked easily by Scion when he wasn’t even intending to mess with it. And she gets her ass attacked because of her human experimentation.

  6. In light of this chapter’s friendly tendril-monster woobie getting some revenge, I say we dedicate a song to the event!

    “Doctor, Doctor, give me the noose, I’ve got a bad case of crushing you!”

    Hell, Doc Mom was so out of touch with her own emotions, she didn’t even trigger while being crushed to death.

    • Trigger events were specifically Scion handing out shards, though. (well, lobbing them at people to hit at moments of emotional stress, but you get the picture). I’m fairly certain that ship has sailed.

      • Trigger events are when shards Scion previously handed out find a hoast. He doesn’t need to send out new ones, they are already in play. Untill all the Shards he spread get used the potential for more triggers exists.

      • He handed stuff off in the past. He hasn’t been handing them off ever since he’s been seen on Earth in the 80s. They still have been hitting, though, so it’s possible, just unlikely.

    • If people triggered from mere mortal peril, there would be a lot more capes.

      And it’s also possible that Scion has the ability to exert some control over when shards are handed out.

      • I think it’s been mentioned before that people do trigger from mere mortal peril. The vision either stalls them enough or the power is insufficient to actually get them out of mortal peril, though. If a car’s about to hit you, all the super freezing powers in the world aren’t going to save you if your face gets planted halfway through the radiator while you’re daydreaming about giant space jellyfish.

        • I think the trigger would happen after the car crash, though. I’m specifically thinking of Chevalier, here, as it specifically stated that he triggered while left alone in the car.

  7. OK, I think the Doctor’s dead now. It’s not as poetically just as a death as I expected. All the requirements are there and there’s a nice explanation but it’s not exactly awe-inspiring author cruelty on the level of the Slaughterhouse 9 (and Darkfriends in the Wheel of Time, Galina and Carridan were fun). I can’t expect much when they’re in a combat zone and everything is ending, however.

    • Well, Doctor Mother was taken out by a Case 53 (strike one) with a truly horrific transformation (strike two) who would have turned it down had they asked in the first place (strike three). Anything poetically just-er would have involved that formula. And Scion wouldn’t allow that to happen.

      • Moreover, she was killed as the result of a (somewhat) impersonal decision in which someone had to be picked, and logic dictated that she would be the ideal candidate. Just like picking Sveta to become a test subject because she was probable to die anyway, Sveta picked DM because her tendrils had to hit someone and DM was the only one there without powers that might have helped against Scion.

    • I suspect she’s only mostly dead. She did get a sip of that vial, after all. Who wants to bet she didn’t get any balancing agent?

  8. One ironic death and one ginormous cliffhanger ready to be served! I bet next chapter is an interlude.

    My god, Doctor has lost any complete understanding of human behaviour. She was as alien as Scion here. Maybe even more, seeing how Scion is killing because he’s trying to emulate humans. And I think Sveta killing her, without even being malicious about it, is very fitting.

    Nothing else to say except that Number Man apologising for his clones’ behaviour because they were built on hearsay was hilarious. It’s always Bonesaw’s fault.

  9. Hopefully the warranty is still good on her arm, though Amy might get fed up and get Bonesaw to fix it just to give Taylor further incentive to not get it mangled again.

  10. There are some chapters of Worm that literally get me at the edge of my seat, leaning right into my monitor. The end of this was one such moment. Dayum, can’t wait until saturday.

    Anyway, I’m not feeling the “Yay~ the Doctor’s dead~” vibe others seem to be getting. It was a horrific way to go that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

    I wonder what Taylor’s power was in the few seconds she had before she triggered again? Presumably it was the multitasking Thinker ability that got added during the second, brought about by the sensory overload. Maybe her original power was like Aidan’s, broadcasting general directions rather than absolute control.

    • Oh sure it’s a horroble way to die but if the Doctor had showed some sympathy for Sveta, made, I dunno, a heartfelt spology or something, instead of going ” I don’t know you, I don’t care”, then maybe Sveta epuldn’t have gone all “I’m sorry but someone will die for sure so it might as well be you”.

      • I agree with you there, although in with Sveta’s mental state I doubt that would have really stopped her from picking the Doc.

      • Also, that would have given us some vestige of sympathetic emotion for D-M as opposed to the *checks threads* fourth thread being a filk rendition of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.”

    • It’s not so horrible.

      Being crushed by super-strong razor tentacles doesn’t seem any worse than being shot or stabbed or run over by a bus to me.

      It’s a quick violent death like any other quick violent death. There are much worse ways to go.

            • No, I started Shipping before that particular plot twist. And every damn version they keep leading you on, giving you a sense of hope before taking… Fuck Jack Slash is on the writing staff.

              • Yes agreed. Until 4.0 comes out I refuse to admit that Rei from 2.0 is gone. That was an amazing example of love by the end. Damn 3.0 for utterly corrupting it!

          • You are not alone friend. I also ship Shinji and Rei. Asuka is toxic. Misato is okay but slightly squicky and really too broken to be good for him. Rei while biologically partly his mother does not have her soul and also is one of the only people to show a legitimate amount of feeling for Shinji. Plus he was ultimately the person who pulled her out and brought her to action both when she was half a soul and when she was complete. Rei and Shinji are one of the only healthy relationships in that entire show. Which is exceptionally weird and sad.

            • Worm may be mega dark (ESPECIALLY now) but at least the characters mostly still have a sense of humor. The only humor present in NGE was…um…Pen-Pen? Maybe…yeah…I’ve having a hard thinking of anything funny in that series honestly lol.

  11. With the mention of Cauldrons experiments with 2nd Triggers is it possible that Grey Boy was the result of them and is the reason why they written it off because of the inherent mental instability seen in all 2nd trigger capes along with the lack of restraints needed to fight someone like Scion?

    • Hold on, what?

      I think Gray Boy was a Cauldron cape, but either way their reason for not using him on Scion was one part “It doesn’t work when Scion cares” and 3-5 parts “Both the original and the clone are quite firmly dead”.

      • I think he’s speculating that Grey Boy was some sort of Caudron’s experiment that went wrong ( they do say they sold him powerS, plural) and that they stopped pursuing that lead when they saw what they had created.

  12. Cauldron’s plan is kind of odd.

    If I’m following it right, it boils down to “The only plan that could work is to throw all kinds of stuff at Scion and hope something sticks. We are the best at throwing all kinds of stuff at Scion, so we’re in charge. There’s no point in planning for everybody dying, so when we’re not coming up with new stuff to throw at him, we’ll plan on how to rebuild.”

    It’s not even . . . *bad,* really, for a God-killing plan, I mean, aside from “maybe try it with less atrocities?” I can’t actually think of a better one myself.

    But usually for someone so certain they should be in charge you’d expect them to have a *thing* that they expect to work.

    • The thing that’s always struck me as profoundly shortsighted about Cauldron’s conduct is that they even felt a need to go to involuntary experimentation. Every one of those kidnappings could have been serviced in some less evil, coercive, and enemy-making fashion. People will do that shit for free just hoping for powers, never mind powers-and-maybe-my-cancer-is-cured. Shit, as many people as die of cancer every year, Cauldron could have serviced their needs out of that pool of desperate humans alone.

      I dunno. Maybe with the way powers worked, Cauldron figured secrecy was the only defense that could ever work, keep their organization intact over the years? But that’s mighty thin.

      • They did, at least partially, draw from dying people: Newter was a war casualty, for instance, recovered by Alexandria and gave at least an uninformed agreement. The problem is they (imperfectly?) wiped their memories so no-one remembered agreeing to the process, or what they were saved from (and according to Sveta not everyone even agreed).

        • Reading this chapter? They drew wholly from dying people and volunteers (sometimes dying volunteers). I don’t know if Daniel has caught up yet, but he’s convinced me: the problem with Cauldron is that they weren’t nice, not that they were evil. Doctor Mother monofocus on defeating Scion distracted her from the fact that she needed allies, not assets.

          • Shit, all she had to do was provide support for the Case 53s instead of dump them like garbage, whether they wipe their memories or not. That angry mob that came after her? That could have easily been a loyal army.

            • And to build on you two, the best armies are those that are voluntary rather than those who are conscripted. Even if they agreed in sound mind, and it doesn’t sound like Sveta did, then erasing their memory keeps them from knowing it was voluntary to any degree to be worth a damn.

              This update is kind of like if the general who was behind their conscription was in the field alongside his involuntary soldiers and one of them fragged him while the North Vietnamese attacked.

              • Correction: *one of them fragged him (for cowardice in the face of the enemy) while the North Vietnamese attacked.

            • The problem is: they had Contessa. They had who knows how many other thinkers and precogs. What’s more they actually used them well. So we really can’t criticise anything Cauldron did because the alternative was apparently worse.

              • Also, if you recall, Weld tried the “loyalty and respect to the 53s” thing. They ripped him apart.

              • The problem with saying that anything else they did would have been worse is that part of their plan was getting random powers. Ones that they did not know what would occur. If Countessa was really THAT powerful she would know which vial and formula exactly needed to be given to who, when where and how. There wouldn’t have been any guessing.

                In regards to the Case 53’s that means the only ones out there would have been intentional. In fact it makes everything every single itty consequence of Cauldrons actions an intentional effect. But because Cauldron hasn’t known what might work, what will come of their efforts etc, that means that Countessa’s power is inherently limited.

                If she really is dead as seems likely, then thats one more piece of evidence that she has not seen clearly the path to victory, that other powers do affect her even if she would like to think or claim that they do not. We already know that her abilities can come with drawbacks.

                The conversation convincing Eidolon to stop taking power up shots. Yes, the ‘path to victory’ there was for her to remain silent and she knows that. But even Eidolon knew that another path would have been for Contessa to talk to him and convince him. Still a victory, but with negative long term results.

                Victory can come in many forms. Phyric being one of them. Who is to say that her power leads to the ‘best’ victory, not just the easiest or even a random one. How well can she choose to define just what victory is before seeing the path?

              • Skychan:

                Good points about the restrictions on Contessa’s power. It’s definitely odd that should could see around the blindness caused by the endbringers and scion and still pull off her victories (some of which only come about because of what those blind spots do eg bonesaw handing over control keys). It seems like Mantellum might have a better blindness power than Scion. It actively forces powers to ignore him, so they can’t route around the damage so to speak. The fact that her power worked at all when mantellum existed, and his influence radiated outward causally… well perhaps it just indicates some other limitation on Mantellums power, or perhaps that the only path to victory included her death, or that she hid so she would survive scions attack. Regardless we know she can choose victory to mean a pretty wide range of things, and apply it to far in the future. So Cauldrons choice to mind wipe case 53’s seems pretty secure.

          • Lets face it as much as most Case 53’s lives suck, they would have had a number turn on them. Sure we see them grabbing dying people and asking them if they want to live. But a lot of Case 53’s would probably aurgue afterwards they would have rather died then live these sucky freak lives, and then gone revenge anyways.

            But hell a lost of issues are cropping up with Cauldron’s methodology.

          • Actually, there’s kind of a beautiful moment here re: the mind-wiping and all that. I don’t even think that the problem is whether they were nice enough, or whether they imperfectly mind-wiped people or had too much secrecy going.

            The problem is a bit of a loop.

            Imagine the following:

            Extra-Dimension Conspiracy Auditor #1:
            “Okay Dr, thank you for joining us. You’re dealing with a class Purple-Z threat, so tell me about your plans for fighting back”
            Dr. Mother: “Well, it’s multi-pronged and relies on precognition, pericognition, petercognition, experimentation, hope and . . .stuff. We’ll prepare several approaches for dealing with the apocalypse, some of which involve setting up redundant societal infrastructure and others which will ensure the continued existence of the human species”
            #1: “Interesting, let me make a note here. You mentioned experimentation?”
            Dr. Mother: “Yes. We need to unlock the properties of powers, so we’re using human experimentation to gradually tests which powers work and provide us with abilities to fight the Entity. As a side note, we’ve discovered that the the powers we provide give a certain meta-physical defence against discovery, aiding us more.”

            #1: “Excellent. You are dealing with a creature that appears to be nearly omniscient, secrecy is important. Human experimentation is a bit of an ethical problem, though – it skirts some guidelines”

            Dr. Mother: “Not to worry, Auditor! We’re relying on informed consent. Our formula provide small bits of host optimization when they take root, and many people suffering will accept the aid when stacked against death or suffering”
            #1: “Huh, indeed. Good call. But how will you preserve secrecy, if many people know you’re handing out vials?”
            Dr. Mother: “There’s a bit of a lucky break there. We’ve got the ability to selectively remove memories, so after the subjects agree to our procedure, we’ll remove their memories if neccesary”

            [Auditor tilts head gradually, blinking in confusion]

            #1: “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
            Dr. Mother: “It obviously will not do for multiple cases of deviant parahumans running around providing clues to our general existence, so removing the memories of our involvement offers us the greatest long term protection”
            #1: “Removing their memories include, say, removing the memories of their lives prior to Cauldron intervention?”
            Dr. Mother: “Naturally. They would die otherwise. We offer them a chance to live”

            #1: “Indeed. Would I be correct in surmising that you would also remove their memories of granting informed consent along with the natural circumstances that lead them to granting you this?”
            Dr. Mother: “I’m not sure where you’re going with this, Auditor”
            #1: “Just wondering out loud.”
            Dr. Mother: “It provides us the best chances and protection”
            #1: “Mhmhm, yesyes. Say, once this rag-tag band of deviant parahumans gather in a horde and demand vengeance for you twisting them into demented mockeries of nature, would you have an answer for them?”
            Dr. Mother: “Obviously. They granted consent to our procedure–”
            #1: “I’m just going to interupt, sorry, look – they granted consent based on circumstances, events and lives they no longer remember”
            Dr. Mother: “We’ve all given more than just memories in this fight”

            #1: “Possibly, but I’m going to think it’ll be a little hard to convince an angry group of parahumans who no longer remember giving you permission to experiment on them that you explicitly asked for permission first. It’s also probably going to be harder to explain why their lives prior to their memories being removed is more important than all the suffering and despair they’ve gone through afterwards. Pain caused in part by your experiments, those experiments being the only mutual thing they all clearly remember as a traceable root for their present agony. ”

            Dr. Mother: “They gave us their lives. We gave them continued life, a new existence, a new identity, a motive for fighting.”
            #1: “They might still be upset?”
            Dr. Mother: “No, we’re relying on the honour system to ensure they don’t do something rash. I’m a believer in the graciousness of the human spirit. I’m sure their gratitude will win out over any latent animosity. People are basically inclined to forgive incredibly violations of their very humanity based on spurious reasoning they don’t remember consenting to, yeah?”

            #1: “I’m absolutely certain that will not possibly backfire in some hideously ironic way what-so-ever. I’m green-lighting this plan. Go ahead.”

            • I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone accusing Doctor Mother of being intelligent lol. There are many words for that woman but the “i” one is not normally mentioned in her orbit. Well, an “i” word is…but not that one😉.

  13. I like it.

    Also, whatever happened to Smurf’s dartgun? Didn’t she hit Scion with it, or did he deflect it or something?

    I like that Lab Rat apparently is a more practical evil scientist than Doctor Mother is. He at least prepared for plans going awry, whereas DM completely dropped the ball. But I guess, even at the end of it, she was only human after all. It would have been too convenient for there to be a handy big red button to hit and automatically blend a martini as soon as the golden fool showed up.

      • It was her hair dryer, apparently. She was protecting it because it’s a vital part of the hair-care routine that keeps her looking like a shampoo commercial.

  14. a power that allows one to take over a nearby parahuman’s mind, body and powers automatically on death.

    Pretender or Glaistig Uaine? Or someone else entirely?

        • Cauldron’s powers are taken from the Thinking Entity(?), right? While natural powers are given by Scion. Both of them retain many of the same shards in their whole forms, with some adjustments to orient them to their specific tasks as partners. So it’s entirely possible similar powers could have emerged from both, but with different spins on them.
          Regent could jump to another body, but ultimately the host still has freedom of the mind. Whereas a cape like Butcher was able to influence the mind, but not the body. (Small detail though because after sharing a headspace with Butcher most seemed to merge with that personality and the new/old “Butcher” would come to agreements about how to use the body.) Same power for both entities, or something like that, just geared to different purposes.
          At any rate it’s well known Imp had no problems sharing her body with him so jumping into it would have been easy for him at a dire moment, IF that was a logical progression of his talents.
          Perhaps all the clues pointing to his potential survival are nothing but teasing coincidences, but I feel we’d be remiss as readers to dismiss the possibility completely.

          • Natural powers are not limited to Scion. There is at least one known instance of a natural-powered cape with a Counterpart shard: the first cape ever.

          • Regent didn’t have the ability to jump bodies ala Pretender, he had the ability to remotely take control of another person and push their consciousness into the background.

            I second the people who say this sounds a lot more like Butcher’s schtick…

    • Of course this is useless. Without limitations it couldn’t possibly cause someone to merge with Scion and if not gain control of him at least temper his actions with the morality and or knowledge and experience of a fully grown person.

      Emotion seems to be key here. Scion is looking for it and DM doesn’t have it and so discounts it. What if all we really needed was a way to bridge that gap between ignorance and knowledge in Scion and getting someone who drank that killed with Scion the only recipient has a potential to do that.

      “Useless” she calls it. While I see at LEAST one possible path to success through it. That’s avoiding the possibility that it could recreate an Eidolon through attrition as the new ‘butcher’ could run at scion, die, pick up more powers and a new body, run at scion die, lather rince repeat until we have a new worm. A being with just as many shards as scion does.

      Doctor Mom is quite blind.

  15. Eh… there was a LOT of stuff in this one.

    Dr. Mother is … not exactly a parahuman. Or at least not yet. In theory it should be the candidate for an howdyshard, except Contessa does not have one, nor a zombieshard.
    I guess we’ll have her in a desperate situation to trigger. Like having every plan of her shattered, Scion confronting the counterpart, dying of serious injury. Something like that.

    Good job not even remembering Sveta’s serial number btw, how very human of you.

    Skitter already got her second trigger, this answer an important question: why Aidan’s shard sucked so much compared to hers. It was not because he was separated from her.
    I guess the administration shard was really crippled a lot btw.

    As a side note, Wildbow did promise no new second triggers for main characters.

    You know what’s a good way to boost nanites? Have other kinds of nanites helping them, they’re very synergistic if you know what you’re doing.
    You know what’s a good way to deliver nanites? With an air gun.

    Sure, to get the synergy just right you probably need to see the future or something…

    Things are picking up. The last few updates were a little… tired? This one is much more lively.

    • *** You know what’s a good way to boost nanites? Have other kinds of nanites helping them, they’re very synergistic if you know what you’re doing.
      You know what’s a good way to deliver nanites? With an air gun.

      Sure, to get the synergy just right you probably need to see the future or something… ***

      That’s a VERY interesting theory.

      • Has Simurgh spent any significant amount of time near Bonesaw, by chance?

        Because I was just thinking, what if Scion’s human side was sufficiently vulnerable to some sort of bacteria capable of getting into a human brain and messing with its ability to recognize people and allowed someone else to masquerade as the second entity as far as Scion knew?

    • You know, there is one thing that strikes me as odd about Taylor’s shard – Scion “cripples and largely destroys it”, meaning (I presume) functionality is flat out lost from it, irretrievably so. My question is wouldn’t Scion eventually kinda need those Administrator abilities again once he re-merged with his partner?

      In fact crippling any of the shards is a little odd in that the reason for passing them out is, ostensibly, to let them gestate and grow more powerful. I can see suppressing some of the functionality so the hosts can’t use it against you, but destroying it seems counterproductive (unless its functionality you have no interest in retaining anyways).

      If a shard is too scary to let into the hands of a host because they might work around the suppression then the answer would seem to be “don’t give it out in the first place”.

      That may also point to one of the limitations in the entities. They don’t take risks. Scion selected a reality where he couldn’t see any chance of the “hosts” defeating him, but that had to come at the expense of realities where there was a tiny chance the hosts could defeat him and a larger pay off in terms of shard growth if they didn’t.

      • Presumably, the shards can all be un-crippled when they get them back. Maybe they end up with the equivalent of the flu when they get all the shards back.

              • You’ve committed one of the classic blunders, only the most famous of which are never get involved in a land war in Asia and never go in against a Scicilian when Death is on the line. Slightly less well known is that you should never engage with Psycho Gecko in a battle of wits.

              • To ^AMR:

                Unless you’re me. Check the last time Gecko tried to snark me. Or the one before that, or the one before that… My favorite – Don’t know where it was at in the chapters, but my comment was something about villainous monologues. He cut in and tried to roshambo, I cut off his hand. He grew it back, clearly, but I wasn’t out for blood anyway so I’m fine with just collecting style points.

                That said, endgame’s comment was, I think, misapplied. If he *is* going to step up to p. gecko, I hope he’ll at least try to use his memes correctly – if I were Gecko, I wouldn’t even bother with this, it’s like beating up a kitten trying to chew your Playstation power cord.

      • Well. The Entities can *uncripple* the shards as well. So there’s nothing irretrievable. Except with Scion blasting them all. That’s fatal *even to shards* as shown by GU’s losing of powers thanks to him.

      • He’s still using something to control himself. Presumably there are aspects unique or primary to the administrator shard (mass-control, fine-control, or something similar) and aspects not unique (control of shards, or perhaps interdimensional range). Mass fine-control of shards is too dangerous, so he removes the ‘shards’ part and can reintroduce it later (after the shard has improved/reproduced) by copying from another similar shard.

        We know the ‘controls shards’ part isn’t unique due to Glaistig, Grue and whatever Scion himself is using, but I don’t think we’ve seen anyone with Taylor’s level of mass simultaneous control and precision. Even Glaistig could only summon three simultaneous shades, and Eidolon could hold about as many powers.

        This would also explain why he could cast off Taylor’s shard, and why he did it last: he needed it to control his full body, but not the smaller (a ten-thousandth of a percent of their original size, according to Scion’s interlude).

        Of course Aiden’s copy is a bit weird in that respect, but there’s a chance he didn’t inherit everything from the original shard as they were separated so quickly and for so long.

  16. So after everyone in the comments has clamoured for Taylor to get bigger powers through a second trigger event for ages, we finally get word that not only won’t she ever have one, but also that perhaps no amount of powers, natural or otherwise will be the key to defeat scion.

    They will need to come up with a clever solution targeting the parts of him that are human. Perhaps influencing him with words or something.

    On a different note, Scion coming face to face with his partner, feels a lot like an Angel breaking into Terminal Dogma to come face to face with a crucified Adam/Lilith.

    Also I just got a new one upon having your arm crushed says a lot about the character and the situation they are in.

    • I’ve wondered that maybe the only way to beat Zion may not be powers, but words since those seem to be the only things that humans have that can affect and influence him, look at Norton & Jack, their words shaped his outlook and actions. So maybe Taylor talks him into committing suicide?

    • It was mentioned at some point that the existence of healing powers changes the way people (capes more specifically) think about their injuries. Taylor is now a great example of that.

    • I’d like to take a moment here and deny your heinous accusations. I NEVER pushed for a second Skitter trigger (I did inquire, but more out of a fatalistic dread.)

      I’ve always wanted Skitter to just get more creative with her sciencing. So many things bugs can already do… she’s yet to use the power of termites, for example, and their so many and myriad symbiotic affiliations with fungi and bacteria and all the wonderful hair-raising horror-movie-inspiring chemist-boner-inspiring things some termites do to fuck up the day of anything that crosses their path… and that’s just ONE example.

      Another one: I think Wildbow has been conservative in his estimates of how quickly and efficiently insects can strip a creature to its bones if they’re really trying – in real life, I’ve estimated that a horde of insects the sizes he’s describing could strip a fully grown man in less than 10 minutes. (Comparison: a colony of army ants 1/100th the size of one of Taylor’s swarms can do it to a 400-lbd. animal in 10 minutes… and the rest the foliage for yards around, for that matter… credit where it’s due though, army ants are horrifying.) I get that he’s going for believability, but sometimes insects are just flat-out unfuckingbelievable. Add Taylor’s ability to coordinate and trade out full insects for hungry ones at a near-perfect efficiency, and you have a recipe for a truly awe-inspiring display of insect-themed disintegration, a la The Mummy scarabs:

      I think, honestly, that Taylor is capable of more than she’s given credit for, and she’s given credit for a LOT by this point. Just by virtue of the fact that, despite everything, the insect kingdom is STILL being underutilized and underrepresented. She could create clouds of poisonous gas AT WILL if she knew the science… she could heat up an area for acres around into a blast furnace with the right bugs (some generate ridiculous amounts of heat) or use hive-bugs like termites, roaches (yes roaches – look up their closest entomological relatives), bees and wasps to create her own ‘containment foam’ practically instantaneously…

      As an in-story example, with the number of bugs she was supposed to have access to, she could have rendered Jack Slash and Bonesaw into bone fragments and newly-homeless cybernetic implants, or rendered she could move earth at a rate faster than a bulldozer, hell almost as fast as Golem can create one of his giant hands… but for purposes of plot, the real-world capabilities of bugs have been downplayed. I’m okay with that, but it needs to be recognized, she does not and never has NEEDED a second trigger.

      Bugs are just really that fucking dangerous already.

      Hell, I think with the right plan she could have held her own against an Endbringer DIRECTLY. Think: if she ever figured out that she could breed LOCUSTS… anybody remember how fast those fuckers breed, and just how dangerous they are? They’re in the Bible for a reason, Chuckles.


      Loki-L, your allegations against me are baseless and libelous. That is all. ^_^

      • Well if she survives this Taylor could get a degree in entemology. Oh wait, their probably aren’t any colleges or entimoligests left.

  17. Didn’t Noelle have three triggers in sequence right after she took her potion? Oliver did too, I think, and he drank from the same vial. Maybe Cauldron was working on a formula that granted multiple trigger events. Or maybe drinking only part of a vial has weird effects.

    • no clear description if Noelle got more than one trigger event(s), all we know back then was a very lengthy mumbo jumbo alien sight, so lengthy Krouse had to hold ground for them before they teleport somewhere safer

    • i think the vial had seperated – the balance formula spillting from the stuff that Noelle drank.
      Oliver got a tiny bit of the transform power and a full dose of balance, hence his very subtle ability.

  18. I think I just figured out what Cauldron’s problem really is.

    They’ve spent all this time following Contessa’s “path to victory”, right?

    Well, apparently they never figured out that the one whose victory this was a path to was Scion.

    • Not Scion’s. The Third Entity’s. It has been my personal headcanon since we’ve found out that Contessa’s shard is alive and unknown to Scion.

  19. Oh Sveta, you are sweet even as you mangle and crush the people all around you. What a great chapter. Did all the others that went into the chamber were crushed by the ceiling? Did only Taylor and Sveta survive the collapse? Also, the other entity lives! or is a dead body or something, next chapter may be as trippy as Scions interlude.

    • I wonder if a dead space-worm can have an interlude…

      Alternatively I’m going either with Pretender (to understand what the heck the Vegas team was talking bout) or Contessa (she ain’t dead until they find her corpse and Lung rips her head off her shoulders to be sure).

    • She ran last chapter. Little miss crossbow (as PG put it) bolted for the exit once Taylor made it clear there was no exit further down.

              • They were in the middle of a facility that was part of multiple dimensions at once with some sort of column there that caused Doctor’s room to swap to another dimension as well.

                Who knows where Shadow Stalker wound up by now?

        • In a more traditional story Shadow Stalker would pull a Han Solo and turn around to play cavalry at the decisive moment and they would be friends ever after. In a slightly darker story she would still turn around and make a difference but gain her redemption through sacrificing her own life.

          Here? She probably got killed offscreen either running away or to the rescue, but in either case she died alone knowing that nobody would ever know or care about her fate despite what she had been told earlier.

  20. So. A thought occurred to me today.

    What happens to the stuff shredded by the nano-thorns? Doesn’t it sever all atomic bonds, leaving behind a bunch of carbon, hydrogen, etc atoms?

      • Atomic bonds as in bonds between atoms not bonds within nuclei. Not breaking the nucleus of a atom just the chemical bonds between the atom and its neighbor.

    • Possibly it only shreds covalent bonds (or their counterpart in non-polar molecules). I think that’s what he was going for.

      • Shredding covalent bonds still creates a lot of free atoms, seeing as that is pretty much all that holds together most of the human body, molecules in the air, etc.

  21. Sveta’s body count is in the triple digits? Damn, I figured a few dozen. I guess the PRT did just keep sending them in. Also her body decides what she grabs to eat, so she ended up eating a lot of things that she never would have. And I imagine a lot if not all the case 53’s have problems like that. And the women (or men) of kleenex issue is in full force for them. And Doctor Mother is completely indifferent to it.

      • Okay, that makes sense. Man I can imagine the horror that must have been. To the people in whatever area Sveta was in, this terrifying monster comes through, just killing anything that gets near it. It seems to be made of razorwire, with this girls face stuck in it, begging them to run. And poor Sveta… You know I can see her body sometimes after dealing with a mob or something deciding it’s time to eat, and there’s some freshly squeezed right at hand….

  22. To summarize much of the dialog in this chapter:

    Dr. Mother: “For you, the day when mutated parahumans kidnapped you from your village and brought you to our extradimensional base where you were turned into a monster was the most important day of your life.

    For me, it was Tuesday.”

    After that, is anyone surprised by the ironic supervillain death?

  23. Well, let’s see. Plans inside plans inside plans. How planned were the events leading to Doctor Mother’s apparent death.

    Let’s see, she happens to carry a special container of the potentially unlimited power juice with her down to the one place in all of existence where Scion might actually be counted on to perhaps lose himself in thought, or perhaps even waste some absurd amount of energy to try to resurrect his mate.

    He’s been expending a lot of power, but not too much. But he can’t use his predictive powers against his mate, or he would never have been surprised about her no-show, or confused in any way about where she was.

    So here he has been using all this power to defeat the humans, and there is his mate. How much power to resurrect her?

    How much of this is planned? Who planned it?

    And now for the fridge logic moment.

    Where did Doctor Mother drop the dose? On the stairs. Where did Sveta to the boa constrictor trick with constantino wire on Doctor Mother? On the stairs.

    “I looked down at the stairs. Lap it up?”

    “Sveta coiled around the Doctor, burying the woman beneath overlapping tendrils, until there was a cocoon and a girl’s face, curled up on the stairs. Blood pooled beneath them.”

    So, Doctor Mother is being sliced and diced and crushed to death while being asphyxiated and probably going into brain death due to blood loss. This is at the same time that her blood is pooling and mixing with the contents of the vial.

    It appears as if Doctor Mother has access to the entire vial despite Scion’s actions. Additionally, it appears as if she gets to absorb the vial’s contents at the same time that she would be highly likely to be experiencing a “natural” trigger.

    So what happens when a natural trigger occurs at the same time that an induced trigger happens? She had already started to be exposed to the artificial trigger’s effects before Sveta gave her a good excuse for a natural trigger.

    So… First trigger event, exposure to a vial with few limits. Second trigger event reduces limits even further. The second trigger event is a physical brutalization, a mind altering event due to blood loss in the brain, and even a sensory deprivation event due to being cocooned, so the chances of physical resilience, mental abilities, and travel power manifestations are extremely possible.

    And she is allowed to have this potential double trigger event at the one time when Scion might not be paying close attention to everything occurring around him. This might have been part of the plan, but I doubt she was expecting the “opportunity” to double-trigger via Sveta.

    So what DO you have hidden in that fridge anyway, Wildbow?

  24. “The ceiling came down. A whole section of the substructure, apparently damaged, cracked by the fall or by some native impurity.

    The dust settled.

    And I saw what Scion had come for.

    His partner.”


    “Hello, my baby
    Hello, my honey
    Hello, my ragtime gal

    Send me a kiss by wire
    Baby, my hearts on fire

    If you refuse me
    Honey, you’ll lose me
    Then you’ll be left alone

    Oh baby, telephone
    And tell me I’m your own”

    what I was thinking at the end.

  25. I’ve caught up at last! Now I’m in the same boat as everyone else with waiting for updates.:/

    If Taylor triggered twice in quick succession what is the extension to her power? I was expecting her to trigger further down the line and unleash her full administrator potential.

    Wildbow, I’ve spotted minor typos throughout but I’ve enjoyed the story too much to bring them up. Going to go back over and pick them all out if that’s ok? It depends how polished you need/want this to be.

    • I think that bug control is the original power, and the second one was the ability to perceive their senses. If she hadn’t triggered twice in the locker she would probably have had to play everything by eye and wouldn’t be able to order the really precise tasks.

    • I sighed, “It’s hard to explain what it’s like, having a new sense open up, but you can’t understand it all. Every sound that they heard was bounced back to me at a hundred times the volume, with the pitch and everything else all screwed up as if they wanted to make it as unpleasant and painful to listen to as possible. Even what they were seeing, it’s like having my eyes open after being in the dark for a long time, but the eyes weren’t attached to my body, and what they were seeing was like looking into a really dingy, grimy kaleidoscope. Thousands of them. And I didn’t know how to turn any of it off.”

      Taken from 4.3. So I think she had her second trigger from the stress of sensory overload from sensing all the bugs and got multitasking/processing powers to be able to handle it.

      • I think her multitasking isn’t a second power per-se, but a side effect to make using the power easier like Rachel’s thing with dogs. Second triggers usually give an extension of the power rather than something needed to properly use the original.

        • Which makes me suspicious that we either haven’t seen what her second trigger actually did yet, or the effect has been so subtle that it’s hard to actually notice it.

          I’m thinking it’s either going to be related to Taylor’s ability to control insects even while unconscious, or it’ll be related to her ability to assess the properties of powers.

          If it’s the first option, it might actually be flat out control of shards, she’s just never been close enough to one to know she has this control, while her connection to her own shard would bypass some of her range limits, giving her limited control of it in this way when her normal control fails.

            • I’m not sure if this means that we should look at the differences between Taylor’s shard and Aiden’s (and why would Taylor’s shard pass on restrictions it no longer had?) or if Aiden’s shard is Taylor’s second trigger (and DM/NM don’t quite understand second triggers as well as they think).

            • Hrm wasn’t there a mention at one point that a passenger, when it learns enough, can either reproduce if the host is not stressed OR trigger a second event in the host if the host is stressed sufficiently? Taylor never had a real second trigger, her passenger simply reproduced, and the child passenger is capable of controlling more complex animals than Taylor.

              There was also a mention, by Scion I think, that the child and parent passengers can learn from each other? He seemed a bit disappointed that Taylor’s passenger and her passenger’s offspring were not in proximity to each other.

    • Welcome to the boat. Try to mind the rum while you’re here. You’re not alone. There be many a crewman and crewwoman aboard. We take anyone who makes the crew cut. It’s a slow-moving ship, but it’s nearing the end of its voyage as we follow along our route.

      While you’re here, perhaps we can tie you to a mast and force you to listen to us sing? Not because we’re sirens and will drive you onto the rocks, no, we’re just not very good singers.

      Or mayhap you’d like to sit and watch the ships? We’re in a very active shipping lane. According to other people around here, the USS Taylor works well with just about any other vessel you could find. Even the USS Imp, which is best known for its association with the Regent until the Regent was lost to lightning in a storm on the Indian Ocean.

      If all you want to do is go over the manifest and critique the spelling errors, that’s fine too, but know that we’re all up here, partying away, sharing the booty *points to a treasure chest with the word “Bootay!” written on it* and waiting to see who next gets their spotter yanked out of the crow’s nest and their cargo gutted by a sharp-witted administrator.

      Welcome, Roths, to the comments section.

  26. “Abel. Abbatoir. Access. Ace. Aegis. Air. Alchemy. Alias. Alpha. Amaze…”

    That’s right kiddies, it’s time to play…


    • To start the ball rolling, here’s what they suggest to me:

      Abel: Presumably as in “Cain and…”. “Cain” in this context would suggest some power that fed off of ferocity, while “Abel” could be any number of things having to do with being the victim. Regeneration, to aid in shrugging off stab wounds. Danger sense, to aid in knowing how to evade an attack. Presumably breaker-esque powers.

      Abbatoir: Something to do with cutting or blood. Was Crimson a Cauldron cape or a natural trigger? Striker or brute.

      Access: Mover or shaker a la Shuffle (or the guy who can change the rooms of a building around. Maybe also a lockpicking tinker.

      Ace: Definitely Blaster-style. Maybe Gambit-style object empowerment?

      Aegis: We’ve seen this one before, as a protective measure on Sundancer’s power.

      Air: Mover – blaster, having to do with wind. That hypothetical power that Weaver gave that one kid who complained about getting bad luck.

      Alchemy: Tinker power, possibly having to do with chemistry. NEXT!

      Alias: ability to disconnect one’s name from one’s actions? Definitely sounds stranger-ish.

      Alpha: My mind immediately jumps to “Alpha male” connotations, which presumably means its a Master power. Possibly like Bitch, possibly like King, possibly something along the lines of “attention control.”

      Amaze: Blaster, possibly Leonid’s formula.

      Any other takers?

      • Abel: something about working with animals or directing them in some way, maybe even like Bitch with strengthening them. Able was a shepherd.

        Abbatoir: powers where you have to kill someone for it, like Moord Nag (however it’s spelled) or Glaistig.

        Access: Stranger powers that allow you to influence people.

        Ace: Trump stuff where you could wind up with a really good power, or a really bad power.

        Aegis: yeah, probably protective or a shield.

        Air: One-fifth of the powers necessary to summon a benevolent Scion-like creature with blue skin and green hair who claims to want to protect the planet. Alternatively, something involving gas like the Slaughterhouse Nix or Nyx or whatever, or that guy who turned into smoke from the gang of mighty whiteys.

        Alchemy: The ability to turn lead into gold, or the ability to alter metals. Possibly changing one substance to another.

        Alias: the ability to fuck up a decent spy drama by relying on Nostradamus-style gizmos and mythology. Alternately some ability, like Stranger or shapeshifting, to alter what one looks like. Could refer to something like what Vista could do where it distorts things given its use with digital imaging. Possibly some projection as well given the term’s use in computing.

        Alpha: The ability to go “ayayayayay!” while a robot. Can’t think of many powers having to do with being first.

        Amaze: something to shock and stun people, make people unable to react, or to construct a confusing layout, perhaps in some sort of cornfield as Halloween approaches.

    • Vial names aren’t for one classification of powers. They are a summarization of what is in common in all cases where that vial has been taken. A vial named “Jupiter” produces: 1) powerful blackhole esque effect that can be applied to different surfaces, 2) freezes everyone within range, I.e. prevents them from moving, 3) case 53 that is basically a core with a loose amalgam of “parts” orbiting it, can touch something and subsume it into the orbit /shoot things accurately from it, 4) switches the effects of gravity between two objects (gravity treats a stick as if it were as heavy as a tree, for example). Just made up examples, so yeah, recognize that the titles represent the core of each result, and major deviances can be found in everything else.

  27. Sooooo, is it bad that I imagined Looney Tunes sound effects while Frau Doktor was getting splattered? Pfftt, no of course not!

    That said, there are going to be a few problems now that she’s gone. First thing is that we don’t know if the Number Men and Pretendria are going to be co-operative, or if they can figure out how to use Doorman to get the hell out of dodge. Sveta loose will be a problem but they might be able to use the Number Kids to play patty-cake with them until they find out a way to keep her calm. Oh, and the giant dead inter-dimensional monster thing, that’s somehow the least of their problems.

    Is there some kind of fucked up anthro-centrism going on with Cauldron? She seemed pretty adamant that the Case 53s could not be part of their main plans.

    • There’s a lot of f**ked-up things with Cauldron. Starting with the anthrocentrism and ending somewhere along the lines of “kept an eldritch abomination in the basement for years and neglected to tell anyone because ‘It’s classified’ or ‘You didn’t ask.'”

  28. We never did actually find out if Eidolon created the Endbringers. Also, assuming this is the final confrontation (it seems that way, since this is the last arc), the Endbringers aren’t actually relevant in said confrontation, with the possible exception of the payoff of whatever the Smurf did with her puff of air.

    Why in the hell did Contessa allow all these formulas to be stored in GLASS? When you have an incredibly important liquid, you store that shit in a nigh-impervious container, not one that’s vulnerable to dropping. Unless, of course, the path to victory required all those formulas to spill and mix together on the floor?

    • No, there were 30 arcs in Wildbow’s original plan, which may or may not have changed since Drone, IIRC.

      And as for the glass vials, it’s probably a matter of mass production. Any tinker-made material would be difficult to mass-produce, especially on the kind of scale Cauldron requires (well, required).

    • My bet is that Cauldron made and released them to give Eidolon the challenge that Scion said he needed. The sacrifice of millions of civilians would be worth it, in Cauldron’s eyes, if Eidolon figured out his power and was able to fight Scion effectively, saving what’s left of humanity in the process.

      • We know this isn’t possible thanks to the Doctor Mother Interlude. She didn’t know bupkiss about the Endbringers or how they think before she used the capes Teacher provided.

    • Also, there’s an INCREDIBLY important question still unanswered, which we could totally still get an answer to: How jiggly are invincible boobs? When you see most invincible people getting hit, their flesh usually doesn’t react at all. Cheeks and noses and other soft tissue remains just as undisturbed as muscular areas. Yet every instance I can think of where we see this, it’s a male character. Superman, Juggernaut, etc. What about Alexandria? We know she can’t actually be HARMED by most physical force, but does that invlunerability result in the world’s strongest breasts being stiff and unmoving, or can they be moved by incidental forces? Does her costume have built-in support? Were there websites (before the internet was blown up) devoted to gifs of footage of her jiggling in response to impacts from Endbringers?

      Inquiring minds want to know!

      • And the award for my favorite comment goes to Asmora. You may pick up your award after the ceremonies conclude, in the alley in the back. There will be a Gecko in a trenchcoat. Beware the Grues that will eat you in the dark, unless you’re into that sort of thing.

    • Who’s to say it wasn’t Gorilla Glass or some other incredibly hard variant. Shatterbird power doesn’t care.

      Should have used a plastic bag, clearly. Or, just metal.

  29. So, thirty arcs, we are at about the end of 29.

    We know that second trigger = breaking limits set by the worms on powers. That is interesting. Wonder what limit Taylor broke.

    The dead worm’s body is a perfect cliff hanger. I gather the first time DM saved the world was when Cauldron killed the first worm. Wonder if that was with or without help from the third entity. Lots of questions there. But with Worms as a plague spreading through space you have to wonder if someone is trying to contain them.

    • Nope. As I understand it, the entities really crippled some shards, but the second triggers are not the shards healing themselves.
      When a shard bonds with a human trough a passenger the new power must have restrictions that avoid it from damaging the host. This previously programmed restrictions are quite generic and a second trigger is a refinement, it is the shard doing a fine tuning and eliminating unneeded restrictions.

      • Some of the Indian capes were presumably with the Elite when they got wiped out by Leviathan, since they were noted as working with “some of the less savory Thanda”. Likely most are minding their own portal / refugee world.

        • I think he was referring to the “bad” Thanda (or better the ones that opposed Phir Se’s Thanda), the ones that disappeared into a portal after Contessa talked with them, as soldiers in another war whot will never be seen in Bet ever again.

  30. Something else I noticed about Cauldron vs. Taylor as far as mindset is that Taylor’s staying very much true to how she’s been ever since the beginning. Thinking up new and creative uses for limited power, making use of allies, strategy, and tactics. Cauldron, though, seems to believe that you’re only ever going to get as much power as you’d ever get.

    You know, that’s kinda why they’ve been so far behind here. Sure, they’re getting traditionally strong powers in people who can predict all kinds of crazy shit or generate an army or whatever, but they bank too much on power alone being useful.

    Just think about the Slaughterhouse 9000 mess. The biggest parahuman conflict not involving Scion or the Endbringers involved Jack Slash (communication and transmission of knifeblade powers) versus Weaver (bug control).

    That was who made such a powerful group possible that Cauldron had to steal his leftovers and that’s who found a way to assemble a small army of Endbringers. Yeah, sure, the power you have is all the power you’ll ever get? Cauldron, feel free to die if you haven’t been paying attention.

  31. Just some random thoughts.

    There aren’t any healing powers. When they crop up, it’s a fluke, pure chance, an extension of another ability with a different focus.

    Then what the heck is Panacea? OK, she can change others in addition to healing them, but does that mean that her living-being-warping power is somehow perverted when it is used to heal?

    I think it is pretty obvious at this point, based off of Doctor Mother’s comments on second triggers, but I never believed second triggers were the same as the shards reproducing.

    a defensive power utilizing warped space and a power that allows one to take over a nearby parahuman’s mind, body and powers automatically on death

    The first sounds vaguely like Gray Boy, but the second is a dead ringer for Butcher.

    Doctor Mother, after surviving a vicious group of deviations that wanted to kill her, was killed by a deviation that didn’t actually want to kill her. Irony, anyone? Actually, Asmora said this even better.

    Given the title of the series, does the counterpart look like a mass of worms? I guess we will find out. That would make the formulas worm juice.

    Still wondering why the heck the Simurgh parted Scion’s hair with the air gun. En has an interesting idea on this, but the better way to deliver nanites is in massive quantities, not in doses so small they are not visibly different from air. Although … is the link to Scion’s regenerative reserve two way? If it is, then Simurgh may be trying to infect Scion’s reserve, which might be the only way to kill him. The only other time we have seen similar tubes is cloning chambers, but those were filled with nutrients, not air.

    Interesting theory farmerbob1. Technically, Doctor Mother did get her close encounter with the contents of the vial she had chosen, just a bit differently than she had planned. But I am still betting on dead – no-one but Weld (or an equivalent invulnerable) could survive Sveta’s full intentions for more than a second. Her tendrils break bone immediately so it only takes one tendril through the skull to whip brains into a useless mush.

    And now for the completely off-the-wall thought: Taylor tells Scion to make her into another worm so that Taylor can become Scion’s mate.

    • The glass tube in the Simurgh’s air gun wasn’t a part of the guns mechanism, she was hiding it in there. The point of the air gun was to distract Scion. The glass tube is for something else.

    • Yes, Panacea’s healing power is not ‘healing’ so much as ‘complete biological control and inherent understanding of biology’. Much like Bonesaw’s biological tinkering, it can be used to fix or to warp. I wouldn’t call it ‘perverting’ it when it’s used to heal, but it’s not completely accurate to call it a ‘healing power’ either.

      Lizardtail is an actual Cauldron-source healing power (we never saw him do anything else, did we?), and so might be more interesting than Panacea. I wonder what kind of power that elixir is normally associated with. Something to do with area effects, I expect.

      • Lizardtail’s power is probably some sort of temporal or dimensional manipulation that just happens to close/heal/remove wounds rather than anything like a devoted healing power, because apparently shards don’t do healing powers.

    • Actually both Panacea and Bonesaw’s both explicitly have biological-manipulation powers that can also be used to heal. Now Lizardtail is interesting since his only power seems to be wide-area regeneration.

        • Hmm, the dead entity MAY change something but everybody still got the vision when Clubs second-triggered fighting Scion.

          And one of Dr Mother’s reason to not take the vial was that all the others would be rendered comatose.

  32. It looks like the resident troll Axel is back at it. He’s creating alt accounts on TV Tropes and other forums to generate reviews. I have no idea why he has worked up such a vendetta here.

      • You’re probably right, but at the same time, I have trouble wrapping my mind around why he is doing this. That’s what vexes me.

          • No, I don’t know him, and as much as I dislike the guy’s posts, I’m not about to post any personal information on him. About the only thing I’ll reveal is this: hilariously bad neckbeard.

            • Don’t worry, I wasn’t asking you to reveal personal info.

              As for the neckbeard the only guy that comes to mind is Alan Moore. But while it would make SOME sense, I don’t think thats it.

              • No, Alan Moore’s beard is a sapient entity all on its own. I dare not criticize it for fear it may actually come after me. That said, I do not fear that the scruff on this guy’s thick neck will be coming after me. It looks to be firmly glued into place.

    • I don’t think they are all sockpuppets. I think it’s more that my readership has increased a great deal in a short period of time, 31,000 views/5k unique views yesterday) and a lot of these readers are coming from the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality community. I won’t say that the people in that community are bad people – they most definitely aren’t -, but it’s a community built around picking one popular story to pieces and figuring out a better way to do things in that story. On a level, I suspect it’s a community where finding possible flaws in a work (and being willing/able to argue your point) is more meaningful than being accurate in identifying those flaws.

      Ergo, a lot of new people going through Worm’s comments, and among them are a few people like RMCD or Daniel or whoever else that go through the comments with what appears to be atrocious reading comprehension. Too busy looking for stuff that’s wrong to actually see where the answers are provided, or jumping to conclusions. They’re finding plot holes that were filled from the get go and barreling through, arguing with everyone that responds to them. And with any influx of new readers, you also get the people who aren’t the intended audience, but are entitled enough/shortsighted enough to miss that fact, expecting the story to cater to them/their tastes explicitly, and deeming it a failure when it doesn’t get that far.

      Which isn’t to say Worm’s perfect. It’s not. I wrote it, in the end, to be the kind of story I’d want to read. I’m validated to see that there’s this many people who have similar tastes. But it’s first draft stuff and it’s niche-ish. Some people won’t like it. That’s fine.

      Here’s the thing. I’m going to start deleting comments that reference the more problematic guys. I’ve been cleaning up comments where they go overboard, being overlyvulgar or vitriolic in their criticism, or where arguments aren’t going anywhere and it’s causing more negativity than good for the community. Comments from loyal readers get the same treatment.

      If you want to combat the ‘trolls’ (and I don’t think they are trolls – or only one of them are) then support worm. Post reviews if you haven’t already (TV tropes, webfictionguide), rate the story (webfictionguide), vote (Topwebfiction), and don’t respond to their reviews (it brings it to the top of the page in TV tropes) unless it’s to mark it as unhelpful, provided you view it that way. I don’t want to push you guys to give any particular rating or review, except the one you feel is accurate.

      Some people won’t like the story. Some people won’t like the story to unreasonable, irrational degrees. That’s fine. I think it’s a decent-ish story, and I know that there’s more people who like the story, and more people who like it to unreasonable, irrational degrees. So long as you guys speak up and make your voices heard, Worm will get the visible reviews it deserves, and the ratings will average out to put it in a decent spot.

      I’d appreciate it if you didn’t pay attention or give mention to any of these individuals, unless it’s by email or such to let me know of something particularly problematic. If any of them are trolling, then it’s only validating them. It’s negative, affecting the mood of the comment section, and I’m going to start deleting comments for that reason (which takes time and energy I’d rather devote to writing).

      I’ll probably post something on the subject after tomorrow’s chapter.

      • Wildbow, if I may, while I have no doubt that your readers are becoming more numerous and that this means that criticisms will, if only because of statistics, also increase, there are certain posts that are so similar up to the exact wording and of so coincidental timing, that they can’t really be anything else but sock-puppets. Daniel, who at least, from what i’ve seen, tends to be polite in his criticisms is almost certainly not a sock-puppet, kikallin (who only appeared to post about “Triumph’s rape”), well…

          • That’s hilarious. Per your advice, I won’t inadvertently bump the reviews he has been posting on TV tropes, but I would like to point out that the last exchange I had with him had him vehemently denying using alts as sock puppets, saying I had no proof. Thanks for validating what we all already knew, but could not conclusively prove. Both of his reviews are flagged for moderation, but I don’t know how long it will take for TV Tropes to deal with them.

              • …are you freaking kidding me? I cannot facepalm hard enough at that. That’s the laziest effort at creating a sockpuppet ever. I mean, he could have taken 5 minutes to set up a throwaway email at least, but he couldn’t even be bothered with that. Does this guy have any idea how the internet even works? But then again, he does seem to have some sort of obsession with that username everywhere he posts.

              • Wait, he din’t change his email? Hahhaha. I’m one of the less savvy people around internet-wise and even I know not to make that blunder.

    • I’m not touching you-know-who with a ten foot pole anymore, but I think the mindset behind this sort of thing is a knee-jerk reaction against a perceived attack against the genre. You see this every so often with an “edgy” or or critical superhero comic like the Boys or half of Mark Millars work or such. If something breaks the moral “rules” or is negative about superheroes some people will probably rush in to act outrage over that.

      Not to say that there aren’t good reasons to not like the Boys or Millar (ESPECIALLY), but some people just get huffy when something doesn’t treat the superhero genre the way they think it should be treated. Which annoys me because let’s face it, superheroes as a concept are problematic as fuck, and I’m grateful to WIldbow for embracing that fact.

  33. I have a question: Which is more fatal to a character in Worm: having an interlude written from their PoV, or having Krustacean draw them? If you look at the list of interludes in the table of contents, you’ll notice that the vast majority of the list are about characters who met gruesome ends.

      • coming soon, scion interlude 2 the drawn by Krustacean version and touted to be played in alive action film by Eddy Murpy… that should end the bugger…

  34. {sigh}
    I finally decide to not give My Worm reading a sabbatical and ending up so busy in real life that I miss an entire week worth of Worm episodes(and I blazed through the first 26 arcs of Worm in under 6days!).I even failed to participate in my own conversation lines(even the ones that I started.) How typical!

    BTW, wasn’t this Siberian Projection supposed to be a male with stripes on his body?

      • Reread Interlude 26b. Jack must have either switched Siberian after leaving Ellisburg or that particular Manton is capable of both projecting both the male and the female Siberian(not at he same time, obviously)

        • Took a peek at Interlude 26b, the Siberian in that chapter is mentioned as female. The one Jack left Ellisburg is male. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if that Manton can switch between male and female Siberians.

  35. random thought. Eidolon from the greek means (Phantom, Spirit) and Glastig Uaine now has his spirit or phantom. That worked out nicely.

    Other possible meaning for that name is that he doesnt really have a personality outside of his powers and so he’s similar to an extremely powerful spirit.

    • Also meant to add that word in greek also implies deception or trickery which is interesting in regard to eidolon being “dead”

  36. ” I’m telling you that if you’d asked, at any point along the way, I’d probably have told you I’d rather be dead. I’d rather be dead than live this new life you gave me”

    Then you really should just ask to be killed or kill yourself if you can.
    The good Doctor DID give you a choice. One where you had none before. Before you were doomed to die, now you can choose to die or to live as a monster.

    I hope someone mentions this argument at some point, it’s obvious enough.

    • She can’t kill herself, or she would have, it’s obvious enough. Her body would react and destroy external threats, even ones she’s trying to leverage against herself.

  37. I meant to say “please delete my long winded post about Taylor’s second trigger” not my much much earlier post.Sorry for all that.

  38. Taylor really likes pointing out how Bastard’s transformation is my fluid and symmetrical than Bitch’s other dogs. Every single time.
    Also, tags are missing.

  39. Hi! Since this is my first comment, I should say that I’m just working my way through the whole story now, having discovered Worm when HPTMOR linked it awhile back. Very much enjoying the story; excellent work.

    I don’t know how much you’re interested in editorial suggestions, but for what its worth, I had trouble following the transition to talking about second triggers at the end of this chapter, at this line:

    ‘”You can’t have a second trigger because you already had one,” he said.’

    I had no idea why he was bringing them up. Then I went back and re-read the previous few bits and remembered the EM readers. So I’m guessing that he actually brings this up in response to something he reads on the device? A quick transition – something like “Number Man finished waving the EM reader around my head and said ‘Actually Weaver,…” would have made it more clear.

    But again: minor quibble; great story.

  40. Was Cauldron cloning? Another contingency plan?
    …Why wasn’t Cauldron cloning people?

    The Siberian had saved them with her ability to grant her own invulnerability effect.
    Even the Manton clone? Who can’t be given invulnerability?

    The Doctor glanced her way. “And you are?” Imp sighed.
    Man, for such an awesome power, it sure must be annoying.

    And since I’m here…is it odd that I’ve always pictured The Number Man as being ambiguously brown?
    (Reference: )

  41. Okay so is it bad that I have a bit of a sentimental attachment to that knife? It’s a physical symbol of the advances in communication and attachment that Colin and Taylor have both made both apart and together. I feel like she shouldn’t lose the knife because it’s like losing a part of the humanity that is still left in this craptastic situation. I’m glad she managed to get it back. And yes I know the knife isn’t intended to mean any of that but that’s how it feels to me.

    Also I find it rather funny how the Number Man is rather annoyed that his clones are sadistic assholes.

    “Not me, surely. I sent others.” God I can’t believe this woman is on humanities side. There is simply being unfeeling and then there is lacking any capacity for empathy whatsoever. Regent fits the former mostly while this woman is a glaring example of why humanity sucks so much. I definitely see why she never triggered. The dumb bitch has no concept of the despair and terror needed to naturally trigger.

    Huh so no natural native healing powers; all healing is just a secondary required power made into the primary effect due to its usefulness. Interesting. Makes sense I guess, healing isn’t really all that useful for conflict purposes besides Panacea’s potential offensive “healing”.

    The Balance formula makes much more sense now. Sweet. It’s also very interesting to find that second triggers are basically networking assists between the shards who then fine tune their settings. So Taylor has canonically second triggered either in the locker or the hospital. That is both awesome and sucky. Lends a lot more credence to my earlier guess that Aiden was what Taylor would be without a second trigger; able to either experience or move bugs but not both at once.

    It is also entertaining to see Imp descending back into less than stellar vocab when she gets really upset.

    Doc finally got what she deserved. About time. I’m amazed that Sveta survived her brief conflict. Good for her? I mean yeah I like her but the poor girl really doesn’t have all that much of a life to be perfectly honest. And Taylor going up against Scion with a disintegration knife…um…um…I’m trying to decide whether this counts as a last ditch attempt at a third trigger, a suicidal depression fueled last stand, an attempt to distract him from her friends or some combination of all of the above. Either way…um…

    Sigh, oh Cauldron. Locking up dead giant Multi Dimensional Entities really doesn’t ever end well. Of course the partner is going to come looking for her at some point. Sigh.

  42. Cauldron, you are the worst at tactical intelligence.
    Locking up one of the entities and using it to make powers? Fucked up, maybe, but a good idea for protecting humanity.
    Not telling anyone you did that, when the other entity turns on you? Moronic, and hardly justifiable. Sharing that secret isn’t going to make you any more enemies than you already have. Keeping it is going to lead to… this happening.

  43. Ok,if Contessa’s planis not to either manipulate Cauldron,or,in a way,requiring all that shit,then they might have been better without her power.

  44. Hmm. Didn’t Shatterbird say something about “the men who bought my power” in Hookwolf’s interlude? I know the Nine are hardly trustworthy, but if she’s a Cauldron cape, then her powers are from the dead entity, not from Scion.
    So then… maybe he’s approximating the other entity’s trick instead of reusing it? And that’s why his version is accompanied by light instead of sound?

    In any case, the dawning horror/awe upon realizing that the good guys just got screwed over by a move from almost twenty arcs ago was fantastic. Excellent work.

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