Venom 29.8

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The stairwell was buried under chunks of concrete and steel large and heavy enough to flatten trucks, but the ceiling was high, and the gap in it gave me a view of the chamber beyond, lit by the red emergency lights.  My view of Scion was obstructed by the rubble on the stairs, but I saw the golden glow that he cast off.

He was so small, so far away.

The partner, so massive.

The room looked like an aircraft hangar.  My bugs reached out, and I could only sense the three walls closest to me.  Vast.

The partner filled the space, beautiful in a way I struggled to put words to.  It was like a volcano mid-eruption, stone mingled with the orange-red magma, spray or smoke reaching incredible heights… it was breathtaking in the sheer elemental nature of it, fascinating, beautiful, and so incomprehensible I couldn’t have understood it with decades of study.

But where the volcano was driven by seismic movements, I was pretty sure, and the storm by wind, this was driven by something else.  Just as basic, on a level.

An idea, half-formed, captured in a moment.

It conjured up images an artist’s sketchpad, putting body parts on the page, trying variations.  There, in the sliver of the chamber I could make out, there was flesh, a soft gray, lit by the red emergency lighting.  It might have been menacing, but the lines had a softness to them, and every part was positioned in an almost gentle manner.  The individual parts were androgynous, as a rule, but they veered into the slightly masculine, the slightly feminine, even alien, territories.

Always, there was something to take the threat out of it.  One long-fingered hand, upturned, pinky and ring fingers curled slightly, as if reaching down to offer aid.  Another hand, more childish, the underside and palm white, before fading into the gray colors the other parts shared, vulnerable like a dog with its throat or belly exposed.  Another still, with water running down it, streams of the liquid running between and down fingers, more a piece of art than a limb intended for use.  There were countless more I couldn’t see, couldn’t spare the bugs to study them.

I could look at any one piece, and I could see the beauty in it.  Any number of these could have been blended together, mixed and matched to create a human being.  Not overtly male or female, but no doubt kind in appearance.

Then, at the same time, there was the bigger picture, only a glimpse of it in the far end of the staircase, through the part of the ceiling that had collapsed in that massive room… this jungle of flesh, like parts of a doll waiting to be assembled.  Artificial, everything in the wrong scale.  There was a pattern to it, like there was a pattern to the movement of the waves in the ocean storm, but I didn’t have access to the underlying logic.  I could only get a general sense of which direction the wind had been blowing.

Here and there, flesh connected to flesh.  In other places, the flesh broke down into core elements, expanses of skin, veins, muscle and bone, all with hints of the same art of experimentation the larger pieces had.  Where flesh didn’t connect to other pieces, it broke down further into other things, into fractals and patterns, then into things or spaces I couldn’t make out, like it had turned around a corner that didn’t exist.

Sveta released of my forearm, and the resulting pain hauled me out of an awestruck daze.

Her tendrils found targets with a speed my eyes couldn’t follow, and she wrapped herself around the table that had held the vials.

It took a moment before every tendril was set in place.  When she was done, she let her head sink down until her face was pressed against the tabletop, her eyes shut.

Blood ran down my mangled arm, soaking into the fabric of my costume and then oozing out slowly at points where the skin was tightest against the surface.  Normally, it might have been my knuckles, my forearm.  Here, it was the parts that hadn’t been wrapped by the tendril, bulging out.

At the very least, the armor on my costume and the nature of the fabric had kept the tendrils from simply slicing through the flesh like razor wire.  The armor was mangled, but it had saved me a severed artery.

I felt the limb throb, as if it were responding to the fact that I was paying attention to it.  It made for an eerie sensation, where the dull sensation felt so out of tune with the degree of injury, yet so great, compared to the little that remained of the limb.

Shit,” I said.

“Don’t,” Sveta said.  “Don’t move, don’t talk.”

I went still, even as the dull throb in my arm got worse.  I was losing blood, though not as much as I thought I should be.

Better than one of those things going around my neck.

“Don’t move, don’t talk.  You’re not there,” she murmured, barely audible.

My eyes moved to the stairwell and the scene below.  My teammates were there.  Lung and Canary were as well.

“The only ones here are me and my thoughts,” Sveta said.  Her eyes were shut.  “I am in control of my mind and my feelings, and I am focused.  I am confident, and I am building towards a better future for myself.  Every success is a component in building that up, a brick on a building in construction, but my mistakes do not tear it down.”

The stand she was wrapped around creaked.

“My mistakes do not tear it down.  They are a part of me, but they are not the most important part of me.”

Hurry, I thought.

Uncharitable, maybe, but I couldn’t afford to sit back and bleed to death while she worked through this.  I understood that she had her problems, that control was hard to come by.

I got that, but my friends could die down there, if the collapse hadn’t killed them already.

Sveta let go of the table.  Her tendrils extended into the air around her, like a sea anemone’s fronds.  Here and there, they touched things and snapped into place with a destructive power: the refrigerator that had held the Balance sample, a shelving unit, a countertop with drawers in front..

They caught on the bugs in the area, and they extinguished my swarm with an almost ruthless efficiency.  Too many tendrils for my bugs to navigate between them, the movements too unpredictable as they drifted in the air, responding to air currents.  The tendrils were severing steel handles on the drawers, a bug’s flesh was nothing.

My flesh was nothing.  The longest of them came dangerously close to making contact with me.

“I’m going to leave,” she said.  From the tone and the volume, she was talking to herself, trying to convince herself to move.

To be a bystander in your own body, I thought.

I felt a more serious pain building in my arm.  Something more representative of the damage that had been done to it.

“I’m going where there aren’t any people,” Sveta said, again.

Go, I thought.

Tendrils found the ragged edges where the ceiling above the stairwell had cracked.  Sveta launched herself into the stairwell as though she were a living slingshot.  Tendrils splayed out in every direction to stop her forward momentum, arresting her nearly as fast as she’d moved.  Then she reached out again, and was gone into the morass of body parts below, with its dim red lighting.

She was gone.

Yet I couldn’t bring myself to move.

The pain in my arm had me rattled.  It was intense, yet disconnected in a way.  An alarm system that wailed with lights flashing, but it was somewhere off to one side, in another room somewhere.

I didn’t want to be in a metaphorical room with that pain.  The second my blood started pounding, the moment I set my foot down to run and an impact reverberated through my body, this sharp, violent pain would become something else entirely.

Instead, I activated my flight pack.  To get myself moving, I pushed off the ground, floating into the stairwell.

When I reached the first chunk of rubble, I set one foot on it and drove myself forward, with as smooth and gentle a motion as I could manage.  The flight pack managed a decent speed, but any help was a good thing.

Another chunk of rubble, another kick forward.

More of the room below came into view.  The staircase was as long as it was because the impossibly large room needed a high ceiling.  Now I was getting the full view, rather than a sliver of it all, coupled with the input from my bugs.  I could see just how much of the partner’s flesh filled the space, flooding whole areas, interlocking or simply arranged side by side.  Nearly three stories high, and many of the parts reached from floor to ceiling.

I pushed my swarm through the space, and I could feel a kind of disorientation.  Something I’d experienced before, in mild doses.  I directed my bugs from points A to B, except they only made it partway, or they moved too far, or they arrived at a slightly different location.


And it wasn’t the only thing that caught my attention, as I increased my speed, descending towards Scion and the others.  There was a creaking noise.  The groan of a structure settling, of tired floorboards and hinges in dire need of oiling.

It didn’t stop.  I couldn’t tell with my ears, but my swarm had a range of hearing that extended beyond the human spectrum.  Through that distorted sense, I could tell that there was a sound that was gradually getting worse.  A screeching, tearing noise.

At my command, bugs moved away from the second entity, away from Scion and the rubble, and they headed up.

The combination of fine sensory input and the hundreds of bugs told me the tremors were worse in specific spots, the cracks deeper in spots.

It formed a map of sorts.  Where the cracks were, the tremors and creaks, areas stood out as danger zones.

I passed the patch of blood and mangled flesh where the doctor had fallen.  Some of the tendrils had crushed their way through bone, severing the skull in half.  Others had found their way into the cracks between joints, sawing through connective tissues, muscle and skin to completely detach the limbs.  If any part of her had still been alive, the rubble had crushed it when it had fallen.

I accelerated my forward momentum with another gentle kick.

Chunks of the ceiling dropped.  I didn’t slow, only using the senses the bugs offered along with the flight pack to move out of the way well before they could reach me.

As I’d done with the rubble, I kicked off a falling section of the ceiling, to better change direction and propel myself forward.

I found the others.  Golem was almost invisible as he created hands of concrete to shield himself, Cuff and Imp.  I’d nearly mistaken his hands for one of the false ones.  The only difference was that his hands moved, for a little while.

Rachel had an unconscious Canary slung over her lap.  Lung had foregone riding Bastard to run on his own, loping forward on all fours, climbing more than he ran.  It was too hard to move through this labyrinth, where the pale gray flesh occupied as much space as it left untouched.  Easier for Lung to lunge forward, grab an empty eye socket, then leap forward onto an outstretched arm.  The dogs found solid surfaces to leap onto and away from.

The Number Man, Alexandria, the Harbingers, the wounded and the captured case fifty-threes were in another group.  He’d found a spot he deemed safe from the collapse, beneath an arch of tissue.

The materials that were falling were all substantial, pieces of granite bigger than a truck, concrete shelves, panes of solid steel torn at the edges where stress had brought them free.  The impacts were heavy enough I could feel the shockwaves in the air.  It made my arm move, which renewed the pain, reminded me of the blood loss and what was very possibly catastrophic damage.

I felt an edge of panic.  Not a familiar feeling.  It wasn’t being hurt that was the problem, but the amount of attention it was occupying.  I needed to focus, to pay attention to any number of things, and yet my arm kept screaming for me to fix it.

Why had I touched her?  I hadn’t been planning for her to save me.  Hadn’t even been aware she could.

A distance away, a chunk of concrete fell atop Scion.  He barely reacted to the blow itself, but he lashed out.  A controlled blast, very carefully avoiding contact with his alter ego, simultaneously obliterating much of the offending material.  I could sense the others splitting further apart as the blast brought more of the architecture down around them.

Scion rose into the air, floating deeper into the room.  As he’d done with the vials, he touched the flesh beside him, almost tender.

I drew closer to the others, carefully navigating between the fractal webs that the tissues seemed to emerge from.  My bugs helped pave the way, checking where the routes were best.  Again, the bugs’ trajectories seemed off.  A few flew into the fractal spaces, and subsequently dropped off my power’s radar.

I was caught off guard when my path veered unexpectedly.  It had been safe for my swarm, but it led me off course, the entire room seeming to swing as the bugs on the ceiling and floor moved and I seemed to stay still.  I found myself on course for a fractal ‘hedge’ that bordered the top edge of a large eye.

I was already readjusting, carefully guiding myself towards safer open space.  If I hadn’t had the benefit of my swarm, if my reflexes had been slower, I might have collided with it.

I wasn’t entirely sure what might have happened if I had, but something that put my bugs well beyond my reach couldn’t have been good.

The near-miss was making my heart pound.  It wasn’t something I would have paid attention to, normally, but now it was impacting the damage to my arm.  My entire body was starting to ache, as though the nerves in and around the injury site itself couldn’t host it all.

I couldn’t calm down, so keeping my actions low-key and maintaining a low heart rate wasn’t helping as much.  I increased my pace a little, using a bit more force as I propelled myself forward.

Bastard barreled through a shelf of skin, muscle and a rigid, rubbery material that might have been cartilage.

Soft, breakable, I thought, as I changed direction, following, moving lower to the ground.

I might have said the idea dawned on me, but dawn implied light, the rising of the sun, the start of a new day.  This was something else.  The notion… descended on me, that I was seeing what Tattletale had talked about.

She’d called it the well.  Scion was only the tip of the iceberg, any damage to him drawing from the well to fix his physical body.

This was it.  The other entity, it had never established the separate self, independent of the well.  Something had gone wrong.

I thought about what Cauldron had said, about having already saved the world.

They fought this thing before and they beat it.

The collapse was dwindling, but it was dust and finer rocks that were falling, now, billowing through the space.  Just as scary, on a level, and it was hurting visibility.

Rachel, Lung and the canines tore through a barrier I’d thought they would take the time to circle around.  My course had been plotted to put myself in their way, and now I threatened to fall behind.

Instead, I dropped down, taking a steeper course.

No, they were moving too fast.  I was going to land on top of Lung if I maintained the course, instead of landing in front of them.  And that was if I didn’t slow down before hitting the ground.

I maintained the course.  I didn’t slow down.

Instead, I tried to shout out a heads up.  He has enhanced hearing.


My voice wasn’t as loud as I’d hoped, and I was drowned out by another shower of dust and debris.

The only reason I didn’t hit him hard enough to break one of our necks was that he stopped to grab two fingers in the midst of our surroundings, tensing to throw himself forward.

I landed two feet in front of him, twisting myself around to avoid letting my arm hit the ground directly.  The vibration shuddered through my entire body and increased the pain a hundredfold anyways.

I was left barely able to breathe, writhing on the ground, my arm crushed between my thighs and my stomach, because squeezing it and applying pressure like I was proved a fraction less painful than letting it move on its own.

And Lung loomed over me.

“Ah-”  I managed, before I found myself huffing out the remainder of my breath.

“I have no reason to help you,” Lung growled the words, nearly inaudible with the sounds in the distance.  His voice was altered with his transformation, slurred.

I couldn’t muster a response, slurred, audible or otherwise.

“I think you have lost a lot of blood.  You will slip into a state of shock, Skitter.  Your body will betray you.  You will piss and shit yourself.  Your emotions will escape your control and you will experience a kind of terror that you might think is not possible.”

I grit my teeth.  I knew Rachel had stopped nearby, but Huntress was acting agitated, and Rachel couldn’t get control.  A part of me wanted to draw the connections, interpret why Huntress was pacing like she was, and I found it harder than it should be.

“I dislike the idea of being a follower, little Skitter,” Lung rumbled.  “I maintain a territory, always.  I bring my enemies low, and I am feared and respected, always.  I enjoy the things I enjoy, drinking, food, fucking women.  Never being fully out of control.  You understand?”

This is my fate, I thought, a little deliriously.  I die getting monologued to by a supervillain.

“A man told me that in Go, it is deemed more worthy, more honorable, more respectable, if you can accept the fight as lost and surrender.  If you are right, if it is at the right moment.  I came with you because I knew I would not beat him in another fight.  Here, there is something I can do.  But I do not follow you, I do not give up that control.  I would say partners, but I would be lying.”

I did what I could to meet his eyes.  I still had Defiant’s knife in my hand.  I deactivated the blur and let it fall.  Then I reached over to my elbow and used all of my strength to raise my injured arm.

It flopped like a spaghetti noodle, the bones simply not there, pulverized.

Lung took my arm in one claw, gripping it hard.  My back arched, my chest expanding as I drew in a ragged breath.  I held in the scream that I so badly wanted to utter.

“I fight him because it is my nature.  He would sunder me without thinking.  He humiliates me, destroys any place I would call territory, and would deny me the things I enjoy.  Good food, some drink, fucking.  I will not bow, understand?  I will not ever lose.”

My vision was swimming.  I wasn’t even sure if I was maintaining eye contact, now.

He squeezed a little more.  I refused to scream, but I had to utter something.  I settled for a low groan, an extended grunt, strangled.

“You cannot hold yourself straight.  You are weak enough that to be alongside you would bring me lower than I stand now.  You understand?”

Like Grey Boy, turning on Jack because Jack failed and showed a degree of weakness.

“Skitter,” Rachel’s voice sounded.  “Problem?”

She’d come.  She wasn’t positioned to see my hand.

“Go,” Lung growled.  “Tell her you need help.”

I drew an ‘x’ in Rachel’s way, with the handful of bugs I had on hand, barring her path.

“You came to me.  None of the others.  Not Bitch, not your heroes, not even the men and women from Cauldron.  You want my assistance.  Ask me for it, show me your weakness.”

Cauterize the limb, I thought.  It wouldn’t fix anything, but there was no way to stem the blood loss from the damage that extended across the limb.  Any tourniquet capable of cutting off the blood flow would make the limb fall off anyways, and then I’d still have blood loss.

At best, if I were to ask him, he’d be gone.  The not-partnership would be over the second I admitted my weakness.  At worst, he’d kill me.

I didn’t have enough wind to say much.

I’ll kill you,” I gasped out the words.

He didn’t react, except to squeeze the arm harder.  Again, my back arched.  I writhed, gritting my teeth.

“With a trick?  Deception?  By asking for help?”

I shook my head.

He reached down and picked up the disintegration knife.  “With this?”

I shook my head again, and immediately regretted not having spoken instead.  My vision swam.  I had to fight to keep my eyes on his.

He didn’t follow up with another question.

Come on, I thought.  Can’t hold eye contact.

“Mm,” he grunted.

“Burn it,” I said.  “If you’re angry…”

I had to stop to get my breath.

“Angry?” he asked.

“Me beating you… twice… then enjoy burning me… but fuck… fucking burn it off.”

There was a long pause.

He lit his hand on fire.  My mangled arm went up in flames.

I broke eye contact.  I might have screamed.  I wasn’t sure.

Only a minute, judging by the way things had moved.  Darkness had swept over my vision, I’d blacked out for a moment.

Arm gone, stump burned black.  I was draped on Huntress’ back, behind Rachel.  Canary was slumped over in front of her.

My entire body hurt in a steady, consistent way that suggested it wasn’t injury, but the aftermath of the other trauma.  It was very possible my body was flooded with whatever neurotransmitters told it I was in pain.

I wasn’t up to fighting my way to an upright position.  It might even be dangerous.

I’d started with a good number of bugs, but they’d been whittled down.  I had only a few thousand, now.

The ceiling had stopped falling down on us, at least for the moment, but the groaning and creaking continued.

It’s the creature in here.  Scion’s counterpart.  He’s pushing against the walls of the structure.  It might even be why the walls distorted and why the door wouldn’t open.

Huntress slowed, then came to a stop.  Bastard nearly sliced my face open with one of the spikes on his shoulder as he approached and stopped at Rachel and Huntress’ left.

Rachel was looking around.

“They ran,” Lung said.  “There is nothing stopping them from retreating the way we came.  Scion is occupied.”

“Stairwell collapsed,” Rachel said.

“I am strong, I could fight through it.  The dogs are strong as well.  Or we climb through a hole in the ceiling.  There is nothing left here.”

I began reorganizing my bugs.  Less need to keep them on the ceiling.  And I needed to find Scion, find the others and keep some here to give myself a stronger voice.

No,” I said, using the swarm to speak.  I could barely hear myself.

Lung turned his head.  Rachel did too.

Good hearing.

“You’re awake,” Rachel said.  “Fucking tell me, did he-“

He did good,” I said.

She fell silent.

The others are here, and you don’t need to climb through the hole in the ceiling.  You can climb over the rubble in the stairwell and still stand upright.

“Mm,” Lung made a noncommittal grunt.

I continued speaking with the swarm, drawing an arrow in front of Rachel.  “The others.”

She whistled, goading Huntress forward.  Bastard and Lung followed.

Hard to manage the swarm, given the number of intervening obstacles.  There was so much here.  All an extension of the new entity.

This is the well.  This is what Scion looks like, when we see beyond the image on the surface.  This is the sheer amount of flesh we need to destroy, when we do manage to get past his defenses.

But if that was the case, where was this entity’s other body?

We reunited with the others.

“Ah, here we go,” the Number Man said.  He’d been joined by Golem’s group, and they remained under the shelter.

“Holy shit,” Golem said.  “Weaver.  Your hand.”

He said it like I wasn’t aware.

But I didn’t respond.  My focus was on the swarm.

They’d found Scion.

He was floating opposite another figure.  A sexless human shape, with hair that was disproportionately long for its body, hanging beneath the point where one foot dangled in the air.  The figure was incomplete, fractals extending from portions of its back, of arms and one leg.

Two things hit me at the same time.

One of those things was that the odd, pattern-like kaleidoscopes of flesh and whatever else weren’t terminus points, but points where the limbs passed into another dimension.

The well was far deeper than I’d thought.  There was so much more to the entities than we were seeing here.

The other thought was that this was the other body.  It was the second entity’s body, the part he would have shown us.

Scion’s counterpart?” I asked.  “It was putting together a human body.”

“We saw it,” Golem said.  “Before the Number Man signaled us.”

Rachel helped me down.  Alexandria stepped forward to give me a hand.  Together, they eased me down.

The creaking increased, a sudden shift.  Dust showered down from every crack in the complex.

“I feel like a traitor for saying it,” Imp said, “But looking at this, hearing all we’ve heard, I’m sorta starting to agree with the Doctor.  Abstract solutions are looking a hell of a lot better.”

We need to leave,” I said, still using the swarm.

“All this trouble to get here,” Imp said.  “And then we go?  Madness!”

No,” I responded.

“I was joking.”

No.  We came for answers.  This is it.  We had answers.  Now we just needed to get in a position where we could use them.  Get them to Tattletale, to other thinkers.

“And Scion?”

Scion’s occupied,” I said.

Scion was cupping the face of his counterpart.  The figure, no doubt grey skinned as the body parts that made up this area, was slack jawed.

He looked for futures where he’d find his counterpart, I thought.  This was one of them… just not what he wanted or expected.  Probably not even something he thought was possible.

“…Not so easy to leave,” the Number Man was saying.  “The structure has shifted, rotated.  It’s designed to, corkscrewing down over time and with any degree of force or movement.  It ensures the integrity of the panic room function, and it would have confused some of the first powerful non-Cauldron teleporters we were aware of.  The route you used to enter no longer leads into whatever corridor or entry point you used to break through.  We’d have to dig anew.  Even with the Siberian, it’s time consuming.”

“This seems less than wise,” Lung growled.  “Burying yourself.”

“Frankly,” the Number Man said, “We expected that if we had to lock ourselves in down here, we wouldn’t need to leave.”

“We should still go,” Golem said.  “And we should take something.  Chevalier made a weapon out of Behemoth and the Simurgh’s parts.  Maybe we can do something with this?”

“It’s human flesh,” the Number Man said.  “Or close enough to be of little difference.  There are powers contained within select areas, like threads of ore in a rock, and naturally there are some structural changes that set it apart from humans.  The thing was experimenting before settling on a body for itself.”

“You don’t have a name for it?” Cuff asked.

“I was only recently made aware it existed,” the Number Man said.  “The Doctor played things close to the vest.  I’d be open to suggestions.”

“Fuckster,” Imp offered.

“It’s not even a living thing anymore,” Golem said.  “It’s more like a place, a garden or something.”

“Amusing you say that,” the Number Man said.  “We had a discussion with Lisette, the woman who proposed she could control him, and she said that the original name was Zion.  He named himself after a place as well.  We have theories on why-”

Lung growled, interrupting.  “I don’t-”

Scion moved, abrupt.

Silence,” I ordered, cutting Lung off in turn.

Scion’s hand glowed as he reached down to his counterpart’s neck.

He carved through his counterpart’s flesh, severing the head.

He’s killing it.

“It’s already dead,” the Number Man said.

He’s killing it deader,” I said.

“Granted,” the Number Man said.  He sighed.  “There’s nothing left in it.  She took powers it had probably planned to give to others, distilled them.  Then she dug in other places, and she took powers it needed to subsist.  It died and went still.”

“What the hell did she do before that?” Imp asked.  “Have tea parties with it?”

Scion gripped the corpse, then rose into the air.

Everything moved in response.  The entire room, shifting.  Every part dragging towards one central point.  Flesh disappeared into the patterns that hung in the air, patterns shifted, and parts emerged from others.  Pulled into invisible mouse holes and portals, pulled out of others.

Fuck,” the Number Man said.

I shifted position a little, reaching out to grab the healthy flesh closest to the burned stump, squeezing, as if I could make it hurt less.

“Fuck?” Imp asked.

“The structure isn’t going to hold.  Even with the reinforcements she put in… no.”

“So?” Rachel asked.

“When the walls break,” the Number Man said, “one million, seven hundred and thirty thousand tonnes of steel are going to drop on our heads.”

“Can we go out the sides?”  Golem suggested.

“Protected by the same water that’s below us and to the sides, for the corkscrew operation.  Slow going at best, we get obliterated by pressurized water.”

I stared down at the ground.  My burn hurt so much I felt nauseous.  I also felt lightheaded.  Probably a side effect of blood loss.

The Siberian,” I said.  “Protection effect.”

“Can only protect a handful of us, less if you intend to move after things collapse.  Two hands, perhaps two feet, one behind.”

Only five.

Five wasn’t enough.

Scion had his hand raised over his head, the other entity held above, with masses of its flesh trailing beneath them.  My bugs told me the ceiling was arching slightly.  I could see where the ceiling met one wall, how a crack was forming along the edge.

Ceiling falling,” I said.  I moved my arm to point, and I only wound up moving my stump, suppressing my reaction to the pain so I wouldn’t provoke Lung.

Golem reached into the side of his suit.  A hand began emerging.

Too slow.  A full third of the ceiling over this room looked ready to collapse, and it was big enough and close enough to wipe us out.

Alexandria flew forward.  She caught the shelf of steel, concrete and granite.

Buying time, even as the slab continued to crack and break down where the stress of her holding it warred with the sheer weight and lack of support in other spaces.

Golem’s hand propped it up, fingers curling around the edge to secure it.

I still wasn’t thinking straight.

What’s he doing?

“Cuff, find me a piece of metal to use,” Golem said.  “The bigger the better.  And I’m talking big.”

“The column?” she asked.

“It broke up some, right?  Find me the closest, biggest piece.”

Cuff nodded.  “Lung, Siberian, help us.”

Golem looked back at me.

Go,” I said.

He went without another word.

I was left sitting where I was, with injured case fifty-threes, with an unconscious Canary who’d apparently had a hand crushed, and a conscious, mostly unharmed Rachel and Imp.  We stared up at Scion.

“Well,” Imp said.

He used his golden light to burn the other.  It coursed through the tissues, through the entirety of the thing.  An ocean of experimental features, of flesh and body parts.

“Well,” Imp said, again.

I could almost sense a feeling radiating from Scion.

A hard emotion to name, if not a hard emotion to place.  I’d experienced it well enough.  Many had.

He was lashing out, destroying the remains, out of bewilderment, sadness, despair, anger, confusion.  All of it unfiltered.  The same emotion a child might experience with their first loss.  What a child would feel when they lost something irretrievable for the first time, when something was stolen from them and they hadn’t prepared themselves for the possibility on any level.

It was what one felt as a child if they lost their dog, their home, their innocence.

Their mother.

“It’s like when I lost Rollo, Brutus or Judas,” Rachel said.

Yeah,” I said.

“When my bro…” Imp said, trailing off.

How do you even articulate that?  When he was broken?

Yeah,” I said.

“Fucking good,” Imp said.  “I hope it sucks for him.

Together, we stared.  We watched Scion burn his partner.  Putting a torch to the garden.  Alexandria flew overhead to join the others, helping.

He dropped the remains, and they spooled out of some other dimension that the ‘garden’ had spilled out into.

Golem began creating the hand.  The entire room shook as fingertips emerged.  Each a small building unto itself.  Cupping over, a protective barrier.

Nothing that would hold out against the kind of weight the Number Man had been talking about.

Then Cuff used her power, separating the hand in half, so it was the palm and four fingers.

I heard him say, “…Siberian… this large?”

Yes,” the Number Man said.

“Usually it’s you with these plans,” Imp said.

“She’s hurt,” Rachel said.

I grit my teeth, not taking my eyes off Scion.

No, that wasn’t my excuse.

I was too focused on other fronts.  Not on survival… fuck that.  I wanted to hurt the bastard.  This was the best opportunity we had.  So long as the other entity was here, Scion was distracted.  Just like he was distracted with the case fifty-threes.  One chance to hurt him, possibly without retaliation.  Thinking of what we had on hand, what we could have on hand… trying to connect the dots.

Scion lashed out, sudden, unpredictable, raw destruction.

A section of ceiling in Sveta’s general vicinity fell.  A whole section of the column above us was sliced off, falling.

I could see Sveta on the far end of the room.  She could help.

I sent my bugs her way.

I think I have something,” I said.

“Something?” Imp asked.

But we need to talk to the Number Man,” I said.  “See if it’s doable.

Imp nodded, “We’ll get you on the dog’s ba-”

I used my flight pack, lifting myself into the air.  My legs dangled, and I lacked the strength to keep my head fully raised.  My hair hung in front of my face.

Whatever.  Right now, at least, my body was an inconvenient puppet, a vehicle for my power and my brain, nothing else.

Fuck me, the burn hurt.

Rachel and Imp hurried to get the other injured on the dog’s backs while I approached the other group.

The cupped hand turned monochrome as the Siberian used her power on it, then turned back to normal.  Alexandria lifted the hand, making room for others, for us to get underneath.

I reached Number Man.  I spoke, and found my voice thin.  “Your power.”

“My power?” he asked.

“It’s perception based.”

“I sense complex mathematics,” he said.  “Second nature to me.”

Ask a stupid question…

“Can you do controlled demolitions?” I asked.

“Yes.  What are you wanting to demolish?”

Everything,” I said.

He gave me a funny look, then glanced over his shoulder at the others.

He sighed.  “Tell me what you need.”

“I need to bring it all down, and I need it to happen on my signal.  Can you figure it out?”

He nodded.  “We can use Pretender.”

I turned my head, gazing at the remains of the ‘garden’, slowly being consumed and reduced to motes of darkness by the golden light.

“We can use Sveta too,” I said.  “If she’s willing.  Trying to figure out what we need to make this happen.”

“I’ll need information,” he said.  “The layout, what exactly you want to happen, order…”

“I’m not looking for anything complicated,” I said.

I began illustrating the nature of the roof, where the cracks and rents were, and how deep they went.  I also began drawing out the remaining cords I still had stashed around my costume.  “Cuff?”


“Secure this thing.  We’ll need a floor.”

“A floor?”


But I extended my focus to my bugs, at the same time.

My bugs reached Sveta.  She was pulling herself free of rubble.


She looked around, confused.

The bugs.

Her tendrils killed maybe sixty bugs as she focused her attention on them.

It’s Taylor.  Skitter, or Weaver.  Whatever you know me as.

She killed more before she got herself firmly secured to a large piece of concrete.

“Thank you,” she said.  “For getting me away from the collapse, before.  I didn’t get a chance to say.  I’m really sorry about your hand.”

“I’ll get a new one if we make it that far.  Listen.  We’re going to attack.  We need your help.”

“I can’t hurt him.”

“You can,” I said.  “Most definitely.

I drew an arrow.

“I… what?”

Can you do it?

Sveta shook her head.  Or she made it sway, anyways.  “But… why?  And… I don’t think I can get away.”

We just need a few seconds,” I said.  “He attunes himself to specific forms of attack, to negate them.  It’s why the Siberian did as much damage as she did, earlier.  It’s better if we can catch him by surprise, mix it up a little.  And if we do it here, now, before that corpse finishes burning, it should be easier to get away, because it clouds his senses like you…

I wasn’t sure what to call her.

“Monsters?  Victims?”

I’d always hated the use of the word victim.  “IrregularsIt clouds his senses like the irregulars do.

Sveta’s face changed.  I couldn’t quite make it out with my bug vision.

“I can do it,” she said.  “I think I might even be able to do it and get away before he kills me.”

It’s not that.  Get into the hole in the ceiling we came from, before, if you can move that far, that fast.  The walls are broken, I can point a route.”

She nodded.

Thank you, Sveta.  Count this as another brick on that structure you’re building,” I said.

She didn’t reply to that.

I looked over at the Number Man.  We were all underneath the barrier, now.  It wouldn’t hold against Scion, but… yeah.

“It’s doable,” the Number Man said, looking at Alexandria.  “We need a signal.”

“Rachel,” I said.  “Whistle?”

She nodded.  Alexandria glanced at us for confirmation.

“One more thing,” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“I want you to swallow a fly.”

She arched one eyebrow.

“Or, better yet, hold it in your mouth.”

“I’ve lived with enough charlatans-”

“No joke,” I said, serious.

She frowned, then opened her mouth.  I popped a housefly inside.

A moment later, she flew from the shelter.  Cuff began sealing the floor after her.

This was not an elegant plan.  Simple, crude.

Sveta,” I said.  “Now.”

She anchored herself on three different areas.  Then she grabbed the burning corpse.

She flung it at Scion.

Can’t hurt him physically.

Maybe emotionally.

He reeled, perhaps a little stunned.

She hit him with more.  One after the other.

His hands glowed.

“Run,” I said, with my swarm, in the same moment I said, “Now.”

Sveta bolted.  Scion attacked, a wide-area effect that scoured the room’s interior.

Rachel whistled, using the only opening remaining.  Cuff closed it.

Outside, Alexandria charged in response to the signal.

She slammed into key points, where the structure was weakest.  I’d outlined some of it, the Number Man had inferred the rest.

Hitting him with the biggest thing available.

We brought the column down.  One and three-quarter million tonnes, dropping down on our heads.

The cords were a measure that it turned out we didn’t need.  The floor and Siberian’s power sealed us off from the aftershock.  It sealed us off from almost all of the noise, a hammer of solid steel the size of a skyscraper, striking an anvil.

I wasn’t so optimistic as to think we’d killed him.

But I could hope the impact destroyed more than one body.  That, like the ‘garden’, there was a constant, steady connection, and the devastation could echo out through that connection and into the well.

“Whooo.”  Imp said, exhaling the word.

And now we wait to see if we die.

Does he retaliate?

Does he wipe us out, blasting his way free?

There was only silence.

Of course there was only silence.

And then I sensed movement.

A housefly, outside, approaching.

“Drop the barrier,” I said.

Siberian did.  I could see everyone tense.

But it’d just deform the column above, nothing else.

Alexandria, outside, tore the hand apart.  Lung and Cuff helped from the inside.

He’d blasted his way free, straight up.  Alexandria had torn away the flooring and the chunk of remaining column from on top of us.  Sure enough, there was a fist-indent in it.

“Whoooo!” Imp whooped.  “Screw you, golden man!”

I swayed a little, nearly falling.  Rachel caught me.

“You okay?” Cuff asked.

I nodded.  “Fuck me, that was satisfying.”

“I will take your word for it,” Lung said.  He held Canary.

“Aww, he’s upset he didn’t get to play a part,” Imp mocked.

I looked at Lung with Canary, my eyes roving over our assembled number.  Ideas falling in place.

“Except,” Golem said, morose, “He’s pissed off, now.”

“Pissed off is something we can use,” I said.

“A solution?” Number Man asked.

I shook my head.  “But I think, now, I know what it’ll look like when I see it.  Hospital next.  I’ll explain on the way.”

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

356 thoughts on “Venom 29.8

    • Here and there, they touched things and snapped into place with a destructive power: the refrigerator that had held the Balance sample, a shelving unit, a countertop with drawers in front..

      Extra full stop at the end there.

      I don’t know whether this belongs in the typo thread or not, but it seems off to me: the Number Man says that one of the people protected by the Siberian would have to be Manton. But I thought that Manton couldn’t make himself invincible with the Siberian. Am I misremembering?

      • But Manton can be protected by objects that Siberian’s protecting, and I’m pretty sure she was using her power on the hand.
        I think so anyway. This is one of those chapters that requires a reread, or I won’t quite get it. A lot happens.

        • Okay, reread now. You were right, the Golem hand idea comes later, so it’s either an error or Number Man made a mistake, which seems a little out of character for him. Still, he’s not infallable, so it sort of works.

          • It’s totally possible that the real Manton could have had his projection protect him this way, but never did because he didn’t think he deserved “his daughters” blessing after what he did to her.

            Dude was super damn crazy.

            • Siberian was protecting Manton in his truck while trying to warn the rest of the 9, during the Slaughterhouse arcs. Somewhere in 14. Bottom line is he can’t be protected directly, but he can be enclosed in something that IS protectable.

    • “It conjured up images an artist’s sketchpad, putting body parts on the page, trying variations.”

      I’m guessing it was supposed to be “of an artist’s sketchpad”?

      “Sveta released of my forearm”

      What’s the “of” doing there?

      “Scion’s counterpart?” I asked. “It was putting together a human body.”

      There are weirdly mixed italics in the main text’s version of that line.

    • “No. We came for answers. This is it. We had answers. Now we just needed to get in a position where we could use them. Get them to Tattletale, to other thinkers.“
      Taylor is speaking here, not narrating.

      What happened to Shadow Stalker?

    • It conjured up images an artist’s sketchpad, –> images ‘of’ an artist’s sketchpad

      The cords were a measure that it turned out we didn’t need. –> awkward phrasing here, might want to rewrite that

    • Sveta released of my forearm, and the resulting pain hauled me out of an awestruck daze.
      -Probably an extra “of” in there

      Some of the tendrils had crushed their way through bone, severing the skull in half.
      – Severing the skull in half is a really awkward phrase, maybe “bisecting the skull” or “shearing the skull in half” probably gramatically correct as written, but awkward to read. even just “severing the skull” is better.

        • Probably over two hundred 9 clones were turned over to Cauldron by Riley. P. Gecko is the only one who had a good count of how many were left.

          • A very debatable good count, given the other teams fighting and chances of offscreen deaths even in those chapters.

            Saint still hasn’t had his nipples chewed off by angry beavers, either.

            • Just wait. Dragon and Defiant were plotting some horrible fate worse than death for him and Teacher last time we saw them.

              • Defiant- “We found many alternate dimensions we could have sent you too. Like this one, a dimension of pure itchiness. Or this one full of Dookie. But no, you two deserve worse. So instead we will send you to this room… With a Moose.”

            • i vote force-ably uploading his consciousness into a computer system and sticking him with Dragon’s original, unmodified restrictions mean, since he thought that he could take over all of dragon’s responsibilities all by his lonesome, why not give him a chance and let the poor lass take a break for a while?. after all, by his own reasoning, a mere computer program isn’t a person. cruel? yes. but given his Frankenstein complex, he’s a danger to leave alive, as he was willing to forceably shut Dragon down at the worst possible time short of her desperately trying to deactivate a Singularity bomb at the earths core, AND ensure that no matter HOW fucking urgent the situation was, she couldn’t be bought back, even if recoverable , for MONTHS/a month after the world was suppose to end. this way, he is permanently neutralized, AND his knowledge and skills stay available, PLUS with his free-will overridden, no more worrying about him going after everyone’s favorite Digital Dragoness. to be blunt, he’s broken her protocols before, and her ability to function as either a distributed processing system, a hero, or even just as a person are massively compromised while Saint is still capable of attacking next time he’s near anything more complicated then an electric shaver, and has another attack of paranoia.

        • Don’t know about any S9 clones who may have been elsewhere during this fight, but as for survivors, here, we have….
          Taylor (One armed, sucking up the pain and thinking hard.)
          Rachel and one or two dogs
          Number Man
          A few Number Man clones
          A wounded Doormaker
          A few wounded/captured Case53’s…. ‘scuse me. Irregulars.

          So, yeah. A small crowd.

      • And if they know tat, which is not a given (still thinking Contessa is/was playing Dr Mother like a fiddle) it sorts of render their “for humanity!” moot. We’d just be changing our space-worm overlord.

    • And now she’s dead! Why didn’t she tell them first?

      Still, maybe Contessa knows. I still don’t think she’s dead, I think it’s just part of her plan.
      Or maybe being dead is her current path to victory. I dunno.

  1. Taylor should get horribly injured more often, her most epic feats always seem to happen when she really should be in a hospital. Yet another awesome chapter.

  2. They dropped millions of tons of metal on Scion. Now they have to kill him. I guess killing him won’t get rid of powers since entity two was killed and Cauldron capes are alive, though may be weakening.
    Was the second entity a threat before they killed it? I think the third is part of Cauldron, taking out two rivals.

    • The interesting question in my mind is “given what became of the 2nd entity” why was Scion getting broadcasts of “Confidence” and “everything is alright” from his partner up until she very suddenly wasn’t.

      I’m guessing either we haven’t actually seen the last of the partner yet or Scion wasn’t communicating with who he thought he was towards the end of his approach towards Earth.

      • The second Entity could have also been lying, or driven crazy. I’m going with lying personally. It’s plan changed and keeping the Scion Entity from knowing that might have been and important part of that. Hell the things death could have been an important part.

      • You are leaving out deliberate deception … which brings up an interesting thought. Most of the commenters assume that Abbadon is the killer of Eden, since only a Worm is powerful enough to take out a Worm. However, what if Eden committed suicide? It is a low possibility that Eden, as the Thinker part of the pair, recognized something in Earth/humanity that was in some way necessary and/or admirable, killed itself in order to stop the complete end of humanity (fighting the Warrior partner is not feasible), and deliberately deceived its partner to prevent interference (many suicides do). Also note that Taylor’s reaction to Eden is it appeared kind. It is also possible that in the process of making itself resemble humanity that Eden developed too much empathy for them. It is possible that Abbadon helped convinced Eden to do this.
        So, one coherent narrative is that Eden decided to stop this instance of the Worm reproduction cycle (for whatever reason), killed itself, deceived its partner to prevent interference, and gave its body to Doctor Mother to help fight Zion. Abbadon may have only played a guiding/supporting role in this.
        Alternatively, of course, Abbadon is a “purer” form of Worm, in that it still feeds primarily off of its own kind. It killed/convinced to suicide Eden and will gun for Zion when he is weaker. Too little information to tell at the moment.

      • Remember that Contessa’s power comes from the third Worm. I’m thinking the third Worm’s encounter with Eden was calculated to weaken her significantly, but not quite enough to threaten her or the integrity of the cycle. But enough that the shard it had left lurking in ambush on Earth could finish the job when Eden was vulnerable.

    • As Sun Tzu points out, it’s best to have your enemy in an emotionally manipulated state. Anger especially. Angry people don’t think so well. I like confusion and even disgust, though some might say it’s also convenient that I’m not always taken seriously.

      • There’s an implicit assumption in Sun Tzu’s work that the person you are angering cannot destroy the world by flexing himself a little.

      • I’m reminded of when Gallant decided to zap Bitch with an angry ray.

        Remember how it didn’t end well?

      • As Clausewitz pointed out, you should always try and deny your enemy resupply, even if you have no idea when or if you’ll get to hit his supplies for real. Do everything you can to hurt and inconvenience him now, rather than wishing later you’d done something to leave him just a little shorter of morale, or ammunition, or warm bodies.

  3. -“Granted,” the Number Man said. He sighed. “There’s nothing left in it. She took powers it had probably planned to give to others, distilled them. Then she dug in other places, and she took powers it needed to subsist. It died and went still.”-

    Is the Number Man saying that Doctor Mother killed the Counterpart?
    The Doctor is the Third Entity?

      • She led us to believe as such, she didn’t actually take any formula. Remember she’s “a prop” – could mean she’s nobody, could mean she’s not actually a people, that she’s a puppet body
        She seemed pretty human in her interlude though

        • She sure acted like she thought it would help. And, really, if she was an Entity, would she waste her time like this? And could Sveta have killed her, since she’d basically be the third Scion?

          That theory has more holes in it than Swiss cheese that someone just tried to use as kevlar.

  4. Just wanted to say that I spent nearly the last two weeks working my way through the archive and it’s been a fantastic journey. I’m torn on whether I want more right now. As much as I’ve enjoyed my time reading, I feel as though I should take a couple weeks away to focus on other things and let everything settle in my mind before jumping back into the story.

    I have a feeling that the moment you next update I’ll be back to continue reading anyway. Does anyone know if it Is it possible to overdose on fiction?

      • Stupid keyboard. ahem.
        1. The Leviathan fight because it showed just what kind of universe this was and I was honestly worried the Undersiders were going to be killed.
        2. When Taylor beat the heroes by not fighting. A hell yes moment.
        3. When Taylor killed motherfucking Alexandria! I got chills as she repeated her boast.

          • When Taylor got revealed
            When Lung, the first boss, turned out to be a serious badass
            When Skitter totalsmashed Mannequin for the first time
            The bank robbery, just in general,
            and every time Tattletale shows her awesomeness

        • My personal favorite scene (not whole chapter) was The Simurgh forcibly upgrading Leviathan. The build from “What is happening?!” to “Did she just kill Leviathan?! Why?” to “Okay, he’s still alive” to “Holy shit, she changed him” to “Holy Fuck SHE GAVE HIM NANOTHORNS!” is just so intense and well done.

    • Welcome, and enjoy the rest of the show. You have, lucky you, stumbled across one of the internet’s hidden treasures.

      PG, if you have the chance…

      The Peanut Gallery

    • The only sort of fiction you can overdose on is crackfic, the kind of stuff written in the seedy underbelly of the internet. A land of trolls and grammar Nazis. Nah, forget about that. Join the Worm community! The Wormunity! The WormUnity! *makes his eyes glow* Yes…join the Worm Unity! Your brain will be assimilated!

      You will be made to listen to dumb jokes, silly puns, and worst of all…in depth serious examination and analysis of the story! *gasp!*

      I mainly do the first two nowadays. Don’t even rewrite the chapters as much anymore. You missed how they had to adjust Armsmaster’s nipples with a torque wrench after Mannequin attacked him. I hear Dragon quoted him a good price on a cranial remove from his rectum. I wonder if that’s the only thing she priced for him, eh, eh? Wink wink nudge nudge? Think he tapped that assCII?

      So join us Wormimaniacs! Some say we’re blurry if read on Macs. So just sit back and relax, we’re like a drug so come relapse, we’re Wormimaniacs!

      Come join and debate bothers, and ease the headache with some pot. Just for fun we pun around and give your brain a knot. They want to lock me in a tower, when I welcome newbs a lot. But I get loose when I fake a noose for autoeroticasphyxiating on my cot.

      We’re Wormimaniacs! Readers FAQ and the writer cracks! There’s a quad in our sacks as the NSA does hacks, it’s Wormimaniacs!

      Welcome, Deraldin, to the comments section.

        • Wormimaniacs, coming soon to a the saturday morning cartoon slot with Yakko wakko and dot trying to reboot their careers with false noses, Fake mustaches and new character.. “Krazy Komodo (I admit I stretched it a bit with the last one)

      • >I mainly do the first two nowadays. Don’t even rewrite the chapters as much anymore. You missed how they had to adjust Armsmaster’s nipples with a torque wrench after Mannequin attacked him. I hear Dragon quoted him a good price on a cranial remove from his rectum. I wonder if that’s the only thing she priced for him, eh, eh? Wink wink nudge nudge? Think he tapped that assCII?<

        You know I'm a bit surprised you didn't tackle when Sveta was talking who ruined the Case 53's lives were.
        Sveta- "Gentle Giant, bigger isn't always better in bed. Teeny Weenie-"
        Doctor mother- "I can guess." "Trust me you can't even begin to imagine how much you live sucks bieng made out of coctail weeners. Dogs keep trying to eat him!"
        Bitch- "Shit I missed him."

  5. I kind of sympathized with Scion in this chapter. I mean, I know he’s an ancient space parasite that got bored and decided to destroy every possible Earth, but… to finally find his partner, and to find that it had been mutated, sort-of killed, and generally mutilated… *snifs*

      • There is also a certain irony here. Scion and his partner went to countless worlds. They used them, they harvested from them, and in the end they took everything they could from them and killed them. And now that has happened to one of them.

  6. Yes! Throw the corpse of his only loved one at him! Yeeeesssss!

    That was satisfying. Taylor needs to go right home and brag about dropping a mountain on Scion to everyone she sees. I mean, it does kind of look bad that she went on a mission to find Cauldron and they ended up completely destroyed, but atleast they know they can atleast hurt Scion’s feelings.

    I like how chill Number Man is about his boss getting fatalitied, his base being demolished, and being ordered around by a teenager. I can see how Doc Mom talked him into starting an interdimensional conspiracy with her.

      • Another Chuck Norris moment for Taylor. At this point, it’s like the entire story is just to set up good Chuck Norris Worm quotes.

        On the other hand, seriously. She just got her HAND CHOPPED OFF AND THEN TRICKED HER ENEMY INTO BURNING IT OFF, EVERYONE PLEASE CUT HER SOME SLACK IN THE GENIUS DEPARTMENT. Watched World War Z earlier today, and there was a scene where a soldier who looked ten or fifteen years older than Taylor had her hand cut off. She screamed and thrashed around the entire time the main character was binding it.

        Most badass character alive: Taylor Herbert, please come up to the stage to accept your trophy.

        “I’d like to thank Armsmas-Defiant, who embittered me and set me on the path to become a (kind of) heroic villain who ends up ruling a city and being one of the most feared heroes in the country in a few months. And, ever since he’s gained a dozen levels in badass and not being a jerkass, he’s helped me along that path, too.

        The Undersiders, of course. You trained me, took me in, cared about me, and were absolutely excellent at carrying out my evil plans-What? I can’t mention my awesome evil plans anymore? But there are so many great o-I DON’T CARE IF IT’S BAD PR, GLENN. …mph, fine.”

        “Moving on, the PTR. I got to be a loose cannon, and rebel, and apprehend criminals, and do stakeouts, and have convenient transportation to Endbringer fights, which are…well, Endbringer fights.”

        “And Dad, of course. Helping me prove one step at a time that even relationships being rebuilt can be badass.”

        “Finally, Sophia, Emily, but especially Sophia, I’d like to THANK YOU SO MUCH for being directly involved with me getting my powers. I mean, just think: You would have had me under your thumb right up until Lleviathen, and I probably wouldn’t be nearly so well of without my powers. So really, girls, I owe this all to you.”

        “Thank you.”

        • I wrote it…and I don’t even know. I just don’t. I blame it on sleep deprivation from Worm archive binging.

        • I’d like to add this one too:

          “I also want to thank the Protectorate head honchos for accepting my murdering of Alexandria as suitable proof of my competency and right to join the Protectorate”.

          • (To be fair, once you murder an invulnerable parahuman without getting a scratch, you have demonstrated yourself not only extremely competent but also a bit dangerous to get on the bad side of.)

        • For every badass moment of Skitter’s you hear about, there are five more that you don’t. Skitter only talks about fights where she gets hospitalized for at least 24 hours afterwards.

          Skitter maimed villains and got called a villain, She murdered a hero and immediately got called one.

          The string that Skitter used to slice up Echidna wasn’t actually frozen in time by Clockblocker. It was paralyzed with fear at the prospect of what Skitter would do to it if it didn’t do exactly what she said.

          Skitter can see you when she’s sleeping.

          Scion took the power to see victory when fighting Eidolon. Except he accidentally took Skitter’s first.

          Skitter fights fire with BUGS.

        • 1. What World War Z movie?

          2. I would have expected some more sarcasm in that last bit, if it was there at all.

          • I wish they’d make a World War Z movie. I heard they were going to, but then the project got canceled. There was a zombie movie that came out recently, but it was a bunch of fast zombies and the only person they fought was Brad Pitt.

              • When part of your book is bringing up the psychological damage caused by an incredibly slow moving foe that is part of a massive horde inching its way toward you as an inevitable death, the zombies can’t be fast-moving.

                The name “World War Z” was used on a movie, but there hasn’t been a movie made of World War Z.

      • The injuries are because she’s as hard as Chuck Norris, if she was as hard as Bruce Less was they’d never have touched her. Unless they slipped her a headache tablet….

  7. Bad. Ass. To the end.

    “Hey Scapegoat!”
    “We need you to do your thing on Weaver again.”
    “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh *SLAM*

    “I guess that’s a no then.”

    Lung has got to be reevaluating Taylor. No regeneration powers and she is taking the loss of her arm in stride and still insisting on kicking ass.

  8. YESSSS, WE FINALLY GET ANSWERS! Taylor is a hardcore bitch to Lung. Doesn’t beg, reminds him he beat her twice, and tells him to burn off the arm. Then hurts Scion emotionally/physically more than anyone else has ever done. The crowning moment of awesome will need to get even longer. SO can we officially call Taylor a MASTERMIND yet? But now they can get thinkers the answers and do what Doctor Mother was too stupid/self centered to do. Ask for help and work together instead of create a conspiracy of failure. They know now that the his real body is vulnerable and is basically flesh. They just need to find it.
    Prediction: Bringing back Cherish the 15th butcher to try and detect how pissed off/sad/hurt Scion is and find his well. Then attack it with everything they have.
    Did Taylor just become the head of what is left of Cauldron including numberman, pretender, and the 9 clones? Will I get the mannequin clone team up?

    • Using Butcher/Cherish directly is both impractical and a bit dangerous, given her homicidal tendencies (notably the “Suicide Aura” she is projecting). It would be much safer to have Glaistig kill her, and have her use the power.

      Also, I want to see what would happen.

      • You know what would happen if Glaistig kills Butcher is actually an interesting question. Does she get the voices in the head and the ability to use the powers herself (as opposed to summon a ghost that uses the power) or does her power protect her from Butcher’s curse and she simply uses the powers as she would do with everyone else of her victims? And if it’s the latter, if someone manages to kill her (kinda hard since she’s now arguably the most powerful person in the setting short of Scion), does this mean that the cycle would be broken?

        • 1. I’d argue that Simurgh and Khonsu, at least, are more powerful.

          2. I hope that she’d get the curse, partly because it would mean that Glaistig’s hundreds of shards would never die, and would in fact accumulate. And, of course, Glaistig could more easily resist the whispers of 15 homicidal maniacs in her head than most–she has dozens in her head right now!

          • Well, Glaistig and Eidolon were actually putting a fight against Scion and driving him off, whereas Simurgh (mysterious blowgun not withstanding) and Khonsu are slightly more irritating than normal capes to him.

            But maybe I should have said most powerful parahuman.

            • On the other hand, Khonsu could kill even Glaistig in a one-on-one fight, while Simurgh can lose the fight and still win in the end.

              • A very weak Eidolon, to the point that taylor commented that even general public was becoming aware of his problem, still managed to avoid every one of Khonsu’s attacks while at the same time helping Legend escape from the time circle. Glaistig as Eidolon’s FULL powers plus some other 50/60 shards. And of them is Gray Boy’s, which could very possibly de-age Glaistig in the eventuality she was caught in Khonsu’s time attack: remember the other side of GB’s power is to loop its user back in time so that he does not get hurt. Now that I think about it, GU’s eternal youth may actually come from GB’s power.

                The Simurgh, I concede.

        • Now that I think about it, I bet the voices in Butcher’s head are actually the passengers of the previous Butchers; basically an uncontrolled/inverse version of Glastig’s power. GU would probably absorb those other passengers the same way she absorbs normal ones after their hosts death. Although if GU (or Eidolon before his death) did become the Butcher… what a terrifying way to shore up the ‘only a few powers at a time’ weakness.

  9. I think I’ll call the counterpart Eden from now on. The comparisons of its body to a garden, Scion feeling loss like “a child if they lost their home, their innocence”, the fact that he named himself after another utopian place…

    So really huge physical attacks on Scion’s avatar *can* affect the extradimensional well of flesh. I can’t think of a way to apply this though. Get the Thanda cape who can teleport landmasses? Is he still alive?

  10. The alien geometries in the first half were, well, suitably alien. The last time I had that much difficulty understanding what the hell was written was, fittingly enough, in the first part of Scion’s interlude. But hey that’s the point with Eldritch Abominations.

    And really I have nothing else to say except that Taylor just got at least TWO moments of awesome to be aded in the tvtropes page. Seriously the last time I was all “fuck yea!” was when Behemoth died (not that weren’t many great moments in-between, it’s just the sheer…enormity).

    Oh and I’ve decided to use Ainix’s perfect, on so many levels, name for the counterpart, Eden, from now on.

  11. Finally caught up after starting this serial in mid September!
    We got confirmation on the Doctor’s death no last minute life saving trigger events for her. I wonder if Scion is going to go sulk or if Taylor will come back to Earth Gimel and find out the planet has been ripped in half. Like Golem said pissing Scion off was probably not the best idea.

      • Wrong.

        Lots of potential exposition was lost, which would have been valuable to both Taylor and to us. But mostly to us.

    • Sometimes it’s better to piss off than be pissed on, which is what happens when I ignore the original saying for something convenient. But you know what they say about letting awake Psycho Geckos lie. I believe they say that it’s better to have loved and gotten antibiotics for the itching than never to have loved at all. Ask not what your country can do for you, ask “Who let the dogs out?” Who, who who who whoooooooo are you. Who who, who who, I really wanna know.

      And that’s what this is all about. To see if you’re a man. A man’s man. Like all the women and men who have come before you, which is why it’s best to wear shoes and avoid any deep puddles if you walk forward. Yes, you are not the first to catch up. But you may be fit to join those of us who talk, who plot, who make Wildbow want to tear his hair out so bad that he’ll put out extra updates just to keep my comments from piling up too high.

      Now if you’ve survived all that, you may be up to surviving the comments. Because we here pride ourselves on our community, and you know that pride comes before Fall, so probably in the summer, maybe as early as spring forward and baby got back. Butt enough cheeky anal-sys and ass-essment. Stay with us, if you dare and remember: a journey of a thousand miles begins by knocking up a general’s daughter. Or however far away Greenland is.

      Welcome, Snickles, to the comment section.

    • Well, is it really fighting if you hurl the corpse of someone’s loved one at them and then drop an incomprehensibly large mass of steel on them?

          • The best strategy is throwing the head to catch their attention then one limb after another for maximum psychological impact.

            • Huh, I would have expected that it would be better to get their attention and disgust with arms and legs, then use the head to confirm the identity to them. I mean, if you open with the head, they have to take the time to realize what it is and then match the face. If it bounces away before they get a good enough look to recognize the person, you just lost a good chunk of your psychological impact.

              • Open fire first with any recognizable genitalia, then proceed to the limbs, and then the head. This way, their thought processes first go to disgust at that particular anatomy, then annoyance that you are throwing limbs at them, and then horror as they fully recognize the implications of what is going on. Follow up with the torso, or even the butt if possible. Gotta maximize comedic value.

              • Greatwyrmgold, I know you are a fan of Dwarf Fortress, so hear me out. Part of the fun of that game is figuring out the most spectacular and horrific ways to kill things. The single funniest and horrible thing I have experienced in the game was finding a dead dwarf in the middle of nowhere, and then figuring out the cause of his unannounced death: his skull was shattered by the flying entrails of a goblin that tried to sneak stealthily across a 10x steel serrated disc trap. This has taught me that unexpectedly assaulting someone with second-hand ludicrous gibs is perhaps one of the highest forms of black comedy out there. Throwing the entire corpse would not have had the same effect.

              • “you just lost a good chunk of your psychological impact.” I don’t know if this pun was intentional. I do know that I approve of it.

  12. Imagine if Golem and Cuff had to give after-action reports and do paperwork on this mission.

    “And so I must insist that Taylor Hebert aka. Skitter aka Weaver be given a Brute or Changer rating. She survived being grabbed by Garrote, most of a steel mountain collapsing, Scion, having one arm turned into a viscous gel, and then having that arm burned off. Through all of this, she remained at peak or near-peak operational capacity, and managed to deal one of our first serious blows to Zion. I can’t decide if she doesn’t feel pain or doesn’t care.

      • > I can’t decide if she doesn’t feel pain or doesn’t care.<

        She and Chevalier both have the power to tell pain to fuck off, they have work to do.

    • I think that the major issue here is that Taylor has fully embraced her power. She can control bugs so well they are basically an extension of her body, her nervous system. She hears, sees, feels, speaks through them. She’s gotten used to ‘losing’ pieces of herself every time a swarm dies. As in this chapter, her ‘real’ body is just the meat sack in the middle. The most important part perhaps but certainly something like a limb is not vital. 🙂

      So because of her experiences she’s become to think of bugs as being part of her body, and so, thinks of herself much like she does the bugs. That arm was expendable if it’s loss would save the whole. She only really needs her body now to direct bugs. She can even move it using only bugs now due to the flight pack. So reasonably she doesn’t even need most of it anymore to remain ‘functional’.

      A friend has only read 2 chapters and he’s already come to the conclusion similar to the above. That Taylor will be treating all the bugs as a part of herself, given the descriptions that controlling them to the point of a twitching antennae being as easy as moving her arm. That she will come to see the swarm as her body and that it is just important to protect the squishy bit at the center.

      • “Whatever. Right now, at least, my body was an inconvenient puppet, a vehicle for my power and my brain, nothing else.”

        She’s definitely embraced that idea.

      • The flight pack won’t last forever. Sooner or later, she’ll need to make a bug-powered wheelchair or something.

        *begins mentally designing a bug-powered wheelchair*

  13. Umm… Guys? I just had a Fridge Horror moment:-

    Remember what Weld said in 27.5? That he isn’t fearless, that he can still feel fear and despair, that he can’t jump into the water and sink to some point lower than mount Everest is tall, spending months or years without any goddamn music?

    Guess what’s happening down under all that one million, seven hundred and thirty thousand tonnes of steel right now?

    • Well crap.

      I hope he was on a high enough floor to avoid being squished. Or failing that, that he gets rescued by Doormaker or someone. Or failing that, that he’s dead.

      There aren’t many things that are worse than death, but being buried alive forever is probably one of them.

      • I’m not sure that burying Weld under a mountain of metal will work very well. He can already absorb the metal, and if the isolation theory is correct he could easily trigger again (Wildblow only excluded second trigger events as major plot devices I think). On the other hand, this story does have a love of murdering secondary characters off-screen, and it would make for some interesting emotional distress for Sveta.

        • He has said they would not happen to prominent characters.

          Plus, I’m not 100% certain that Cauldron capes can trigger twice.

          • They can. Doctor Mother mentioned it last chapter. The Cauldron-born don’t trigger from trauma like natural capes, though. A second trigger for them involves further Cauldron treatments.

            • Not all of Cauldron’s clients are previous patients, you know.
              It’s likely, but not certain—and definitely not related to the stronger contention.

    • Well, give Saint and Shadow Stalker shovels and tell them to start digging.

      Oh sure, Tecton, Golem and Gully can help. But they have a half dozen pina coladas and a meat lovers to deal with first.

      • Hold on, are we counting Gully as worthy of meat lovers and pina coladas after she abetted Weld being tortured and betrayed and nearly killing Sveta? Is that a thing we are doing?

        • Gully was described as looking uncomfortable when the Irregulars were torturing Weld and Sveta. While she did want to kill Dr mother, she probably didn’t want things to go THAT far. So not totally innocent but not completely gone like Mr “I bathe in blood” Mantellum or spike-guy.

          • Was anyone else wondering if bathing in blood was an unfortunate requirement of his power rather than a lifestyle choice?

            That would put a different complexion on things…

        • I can’t stay too mad at someone who just part of a mob that wanted to kill someone who really deserved it. The ringleaders of the betrayal are the only ones I think deserve to be punished, really.

            • No, she wasn’t. She wanted to kill Dr Mother, unlike Weld, but that’s it. Mantellum, spike, guy and the hermaphrodite were the ring-leaders, the one riling the mob and calling for the traitors’ blood. Gully was described as looking sick and uncomfortable with what they were doing to Weld and Garrotte.

              • and yet she did nothing. makes her as guilty as the others. doesn’t matter how its rationalized.

              • As Reveen pointed out mob mentality is a nasty thing. The fact that she knew that what they were doing is bad is a point in her favour. Besides when the ringleaders are willing to crucify a guy for the “crime” of having a bigger cell, it’s somewhat understandable, if not forgivable, that you don’t want to speak against them.

                Anyway, the point is that while she’s certainly not innocent, she can still redeem herself, unlike other Case 53s

              • I thought the guy they crucified was “the slug”, and therefore complicit in the crimes done to them (in mob-logic)

              • “doing nothing” is rather like Charlotte and the locker…. when we first met her.

    • I dunno. What?

      Scion blasted a way out for them, didn’t he? That’s how I read it.

      …This was a really confusing update in a lot of ways.

    • Couldn’t Weld, like, absorb the metal in the column? And then rip some off, and absorb some more, gradually digging through the column?

      I actually lost track of where everyone else but Taylor’s group was.

    • He might not be able to swim through water, stuck at the bottom of the ocean, but he sure should be able to swim up through a column of steel.

      • Which is what I was wondering about. How does that work, exactly? Is his human-ish size an actual limitation of his power, or is it something he does to keep from scaring other people? Because if he can get big enough, he shouldn’t have much problem climbing out of there eventually.

    • Hrm if he can’t get out any other way, he can just start to put on, umm, a lot of weight. When he’s done absorbing the steel he can break free of the ground, and eventually someone from one of the Earths will come looking for the old base. At which point he can demand a stereo system.

      Until then, he can act out some old Black Sabbath.

    • I don’t think so. A trigger event is when a passenger latches on to a (human) host. For an Entity, it would just be getting a piece of itself back. And Scion can do that manually (albeit with great apparent risk), as seen during Eidolon’s Interlude.

        • Well, Scion’s interlude does talk about his race cannibalizing each other for stuff, so maybe he could harvest is partner’s dead body for stuff if he’s not too human at this point. I suppose he still could even then, but he’d be mighty disturbed by it.

          I’m sure if he made his avatar human enough he could simulate a trigger event, but it’s not like he’d actually need it.

    • Maybe he has a reverse trigger event. Trigger event- where something is so terrible a shard of an alien speicies latches to you to help you survive. But for Zion, a trigger event maybe where something is so terrible and horrible, a shard of humanity breaks off and forms with in him, shaping him forever.

    • He is at least partially human, and it may be possible for another entity, especially one who hunts his own kind, to find a way to attach a shard to the human portion while also causing Scion to forget about it.

      • Dammit, now I’m left with the horrifying job of trying to imagine a predator species that could possibly prey on the Worms. Let me see, the Worms travel through space and dimensions like it’s nothing. I’m thinking some kind of Bird… that travels through time… and is thus ‘early’.

      • My god, Tattletale in the same room as Number Man. hough she did concede he’s a better thinker than her, which, considering Tattletale’s massive ego, is saying something.

          • I remember saying once, heck I think it was my very first post in the comments, that if Accord had worked in tandem with Number Man, maybe he would have managed to come with some more practical plans instead of “giant bladed pendulums”.

              • Number Man working with Panacea and Bonesaw could do some mighty interesting things.

              • Accord and Tattletale’ abilities are also almost the exact opposite of each other. Accord has the ability to come up with intricately detailed plans that account for everything to the Nth level. Tattletale, OTOH, is the master of the Eureka moment. The very way she *thinks* is anathema to Accord: chaotic and unpredictable. Conversely, she has to find him insanely pedantic.

                Those two were never going to get on.

    • Well technically, he used to work for her in the past too. He was her accountant when she was still the warlord of the broadwalk.

      And wouldn’t have that put things into perspective if anyone had know: Skitter is badass, she has an ex-member of the Slaughterhouse 9 do her accounting.

  14. I really seem to have gotten the wrong impression with the amount of bugs Skitter got with her. I thought at some point she didn’t have more than thirty or so, not enough to fly her knife around.

    • Well keep in mind that her idea of a “few bugs” is probably very different now that she has the relay bugs again.

      • What do you mean, with nanothorns? One of her more memorable deeds from before Leviathan was when she carved out Lung’s eyes.

  15. Fuuuuuck yes, that was satisfying. The Breaking Bad of superhero fiction pulls another awesome setpiece moment.

    • Well Taylor thinks Dr Mother killed the Eden( see Ainix’s post above for the why it’s the counterpart’s new name) because it’s the most logical solution with the data available to her.

      WE know that it was the Third Entity that fatally wounded Eden. What we DON’T know it’s the link between the Third (I believe we had settled for Abbadon,right?) and Cauldron.

      • Hrm, Zion, Eden, and perhaps Samael? Sure, Samael isn’t a place, but it sure fits the actions that we are imagining. In fact since we don’t really know what happened, it’s even more in character.

        • Abaddon is (as PG relayed, above) both a place (a name for Hell) and literally translates to “The Destroyer.” As I said, it’s genius.

          • Eh, but Abaddon seems a bit more visceral, is it a good name for something which damages the mind? Samael is the liar, the corruptor, and from the storyline, it seems as if Scion’s entity was corrupted and weakened by a data transfer of some sort.

            Samael is supposed to be the one who corrupted Eve, in the Garden of Eden, so there are definite connections to the theme 🙂

            • I don’t know, because of W40K I can only associate the name Abaddon with total incompetence.

              As for place names for a scary asshole entity? Scholomance, perhaps?

              • Hey you try pleasing all four Chaos Gods at the same time. You need to rush in killing everything while screaming at the top of your lungs, while making everyone sick and bieng all jovial, bieng sure to snort lots of drugs and have lots of kinky sex, as part of an insanly convulted plan.

          • An alternative for Abaddon is the Greek version Apollyon, which has less of a negative connotation (to me at least, maybe not for people from Greece 😉 ) and thus fits better for an entity we know nothing about.

      • We don’t know for sure the Third Entity (I believe the tentative conclusion for a name was Abbadon?) killed Eden. We do know Eden sacrificed a lot of power to ‘feed’ Abbadon, and while I got the impression this was voluntary I could well be wrong, basically just a hunch. After that, Eden was certainly weakened and even crippled, but it’s not known whether it would have recovered at the conclusion of the cycle and was only weak enough for Cauldron to kill it, or whether it was dying from that point and lied to Scion about it to not worry Scion, because it was in denial, or even something more complicated like interference/deception from Cauldron or Abbadon.

    • It appears that she was able to mine it for powers while it was still alive and then drilled down and took essential powers that it needed for life.

      Wonder how essential Contessa was.

      But the trans dimensional warp appears to connect this body to the sealed dimension where Scion keeps his main mass.

      And it is still active even in death.

  16. That moment when you realise that Wildbow has just;

    a) Taken a cue from Neon Genesis Evangelion, specifically the Lilith scene, and;

    b) Actually managed to blow THAT out of the water.

    Forget CMOA for Taylor. This, here, is a CMOA for Wildbow himself.

    • New theory: wildbow is a literary Thinker/Tinker from Earth Bet, who somehow wound up here while escaping some calamity that will be coming in later arcs or stories. She knows of some threat that will be coming in the future, so she is slowly bullding up to that, gaining a fanbase in the meantime.

      Or, at minimum, wildow is a literary Thinker/Tinker

  17. I have to say, the only person comparable to Taylor’s hemorrhaging record is only Kenta from Deadman Wonderland series, well the difference was Kenta practically shot his blood to fight

    I’m awestruck, probably she got more power than just master/thinker, it has to be

  18. Wow. Another powerful chapter, although, this chapter more than others I found hard to understand the descriptions. I kind of lost track of where they were in the building in relation to the big room with Zion in it. I had a hard time understanding what Eden looked like for a long time. Still kind of do, although I guess what she look(ed) like now matters a bit less.

    Actually, I have a question for the community. When Doormaker broke the birdcage, does anyone know if and how he made them bigger? A while back, I think it was teacher posited that they had all been shrunk on their entry to the birdcage and I had taken that as fact until Doormaker made a portal and they all came though, but normal sized. Has anyone thought about this at all?

    • I believe it was mentioned that the Birdcage worked through space-warping technology. So the inmates weren’t shrunk but could fit in the Birdcage nonetheless. Like Vista using her power to put more things than should fit in her backpack.

  19. I just had a horrible thought.

    Wouldn’t what happened to Scion’s partner be the most massive fridging of a love interest ever?

  20. Just the usual jumble of thoughts.

    If Sveta got free she would look for Weld. If he survived, hopefully they can keep themselves sane together.

    I think Lung still follows partially because of some strange empathy – the part of him that decided to never give up recognizes that part in Taylor and respects it. In the previous chapter, Lung tore himself free from Pretendria by tearing open his own throat. Here, Taylor makes herself functional by deliberately goading an enemy to burn her arm off.

    The events in this chapter probably depleted more of Zion’s power than ever before. The megaton column of steel trick was part of it, but there was another part. Assume that Eden’s well of reserves would be comparable to Zion’s well of reserves. Zion was upset enough to try to burn it away. It didn’t look like he completed the job, but burning away the counterpart would have taken an equivalent amount of power to that required to deplete his own well of reserves. So, in his emotional state he set himself a task that would have seriously depleted the reserves he has so far protected.

    “Usually it’s you with these plans,” Imp said.

    I smiled at that one. Was it Golem or Cuff that came up with that one? Either way, a person who Taylor had been training for a couple of years. Yeah, power stunts.

    And now, for a few guesses as to Zion-enders. Please note that my record on guessing future plot developments is poor.
    1. Despair can lead to self-destruction. Now, how to work that? Perhaps hit him with something he can’t ignore and while he is dealing with that, get him in Chetcher’s range (Cherish/Butcher, since we are using many portmanteaus). It worked for the previous Butcher.
    2. As other commenters noted, Sun Tzu recommends having his enemies in an emotional state, but “There’s an implicit assumption in Sun Tzu’s work that the person you are angering cannot destroy the world by flexing himself a little.” (Psycho Gecko and Robert). We have seen that Contessa’s route to victory power, which Zion now has, is based off of her choosing a route to victory, implying that she can choose badly. So, if they can manipulate Zion correctly, they can get him to choose a “victory” that requires burning through his resources. The problem with that is the resources are so vast, he can wipe out multiple Earths and still have room to play in.
    3. He is feeling human emotions. I don’t know if it is apocryphal, but I have heard of people going to funerals to hit on the remaining family members while they are emotionally vulnerable. So, can Taylor get Zion hooked up while he is emotional, or at least interested in a human partner? Pretendria, are you looking for a rebound relationship (the body and mind closer to his power level than anyone else)?
    4. I refuse to believe that the continuing, repeated mention of Canary is accidental. For example, “I looked at Lung with Canary, my eyes roving over our assembled number. Ideas falling in place.” Her influence is subtle enough that it might not trigger Zion’s active countermeasures. So, in a vein similar to #1 and #3, while he is occupied with a fight, have Canary sing to him and then suggest he leave humanity alone (or another non-destructive goal).

    • Yeah. That’ll be hilarious.

      Whomever: “We have three Endbringers, you only have two. We can take you.

      Taylor: “We have two Endbringers, Dragon, and Scion. Bring it.”

      • Bad Guys: We have everything, you would need an entity of colossal size to defeat us now!

        Taylor: Tattletale?
        Tt: Yes?
        Taylor: Can I borrow your ego a minute…

      • Whomever: “We have three Endbringers, you only have two. We can take you.”

        Taylor: “I’m pretty sure that’s what Lung said before I gouged out his eyes. And what Butcher said before I got her stabbed through the heart. And what Alexandria said before I drowned her in bugs. And that was before a couple years of training in the PRT, and before Defiant and Dragon lent me some Tinker toys.”

    • #2: Not a bad idea. This very chapter shows that, although Zion can find a road to what he wants, it might not always be how he wants it. It reminds me of Noelle’s interlude–the one where Crawler was trying to get to Noelle. Good chance of surviving the next hour if they did so; abysmal chance of surviving five hours.

      #3: Hey! I promoted that idea for chapters!

    • Basically agree, but I question the “burning away the counterpart would have taken an equivalent amount of power to that required to deplete his own well of reserves.” bit. If there’s a stockpile of 20 nuclear bombs, do you need 20 nuclear bombs to blow it up, or can you do it with just one?

  21. This story is getting ridiculously good. While catching up I don’t think I realized just how gripping the story was because the next part was always there to relieve the curiosity. The last few chapters have been a little confusing on the layout of the safe room/base thing but it’s not hugely important. Other than that I just wanted to make my presence known in the comment section. (aww, who am I kidding, this entire post is me fishing for a Geckoduction)

      • As I explain every so often, and it’s quite normal for new people to miss this as they don’t tend to read the comments on their first run through, I don’t welcome people unless they confirm themselves as new. When I started doing these welcomes, there was a good chance I might welcome someone who was here for a long time but whose name I never remembered. That’s become less likely since I started these, but still seems a decent idea to go by.

        Now then, it’s good to have you here at WormComments-o-Rama! *puts on facepaint and ties bands around his arms to make the biceps bulge, then hits the “Beware of falling Similes” alarm.*

        I am going to welcome you like the peacock welcomes the sun. Confusion may spread through you like fireproof butter on a hot knife, but nothing will stop me from welcoming you now, for I am like a shish kebob stick and a No. 3 pencil in the hurricane, a danger to the eyes and brains of many in a wide area.

        We here in the comments are like a family. We will straight up cut a man over a Beatles lyric. Like a ketchup stain on a thong, we aren’t going away no matter how deep you dig. Elusive, like a sesame seed on a human taint. Fearless, like a coked-up baboon with a flamethrower. Seemingly everlasting, like the taco in your system as you meet your future soulmate. And way too much fun, like when a whale rubs against a boat to feel all the vibrations in its body.

        And so, TanaNari, welcome to the comments so hard, you’d think somebody slapped you in the face with a wet possum.

    • Now for a welcoming set to the tune of

      Hello, I said, heave-ho, heave ho,
      on a late Saturday night,
      and I saw there a newbish stare,
      when ffhjconner’s post came to light.

      “Welcome here, heave-ho,” I said
      “now that you’ve read on through.
      But now is not the time to become bored
      instead join the honored few.”

      I said, “Now hush bud,
      Use your words,
      Here’s the box,
      We’re all nerds
      But I don’t want to go to sleep,
      Instead I’ll flip the birds.”

      The author howled,
      “Heave-ho, heave-ho,”
      And covered ships with sheets.
      “No one’s happy in this tale.
      Your jokes smell bad like feet.”

      His story, it rocked
      Heave-ho, heave-ho
      Though some bitched and moaned
      but forget the whiny trolls
      who’ve been completely pwned.

      I said, “Now hush bud,
      Use your words,
      Here’s the box,
      We’re all nerds
      But I don’t want to go to sleep,
      Instead I’ll flip the birds.”

      Author, author!
      Write us up some more
      We will read with all our might
      And discuss all of your lore.
      Readers, welcome!
      I’m here to welcome you
      to the Worm comments, my friends,
      and lurkers welcome too.

      Like a sick hooker,
      heave-ho, heave-ho,
      your patience strains to the brink,
      by the gas from my ass,
      or was that just me smiling?

      Enjoy your stay,
      heave-ho, heave-ho,
      and please excuse my absence
      our domain is talkative,
      Welcome, fghjconner, to the comments.

      “Hush, now, hush bud,
      Use your words,
      Here’s the box,
      We’re all nerds
      But I don’t want to go to sleep,
      Instead I’ll flip the-“

    • I just caught up reading through my first time (this is my first time even looking at the comment section). I’ve been going hardcore for the last 2 weeks on my phone. I’m blown away at the quality of this story, the depth of the characterization, the twisty-turny plot, and the goddamn triumphant action. Soon as I get some money it’s getting fed to that donation button, because a work of fiction of this creative caliber CAN’T be free. It would upset my worldview.

      • Mwahahahaha!

        Yes…free Tibet, free Willy, freemasons, buy one get one free, and now…free Worm! My master plan is coming along nicely.

        I will have to step up efforts to free everyone to death. Free Pussy Control!

        They may take your lives, but they’ll never take my freedom!

        Now that you’ve joined us in the comments, woefully unprepared from not even looking at the comments until now, then feel free to have a good time. All your favorite speculative crushes between characters are free shipping, but not handling. Especially not free handling around Garotte.

        That not free enough for you? Pay nothing now, and get freeballs! That’s right, you too are freeballin’ for one easy payment of $0.00. Unless you’re biologically female. Then, you’re freelippin’.

        Don’t blame me, I just find these phrases. I don’t even pay for them, so no matter the cost, they’re free for me.

        There’s fanfics and humor and in-depth analysis to enjoy. When it comes to writing, the commenters are practically freelance.

        If I leave here for a little while, would you still remember me? Because unfortunately I have to run off like Free Bird for awhile.

        In the meantime, I hope you stay and enjoy kickin’ it freestyle around here at Worm, possibly while eating freedom fries.
        Welcome, Vwyx, to the comments section.

        • Damn, that’s one hell of a typo…all for free! “Free Pussy Riot!” It should say. That’s what happens when you get mixed up with the song “Pussy Control” by Prince and I don’t think people can lock up songs so easily. But the ideas were exchanged in my mind. A free exchange of ideas, you might say.

  22. I was wondering–were we ever told the time frame between the first appearance of the third entity, the partner going silent, and Zion finishing the shard distribution and forming his projection-body? It might help figure out Cauldron’s connection–if any–to the third entity.

    Also, another incredible chapter in an extremely absorbing story, wildbow.

  23. Dear Wildbow,

    Whilst I might faff about on here, to feel younger than I actually amI return here often as this is simply a very good piece of fiction and one of the most engaging I have read in many years. in my long lost youthful years, I’ve read much of the output of, DC, Marvel, image and even our dear own UK’s 2000AD amongst others.With their many stories ranging form Awesome to pure dreck, opinions may differ as to which are which however… except Spider-Man One More Day… (I couldn’t resist that one even if it is an easy target.)

    One of the things noted the ongoing improvement with Worm. I freely admit to finding the start a little ‘Oh no, a high school situation’ but they write what you know an you did. I also read the point that you mentioned that you were going to edit quite extensively at some point. I am aware that you’ve said numerous times, this is not the finished product.

    Still, longer chapters, character development, Plot twists. Armsmaster and Weaver working together as trusted colleagues… your ability to thread unforeseen and also foreseen these plot strands together is astounding.

    Long story short: This is going to be one of the stories I will remember reading for some time so thank you and i hope you enjoy your writing for sometime to come

    Yours sincerely,

    Iain, aka ShawnMorgan, probably one of your oldest audience?

    Ps. I will endeavour to write up our Worm style game form last weeks as thanks. it was Suez rather than the Somme in the end but your GM still sent us to investigate ‘Camp 53 ‘ behind enemy lines.

  24. Maybe you remember that Bay12 Worm-based RP set in another world’s Toronto?

    It’s finally starting.

    Here it is!

    The cast:
    Elena Hargrove, a young woman traumatized after a childhood in which she was forced to be perfect at piano-playing. After being even more traumatized by mistakes in her playing and by the punishments she received, she beat herself up over having failed. Then, she discovered that her mother and brother were dead. She triggered, gaining emotion sense and a bit of control; she joined the Wards after trying to take over a bunch of high schoolers. (Mr. Void’s character.)
    Steven Jerle, a tall electrical engineer who tried to be a hero and got beaten up and buried alive for his trouble. While choking to death on soil, he triggered, gaining on the plus side the ability to “phase” through solid matter and manipulate it somewhat (kinda like a weaker/less versatile version of Annex, I guess), due in part to the fact that this matter becomes his new body. End result: He is made of brick and/or stone, still humanoid but now in hiding.
    Tabitha Kataiser, a veteran who survived the destruction of her squad multiple times. Returning home, she discovered her mother, starving, babbling, and on the brink of death from a brain disorder. She triggered, but her newfound tinker abilities were of no help. Biomedical tinker, which she uses in contracts for the PRT. Played by dermonster, a destructive guy who is notable for introducing me to Worm. Thanks, derm!
    Selina Nox, a shy orphan. She was adopted, managed to start to recover from her time in the orphanage (which wasn’t horrible, but no one really liked her)…and then, at age 13, she got trapped in a car after an accident which killed her adoptive parents. Then she got tortured by a cruel woman for days before the local heroes could rescue her. After the accident, she developed a power which I think of as “charging” at people: She has some low-level super speed (30-40 mph being her typical top speed), along with a sort of shield that surrounds her when she moves, protecting her and letting her project her strikes a bit farther. Her body lacks the enhanced durability required to handle the super-speed for more than a few seconds, however, limiting the power to short bursts. Then, she got put in a foster home, where she was ignored unless yelled at about bad grades. Oh, and she was being bullied again. A couple years later (right about at the story’s start), she snapped and before she knew it she had killed all of her tormentors.
    Matthew Oceans, a young man working as a busboy who witnessed a rape. Trying to call the police about it, he was stopped by the rapists and forced underwater. There, he triggered; he lost his sight, but gained hydrovoyance and hydrokinesis. He has tried to get past it, pretending that he was just blinded by the assault and doing his best to forget.
    Finally, Kevin Stringer, an introverted guy whose family fell apart when he was entering adolescence. His sister admitted to being a parahuman (a tinker or thinker with an artistic ability). Several years later, Kevin had reached adulthood, and his sister was attacked and killed by an osteokinetic Master who wanted to recruit her. He triggered, gaining a bit of sanguinokinesis, sufficient to trace runes on himself or others in blood, giving the tracee one of a few powers. Like Matthew, he hasn’t made any particular plans about becoming a cape…although he has one of the more versatile abilities in the city.

    Anyways, I’d appreciate a bit of advice on Power Ratings. A bunch, you’ll see an [X] for the number where I don’t have any idea what it should be, or a #? when I only have a general idea of a number. Especially in such cases where I’m uncertain of a rating, I’d appreciate it if you could help me figure out what ratings would best apply. Just give me advice, I’d appreciate it. Heck, give me advice on other things, too; I could use it.

    • Hargrove sounds like maybe Master 2, depending on the details of the high schoolers incident. I’d toss a lot of things her way that her resemblance to Heartbreaker would make worse.

      Why did Jerle’s trigger warp his body? Normal triggers only warp the mind. I’d call him a Changer-Brute hybrid.

      Heh. Kataiser’s a Bonesaw on the side of the angels. You might want to refine the definition of “biomedical tinker” because that can be everything from prosthetics to Bonesaw-esque implants to hospital equipment to medicine.

      Selina Nox: Look up “Mass Effect 2 Vanguard” for me. I’ll wait.

      Are we back? Good. With that in mind, definitely Mover 2 or 3, tho I may be underestimating her. If you wanted to shoehorn in a second category, maybe Mover-Breaker, given her secondary “protect me from friction” power.

      Oceans seems like, I don’t know, Blaster-Thinker? Maybe just Blaster, depending on how his player thinks of his hydrovoyance. Also, he falls into the same problem as Jerle, in that normal triggers don’t warp the body. He should be blinded by the assault.

      And finally, Stringer. The fact that he has a parahuman sister is iffy; dipping close to contradicting the rules on how parahuman “genetics” works. I’m sure it can be handwaved, tho, esp. if the sister is in fact kept a thinker. As it is, he’s a Striker-Trump. (His power is very similar to Othala’s power).

      • Actually, to be perfectly blunt, a lot of these powers seems like knockoffs.

        Stringer is Othala. Oceans is a blind Sere (nyurhurhur). Nox is, as mentioned, a ME2/ME3 Vanguard. Kataiser is a moral Bonesaw. Jerle is Annex. Hargrove, to complete the set, is Cherish.

        • I have never played a Mass Effect game, so I promise that I did not rip off this Vanguard guy.

          As for the others…well, half of them you have to kind of dig for it, and the other two…yeah, when wildbow’s in the picture it’s really hard to come up with completely original powers.

      • Jerle’s power was like…dangit, I know there’s an example somewhere. Basically, it’s a bit like a Changer power that can’t be turned off.
        Anyways, at the time I was considering having that world’s Scion be Eden while the dead one would be Zion.

        I had that in mind for Kataiser’s power…yeah, it could be problematic if he can find enough test subjects.

        Selina’s power doesn’t seem terribly useful for movement. Sure, super-speed for a few seconds at a time, but when you can’t move miles in those seconds you probably need more than that. I also called her a Striker because the theoretical imagined use was as an attack.

        I’m not sure how useful hydrokinesis would be as an attack. I imagine it as being more of a bettlefield-controlling power, hence Shaker. I suppose it depends on what wolfchild tries.

        Stringer’s sister being parahuman is supported by the parahuman families. He’s actually a lot like Imp, actually. Anyways, remember the Wards arc? Right in the second chapter, or whichever it is that they do class in, it’s mentioned that powers can be “inherited” parent-to-child or sibling-to-sibling. It’s supported well in canon.

        Thanks for all your input, but I already had categories. I was hoping more for numbers.

        • To me, the main problem with Serena’s power doesn’t seem to be its power level, but rather that it seems boring to play. It’s a bit like Ballistic’s power – it only does one thing and it can basically only be used one very blunt, direct way. Half the fun of Worm is seeing people explore innovative use of powers. Though I can think of a few potential tricks to try, Serena seems really limited in this regard.

  25. It appears as if Psychogecko might have just saved a lot of money on car insurance.

    Perhaps they are currently engaged in making a new commercial rather than commenting on new posters here.

      • The only thing I’m more surprised about than the fact that it took this long for someone to make that joke is that wasn’t the one to make it.

  26. 2 Things: What if doctor Mother didn’t have the potential for superpowers, but she had superpowers in the past and has now lost them? We know superpowers can be retrieved, since the entity pair would do that before destroying earth. So perhaps the single entity used her for something and then took her powers and rewrote her memory before departing. Or maybe she transferred her powers to someone else herself (e.g. Contessa) and then erased her own memory. Or maybe they didn’t even erase her memory and she was simply lying for some reason.

    The second thing is the Endbringers and by extension Eidolon and by extension Cauldron really destroyed a very good chance/opportunity humanity had for surviving. Because, if you think about it, in a world where every big project wasn’t a target for city destroying monsters but only regular monsters, you would just need a tinker to design space elevators and fusion reactors (or some other means to make space travel easy) and you could leave Earth back forever. That way you could say “Who cares about those two things want to destroy the Earth? Let them destroy it. We’ll just go live somewhere else!”

    • Your second point is actually explicitly mentioned in-story. Alan grammes was working on projects for Moon and Mars cities but then Simurgh happened and he became Mannequin.

    • To be fair, Eidolon not realizing he had made the Endbringers suggests that he did so unconsciously. So the blame skips a step there, I guess.

      And Cauldron probably didn’t expect that side effect, for that matter.

      • and to put another layer on their Blamecake, Cauldron was at least partially responsible for jack telling zion to go all kill-happy, as i recall they interfered at least ONCE with an attempt to take out members of the S9, if not many times more, which coudl partially explain how they survived so ( aside form their abilities and modified anatomy/constant recruiting) long with prettym uch everyone on the planet in kill-on-sight mode

  27. I wonder if, if everyone from Jack to Satyrical to Cauldron put aside all their bullshit and hypothetically worked together, if they could beat Scion without any Endbringer assistance.

      • Resurrection. THAT scenario’s never happened. there’s always at the VERY least ONE idiot trying to work an angle at the worst possible time.

      • Closest I know of is when the heroes assembled on the oil platform. As I recall, Cauldron didn’t help and Jack Slash and his Slaughterhouse 9 were somewhat out of commission and responsible for the whole mess starting.

        • And that is as close as we will be able to ever get, given casualties since then.

          And Jack is pretty much unreachable.

        • It isn’t so much that Cauldron chooses not to help, so much as they are following stage direction for someone playing the part of Starscream in a bizarre Transformers stage play in an alternate universe. Most of the time, they do less than nothing in terms of assistance and end up actively screwing over everyone where they could have avoided it all by just talking to people. Nine times out of ten, tragedy could have been averted if Cauldron didn’t insist on playing the part of covert spooks and actually worked with people.

    • Possibly, but it would not be related to their banding together, it would be related to uncovering whatever secret weakness or something Taylor ends up exploiting to win.

  28. Now the question I have is just how far into despair has Scion fallen? See Glaistig stated that he still had hope and so did she. Obviously one hope was that the counterpart could be revived. But didn’t she also posit the scenario of another showing up? Of course I consider the cycle bieng completed a bad thing. But if Scion looses all hope, what will he do? And for that matter could Glaistig’s help be counted on if there is no chance of the cycle bieng completed.

    • Right now he’s probably busy putting together the worlds largest carton of ice cream. A good, long comfort food binge should buy time for the heroes to come up with something that’ll actually work.

  29. Well, they have the second entity, still linked up with the complete body on the sealed world where the worms put their “real” bodies, so to speak, (though the second worm appears to have died with a good chunk where Dr. Mother could mine it, apparently still working on her body projection).

    That means that a gateway could well be worked to the “home” of the worms, and Scion’s real body from that point.

    We have whatever the Smurf put in action.

    We have Foil with the “stinger” power (though obviously when she just shoots at Scion he mocks her).

    And, of all things, E was a threat or Scion would not have burned energy looking for a way to win. That is telling as well.

    Unresolved. The thousands of Indian Cold capes, are they really in a war zone somewhere else, a second front Cauldron has against other enemies? What can Number man tell us about everything? What is the mass of anti-matter needed to take out an earth?

    Can Scion/Zion/Adam be pushed into a suicidal funk? What happens when Lung and Canary pair up? So many questions inquiring minds want to know.

    But still, lots of threads in the air, lots of questions and issues.

    • > That means that a gateway could well be worked to the “home” of the worms, and Scion’s real body from that point.

      It’s a chance, and I hope something along those lines will happen, but Scion specifically restricted teleportation-related powers from being able to access the dimensions the shards and worms are in. Since Eden died, its dimension may be less secure than Scion’s. And goddess knows what Abaddon/Lilith is up to. They may not be able to develop any leads to Scion himself.

  30. Man it occurs to me that we’ll quite possibly get confirmation of a bunch of offscreen deaths. Lets see, Weld was up above, so we got to find out if the Irregulars or Scion killed him. Then theirs at least five (?) people in the cave with the portal. I think they had two members of the Vegas wards, plus the hidden Revel, Exalt, and Arbiter. Did Scion just bypass them, or did he kill them on the way in? Not to mention whereever Scion hit before going for the portal. It’d suck for Taylor to find out that Scion hit Pancea’s hospital, and she won’t be getting a new arm.

    Something interesting I noticed going through the character sheets on TVTropes. A contrast between Doctor Mother and Riley. When Imp confronted Riley about what she did to Brian, Riley at least pretended she remembered who that was, and did seem to feel remorse (Even though she probably doesn’t remember at first what Imp is talking about). DM just consideres Sveta unimportant.

    • To be fair, remembering Grue and what Bonesaw did to him is a lot easier than remembering that Imp was involved. Imp probably could’ve said, “Hey, remember when I walked up to you and stabbed you in the fucking face?” and Riley would’ve been all, “Uh… no? When was that? Did I do anything interesting to you for it?”

  31. I can see it now:
    Taylor: Hey Panacea, I need a little help here.
    Panacea: That absolutely does it – you keep trashing my work. (calls) Bonesaw, one for you this time!

  32. The mass of antimatter needed to take out an Earth, at least to the point of making it largely unlivable for humans, is about 1.000 tons for a single explosion. It would result in a 20 teraton explosion , a single blast at least an order of magnitude more powerful than all the nuclear weapons ever built IRL.

    It should be pointed out that the Chicxulub crater was created by the meteor impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, which was significantly more powerful than that and didn’t cause total extinction of all life.

    It should also be pointed out that hitting the Earth with the Moon would not destroy it but would make it totally unlivable. The moon’s kinetic energy is twelve orders of magnitude greater than the energy of the notional 20-teraton antimatter bomb.

    And of course, our sun unleashes enough energy in a thousandth of a second to obliterate the biosphere of the Earth. It unleashes enough energy in one minute to blow up half the planet, literally.

  33. Ok. I disagree. Dr Mother triggered. She got the power she really wanted. To be dead and to not have to hope any more.

    That moment with Weld was telling. When she felt hope. Her life has been a chain of dispair and hopeless struggle.

    Death was her only exit and what she needed. It is what she got.

  34. I don’t get why hitting Scion with metal would do more damage than the Siberian. There was a cape who could teleport mountains on top of somebody, and nobody was supposed to have a power that could seriously damage Scion, so why should this attack be any effective?
    Can someone explain, please?

  35. Hi there Wildbow. Been reading Worm over the past few months and have been absolutely loving it. Can’t believe it’s coming to an end; I’m fanatically tearing through the last few chapters to see what happens. Just wanted to congratulate you on a great job: fantastic, involving characters, deliciously intelligent and complex plots, and very satisfying solutions. The whole thing has had me hooked for months and raving about it to my friends.

    Looking forward to seeing how things turn out! Still can’t believe you killed Clockblocker though

    • It’s getting serious now. People are going to die, probably including your favorite characters. Why? Because Worm ain’t the Silver Age, labdoor.

  36. I do really like the Number Man. The guy is very polite and pragmatic about everything. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy or a good guy at all. Just a guy. One interested in order but not to the OCD degree of Accord. He’s cool.

    It is very interesting to see what the counterpart looked like in the middle of her experimentation. I almost feel bad for Scion. In a warped way he is mourning the death of his lifelong partner.

    Oh yup good slip Aisha. Grue just officially confirmed dead. Good thing Taylor is too out of it to realize that. Glad to know I was right! Sad yes, but still gratifying on some level. RIP Brian.

    Honestly I’m amazed they didn’t think of the box shelter sooner. It was what the clone Siberians led with after all. And what she first descended to when they found Manton to begin with.

    Yet again everybody defaults to the 18 year teenager with the mangled body mostly because she is the only one who keeps piecing things together by thinking outside the boxes. It’s very satisfying. Taylor’s real true weapon has consistently been her extreme ability to plan on the fly and come up with connections and uses that others simply ignore or never notice. I am very curious whether this is something that was amplified by her passenger or if it was something that was innate to her. Her multitasking was definitely enhanced but was her mind bumped up a notch too or is that all home grown? Either way, it is damn impressive and just goes to show you why humanity may not be worth saving but, at the end of the day you do not fuck with humanity.

    I still really hope Weld made it out okay. I kind of doubt it considering everything but I’m going to hold onto that chance. If Sveta has a chance then so does he.

    • Actually, as you stated earlier in your comment, in this case Taylor’s plan was mostly thinking *inside* the box. A paradigm that is, admittedly, far more effective when said box is invulnerable and outside it is umpteen tons of falling steel + Zion.

      I don’t think Grue is dead, I think Aisha was referring to his torture at the hands of Bonesaw and subsequent PTSD.

      The readers are with you on that last point. Weld and Sveta deserve to survive. Weld is the closest thing to an Ideal Hero that Worm has (bar maybe Dragon), and Sveta is just so sweet and tragic.

  37. “No. We came for answers. This is it. We had answers. Now we just needed to get in a position where we could use them. Get them to Tattletale, to other thinkers.”

    I think either the tenses are mucked up or this should be a thought.

  38. I came here on a keyword search from Ward and now I want to say…

    “Irregulars. It clouds his senses like the irregulars do.”

    Sveta’s face changed. I couldn’t quite make it out with my bug vision.

    “I can do it,” she said.

    An excellently placed emotional land mine. Taylor literally doesn’t know how happy Sveta is to be compared to the Irregulars.

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