Interlude 29

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Two parts to a whole.

This, as everything does, builds towards the ultimate objective, a propagation of the species.

To rise above a competition among one’s own species is a kind of transcendence.  Cooperation, a goal that extends beyond one’s lifespan, one’s community.  This entity can recall the moment of transcendence, the unification and reinvention of their species.

Everything extends to an end goal.  A complete and total mastery of all things.  In time, just as they spread and consumed their entire world, they will fill every space in all accessible universes that can be occupied.  In time, they will reach a stasis and they will fall from their transcendent state.  They will descend into competition once more, and they will devour each other alive once again.

Hope, continued existence, is dependent on another reinvention of their species.  They will use knowledge gleaned from countless other species, from mingling, matching and culling their own internal libraries of functions.

There is only so much time.  Only so many generations and cycles before things approach their final state.  Information will be exchanged, their species will weigh everything based on merit, and then they will seek a solution.  A final expenditure of power, a resetting of the universes, a reinvention of existence, or something beyond this entity.

This is the goal.  The most must be made of every cycle.

Two parts to a whole.  The other entity is a warrior, direct, oriented in the short-term goals.  This entity looks further, consulting possibilities.

Their general destination is in mind, and has been in mind for some time.  Already, they have begun to close their helix spiral, drawing fractionally towards one another with each rotation, controlling the pattern and timing of their approach.

Destination, the Warrior entity communicates.

Agreement, this entity responds.  The signals that accompany and form the overarching messages allow them to pick out sub-worlds for themselves.  Arrival points, destinations for critical shards to root, hosts for the extensions of those same shards.

Trajectory, the other entity communicates.  More data on where they will arrive, the way they will move on approach, the placement of less crucial shards.

Agreement.  This entity sees the constant messages as a distraction.  It is reorganizing, calling on its own precognition and clairvoyance to map out their actions after arrival.

This entity reforms itself, adjusting the placements of individual shards, priming itself for a deeper simulation, considering possible ways things can be carried out.

This takes time.  Focus.

Colony, the other entity signals.

Narrowing down possible destinations.

Agreement, this entity is distracted in responding.  It is receiving another broadcast.

A third.

The communication is almost alien, a member of their species, but long distant, from countless cycles ago.

It hesitates, then signals its own location.


The response is garbled.  Takes time to analyze.

The third entity travels more through momentum than by insinuation.  It expends vast quantities of power to change course.

They meet violently.  As their ancestors did, they share with one another in a violent fashion, crashing together, breaking shard from shard.

This entity knows right away that there is a wealth of information here.  But there must be cooperation, information given for information.

Even as they grind together, destroying one another in a brutal exchange of shards, the entity works to salvage key shards, to put ones it can afford to lose on the exterior body.

This is the optimal path, the best way to achieve their end goal.  The shards here are rich with memories, experience and unexplored possibilities.  It is worth sacrificing as much as she is.

They break apart.  The third entity continues its path, moving to a distant star, its path perpendicular to the pair’s.

Concern, the Warrior entity expresses.

Confident, this entity responds.  This is optimal.  It is heavy with these new shards, drowning in knowledge and experience.  If this could occur with every cycle, bringing this sort of information into the pattern, then survival beyond the endpoint would be virtually guaranteed.

This entity struggles to move as it works to reorganize these new shards, to convert them into a form it can use.

It will see this cycle through, and regain what it lost in the union with the Warrior.

This entity sees new possibilities, now.  Not simply conflict, but philosophy and psychology.  Imagination.  It is in these new patterns of thought that it can see a possibility for the future.  Its partner takes on some of its duties as it digs into the libraries of information to see how it might put it into practice.

It can use its strengths, the Warrior’s strengths, and the host’s natures to explore new ideas and tactics for approaching the endpoint.

Already, this entity is forming a model, a simulacrum of the host species, mapping out how things might unfold.  While the Warrior is preparing to shed its shards and litter the world, this entity is plotting a strategic approach.

It cannot make out what form it or the other entity will take, but it can still view the situation in part.  It sets the criteria for an optimal future, for optimal study, and then it looks to a future that matches this criteria.

“Thank you for coming,” Partisan said.

The entity nodded.  Its expression was stern.

Partisan touched his computer terminal.  Monitors lit up, showing a series of images.

A figure, fifteen feet tall, pale, with a lion’s head, a mane of crystal.  Muscular, brutish, it was perched on a massive floating crystal, with more crystals floating about it. Here and there, the crystals touched ground.  They turned what they touched into more crystal, which soon uprooted themselves to join the storm around it.

A woman, even more brutish in appearance, had a reptilian lower body.  Steam rolled off her in billowing clouds, taking uncanny forms as it coiled and expanded through the area.  Faces, reaching claws and more.

And on the third monitor, flecked by static, was a naked man, beautiful and long-haired, his face touched with a macabre grin.  He perched on top of an ocean wave that was frozen in place, his body too flexible, moving with the wind as though he were light enough to be carried away.

“They’ve released three more of the superweapons,” Partisan said.  “But of course, you know this.”

“I do,” the entity responds.

“This makes nine.  Four are at the Divide.  We’ve got one to the far north, poised to flank us.  Four more spread out over the world.”

“Maybe more we don’t know about,” Arsenal speaks.

A power the entity held in reserve identified something wrong.  The entity turned and looked at its partner, standing slightly behind it, taciturn and silent.  They exchanged the smallest of broadcasts.

A consensus was reached between them.  Arsenal knew something about the superweapons, or he suspected strongly enough for it to matter.

“What is it?” Clarent asked.

The entity responded, feigning emotion, “…There are eleven more.”

It could see the reaction among the gathered heroes of the Wardens.  Fear, alarm, a kind of dawning horror.

For Arsenal, though, there was another reaction.  He was upset, yes, but was a little relieved at the same time.  He knew about the others, and he had been testing them, to see if they would lie.

But suspicions remained.

“Eleven?”  Partisan asked.

“Stationed around the world, at the borders of the stronger nations,” the entity informed the Wardens.  “Like yours, they’re remaining more or less stationary, only attacking when they see weakness.”

“And you believe it is the Shepherds who are responsible?”

The entity shook its head.  “I can’t know.  You’ve seen for yourself, the powerful blocks they’ve put in place against powers.  But enough clues point to the Shepherds.”

The expressions of the three men are grim.  The other heroes, at the edges of the room, seem equally concerned.  A woman with a great cannon that constantly changes, expanding and contracting like a living thing.  A hulk of a man, laden with muscle, was muttering something to people around him.

“If this goes any further, we’ll be forced to submit to these terror tactics,” Partisan said.  “I don’t like to say it, but…”

“War,” Arsenal said.  “It’s our only option.”

“I don’t like war,” the woman with the gun said.  “It’ll cause as many problems as it fixes, and with stakes this high, that’s a lot of new problems.”

“Doing nothing is just as dangerous,” Arsenal said.

“I’m not so sure.”

“We know they’re projections,” Arsenal said, his eyes on the monitors.  “Someone or something is projecting them.  We cut off the head, the superweapons fall.”

“Yes,” the entity agreed.  It didn’t miss the curious glance Arsenal gave it.

“We’ll need your help,” Partisan said.

“You’ll have it,” the entity said.  “But there are other places needing our help, too.  Against these, and against other things.  Some are in the middle of full-scale wars as I speak.  We’ll assist you, we’ll stop these superweapons-“

“If these ones can be stopped,” Partisan said.

“…If they can be stopped.  That touches on my next point.  You’ll need to do as much damage as you can, give it your all.  We’ll be arriving late, and if they’re strong…”

The entity trailed off.  It could see Arsenal’s suspicions growing deeper.

“You have your hands full,” Clarent said.

The entity nodded.  It feigned a moment of weariness, assuring these individuals it was merely human.

“Thank you,” Partisan said.  He extended a hand.

The entity roused itself from the mock-exhaustion, straightening, and shook the hand.

“We need to go,” the entity said.

“Before you do,” Partisan said.  He reached into his belt and withdrew a small device.  “Here.  It has good days and bad, but on a good day, we get a range of about a thousand miles, which is maybe four or five times the usual.  With luck, we’ll be able to tune it and cut through the blackout effect.  Get international communications going again.”

“Arsenal’s work?” the entity asked, though it already knew.  It could trace the design to the memories in Arsenal’s shard.

“Arsenal and Richter,” Partisan said.

The entity nodded.  It had no pockets, so it held the device in one hand.

“Good luck,” Partisan said.  “Whoever you’re helping.”

The entity’s expression remained grave.  “I should be wishing you luck.  If you succeed here, you’ll be saving a lot of people.  Here and elsewhere.”

“Easy to forget elsewhere exists,” Clarent said.

“We defend our borders, keep the peace within, and we hold out,” Partisan said.  “It’s all we can do.  We have enough powers that get stronger over time, yours included.  We have Richter, too, we just need the resources.  Things will get better.”

Clarent nodded.  Arsenal clapped a hand on Clarent’s shoulder.

The three tapped the ends of their weapons together.  Partisan’s heavy spear, Arsenal’s guisarme and Clarent’s longsword.  Then they parted ways, attending to their individual groups and squads.

But Arsenal watched out of the corner of his eye, tracking the entity and the Warrior as they approached, walking towards the room’s exit.

The woman with the gun made her way to Partisan’s side.  She whispered, but the entity could hear it, as it heard all things in the vicinity.  “War?”

“We’ll need our Black Knight, Hannah,” Partisan said.  “We bait them into a fight, then sic him on them.  He’ll be able to win as long as it’s parahumans he’s fighting.  Colin’s squad flanks and infiltrates, my squad scouts and Clarent maintains a defensive line.”

“And if these superweapons attack while our forces are elsewhere?”

“They aren’t attacking.  They’re just… there.”

“But if they do attack?  If they’re there for this exact eventuality?” the gunwoman asked.

“We’ll push on, striking for the Shepherd’s headquarters, and the rest hold out.”

“It’s reckless.”

“It’s the only option.  We’ve got two of the strongest parahumans around on our side,” Partisan said, his voice a little louder.  He glanced at the entity and the Warrior.

The entity glanced his way, acknowledging him.  Its focus, however, was on Arsenal.  Hearing Partisan’s words, Arsenal’s suspicions had reached a climax.  He would say something.

That is, he would, if the entity didn’t intervene.  The entity passed by him, and it leveraged a power.  Wiping a memory, setting a block in place.  The same blocks that prevented accord between the Wardens and the Shepherds.  The same blocks that prevented Partisan’s special sight from seeing the entity’s power at work.

With that, the task was done.  The entity stepped out onto the balcony, then took flight, the Warrior flying behind it.

Destination, the Warrior entity broadcasts the idea, interrupting the simulation.

Agreement, the entity absently responds.

An optimal future.  It is an unwieldy future because it gave up a part of its ability to see the future to the other being.  There are holes, because this entity does not fully understand the details of what happened, and because this entity’s future-sight power is damaged.  Above all else, it is an incomplete future because this entity has only the most minimal role in things, and the shards it saw were all the Warrior’s.

The fact that it did not is a part of that future.  This entity will arrive at the destination, and it will deploy shards to complicate a situation and break stalemates.  Losing sides will be granted reinforcements through maturing shards.  A different sort of engagement, a different way of testing the shards.

This entity continues focusing on converting, translating and relocating the shards.  It is frail, fragile.

Hive, the Warrior broadcasts.  A set world, with a set population density and degree of conflict.

But this entity has already decided on that world, seen it in a future.  It responds without consideration.  Agreement.

They are more engaged now, as they close the distance.  They negotiate who can place shards where, and this entity now holds its shards in reserve.

The Warrior is focusing on refining the shards, and this entity is, in turn, focused on refining the future.  A set goal, a reality.

Too complex to convey to the other.

The communications continue, and they approach the galaxy.  This entity begins altering its own powers, but it is not a great concern.

The gravity of the planetary bodies pull at it.  It loses great clumps of shards.

It loses more.  Its focus is now on holding on to the shards critical to making this future it has seen a reality.  A world perpetually in conflict, the groups and factions kept small enough that none can challenge it.

All energy it can spare goes towards the reorganization.  Shards must be discarded, or it will dwarf the destination planet.  It casts shards off, and it retains shards that will allow it to draw power from those shards.

Danger, the Warrior broadcasts.

Confident, this entity responds.

It picks a reality.  Up until the moment it hits ground, it works to reorganize itself.

In the doing, it alters one of the third entity’s powers, replacing its own ability to find the optimal future.

In that very instant, it recognizes that it has made a grave error.  The simulated world and the glimpse of the optimal future are already gone from its grasp.  Too late.

The perspective changes, breaking away, distant, confused, detached.  The impact was too hard.

A girl woke from a dream.

She started to scream, but a man, her uncle, placed a hand over her mouth.  It was the hand, as much as the full-body ache she experienced that silenced her.

Hush,” he said, in their language.  “The monstrous ones are out there.

She nodded, still delirious, lost in the magnitude of what she had seen.

The memories were already slipping away, like sand through her fingers.

Have to remember, she told herself.

The answer snapped into place.  A way to remember.

Nine steps, and she could do it.  Step one was to avoid thinking of the memories.  The moment she acknowledged it, she found herself slipping into a different mindset.

She is touched,” another man said.  One of her uncle’s friends.

She could dimly recall something happening to her parents.  A cataclysmic event.

Except she couldn’t allow herself to start remembering.

She hasn’t changed,” her uncle said.

We both saw the phantom, the night-thing, leap out at her.

She needed to dream.  The next steps would achieve that.

Step two, standing up.

Step three, a jab of her hand at her uncle’s elbow, to stop him from grabbing her.

Step four, a little push of her foot against the ground, to keep her ankle out of reach of the friend’s clutching hand.

Step five, grabbing the medicine bag from behind her uncle.

Opening it was step six.  Walking to the bench was seven.

Her uncle was only getting to his feet now.  Every action was mechanical, spelled out by this surety in her mind’s eye, helped along by a complete, exacting knowledge of how and where to move every body part.

Seven involved uncorking the right bottles.  Eight involved obtaining a specific amount of powder, moving her hand in a careful, precise way, so the exact right amount piled up in her cupped palm.  She dashed it into a half-full mug and drank, just as her uncle reached her, putting his hands on her shoulders, shaking her.

Step nine was to wait for sleep to reach her.  She only needed to dream, and she would be able to escape the forgetting.

When she woke, her body was a ruin, but her mind was clear.

It had started three days ago.  This disaster.  People becoming monsters.  Madness.  Others getting sorcerous abilities.  Their community had scattered, fleeing to the wilderness in small groups.  Any friend or family member could become a beast at a moment’s notice.

Being alone was safest, but being alone meant being in the dark wilderness with the wolves.

It had been a hungry season for the wolves, many sheep dying.

The taste of vomit filled her mouth, but her face was clear.  When she moved, her stomach felt like it had been hit with a club.

She turned her attention to the subject.  One step to minimize the pain.

Swearing was one of them.

Wolf-fucking horseballs,” she muttered, groaning as she found her footing.

She remembered, though.  She knew what they were up against.  This thing, this godling monster, it was going to orchestrate a conflict that spread across an entire world.  When it had gathered whatever it was it wanted to, the results of tests, studies and whatever else, it would consume this world, her own, and everything else to spawn the next generation of its kind.

If she had any conception of where to look-

The answer was given to her.  A thirty-nine step plan.

She felt a chill.

If I wanted to kill the monsters and save everyone from this madness?

Three hundred and seventy-four steps.

She could see each individual step, looking forward to see what it entailed.  She could see it evolve as time passed, accounting for her starting it later.

If I wanted to do both?

Five hundred and thirty-three steps.

Forta,” her uncle spoke.  “You’re awake.

She spun around.

He kept his distance.  “A madness possessed you.  Has it passed?

Had it passed?

Five hundred and fifty-four steps.  Why more than before?

She couldn’t bring herself to respond.

You moved like someone else was inside you.  Escaped Ruggero and me like we weren’t even there.

“I remember,” she said.  She remembered so much.  She understood it all, and she couldn’t explain it-

Ninety-two steps.

She could explain it.  Could she explain it and save everyone?  Explain it and find the strange god-beast, and save her hometown from this chaos?

It was possible.  It would require two thousand, one hundred and seventy-four different actions.  Statements, movements, decisions at precise times.

But she hesitated to carry it out.

There was another question she had to ask.  Like the fable of Luisa and the black-furred man, she had to ask very carefully.

Could she do all this, explain to her uncle, find the thing that was at the heart of this chaos, and save her people, and handle the other essential crises she run into on her way?


A fog was creeping over her eyes, and the number of steps were growing too numerous at the same time.  Two differing things, denying her.

The chill and the general sense of unease crystallized with the realization that she’d have to choose between stopping this monster and helping the people she’d grown up with.

Fortuna, you look as though you’ve seen a ghost,” her uncle said.

I might have, she thought, without taking her eyes off him.

She shivered, but she steeled herself, picking the path she wanted to take.  It was the haze of fog that scared her most.  If she chose to do something else, and she lost sight of the path where she could kill the godling…

Her uncle stiffened as she approached, but she laid a hand on his arm.  She tugged on his sleeve to get him to bend down, then kissed his cheek.

Saving him?

The answer appeared in her mind.  “Go, uncle.  Run as far away as you can.  Don’t eat or drink anything for three days.  It’s all tainted.  Poisoned with the same thing that is making people into monsters.

His eyes widened.  “You will come with me.

She shook her head.

Then she broke into a run.

She could outrun him.  She knew.  He had a bad leg, and it was worse since he’d had to fight off Ruggero.

Into the hills, up the mountain.

Her body ached, but it was easy.  She knew how to move, how to place her feet so the branches didn’t catch on her or trip her, to avoid the patches of lichen which would break away and make her foot slide on the rock beneath.

She knew the most efficient way to climb the rock wall.

She paused to catch her breath, doing her best to ignore the horned man’s corpse at the foot of the wall.  He’d tried to escape this way too, but he’d been pulled down or shot when he was partway up.

Had he been one of them?

Something went wrong.  The monstrous godling had a plan, a vision of the future it wanted, and this isn’t part of that.

It had crashed to earth, and something had broken free.  Here and there, phantom images had appeared, brushing past people, and they changed.  Others changed without touching any of the massive, ghostly gray hands that had appeared from thin air.  She knew, because of this conviction in her head, that it was the food and water.  It was tainting the landscape.

All coming from higher up the cliffside.

She found her breath, then scaled her way up.

The landscape she was as she reached the top wasn’t a familiar one.

A different sky, showing a different time of day.  But the space in between was something else entirely.  She had only to look and she knew what it was she looked at.  The entity.  The evil godling.

I have to kill it.

The plan formed in her mind.  The haze of fog still hung over her mind’s eye, and it grew worse with every moment.

Her hand moved to the little knife at her belt.  She wore it there for when she helped her mother with the cooking and gardening.  Worked metal was expensive, and the knife was a personal treasure.  Two inches long, curved.  She used it for cutting stems and trimming fat.

She would use it here.  She started walking forward.

There were people gathered, bystanders.  An assorted mix.

Why are they here?

No, was there a way to find out, using this sight she had?

I want to understand why they’re here.

They’d come from different worlds.  There were gates or doorways here and there.  When the entity had fallen, it had left gaps.

They bellowed words in a language she couldn’t make out.  Warnings.  They were too far away to stop her.

A woman stepped in her way.

Strangely dressed, wearing a dress so short it might well be indecent, showing the calves, and a fair amount of the upper chest.  Her skin was the strangest black color, her hair bound in thin, glossy braids.

One of the monsters?  No.  She knew right away it was a stranger from a distant land.  A land much like the one she had glimpsed in her fever dream.

The woman said something in a strange language.

Fortuna strode forwards anyways.  Her special knowledge let her push her way past almost effortlessly, choosing the right spot, the right amount of strength.  The godling was in a chasm, a crater caused by the impact.  It stretched out in every direction, a pool of flesh, and it reached into several worlds at once.

It was disorienting to look at.

Step twenty-nine, making her way down into the crater.

She stepped onto loose grit, and her weight did the rest.  She coasted down, much like the boys riding down the mud-slick path they’d made in the hill, down into the pond, except she remained on two feet.  It was a task only the oldest and most athletic boys could manage.

It was more dangerous here than it was on the hill.  There were rocks that jutted out, and outcroppings of deeper roots and plant life that had rained down into the crater in the aftermath of the impact.  It was more dangerous, but not harder.  This, like scaling the cliff face, was easy.

Everything was easy now.  It was disorienting.

The woman with black skin followed, moving slower.  She used her hands and feet to control her descent, sliding from rock to rock, stopping before sliding down further.  The black-skinned woman was a quarter of the way down before Fortuna was at the bottom.

It didn’t matter.  Fortuna advanced into the living forest alone.  Everything here was alive, hands moving, webs of skin stretching and folding.  There was a cacophony of noises that made her think of a chorus of heartbeats, a choir of soft breaths and whispers.  Gentle human noises that were all the more eerie because she could see right through the deception.  She was well aware that what she saw here was the godling putting together a mask so it could lie to people, setting  them against each other.

She advanced into the heart of the gray forest.  She was terrified, but the feeling was disconnected from her actions.  She only had to recognize the next step in the series.  She was aware of the steps that followed…

Until she came face to face with the godling.  Her knife was in hand, and she could see a figure before her.  A human shape, in the midst of pulling itself together from the examples and experiments that surrounded them.

She set foot on one of those experiments, a raised hand, and used it until she was eye to eye with the being, a matter of feet away.

It swelled, lurching forth, creating few inches more of waist, another inch of one arm, two inches of another arm.  Beyond the ending points, the arms and legs simply extended into nothingness.  Parts of a tapestry she couldn’t make out.  It moved again, and closed the distance between them.

The being raised its head.  She could see its eyes open in recognition.

It’s teaching itself how to act like we actEven this.

She raised her arm, knife held with the point down.

And the gray fog descended on her mind, blinding her.  A barrier, a blind spot, a future she could no longer see.  Had it set the limitation more firmly in place?

The godling smiled.  It knew, because the power she was using was the same power it had used to glimpse the future, to find that particular future where it had the world divided, drowned in conflict.

As far as the godling was concerned, she was blind, as helpless as anyone else.

A voice, from behind her.

The black-skinned woman, shouting something in a foreign language.

I want to understand her.

One step.

She had only to think, ‘Stab it.

Fortuna realized she still held the knife aloft.

But where had she wanted to stab it?

Indecision gripped her.  For an hour now, she’d been absolutely certain of what she was doing, and now she faced the absolute opposite situation.

Her hand shook.  She nearly dropped the little trimming knife.

She nearly fell as the hand beneath her moved.  Her power failed her here, too.  Because the hand was an extension of the being before her.

It was going to kill her, and then it was going to reclaim the ability to see the future.  It would use that power to control the world, then to destroy it.

And she couldn’t bring herself to move an inch.

I want to tell her…

The words were alien to her as she spoke them.  “I- I can’t.”

A hand wrapped around her shoulders.  She felt a body press against her back, supporting her.

“I- I have seen visions.  Things I was not meant to see, things this… godling wanted to keep to itself.  I… have to stop it.”

But even as the words left her mouth, she couldn’t bring herself to move.

The woman leaned forward over Fortuna’s shoulder, her face in Fortuna’s peripheral vision.  She said something.

“I believe you.”

The woman spoke in her ear once more, her voice insistent.  She translated, asking for a way to understand the answers.

“It’s dangerous?”

Fortuna nodded.

“Are you sure?”

“I- I would stake everything on it.  Everything ever.”

Though she didn’t even know the words she was speaking, there was a conviction in her tone that seemed to reach the woman.

“Where were you going to stab it?”

Where?  The image had fled her mind, erased from her memory.


The being moved again, and they stepped back, nearly falling.  Fortuna managed to keep them both steady.  Easier if she looked at it as ‘I don’t want to fall’ instead of ‘don’t let this thing make us fall.’  So long as she divorced her thoughts from the being, she still had this strange certainty.

It lurched, creating more of itself.  Legs, a sexless groin, more of the arms.  Hair flowed free, overlong.

It bent over, head hanging, arms suspended to either side.

She saw the nape of the neck as hair slowly slid free, silky and straight.

Still unable to bring herself to move, she found her left arm extending, palm down, until the longest finger pointed at the spot in question.

The woman behind her took hold of the fist that held the knife.  She stepped forward, driving the knife down, as if she were an extension of Fortuna.

Plunging into the spot where the spine met the skull.

They fell from the hand, dangled for a moment by their grip on the knife.  It cut free, and they dropped to the ground.

Fortuna let one leg fold, pushing at the ground with the other.  She rolled, breaking the fall.  The woman fell a little harder.

The entity moved, and everything around them stirred.  A thousand hands, a thousand arms, not all attached to the hands, legs, feet, ears, eyes, faces without features, expanses of skin, they twitched and writhed.

The noise around them faded, the heartbeats going still, the breathing quieting.  The movements all around them stopped.

There was only the thing, hanging in mid-air, struggling to form itself and failing.  It breathed in rapid huffs, in obvious pain.

It wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t alive.  A connection had been severed in a moment where the godling was most vulnerable.

The woman spoke.

“Again?  The heart?”

But Fortuna was sure this was it.  They’d carried out the last step.

“Can you explain this?  Do you know something?”

Fortuna nodded.

“Please,the woman said.  Though she begged,   “My life just turned upside down.  I’ve been lost here for three days.”

Fortuna looked back the way she’d come.

Home was gone.  Tainted.  She could find her uncle, but…

“I need food,” Fortuna said.  “I have no home to go to, so I need shelter.”


“I will take you back to your home.”

The woman nodded.  “Yes, of course.  And you’ll explain?”

“Yes.  But there’s one more thing.  I need help.”


“There is one more of these things somewhere out there.”

Yet she could reach out with her power to try to look for it, and all she could see was the fog.

Fortuna did up the clasps on the dress shoes she wore as the woman entered her apartment.

The woman gave the girl a once-over.  “You know how to do up a tie?  Wait.  Dumb question.”

“A little dumb,” Fortuna replied.

“You’re getting a sense of humor.  I’ve done like you asked.  I bought the land with the doorway, using the money you got.  Are you sure you want to keep it a secret?  People could study that thing.”

Fortuna shook her head.  This was a harder question to answer, but she could construct a kind of mental picture, then test her questions.  What would happen?  What were the most likely scenarios?

Panic.  Fear.

Could they figure anything of value out by studying the half-alive thing?  She couldn’t be sure.

But the emotional effect would be all the more pronounced.

“Well, the area is secured, people have found their way home, or at least, to other worlds they can call home.  There was only one doorway people might find easily, and I blocked it off.”

“Thank you,” Fortuna said.

“What’s the next step?”

A heavy question.

How do we stop them?

The fog blocked out her view of any answer.

Can we stop something as powerful as the beings in my fever dream?  How can we stop the Warrior?

Still too close to home.

The indecision gripped her again.  When she wasn’t acting in the scope of her power, it was all the more difficult to act.

Fortuna frowned.  She couldn’t be paralyzed like this.  “How- how would we stop any powerful monster?”

“Weapons?  An army?” the woman suggested.

One hundred and forty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty steps.

It was doable.

“We need some lab equipment,” Fortuna said.

Then she turned her attention to the next step, and it dawned on her just how they would be amassing this army.  She thought of the monsters that had torn her parents apart, the infection that had ravaged her community and home.  Stray bits of the godling had done that to them.  It had killed people, turned others into monsters, drove yet others mad.

But it had given abilities to her.  It would give abilities to others.

The man, Lamar, reached like a child clutching for candy.  The Doctor pulled her hand away.  “There’s no guarantee this will work.”

Fortuna remained silent.  Her halting way of speaking, asking her power for the words or the translation, still made for a barrier in communication.  It unsettled people, apparently.

“If what that girl was showing off wasn’t some fantastic magic trick, if this does what you’re saying it will, I’m willing to take the chance.”

Fortuna exchanged a glance with the ‘Doctor’.  She could see the stress in the Doctor’s expression.  The woman had taken on a moniker, to give just a little protection to her real identity.  Easier to have an adult handling the negotiating and person-to-person interaction.  Fortuna was young, and people wouldn’t be so inclined to drink a strange substance offered by a child.

She offered the Doctor a little nod, a go-ahead.

“Go ahead, then,” the Doctor said.  She handed over the vial.

Lamar drank.

The changes ripped through him.  Lines marked the areas where bones were closest to skin, and then split into craggy outcroppings, thick with scales the length and width of human hands.  Lamar screamed, and the sound soon became guttural.

More scales sprouted, until the man looked more like a bush than a person.  The scaly growth continued at one knee, spiraling around the knee over and over again, growing ever-lumpier.

The leg fell off.  Blood began to pour forth.

Fortuna started to step forward to help, but her power told her it was too late.

Couldn’t see the outcomes, couldn’t counteract the outcomes.

Lamar was left panting for breath.  the wound at his ruined arms and legs closed up.  Holes had opened up throughout his midsection, exposing scale-covered internal organs.

He was trying to scream, but he couldn’t draw in enough breath.

His chest cavity is filled with the scales.

The Doctor stared, silent.  Fortuna had stepped away from the wall, but remained where she was, rooted to the spot.

He wasn’t dying.

Fortuna stepped forward.  Hand shaking, she drew a knife from her pocket.  Not her knife, but a knife of similar length, straight.

She ended Lamar’s pain.

“Our first patient is a fatality,” the Doctor said.  “Is it worth it?”

Fortuna couldn’t answer.

“Let’s wait, then.  Try to figure out where we went wrong.”

She still couldn’t bring herself to answer.


“Don’t.  Don’t… call me by the name my parents gave me.”

The Doctor took a moment to reply.  “Another name?”

Contessa nodded.

It’s a sight unlike any we’ve ever seen.  A man made of gold, floating above the ocean.  Sightings continue to be reported around the world as he travels.  Who is he, and why is he here?  Some speculate he is Jes-

Contessa muted the television.

The pair stared at the screen, watching the silent images.

“Is it?”  the Doctor asked.

Contessa nodded.

“Do we try again?”

“I- don’t know,” Contessa said.

“If we explain to someone important, the army…”

“Disaster.  They react with fear, and he’ll probably respond to the fear.  He’s… hostile, I’m certain.  He only needs an excuse,” Contessa said.  “They can’t beat him, because he designed himself to be unbeatable.”

“You’re the one with the ability to see the future,” the Doctor said, her voice gentle.  “What do we do?”

“I don’t know!”  Contessa said.  “I- when it comes to him, I’m just a child.  I’m useless, blind.  I’ve only got some glimpses of him to work with.  I know how important it is, but, I feel paralyzed, I feel, feel-“

“Okay,” the Doctor said.  “Okay.  What if I made the decisions from here on out?  You tell me if I’m going down the wrong path, give me direction where it’s needed.

“You can’t.”

“I can.  I’ve been thinking about it.  What is the key thing about the one we killed?”

“It’s… broken.  Something went wrong.  It focused too much on the future, and lost sight of the present, it fell and the part that was supposed to guide it ended up inside me instead.”

The Doctor pointed at the TV screen.  “This golden man, he’s more or less on track.  He didn’t break, he didn’t go wrong.”

“Except… there’s a lot of power there, and he’s going to find out what we did, or he’s going to start acting more like the conqueror he’s meant to be, and he’s going to use that power at some point.”

Why?” the Doctor asked.

“I felt the hostility.  I felt how the one we killed, in the vision it had of the future, it almost enjoyed doing what it was doing.  If the golden one is similar at all, then all it takes is an accident.”

The Doctor nodded.  “See?  You’re doing okay.”

“Easier when someone else takes point.”

“So our solution… it’s going to take one of two forms.  Either we break him, somehow, or we find something we can use in the broken parts of the one we killed.”

“Feeding it to people.”

The Doctor nodded.  “I’m inclined to go with the latter.”

Contessa nodded.  “So am I.  If we interact with him, and he figures out what we’re doing, it all goes wrong.”

“Then we need to start testing this.  Figure it out.  Is it luck?  Or is there a way to get consistent results?”

Contessa nodded.

“I’m actually not that much of a scientist,” the Doctor said.  “But I do know that if we want to get a sample size worth talking about, we need to test a lot.”

“Which means we start by preparing more vials.”

Ten vials, to start.  Five hours to prepare each vial.  To saw off the body part, to find a way to break it down, then to package it.  Each vial correlated with a specific map coordinate and they took photos to record every step of the way, to ensure no clue was missed.

Then they’d found ten patients, who had downed vials in separate rooms.  People who’d been terminally ill.

Six made it out.

Contessa watched them, saw the beaming smiles on five faces.

The Doctor kept her back straight as they approached.  “Satisfactory?”

A blond man offered a little half-laugh as a response.  He was looking down at his hands in amazement.

“As the contract stipulates, this is free, which won’t always be the case, but we’ll need forty hours of testing with each of the abilities any of you have received.  In addition, we would like your assistance for a period of time totaling five hundred hours of active duty or five years, whichever term reaches its limit first.”

“Does anyone else feel amazing?” the blond man asked.

“I was afraid to ask,” a young girl said.  “Yeah.”

“Amazing?” the Doctor asked.

“Hey,” the blond guy said, “I spent my entire life with this heart problem, you know?  Heart going a little too fast, reedy, thin heartbeat.  Reminding me it could pop at any moment.  Organs are garbage, diabetes at twenty-two, liver problems turn me yellow if I’m not careful, throwing up bile every morning and every night.  Every moment of every day, there’s something making me miserable.  Except, right now, I’m sort of feeling every part of my body, and the heart’s good, no headache, nothing in my throat, nothing in my gut.  No tremor in my hand…”

“You’re better,” the Doctor said.

“I’m better.  And my brain is, I don’t even know.  I’m picturing stuff really vividly.  Really vividly.”

“I feel better too,” another man said.

“I’m not sure I do,” A woman chimed in.  “Sorry.”

A man who can invent, a girl who can teleport…  she could go down the list and figure each of them out, by posing it as a challenge to her power.  Only one was a little harder to figure out, coming with a fog around him.

She left the group behind.

One by one, she checked on the other patients.


A monster, furious with rage, slamming her hands on the door.

Another monster, crumpled into a ball in the corner, murmuring something to himself.

And the last… a boy, staring off into the distance.

She asked her power, and she got her answer.

He could make doors.

He could also close the other doors, the gaps left around the other entity.  It would minimize the chance that the golden man could find them.

“I can’t… too much to look at,” he said.  “So many worlds at once.”

“I know.  We’re going to do what we can, okay?”

“I’m… I’m pretty scared.”  There was a tremor in his voice.

“I know,” she said.  “I need to look after a few things, but I’ll be back.  We’ll figure this out, alright?”

He nodded.

She closed the door.  She paused, standing beside it.

It’s a step forward, she told herself.

A step forward, in a long series of steps.

She rejoined the others.

The Doctor was touching a block of stone that had risen from the floor.  “-a complex, for our labs and research.”

“Most definitely,” a woman answered her.  “If you can do this for more people, I’d forget about the limit on how long I have to work.”

The Doctor allowed herself a smile.  Her eyes met Contessa’s.

One step forward.

“You’re heroes, as far as I’m concerned,” the blond man said.

Monsters!” the word was howled, reverberating through the building.

Fog approached.  A wall of it, moving down the corridor.  She could see normally, but the effect on her powers was absolute.  It was impossible to make out any steps that moved within the fog.

She turned and bolted.  Not a run, but an efficient jog, preserving stamina while still keeping ahead.  She could see from the way the wall extended forward that it was being carried or it was emanating from a person.

There was another power at work, somewhere here.

“Custodian,” she said.

She felt the Custodian’s presence.

“Alert the Doctor.”

A brush against her left hand.  Negation?

“Is the Doctor dead?”




I want to find out how the Doctor is.

There was only fog.  She was blind, which meant the Doctor was somewhere beyond that wall.

I want to find where Number Man is.

He was on the east end of the facility, with the Harbingers.

I want to stay out of this fog.

The path appeared before her.  She fell in step with it, moving in perfect sync with the individual movements in the sequence.

Until a figure appeared behind her  A man with yellow skin, with bruising in the areas where his skin stretched or folded, giving him an artificially gaunt appearance.

A teleporter.

Path: taking him out of action.


Path:  hitting that target.

Three steps.

She drew her knife, spun, and threw it.

He teleported away before it made contact.

She could hear his voice echoing through hallways as he hollered.  “She’s heeeeeeere!”

It was all going wrong.  Eidolon had been their trump card, but he wasn’t supposed to be the only one.  None of the others had worked out.  Now Eidolon was dead.

The deviants they’d planned to use against Scion, a way of breaking up the metaphorical scent trail, were now attacking the complex.  The entity was winning every engagement.

He was getting more ruthless, more cruel.

They had five major tools left to deploy.  Three armies, two of which were roughly the same size as any of the defending forces, Khonsu, who was a stalling measure, and a hail mary in the form of the three vials with the special element inside.

She could hear footsteps behind her, running.  They were heavy.

Escape route, she thought.  Get back to Number Man.

No option was clear.  Every possible escape through the complex was blocked by that damnable gray fog.

She could move down a floor, run through the fog, but she’d be blind.

Call the Number Man, keeping myself alive with an escape route afterwards, she didn’t even form the phrase as a complete thought.  It was an idea, formed in a fraction of a second.

The path appeared before her.

She changed direction.  The heavy footsteps followed.

Weld.  The leader of the Irregulars.  He didn’t tire, and however heavy he was, he had some power to his movements.

She ducked into an office.

The phone still had a cord.  The offices here were one of the first they’d set up.  She picked up the phone and pressed two keys to contact the Number Man directly.


“Facility under attack,” she said.  “Doctor somewhere in the east section, possibly injured, captured or dead.  I’m in the east section as well.  Not far from your office.”

Weld appeared in the doorway, catching the frame with one hand.  The momentum splintered the wood.

She’s downstairs, using one of Teacher’s subordinates with Doormaker and Two-six.

“I see.  You’ll need to get to her.  They-”

Weld attacked, slashing out with his other hand, a long blade.

She ducked.  “-have a perception blocker, beware.”

Weld struck again.  She stepped back.  She saw the paths available, and kicked the chair so it slid into him, binding with his skin.  He stepped forward and she put one foot against the chair, causing wheels to skid, and Weld to fall to the floor.

Good to know.  Are you alright?

“Cornered.  They’ve got a thinker, I think, they planned this ahead of time, knowing I wouldn’t pick up on their presence.”

Weld drew his feet back and kicked the desk.  Not to hit her, but to put it between her and the door.  Contessa caught the phone-rest before it could clatter to the ground.

Thinking ahead, barring my way.  The fog wall was steadily approaching.

I’m going.  Tips?

She thought, modeling the situation.  The distance he had to travel…

“Best route would be to move further downstairs.  Intercept instead of going right to her.  They’ll reach her before you do, in any event.”

Noted.  You have an escape route?

“No.  Like I said, cornered.”

“Maybe you’re asking the wrong question.  My window.”

The Number Man’s window.  He had a doormaker portal to another world, constantly, for a view and for light, deep underground.

She dropped the phone, making a dash for Weld.

For his part, he put himself between her and the door, using his bulk and the desk to bar the way.  Buying time for the fog to approach.  Spikes extended from his body.  No doubt razor-sharp.


“I just want to talk.  We’re here for answers.”

“Ask me after we defeat Scion,” she said.  She used her power, plotting a path.

Two steps.

“I don’t-”

She ran straight for him, her eyes falling on an air conditioning vent.

His sword-arm slashed out, piercing the floor and blocking the vent.

She changed direction, leaping.  One hand placed on his head, vaulting over his other shoulder, her legs together.  A space that was only just wide enough to pass a toaster through.  He tried to right himself, but his arm was bound to the grate, costing him a half-second.

Spikes scraped against her belt buckle and watch.

She found her footing just a half-foot in front of the fog wall, then dashed away.

Number Man’s office.

The teleporter appeared behind her.  She glanced behind her shoulder.  He had guns, and he was inside the fog.

Modeling scenario… not getting shot.

She ducked into a side hallway.

The teleporter was following.  Appearing at each intersection in time to open fire.

Getting closer, closer, moving faster than she did.  Weld was already catching up, too.  She wouldn’t be able to outrun them.

Moving faster than whoever or whatever was broadcasting the fog was.

A little further, and…

He teleported to a point beyond the fog wall.

One step, and she had both of his guns.

He was bulletproof, but one shot point-blank to the eyeball served to delay him.

She fired down the corridor, hitting doorknob four times in succession.

Path: faking my own death or escaping.

Gray fog.  Not happening.

Contessa kicked the door as she passed through.  She was inside Number Man’s office.

She shot his window.  It didn’t break.  But she could loosen the frame which held the bulletproof glass in place.

She was working on the next when the teleporter appeared.  He struck her, driving her through the one pane of glass that remained, through the portal.

She found herself on an alien landscape, tumbling down a hill.

He teleported to follow her.  He struck her again and again.

She tumbled.  She had a glimpse of others appearing.  Weld and two more parahumans hopping over the windowsill, holding on so they didn’t follow her down the steep cliff.  They weren’t shrouded in fog.

Whatever the reason, it was more variables to work with.

Path, she thought, again, faking my death.

She turned in the air as the teleporter delivered another hit.

She raised the gun, and she fired three times.

Two shots, missing.

A third, hitting one of the Irregulars in the chest, a lethal shot.

Whore!” one of the others shouted.  “Yellow, get the fuck away!

The yellow parahuman disappeared.  Contessa hit the hill.  She rolled, and in the doing, she managed to grab a stick.

Weld grabbed at the shouting deviant’s arm, but it was too late to convince him to stop.  He opened his mouth and a flood of magma cascaded down the hill, an impossible amount.

She rolled and came to a stop.  She pushed herself up off the ground with her hands, moving too slowly to get out of the way of the onrushing magma, or the plumes of smoke.

But the moment the smoke had risen high enough, she kicked a rock to get herself moving and threw the branch.  She moved until she couldn’t feel the oppressive heat.

The branch burned quickly, but it, coupled with the rock, made for a well positioned image of a head and a burning hand, when glimpsed through the smoke.

She kept moving until she was at the base of the hill, off to their right.

“-go down and check,” Weld was saying.

“She burned,” one of the others said.

“I’d like to check.”

“You want to check or you want to get Tater Tot to a healer?”

“I’m not sure a healer is going to help,” Weld said.

“Look.  Mantellum’s right here.  She had to have been in his range.  Let’s go.  Healer, then the Doctor.”

“…Right,” Weld said.  “Healer, then Doctor.”

The sounds of conversation faded.  Contessa consulted her power.  They were most definitely gone.

She remained where she was, tending to the wounds she’d received in the course of selling her ‘death’, waiting for them to get far enough away that she could make her way back indoors.

This ‘Mantellum’ had been close enough that he should have been able to block her power.  He hadn’t.

Because he’d been on the other side of the portal.  The power didn’t cross dimensional boundaries.

She’d been lucky.

Minutes passed before she found her feet.  She made her way up the hill.  Easily.  Always easily.

Until she reached the top, and found only the view in front of her.  No doorway.

Not so lucky.

It was almost an hour before the portal opened again.  She made her way into the facility.

Lights out.

She strode through the hallways, wary of the fog, but moving at as good a clip as she could.  Things were damaged, vandalized.

She asked herself questions as she went.

The Doctor was dead.

Doormaker was alive but he wasn’t here, meaning she was limited to any doors he’d left open.

Number Man was alive, but he wasn’t here.

The vials were all gone.  The ability to make more vials was gone.  At best, they’d be able to collect a few stray vials here and there, in evidence rooms and the like, but nothing beyond that.

The plans had failed.  Only Khonsu and the Indian capes were still active.  Capes brainwashed with a deathwish, working in coordination with an Endbringer who could move them to any location instantly, and who could theoretically block some of Scion’s attacks.

She made her way to the nearest portal, finding her way with her power.

And she came face to face with a large group of capes.  Protectorate capes, the ones too minor to help against Scion.

“You were reported dead,” a man in a horned viking-styled helmet and heavy armor said.

“Did anyone really believe it?”

“No, I suppose they didn’t.”

“How do things stand?”

“Standing may be too optimistic a word,” the man in the horned helmet said.

A cape in wizard attire spoke up, “The Doctor is dead, I believe?”

Contessa nodded.  Odd, that she couldn’t bring herself to feel badly about it.  Was it because she’d spent so long trying to achieve something and she’d failed, or was it because she’d lost respect for the Doctor like she’d lost respect for herself?

If she were an outside party, she was forced to admit, any outside party, she wasn’t convinced she would be able to be upset over her own death.

“We need your help,” the wizard said.

She nodded.  “Whatever I can provide.”

“First, we need information.”


“Were there any other plans Cauldron had in the works?” he asked.

“Nothing substantial.  I can show you the tertiary plans.”

“Please do.  Did Cauldron have plans for if humanity failed?”

“Of course.”

“We’ll need to see those as well.”

She hesitated.

“A problem?” the wizard asked.

Path: identifying strangers and deception.

Her eye moved to the man in the horned helmet, then, after a pause, to the wizard.

“I’m not entirely sure.  Teacher, is it?”

The wizard nodded.  “The Protectorate is just on the other side of the portal, collecting Satyr’s teammates, Nix and Spur.  If you could be discreet, it would be appreciated.”

“Why?  What are you doing, Teacher?”

“What do you think I’m doing?” he asked.  He reached behind his back and withdrew a disc, roughly the size of a trash can lid.  He placed it on the ground, and then kicked it into an empty room off to the side.

“I could stop you,” she said.  There was a flash in the other room.

“Most definitely.  But will you?”

She hesitated.  She watched as a pair of young men in white stepped out of the room.

“Find an empty office,” Teacher said.  “If I’m not here, and another student of mine looks lost, tell them to do the same.  I assume there’s documentation?”

Contessa paused, then nodded.

“Something this big, it has to carry on somehow.  I’ll need a second in command.”

“Me?” she asked.  Her eye moved to the man in the horned helmet.

“He’s his own man.  A wild card.”

“I see,” she said.  More kids in white were streaming from the room.

“Trickster, stop.  You’re with me.  We might need help navigating some of the trickier areas, if the damage to this place is extensive enough.”

One boy stopped where he was, stopping beside Teacher, a dull and unfocused look in his eyes.

Teacher turned his attention to Contessa, “Whatever happens in the next few hours, we need to be there to pick up the pieces.  That was a factor in Cauldron’s plan, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t have much of a role,” Contessa said.  “I can’t do anything when Scion’s on the table.”

“To the contrary,” Teacher said.  “We very much need your help, or we might.”

She narrowed her eyes.  “With?”

“Saving us from ourselves,” he said.  “Case in point, we’ve got a crisis that involves one little lady I think you’re familiar with.”

He held up his phone.  A picture was displayed.

It took her a moment to recognize the person in the picture, and not because it was an unfamiliar face.

Weaver?” she asked.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

509 thoughts on “Interlude 29

  1. Bit off more than I could chew with this one. It’s the sort of update that demands a thorough proofread for legibility, and yet I spent too much time writing without time to edit. Clocks at 9770 words or thereabouts.

    Hoping this answers lingering questions without being too hard to read or too distanced from the main story.

    Thanks for reading. On to the next arc!

    And vote on topwebfiction! Pretty please!

        • I do believe we can answer all the questions in the tags. Chevalier, Dauntless, and Defiant were in the vision of the future, as Partisan, Clarent, and Arsenal, respectively. Contessa is obvious, as is Doctor (Mother). We see Doormaker being created in the first batch of Cauldron test subjects. Eden is the counterpart to Zion. Not sure why we didn’t think to call her that a LONG time ago. One is the paradise the Jewish people came from, the other is the paradise they’re meant to get to. Duh. Hero we know to be one of the very early Cauldron capes, so it stands to reason he was among that first batch of test subjects. Likely the guy going on about how healthy he feels. He says he’s picturing things very vividly. Sounds like Tinkeritis to me. Mantellum, obvious. Miss Militia was also in the vision of the alternate future, as the woman with the shape-shifting cannon. Satyrical… actually ANSWERS the question of who the fuck the guy with the horned helmet was. So he’s not dead. Or one of his clones is still alive. Or he was one of the first batch of Cauldron capes and that wasn’t him in the helmet, which seems much less likely. Scion, Teacher, and Weld, also obvious.

          So! There’s that all wrapped up in a nice little bow.

          • We know there were Satyricals among the Case 53 mob. One of those pursuing Contessa may have really been him – possibly the one that talked Weld out of checking the “body” and let her make good her escape.

      • There were two bits that I suppose could’ve used a bit more clarity, though the intent of the chapter comes through quite well despite them.

        The first is the line “The fact that it did not is a part of that future.” It did not… what? The antecedent here isn’t clear to me.

        The second is the bit with the guy in the horned helmet and the talking to Trickster… that whole scene is vague and confusing as to exactly who’s being talked to and talked about. Maybe that’s intentional, though, what with the whole “Boom! Satyrical’s in the tags, but you thought he was dead!” thing.

    • This seems like the perfect timing for this story to me. We get resolution on some of the deep setting questions and it sets us up for the ending very nicely. Very neat to see that even Eden is more complex than we’d originally thought too.

    • This was a good chapter that answered a lot of questions. I’ve got no complaints about its clarity.

      But I thought Doormaker had eyes. Wasn’t it his partner who had none?

      Legend said…

      The Doctor told me he was blind and deaf to his surroundings, but I think it’s far more likely that it’s to do with another parahuman she partnered him with. Someone who grants sensory awareness. I think the Doctor gave Doormaker too much exposure to this parahuman and destroyed or atrophied his other senses.

      Which wouldn’t make much sense if Doormaker had no eyes.

    • Possible typo.

      “The landscape she was as she reached the top wasn’t a familiar one.”

      Shouldn’t it be “The landscape she *saw* as she reached the top wasn’t a familiar one.”

    • “I don’t have much of a role,” Contessa said. “I can’t do anything when Scion’s on the table.”

      “To the contrary,” Teacher said. “We very much need your help, or we might.”

      I’m not sure if this is a mistake, but it feels like something’s missing.

      • Looks good to me. Contessa says she doesn’t have a role, explains why. Teacher says yes she does: he needs her help, or at least he might.

    • Minor grammar issue with “One hundred and forty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty steps”. Bless my 7th grade math teacher, but she taught us ‘and’ means ‘a decimal place’, so the quote turns into 100.432.22 steps. It should, grammatically, read “One hundred forty-three thousand, two hundred twenty steps”. Thank you, Mrs. Parks.

      • I’m afraid the majority of native English speakers disagree with your Mrs. Parks. Virtually everyone uses “and” to indicate a transition from one order of magnitude to another. “One hundred and forty-three” means 143 to damn near everyone. Mrs. Parks was indulging in what linguists like to call prescriptivism. Teachers love to come up with asinine rules like this and tell students that this is “the rule,” but that’s not really how language works. Even Mrs. Parks recognizes “one hundred and forty-three” as 143, but she wishes the world were a simpler place that works according to hard-and-fast rules, so she insists that it’s 100.43, because nonsense results are better than admitting that not everything works according to neat little rules that can be taught to 12-year-olds in the course of an hour or so.

        Ahem. Sorry. Got off on a bit of a rant there. Uh… the point is, I do not believe that the rule you were taught is widely recognized as accurate.

          • “Somewhat informal” is an incredible understatement. Prescriptive rules have very little bearing on spoken language. Well, conversational language, I should say. Oratory and the like tends to follow prescriptive rules much more closely, since it is usually just a spoken version of language that was written first. It’s why most characters in TV shows, movies, and so on don’t sound like the sort of conversation you might overhear between friends. In most conversational language, you’re not terribly likely to even find complete sentences, much less adherence to textbook rules.

        • Specifically, the rule to never use “and” when writing out a whole number is an American rule.

          I was taught the same rule outlined by Endymion. 143 is One Hundred Forty-three.

          When writing checks, the only time an “and” should be used is to separate the whole number from the fraction. For example: $4025.42 is written: Four Thousand Twenty-five and 42/100 dollars.

        • It is a rule, but it’s a rule for writing amounts of currency on checks and numbers on paper in longhand, it’s not a rule for dialog or spoken numbers.

          • A bit like the who/whom thing – grammer that we just don’t care about? Whom the hell actually knows how that works?

            • You don’t confuse these, I assume.

              Subject – Object
              I – me
              he – him
              she – her
              we – us

              But for some reason, almost everyone seems to have a blind spot for:

              Subject – Object
              who – whom

              Take this sentence: President Kennedy mourned the death of Hemingway, whom he called one of America’s greatest authors and, “one of the great citizens of the world.”

              The President is the subject and Hemingway is the object. Therefore, the “whom” refers back to Hemingway, and the “he” refers back to the President.

      • I don’t disagree with the phrasing, it seems clear enough what is happening. But it doesn’t seem Wildbow’s style.

    • The landscape she was as she reached the top wasn’t a familiar one.
      => ‘she was’

      Lamar was left panting for breath. the wound at his ruined arms and legs closed up.
      => Capitalization on ‘the’.

      She fired down the corridor, hitting doorknob four times in succession.
      => ‘hitting doorknob’

      She was working on the next when the teleporter appeared.
      => ‘on the next step’ perhaps

    • It is worth sacrificing as much as she is.
      That sentence, in the part about the Eden Entity, was very confusing. I’m pretty sure that entities are meant to be genderless, and they are every other time, so who is the she refering to?

    • I don’t know if it’s on purpose or not, but when Contessa is trying not to forget her vision, there seem to be two step sevens.

      ” Walking to the bench was seven.”
      “Seven involved uncorking the right bottles.”

    • Could she do all this, explain to her uncle, find the thing that was at the heart of this chaos, and save her people, and handle the other essential crises she run into on her way?
      -ran, or she’d run into

    • “It can use its strengths, the Warrior’s strengths, and the host’s natures”

      I’m pretty sure the hosts are plural, and given that, their apostrophe should be after the S instead of before.

      “A hulk of a man, laden with muscle, was muttering something to people around him.”

      Past-tense sentence in a present-tense paragraph.

    • The landscape she was as she reached the top wasn’t a familiar one. –> she was in

      creating few inches more of waist –> a few inches

      Three armies, two of which were roughly the same size as any of the defending forces, Khonsu, who was a stalling measure, and a hail mary in the form of the three vials with the special element inside. –> needs colon and/or semicolon.
      Suggestion: […] forces; Khonsu […] stalling measure; and a hail Mary […]

      hitting doorknob four times in succession. –> the doorknob?

  2. Teacher, with Dragon enslaved and Contessa serving, is only slightly behind Scion on the threat list. Sure, he wants humanity to survive… but as a dystopia with him at the top.

    And the sad thing, the thing that makes it perfectly clear that this is Worm, is that he might be humanity’s best hope against whatever happened when Panacea tried to unleash Weaver. And, while that dispute is getting resolved, Scion’s going to continue slaughtering entire worlds.

      • Live in misery or die honorably? An age old question. And…. we don’t know that Taylor Unleashed is a threat to humanity, only that she is a threat to Teacher. Or that Teacher perceives her to be a threat.

        • He only says “might” when he asks for help. He probably does not know that the hell is going on and it might be dangerous.

    • Given that we have a collection of people with Chronic Backstabbing Disorder united as one team, I wouldn’t say that they’re going to be much good. If it’s a choice between the world ending, and them NOT being top dogs while having saved the world, it’s a tossup.

      • Teacher is the most like your classic evil mastermind supervillians. Sure Lex Luthor might want to save the world and genuinly wants humanity to advance. He also feels that Superman is a threat, and must die.

        • At least Lex tells himself that he hates Superman because he’s holding back humanity’s glorious future (of which Lex is, of course, the harbinger). Teacher seems to be doing things for the same reason as Jack: it amuses him.

          • We could probably do with a Teacher interlude at some point to see what really is going on inside his mind. It’s probably insane chortling or something similarly not helpful, but he’s also one of the few I can think of in the story who’s had their long term plans work out the way they had in mind.

            That puts him at a better batting average than our protagonist, several precogs and the (Nearly) All-Knowing-God-Monsters who were going to annihilate the world.

            As an added bonus he made Saint look like a chump and he’s put a leash on Trickster.

            I’m still not joining his fan club but he is an interesting element of the world.

            • Remember what Saint said about Teacher’s fatal flaw: he wants to look smarter than he already is and so he thinks up plans more complicated than necessary.

              Now, you could argue that Teacher outmaneuvered Saint so badly he wasn’t even trying, but I think this will come back biting him in the ass. Though i’m starting to have the suspicion Teacher will have to be handled in the sequel, because really there is way to much to tie up properly.

              • Maybe with Contessa helping, his plans will go from more complicated than necessary to exactly complicated enough to work.

              • Unnecessary or not, I think the major point here to remember is that his plans worked. Hell, even going to the Birdcage might’ve been part of the long term scheme.
                I can only imagine what horrors would’ve occured if Tattletale, Accord, Contessa, and Teacher were teamed up. Hnnng. I smell a fic idea.

            • To be fair, he made Saint look like a chump because Saint is a chump.

              I think the reason so many of his plans seem to be working is because they really don’t have much to do with Cauldron, the Endbringers, the apocalypse, etc. Mostly he’s been in the background jockeying for power and influence among the “mundane” world and only now has he emerged as a player in the real game.

              There’s no higher cause or goal with this guy we’ve seen so far, he’s just wants to be king. Much like Coil did.

            • I have to agree with Reveen on this. It’s not hard to make Saint look like a chump. An idiot is an idiot is an idiot. The only reason Dragon wasn’t able to beat him was because he had specific workarounds for her left by her creator. Nobody else has really had issues running circles around him. The only plus for Saint is that he is stupidly dogmatic that you can’t break through his Insane Troll Logic to dent the soul.

          • Yup yup. IIRC, after his (close-enough-to-count-as-) death, Superman called Lex on this, asking if he’d finally gotten around to making the world a better place in the interim…

    • If Teacher ends up humanity’s last best hope against the apocalypse I’m sure it’ll only be because he went out of his way to fuck over all the other best hopes so he can be the one on top.

    • Trickster, maybe? Loki, trickster god, horned helm, Trickster? He’s present in the scene, but, as ever, Wildbow’s writing style makes it difficult to tell who’s being talked to, so we don’t know if the comment to Trickster is being directed at horns guy or not. Did we know previously that Trickster was one of Teacher’s students now? I seem to recall finding that out in Lung’s interlude or the like.

      • Nope. Wasn’t Trickster…
        “Me?” she asked. Her eye moved to the man in the horned helmet.

        “He’s his own man. A wild card.”

        Here, Contessa and Teacher are discussing helmet guy in relation to her being Teachers second in command.

        “I see,” she said. More kids in white were streaming from the room.

        “Trickster, stop. You’re with me. We might need help navigating some of the trickier areas, if the damage to this place is extensive enough.”

        One boy stopped where he was, stopping beside Teacher, a dull and unfocused look in his eyes.
        Here we see Teacher pull Trickster out of his crowd of minions. The only real bright spot here is that Trickster has been reduced to a slack jawed drone for Teacher

    • Satyrical is in the tags. I don’t think he was one of Cauldron’s first tests, and it’s possible he survived Scion, or one of his clones did and persisted after the main body’s death.

      • Wouldn’t it be just SO Satyrical to fake his own death with a clone? Do we know if Clones can make Clones? And… we didn’t see him die, and as Contessa illustrates, beautifully, If you’re not looking their decapitated head in the eye, you don’t know that they’re dead. Even then, in this world, there’s still some wriggle room.

      • And satyrs DO have horns. Did we get any kind of visual description of him when Taylor ran into him? Sometimes I wish we had more PoV time with people who don’t know people’s names, so that Wildbow is forced to give us at least some kind of visual.

        • ‘Normal’ Satyr went around shirtless, this guy is wearing armour. Contessa didn’t recognize him, and she’d know Satyrical. Probably other differences, but remember we’re considering a guy with shapeshifting clone powers.

        • He did wear a horned helmet. But it was with curled horns, like a ram’s. Not Viking style. And Contessa should recognise Satyr. Though he does have shape shifting powers, admittedly.

        • The one in the viking helm is probably Lung. Now the real question is why the hell are Teacher and Lung dressed up like LARPers?

          • Uhh…that would be rather difficult seeing how Lung was babysitting Bonesaw and Panacea last time we saw him. Going by the tags and by exclusion it’s probably Satyr, wether a duplicate or the original, it’s not clear.

            Why Teacher is dressed as a wizard is a good question. He probably thinks it makes him mysterious and cool.

            • Why would Satyr be helping Teacher in the way Lung promised to, and be dressed like a viking berserker, which is by the way an excellent analogue for Lungs powers. Also Lung’s not the talkative type and Satry is/was.

              • Lung didn’t promise to help Teacher. He decided to not do anything in the eventuality of Teacher staging a coup against Marquis in the Birdcage and then thought to himself that he would kill Teacher next time they met.

                As for the costume, why would Teacher dress like a wizard either? At least Satyr’s original costume had horns, too.

              • Lung actually told Teacher he’d a) wouldn’t stand in the way and b)”If you want a bodyguard for a time after we’ve walked free, you will have it.”

                What this armored untalkative viking berserker is doing is definitely serving as a body guard.

              • >>“Standing may be too optimistic a word,” the man in the horned helmet said.<<

                Not a very Lung-like thing to say.

  3. Oh fuck. It took her a moment to recognize her implies she is a case 54 in the looks department, and the whole save us from ourselves thing does not look good. Then again Teacher is a self admitted monster so he might have a very different view of Weaver than everyone else. GOD DAM YOUR CLIFFHANGERS.

    • “and not because it was an unfamiliar face.”
      Well, I suppose a different body might have made it harder to place the face, but I get more the impression that Taylor’s making an uncharacteristic face.

    • You can’t become a case 53 through anything like a second trigger event. Either Taylor is making an uncharacteristic expression, she is heavily wounded, or Panacea screwed up big time and altered her face as well as the power.

      But yeah. Stupid cliffhangers…

      • Case 53 became distorted, because their shards were not properly adjusted/crippled. Scion crippled his shards, before handing them out. Doctor Mother was less proficient in this process, hence the case 53. If Panacea somehow indirectly adjusted Taylor’s shard, or how her shard influences her, it would not be unthinkable that Taylor changed. It’s not a second trigger, even if it was a second (make that third) trigger, there is no indication that a second trigger couldn’t change a person’s looks.

        However, maybe Taylor doesn’t look that much different, but maybe she’s doing something that would normally not be associated with her.

        • I think it’s more complex than just lack of safeguards. It’s been mentioned a few times that Cauldron (i.e Eden) capes get body changes and trigger (i.e. Scion) capes get mental changes. Even “normal” cauldron capes seem to have some minor mutation (see Canary, see Alexandria) whereas the only Scion cape with permanent body changes seems to be Crawler and even in his case those changes came over time and arguably were still secondary to the mental shift his power gave him.

        • I read the physical aberrations as being because of the shards that were used, either because Eden was dead or because they were Eden’s (I like one theory that Zion’s shards screw up the mind while Eden’s screw up the body). Regardless, though, there is no evidence that a second trigger can trigger such results…and this is definitely going to have fewer effects than that formula, because A. it’s a fairly minor alteration and B. Panacea can fix any damage she does.

          I’m also inclined towards the “looks normal but is doing something weird” explanation.

          • Call me stubborn, but I still like the idea that what happened to Skitter, is that the restrictions were removed from her power and her mind is now busy being dispersed throughout the insect biomass of her partners range (or of the planet, or possibly the multiverse if enough doors are open).

            Since she always had two way communication with bugs, her body is now just one more processing node in a array that is mostly insects. It’s likely her facial expressions will either be a null set, a vegetative state, until she adapts and relearns to use her old body, or at the very least she will look considerably weird as insects (having chitinous exoskeletons) don’t really have facial expressions.

            Again, there is some evidence for this conclusion. Imp says Skitter looks “creepy” when she’s deep into her multi tasking mode.

            • Um, Skitter’s unrestricted power has nothing to do with bugs. If it was totally unrestricted, she would probably gain the ability to control all creatures and/or shards.

      • This isnt a second(third) trigger event, this is Amy removing the limiters on Taylor’s shard. The only individual we’ve seen in an even vaguely similar situation is Noelle (who probably didn’t get the Balance part of her formula).

        So… probably went well then?

        • Um, just to point out…Noelle’s situation is more like a Changer power gone uncontrollable. She was as much a Case 53 as Hookwolf. Also, Cauldron formula…

          And I don’t think Amy has enough precision with this application of her power to do something that precise. Brains in general and powers in specific aren’t something she’s done more than a few or zero times, respectively. It would be like expecting her to be able to cure someone’s cancer, when she triggered ten minutes ago and is only vaguely aware of what this cancer thing is.

          • It’s not an exact analogy. But it *does* seem highly likely that what Amy edited in Taylor is the same thing that got accidentally left out of Noelle’s formula – the “balance” component. “Balance” is presumably responsible for (mostly) preventing the results of the trigger from supplanting the human host like they did with Noelle. As such, it seems like the bit you’d tinker with if you were aiming to “remove restrictions the entity put in place”.

            Note that I’m just elaborating on my original thoughts here. Now that I’ve read further into the story it’d be too hard to speculate further without second-guessing how much those speculations are being adulterated/influenced by future knowledge.

            • Not much further to read.

              But yeah, she’s modifying the same thing that was more or less absent in Noelle’s case. I can’t imagine that the effects would be much the same, especially since the thing in question was required to avoid unexpected things from happening.

    • Considering that Teacher is a pitchfork, cloven hooves, and a pair of horns away from being the most obviously untrustworthy motherfucker in the multiverse, I’d take whatever he’s saying about the situation with an ocean of salt.

  4. Aaaand the plot thickens! I was hoping this interlude would provide a good character moment or two, but the Comtessa’s been a blank slate for far too long; I guess it’s nice to see how her power works.

    • I think there were very good character moments in there. Every time her power failed, she was wracked with fear and/or frustration. When her power was working, she followed its dictates like a machine. This shows us that Contessa is, on one hand, one of the most terrifyingly effective parahumans ever to exist, and on the other hand, still a scared little girl who has never had a single genuine moment of human experience since getting her power. She has let her power drive her every move, “acting” only to pick questions to ask it. Well, “not a single genuine experience” is maybe a bit far. She did have that conversation with DM about how to disable the Counterpart and how to combat Scion, so we can probably infer that she’s had regular conversations with her over the decades.

      I feel vindicated that my assessment of Contessa as the true impetus behind Cauldron and DM as the figurehead was right, at least in the early days. Even later, Contessa was still the power behind the throne, it seems, even if DM was legitimately running things.

      • It’s very believable isn’t it? To be so powerful and then to lose that power, go back to normality and just FREAK OUT. It’d be more terrifying then if you’d never been powerful at all…

        • Oh, absolutely. It’s exactly how I imagined her. Cool and aloof… because she doesn’t REALLY know how to act, how to interact. She just knows how to ask questions and follow a scripts. It’s right there in how she says everything is easy for her. She’s been going through life with cheat codes on, never learning how to get good at the game. When her cheats stop working, she’s left totally in the lurch.

          She fascinates me. I really want to do something with the character concept. Write a little short story, base a roleplaying game character on her… I dunno. She’s a hard character to write for, especially when there’s no fog to challenge her. The only thing that will challenge her are decision forks where there’s no path to achieve both goals in a reasonable number of steps and ethical/personal decisions where she’s faced with a quandry not of CAN she do something, but SHOULD she. Thinking about it makes me respect Wildbow all the more for writing this chapter and doing it so well.

          • More than slightly like the Simurgh, really, only the Simurgh observes people’s worldlines (in the past as well), not just paths to specific stated victory conditions.

          • path: what causes fog in power?
            path: What could cause fog in power?
            power negation power, sensory deprivation power, power immunity power, etc.
            path: how to figure out power?
            3+x steps.
            Contessa sucks at using her power.

            • She’d get an error for that power, too.

              And clearly sensory deprivation isn’t a factor, if she can know Doctor is dead and Numbers Man alive so easily.

            • Either that, or the power-sense-negating power actually negates all attempts to use powers’ senses on the thing concealed by the power-sense-negating power.

              What I’m saying is, Contessa’s power can’t understand ANYTHING in those fogs. It can’t figure out how to defeat Scion, or avoid Mantellum, or anything like that. They’re non-entities as far as the power is concerned. Trying to weasel your way out won’t help.
              Especially since Contessa’s power doesn’t seem to go much past “How do I do X?”

              • no, she got around “how do I keep this thing from knocking me off” by switching to “how do I keep myself from falling.” as long as she doesn’t target something that interferes with her power she’s fine and if she delegates she can target that person or group and get indirect info which wouldn’t be affected by interference. the more she knows the more powerful she gets, ever time an obstacle appears she could figure out how to get by the obstacle in theory rather than the actual obstacle then apply the situation and ignore the actual obstacle with the theoretical one instead. 3+x steps.

              • Mantellum’s power seems to (temporarily) turn anything within a good radius of him into something she simply can’t deal with–just like Lung’s power is unaware of them and can’t enhance him to deal with them, and Skitter’s bugs simply don’t notice them. Presumably, a similar problem applies to the Endbringers and Scion.

                In short: It worked for vaguely similar problems, but it doesn’t work for these because they’re different.

      • Yes and no, re: that last bit. Seems like DM and Contessa were closer to genuine partners than anything.

        I wonder if Contessa ever learnt to speak English without the aid of her power. I’m guessing ‘no’.

    • It was the way that things were supposed to go, if Eden hadn’t gotten distracted by all the new information and planning and weakened itself enough that it could be killed with a knife.

      Global conflict, different heroes. Some of them the same.

              • What’s interesting is the “Superweapons”. Those sound an awful lot like the Endbringers to me. So maybe they really were all part of the plan the whole time.

              • Indeed. The way i see it, the Entities engineered a Cold War situation between two superpowered factions, with a mental block that stops from coming signing a peace treaty, so that conflict slowly brews and the shards can mature. Then, when this kind of conflict is’t enough anymore…bam!, the other side got WMD (either Eden created the super weapons/Endbringers directly or some poor schmuck got the right shard), you must strike first or be annihilated.

              • The entities would have engineered a Cold War, if Eden hadn’t fallen while future-gazing. That was a nice trip for her.

    • It’s one of the futures Eden saw, and the one she was aiming for. She lost the path to it when she shifted to use Abaddon’s future-sight shard and lost shard that on landing (which landed in Contessa). We saw it through Contessa’s trigger-event.

      • Now that you said that, it makes me curious about the plan.
        Richter is still around though Dragon is not mentioned. This implies that her creation was never part of the plan. His creations would be similar to Dragon’s, weak minded, non sentient AI. The Endbringers pushed him in creating Dragon, and we have plenty of evidence how paranoid/fearful he was of doing it, so he was just so desperate that chanced it.

        Partisan’s special sight sounds like Chevalier, who was going to direct things.

        The superweapons are obvious parallels to the Endbringers, so it seems that Scion’s partner was behind their creation, though they were not as powerful/destructive as they are in the wormverse.

        Arsenal sounds like Colin. The broadsword…could clarent be Jack? If true then the negative influence on parahuman’s minds by their passengers might not have been intended to be so extreme.

        Eidolon, Alexandria, Legend, and it’s implied that hero was created in the same batch as Alexandria were not part of the plan, same as contessa. So the third entity is a red herring.

        • I thought it was fairly obvious that the Black Knight was Jack? The line about never losing to other parahumans was pretty definitive.

          Also, the ‘woman with the gun’ is called Hannah at one point, so that’s Miss Militia.

        • Black Knight is Jack. A Light-Side Jack Slash.

          “We bait them into a fight, then sic him on them. He’ll be able to win as long as it’s parahumans he’s fighting.

          • Light-Side is debatable, particularly with a name like Black Knight.
            It sounds like they are just using Jack like they’d use a weapon or a dog.

            • Not necessarily Jack Slash. ‘Can beat any parahuman’ could apply almost as easily to a power nullifier like Hatchet Face… OR GRUE! How awesome would that be! Grue, the Black Knight, stealing his enemies’ powers and turning them on their erstwhile masters. Give him some tinker-made power armor and the aesthetic and power level are a perfect match. As he is/was a villain, I can see the upper echelons of the Protectorate treating thinking of him as basically a vicious attack dog… especially if whatever caused his second trigger didn’t turn out as well for the Undersiders or Aisha in this timeline.

              When I started this post I thought Jack was most likely candidate by far, but now I’m calling it a 50/50 split.

        • Presumably the Endbringers are either definitely Eidolon or someone else using a Cauldron shard: if things had gone according to Eden’s plan, that power would have wound up as a deliberate implant in someone intended to be a supervillain, but may have had a few more limits on it (which is why the superweapons weren’t as bad as the endbringers).

          But just appreciate how much of an awful moment that would have been for the heroes… after years of effort, they finally track down The Shadow, creator of the Superweapons… and realize that he can have any powers needed, is more than a match for all the heroes together, and powers up from dead supers.

          Kinda retroactively redeems Eidolon a bit: even if he accidentally made the Endbringers, his shard was supposed to go to someone who’d make Endbringers deliberately AND use his known powers for evil. Making kaiju was always an expected part of his power, not just an accident of him reaching unconsciously for the wrong one.

          • I dunno. It sounds to me like Eidolon’s shard was intended to remain inside Eden, and she would have created the not-Endbringers as a part of her scenario.

              • But the fact tat Arsenal/Defiant was suspicious of Eden in regards of the Superweapons/Endbringers and that Eden acknowledged that those suspicions were justified , it does seem to hint at them being under Eden’s direct control instead of the byproducts of a host-shard.

              • I missed the part about Eden acknowledging the suspicions, and couldn’t find it on a reread. Could you quote the passage that makes you think that?

              • Here are the relevant parts. Don’t know how to the quote thingy, sorry.


                >>A consensus was reached between them. Arsenal knew something about the superweapons, or he suspected strongly enough for it to matter.<>For Arsenal, though, there was another reaction. He was upset, yes, but was a little relieved at the same time. He knew about the others, and he had been testing them, to see if they would lie. But suspicions remained<>.“We know they’re projections,” Arsenal said, his eyes on the monitors. “Someone orsomething is projecting them. We cut off the head, the superweapons fall.”

                “Yes,” the entity agreed. It didn’t miss the curious glance Arsenal gave it<> The entity glanced his way, acknowledging him. Its focus, however, was on Arsenal. Hearing Partisan’s words, Arsenal’s suspicions had reached a climax. He would say something.

                That is, he would, if the entity didn’t intervene. The entity passed by him, and it leveraged a power. Wiping a memory, setting a block in place. The same blocks that prevented accord between the Wardens and the Shepherds. The same blocks that prevented Partisan’s special sight from seeing the entity’s power at work.<<


                Nothing explicitly damning, to be fair, yet Arsenal clearly thinks the entities have something to do with the superweapons and he has to be mind-wiped into silence.

              • That indicates that Eden have something to do with the super-weapons, which would be true even if she had merely given the shard to someone, intending that s/he would create the superweapons.

              • Yeah but Arsenal only seemed to know that Eden had something to do with the superweapons, and in a vague way to booth, which would be frankly unlikely if Eden had given the shard to someone because that would have indicated that Arsenal had discovered that the two most powerful superheroes in the world were actually aliens and the fount of powers (and capable of choosing which to give) and somehow connect this particular power to Eden while not revealing anything to his colleagues/friends. A bit hard to swallow.

              • I don’t think Arsenal determined anything definitive. He just suspects something…he’s probably not even sure what.

              • Arsenal is an alt!Colin, who had lie-detecting tech back before Taylor first met him, which is most likely why Arsenal reacted the way he did during Eden’s duplicitous conversation with them.

              • So he knew Eden was being duplicitous…about something. Which is about what I think he knows, and which doesn’t support the idea that Eden directly rather than indirectly created them.

                Besides, being called “superweapons” does have a certain implication that they’re being used by the other side…or at least that there are suspicions of such. This vaguely suggests the same “Eden didn’t directly create them” idea.

              • <>

                Oh! This is probably the power which ended up in the Slug, meaning he (?) got Eden’s “you don’t remember trigger events” shard.

                The case 53s make much more sense to me now, the complete wipe coming from this power being used by someone who couldn’t really control it.

              • Argh, my quote was swallowed. This is meant to be in front of my last comment:

                __The entity passed by him, and it leveraged a power. Wiping a memory, setting a block in place.__

        • It looks like the original plan was for a slower build up to conflict, so that the stress period can be prolonged and more experiences gained in the struggle. With Eden dead, and her shards given to the wrong people, everything came to a head far too soon.

        • No, not a red herring. I’m pretty sure the third entity is what went wrong, causing Eden to be weakened and killed, causing everything else in a big domino effect. It lost too many shards too soon, creating Contessa and the diamentional portals, which allowed Doctor Mother to kill Eden and start Cauldron.

    • Arsenal = Defiant
      Partisan = Chevalier
      Clarent = Dauntless

      As they would have been, if things had gone according to plan.

            • They’re another faction, probably capes who rule directly. Eden is using the Endbringer equivalents to ensure no peace between the Wardens and the Shepherds. Pretty heavy hint Eden was planning on projecting them, using them to manipulate the world. Eidolon’s shard let him access that capacity, and he drew on her plans.

        • I’m thinking the black knight they reference is probably jack, thanks to the claim that he won’t lose against parahumans.

          • Or the Black Knight is Eidolon. He’s projecting the Superweapons, and the reason he can’t loose to parahumans is that he sucks them up and supercharges himself, and always had the right powers to fight them.

            • True, but Black Knight sounds (to me) more like Jack with armour than it does like the High Priest, wielder of a score of “angels”.

    • Yes, quite interesting, considering she sounded alternately disinterested or unwell from Zion’s perspective. Their form of communication, for all that it transmits untold fractal layers of sub-meaning, is really not very clear. At least as open to misinterpretation as human language.

      • No. I think Zion was correct in his interpretation of unwell/disinterested. The thinker-entity was freakin’ busy. And damaged. And “she” didn’t comprehend just how damaged she was.

        Zion was *correct* in his interpretations. Eden was not.

        Which proves these creatures are eminently fallible.

        • I don’t think Eden was nearly as damaged as Scion had believed. I think it was more like she suddenly had sensory overlord with too many new awesome things to play with and too little time to figure out what was good and important and what was useless. So she got distracted with trying to play the long game and setting up all her dominos. Distracted to the point that she knocked over her first domino as she was placing the last few and that screwed up everything. Basically we have Abaddon to thank for saving humanity by sheer chance and Eden for sheer stupidity at the critical junction.

  5. Hoooo boy. This is one I’m going to have to reread in the morning. My brain hurts.

    Also, Chevalier is OFFICIALLY the black knight now, which means every injury from now on is merely a flesh wound. His survival is assured.

      • Right right. Had to reread that bit again after someone pointed out the “Partisan = Chevalier” thing. The “What could have been” bit flew right over my head at first. Like I said… Need sleep. Very awesome chapter. I love character/story insight like this.

        • Partisan has a special sight that let’s him sees powers= Chevalier.

          Arsenal is a tinker who works with Richter, is suspicious and paranoid and is called Colin= Defiant.

          Hannah with the shape shifting gun= Miss Militia

          Black Knight always wins against parahumans= Jack.

          Clarent as Dauntless is the only one that is only supported by the tags.

          • Just done a reread and actually there is a hint linking Clarent and Dauntless: partisan commenting that Clarent’s power grows over time.

            • That alternate seems to hint that Miss Militia could copy Tinker weapons with her power, or make entirely new ones. Wonder if she’s ever tried.

            • Mannequin doesn’t exist in Eden’s intended timeline. He used to be a hero who went by Sphere, until a Smurf attack killed his family. At that point, he ceased to be Alan Gramme and became Mannequin. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. But there’s no Cauldron in this time line, so the Eden shards get distributed differently and we get a different set of Endbringers. No Smurf means no Mannequin. That’s also why Richter is mentioned in the projected timeline; he was killed by Leviathan in the real one.

              • We don’t see a claymore in the intended timeline either. Phillipe is referring to Jack’s mystery sword he used in the fight with Theo.

          • He had a Mannequin build it for him, most likely. The bigger question is how they get it to no-sell Golem’s power.

            • Compound of metals/ceramics that Golem wouldn’t just be carrying around with himself, bonus points this also allows it to be sharp enough to cut through the silk Taylor has outfitted everyone with.

      • My suspicion is that the Black Knight is this timeline’s double-trigger Grue. Went into more detail a few threads up, but tell me Grue, in power armor, with his power stealing darkness, wouldn’t be a dead ringer for a black knight that can’t be defeated by parahumans?

  6. I… I like Contessa (or rather, Fortuna). HOW?! Wiiiiildboooow stop making me sympathize with these people!
    The worst part is it makes SENSE. With that kind of power, of course she would be crippled when working outside it.
    Also Doormaker was oddly adorable. Whaaat.

    • I’ve had a lot of sympathy for both Contessa and Doormaker for a while now. Ever since we found out basically how Contessa works, I’ve thought she was a fascinating and lovely character. I’m especially enjoying looking back on the previous appearances she’s made and thinking about them in light of what we know about her now. Under New Delhi, I think she was genuinely trying to be friendly to Taylor. I don’t think she really understands people. Her power walks her through any critical negotiations, so she never really needed to learn to read people or empathize with them. Taylor and crew are freaking out at the sight of her, and she’s just like, “Hi! I’m recruiting all these people here. I hope you’re having a nice day.” And they’re like, “She’s fucking kidnapping all the capes we need to help fight BEHEMOTH! Evil bitch!” And she’s like, “I sure wish I could help you with fighting that Endbringer. Good luck!” It never occurs to her to ask if they think she’s a power-mad agent of an inscrutable evil Illuminati. She’s just over here trying to save the world.

      • “I’d actually love to wear bright colors and smile more… but my power insists that the intimidation factor of all black and no facial expressions of consequence is way more efficient… sorry.”

  7. The problem with the interludes is, they rarely answer the question raised in the cliffhanger. They simply ask the question in a different way.

    What do you call this? A double cliffhanger? A compounded cliffhanger?

    • On the one hand, a solid summary of many of the major decisions of Cauldron and knowledge of what is happening to Contessa.
      On the other hand, we wait longer to find out what happened to Taylor.
      The writer giveth and the writer taketh away.

    • Well, they answer questions left hanging from earlier like how Cauldron was formed, whether or not Contessa was truly killed and why she has a third entity shard.

      Wildbow heard you like cliffhangers though so he put cliffhangers in cliffhangers in cliffhangers.

      • Hum, a lot of the interludes, this one included, heck this one especially!, hold answers that would make the end incomprehensible without them.

        • Yeah, among the questions we got answers for here are:
          – What was Eden’s plan : Answered.
          – Does Cauldron have any miracles left to save the day with: Answered.
          – Why did Cauldron think their way would work: Answered.
          – Can we expect the “Third Entity” to swoop in and save the day: Answered.
          – How was Contessa defeated: Answered.
          – What happened to Contessa: Answered.

          A cliffhanger like the one we got on Tuesday is the kind of thing you want to savor. There’ll never be another opportunity to experience this sense of not knowing what’s going to happen next, of all the outcomes that you can imagine being possible still.

          After Tuesday morning at midnight, the answer will be there, either in the next post or on the next page when Wildbow gets the story printed. Those of us reading this as it comes out are the only ones who’ll get to question and speculate and wonder at what the future might hold for Taylor and the rest of the cast without the answer being a click or a flip away.

          • Dude, you’re making me nostalgic for Classic!Worm and it’s not even over yet. *isn’t tearing up, nope*

            • As epic as Worm has gotten, I still fondly remember the days when Taylor was a super villain leading a team that had taken over the city…good times. Much simpler, too; I’m having some trouble understanding all of Worm now,

  8. Contessa. Interesting. Not how I thought she’d be, but it makes sense. Very logical, little thought process other than what she has to do,

    On the downside, this shard thing has me thrown for a loop, as usual. Just can’t seem to get a handle on it…I’m going to go back and read every worm update after the timeskip when I have the chance just to figure out how it all fits.

    Waiting for Tuesday with a frothing mouth…of…words…I guess…so looking for award to that!

    • To help with the shards thing: “Shard”, “Agent”, and “Passenger” all relate to the same thing; the extradimensional piece of entity that plugs into a potential parahuman’s corona pollentia (sp?) that grants them their power. These shards had similar – but distinct – roles when they were in the entity as they did in the parahuman. (e.g. Queen administrator Weaver, Broadcaster Jack Slash, Negotiator Tattletale)

  9. I’m glad that Contessa survived. Explaining away her death, unless specifically orchestrated by Scion, would just strain credulity. I like seeing how the whole cauldron things started. Maybe what they need is for Panacea to unlock Contessa’s power. Of course that might be dependent on how Weavers turned out.

  10. The usual random thought jumble, written as I read, so early comments may be wrong.

    Eden interlude!

    Eden recognizes that the Worm propagation lifestyle will eventually fill totality with Worms, followed by a descent into the uncooperative aggression that characterized the beginning of the species … and it is looking for a way out.

    And then cut to an alternate reality, with the Thinker viewing a possible future. The possible future has Endbringers of its own. Black Knight who wins against any parahuman = Jack Slash? Richter = same person?

    There are hints that Abaddon did weaken Eden in some ways. For one, it is stated that Eden gave up part of its precognition to Abaddon. It is also stated that “It is frail, fragile.”

    “Shards must be discarded, or it will dwarf the destination planet.” So, Worms are larger than Earth-sized.

    “In the doing, it alters one of the third entity’s powers, replacing its own ability to find the optimal future.” This seems to be where it replaced Contessa-like powers with another variant … and failed for unknown reasons.

    And then we switch to … Contessa! Who decides to kill Eden. And succeeds, with Doctor Mother’s help, and sets herself against Zion. And it becomes clear that this is actually Contessa’s interlude. It was Doctor Mother’s decision to build up an army of parahumans, but that is because she chose one of the two plans that Contessa had.

    And we start getting real answers as to plans and history.

    … and Contessa faked her death!

    … and now she is hooked up with Teacher, who is taking over Cauldron and has positioned Contessa to cooperate with him.

    I will think about the possible ramifications of all of this later today.

    • “‘Shards must be discarded, or it will dwarf the destination planet.’ So, Worms are larger than Earth-sized.”
      Ayup. I seem to recall Tattletale mentioning the possibility way back when, and I think something in Zion’s interlude suggested the same.

      “I will think about the possible ramifications of all of this later today.”
      Won’t we all?

      • <Eden recognizes that the Worm propagation lifestyle will eventually fill totality with Worms, followed by a descent into the uncooperative aggression that characterized the beginning of the species … and it is looking for a way out.<

        Here's an idea. don't keep reproducing beyond what your envorioment can support. In short, get the worms some birth control.

        • It’s more that the reproduction cycle is the only thing they do, ever; and the only thing they enjoy even a little bit. They need to find something else to do that they enjoy.
          In short, get the worms some hobbies.

          • Other than driving humanity to extinction, I mean. There has to be something else, maybe knitting, or stamp collecting.

              • I don’t really blame him. He was the warrior in the pair; helping out probably wasn’t a huge part of his nature. Kevin Norton had to tell him to fight the Endbringers, after all.

        • Claiming the Worms should just stop reproducing is a little unfair, and also a little hypocritical for humans. It would be like telling humans they had to stop learning, stop researching, stop having children, and just stagnate until the end of time. Looking for a way to redesign their species again to escape their bounds is a pretty reasonable thing for them to do, in my opinion. Only problem is the whole ‘collateral damage’ bit. Especially from the perspective of… well literally anything else in the multiverse.

          In short, the Worms’ ultimate goal is understandable and even sympathetic, but they still have to be stopped at pretty much any cost.

    • NO. IF the second entity had not failed it would create a world where these heroes would be part of one faction in many.

    • We’ve seen Hannah’s trigger event. We knew Hero was a cauldron-made cape.

      More to the point… where did you get that idea? The business with Arsenal and that lot? Hero wasn’t in that scene. Richter was. And there was no Cauldron in that timeline, because Eden was alive. She even ended that vision by saying that all the parahumans she’d seen in it were Zion’s, telling us for sure that Chevy, Colin, Hannah, and Richter were trigger-event, Zion-shard capes.

      • Was tired when I read it. I totally missed the name changes in scene with the preferred reality. I thought that they were in the group of capes that also created the Doormaker. Oops!

  11. Huh, the potential alternate universe Eden was planning is interesting. Jack Slash working alongside good guys like Chevalier, Miss Militia, Defiant, and Dauntless? I’d assume the Shepherds are then made up of villain capes like Coil, Teacher, and Accord who are all take over the world types who want to ‘shepherd’ people.

    And I guess Wildbow has accepted Eden as the name for the second identity. Cool beans.

      • I see them as being shepherd capes mostly. Tattletale, Bitch and Regent almost definitely being shepherd capes. Taylor, Grue and by extension Imp I’m on the fence about.

        I get the feeling this universe is similar enough to regular Wormverse that the Undersiders will probably still form under Coil. Having all the Undersiders on Team Shepherd would even the scales better since the Wardens have powerhouses like Chevalier, Richter, and Jack Slash.

        • There is no Coil: he was a Cauldron cape, and while it’s possible that shard was manually distributed (unlikely: Eden notes that all the shards she sees are Zion’s) there’s effectively no chance that it would land on Calvert.

          The sides are ‘balanced’ because the entities keep their thumbs on the scales, providing shards to losing sides or to break stalemates, keeping the conflict running hot.

          • Too true. Unlike the chaos of the wormverse, where any large group of parahumans is treated as a bomb about to go off, there are no real chaotic fights. I mean it’s implied that there is NO WAR anywhere in that world, as compared to ours, and the hell that the nastier parts of the wormverse probably are. Eden, who is much smarter/human? than Scion is made it so.

            • Due to her ability to play humanity like a fiddle, create fake threats to keep factions at each other throats and brainwashing those who are starting to grasp the truth.

          • Right, I forgot Coil was a Cauldron cape.

            The entities basically turned the world into a big game of cops and robbers. They fight, come out a little worse for wear but with new experience. The game continuing until Eden decides she got what they need.

              • Oh, the horror!

                No, wait, that fits the silver age, right? The Golden Age had its peak during WWII, and the stories of that time where ALL ABOUT war, or rather the war against the Nazis in particular.

                It was the silver age where everyone was playing a game of cops and robbers, with no real resolutions to problems and everyone ready to fight but mostly just walking circles, having variations on the same fight over, and over, and over…

                Actually, that sounds even more like what Eden might want.

                Oh, the horror!

        • The undersiders might form, but they wouldn’t do it under coil. Coil is a cauldron cape. All the cauldron capes powers are in the ‘ideal’ universe going to making endbringers for Eden. The rest of the undersiders however are ‘natural’ capes so would still exist.

      • Nop. Eden only saw capes whit powers from the Zion entity. Remember that Eden alternate future vision is happening a the same time Zion is refining, limiting and choosing to whom the shards are going. Eden only can manipulate the alternate Endbringers because they are part of her powerset. Every cape that was not Cauldron-made would have triggered and gained the same powers they have in the present time-line.

        • But there is the whole potential thing. Not every cape with the potential to trigger does. Especially if Eden is keeping things balanced, so she wants others in reserve to trigger when one side gets too strong. If Taylor was never bullied, if her mom had never died, if Emma had never been attacked, if Lung had never gone to america, then Taylor might not have triggered. She would be a potential, kept in reserve in case one side got too powerful.

          • I don’t think there *are* any “potentials”. I don’t think there *can be* potentials in this scenario.

            There are those who are assigned powers. And those who aren’t. Skitter got an administration shard. She’d have triggered, one way or another, to keep the scenario going. And they’d have used her “offspring” shards for others

            • Taylor didn’t “get” the administration shard in this respect, Danny did – he was Scion’s target for the administration shard, flung off in the last moments before landing. But teenage emotions and hormones are much more volatile (and Danny explicitly clamped down on his emotions) and the bullying caused the shard to connect to her instead.

              • Scion’s interlude. The administrator shard is supposed to go a tall man (Danny) but Taylor’s higher emotional stress makes her a better host and attracts the shard. I believe a similar thing happened with Imp and her father, too.

          • Precognition. The key shards in the ‘ideal’ scenario would always come to fruition at the right place, in the right time, because it has been foreseen in detail. It might not bond to the same people, but it’d ALWAYS bond.

      • I doubt it.

        1. Perfect world? Ha ha ha.
        2. Given that Hanna, Colin, Richter, Jack, etc, all triggered, I’m guessing that the other characters would have triggered at some point or another.

    • There is one more thing that must be done… someone must write fanfiction based off of this future Eden saw.

      IT MUST BE DONE!!!!!!!!!

      • I had the same thought.

        This of course would mean that that great theory about MM getting one of the few shards Eden managed to shed before dying (we know they exist, Vikare, the first cape ever got one) is incorrect. A pity because it would have explained why/how she bypassed Scion mental’s block and a few other details of her vision.

        • I never heard that theory, and considering the general bias of Zion shards towards combat and Eden’s towards Thinkering, it seems to fit with Zion better.

          • Well, apart from the afore-mentioned remembering of the trigger event, her vision showed a sickly, dying entity shedding pieces of itself. Sound familiar?

            Oh and the warrior/thinker divide isn’t so clean-cut. Think of Siberian as opposed to Tattletale. Or Triumph as opposed to Accord.

            • Zion could easily have remembered that event. We don’t really understand why one cape sees X when they trigger but another sees Y.

              Siberian v. Tattletale: Siberian probably has some non-combat use, unlike “Make weapons!”, and don’t tell me that Ms. “Perfectly Cooks A Grenade” has no combat applications for her power. Besides, if she (ab)used it to its full extend, she could almost mimic Harbinger’s glory days.

              Triumph v. Accord: Triumph was Cauldron and Accord was triggered?

              • Yup.

                And come on if you want to argue that Siberian can have non-combat application so can MM. You do know Nobel invented dynamite to help miners and construction workers, do you?

              • And if you’ll recall, I never actually claimed that “ALL COMBAT-BASED POWERS ARE ZIONS!” I just said that, given the almost-completely-combat-focused nature of her power (and since the very way her power works is to create something in a class of objects defined as “things meant for killing people, I’d consider removing the almost), it is significantly more likely to be Zion’s shard than Eden’s.

                Especially since no known Eden shard came from an actual trigger event (closest was shown in this interlude, and we don’t have any reason to think the shards lingered until something crappy happened…and trigger events don’t happen that often, anyways).
                Oh, and Hannah triggered significantly after Eden struck here. Eden struck before Scion appeared; Hannah triggered, went to America not that long afterwards, and found the PRT ready to take her in.

        • I thought that Vikare was a Zion-trigger, because Scion mentioned “burning the cancer away” in his interlude. Also, having the first parahuman ever be a Zion cape would be a good indicator of what’s to come.

          • Checked Scion’s interlude again and it seems we’re both right in a way. Vikare got one of Eden’s shards but it only started to grow after Scion burned the cancer away.

    • Wait, wait I just realised something. Forget Jack being a good guy. In the alternate future Dauntless and Armsmaster actually get along! Considering how much Colin hated him, that’s impressive.

  12. I actually really like the little Alternate Reality glimpse. Actually, I had thought perhaps that was an alternate Earth, Far off but quite similar where Eden and Zion had already made their plans once, but it seems it was a vision of a future that never was from the comments.

    Weld! You knew what you had to do but your lack of people skills crippled you AGAIN. You should have gone and taken her scalp! Double tap! It’s like rule number two!

    • In that very instant, it recognizes that it has made a grave error. The simulated world and the glimpse of the optimal future are already gone from its grasp. Too late.

      That’s the decisive line that cinches it as a potential future Eden saw but lost.

    • Given that Contessa was using her win power to make sure Weld didn’t check to see if she was dead, I don’t think it’s very fair to blame Weld for not checking to see if she was dead.

      • Hmm, not quite. Contessa’s power doesn’t *control* people, it just informs her what they’re going to do so she can react appropriately (in advance).

        Her power told her that her escape was going to work because Weld wouldn’t check. If Weld *had* chosen to check, then her power wouldn’t have been able to tell her that and she would’ve had to find another way or be caught.

  13. That was really satisfying.

    I had thought Doctor Mother might be a figurehead, but I see now that’s not the case — they were actually nearly equal partners. Also, the “questions” thing from when Imp tried to sneak up on Contessa is now explained. Really, Contessa’s power is a bit like Coil’s — easy to disguise as unbeatable, but actually a lot more vulnerable than it appears.

    • That’s exactly what I thought. If Contessa makes the wrong questions or is not focusing on the real threat her power can fail her. Not that anyone can tell.

      • Except that Contessa probably has steps that reach years into the future. If I understand it correctly, she’s only vulnerable if those steps coincide with Scion or Mantellum. If her goal is twenty years off, she knows about any obstacle that she might reach in between.

  14. That was a nice update. Long too. And it made more sense than the Scion interlude. I don’t like that Taylor is now so scary and looks different though. Since Teacher is afraid of her, and Contessa seemed like she was agreeing to help him. Why help him, and not Taylor, if she is still useable?

    • Contessa recognized the face so Taylor probably still looks the same. Maybe Taylor is doing something crazy badass like controlling all the capes in the area and it’s so unexpected Contessa is momentarily confused. It’d explain why Contessa would want to help Teacher, being used against your will isn’t pleasant.

      • I don’t think it was a shot from too far away given that it is on a phone and Contessa can see her face. Also, Contessa didn’t agree to help him, she just asked why they wanted her help and saw the picture. I get why an action shot would make sense now though, the picture has to convince Contessa that Taylors a threat

      • Would it be possible to know if Skitter was controlling people from just a picture? Given the way her power works, I think the only reasonable conclusion is that she looks different somehow, but is still recognizable.

        Expectation: The reason we haven’t heard much from Grue yet is because he’s about to have a truly legendary breakdown once he sees Skitter.

  15. Good interlude. It answers the question of why Cauldron didn’t use Contessa to ensure they were always successful when giving people powers. Apparently she can’t see the outcome, probably because they are a part of Eden.

  16. Great interlude!
    Defiant always assumes the worse, even in alternates universes. Which is very refreshing.
    And it seems that the sure-win power of the third entity was broken. Why did Eden give her old sure-win shard away to Contessa? even with the blocks it seems a reckless thing to do.

    • She didn’t she crashed into the Earth and split apart, which wasn’t a part of the plan, and broke into pieces that people from all over many worlds consumed, including the little girl Fortuna.

            • There’s a difference between “entity crash-lands on a planet because she was too busy looking how cool her future plan to manipulate humanity was” and “lets throw a planet to against something that is but a fragment of our true enemy”.

              • Well if you can find the home dimension, we can try a colossal uncontrolled planet-wide warp between two dimensions that tears both earths apart.

                But otherwise, if you’re so sure 1 planet won’t work…we can do 2. Maybe even 3. Apparently the galaxy’s full of the fucking things.

            • Hitting the avatar would be meaningless, however.

              What they need to do is figure out where the damn Entity Body is. Hit THAT with a planet. Plus that wouldn’t even be an important Earth- since they were suppose to pick empty worlds to hang out in.

              • I’ve been thinking this pretty much since discovering the Entities were a threat. Zion shards are crippled to prevent this, of course, but Cauldron’s Eden shards probably aren’t. Have Doormaker open a door to each of Scion’s magor planets, drop a planet killing Tinker weapon through, close the doors and watch Scion’s body break down without access to powers.

                Hmm, if there’s some reason they didn’t do it to Scion himself (probably his copy of Mantellum’s power), this could be how they used to remove powers from clients, simply destroying the relevant part of Eden. In which case Scion has just de-powered most Cauldron capes.

            • It’s theoretically possible, but I doubt it. It’s a bit too big to be easily conceptualized, and there’s no good frame of reference. Given the lack of absolute motion, Ballistic probably accelerates objects relative to himself…which would be bad to do, with a planet he’s on.

              Besides, the good old Earth is already trundling along at rates measured in kilometers per second by most frames of reference.

              • I would think that kicking a planet falls into a Manton effect/ Scion limitation, much like how shadowstalker isn’t trapped at the core of the planet right now.

              • Definitely not the Manton effect.

                1. Earth isn’t alive.
                2. Ballistic isn’t limited by the Manton effect.

              • The only time we’ve seen anything approximating a lack of a Manton restriction was when he touched Glory Girl’s shirt and sent her into the air and out of the fight. Regardless, the Scion-restriction would keep his power from hyperaccelerating the Earth because that would be a pretty idiotic power to leave as is. Given that he’s trying to cull and harvest the shards.

              • That isn’t “approximating” the lack of a Manton restriction, that’s conclusively proving it. Unless you’re claiming GG wasn’t alive?

                And yeah. That does seem kinda silly, even ignoring the other issues.

  17. A fascinating piece… I really like Contessa, but her situation is a sad one. Her ally of multiple decades dies, and she’s too disconnected to care. There are bits of humanity peeking out here and there, though, notably her joke about anyone actually believing she’d died and her almost melancholy ruminations on the ease with which she does everything. I find myself hoping she gets something resembling a happy ending; anyone who saves the world by stabbing an eldritch horror to death with a pocketknife deserves one. Incidentally, that was a nice touch to explain her predilection with the small knives we see her using.

    The perfect possible future for the Entity was chilling; I hadn’t expected them to take such a personal role in affairs, intervening directly. Having the Warrior pass for a human must not be an easy feat, but with gratuitous memory modification all things are possible. It puts things in perspective, because as bad as the current situation is, things’d be much worse if the heroes were putting faith in the very architects of their ruin. I’d have liked to see more of that doomed world, possibly get some information on the Shepherds. Fodder for the denouement bonus chapters, perhaps?

    Also, twenty Endbringers. TWENTY.

      • They were holding them in reserve, it seemed like, using them to foment conflict rather than pursuing a campaign of annihilation. Even the ‘canonical’ Endbringers are capable of exercising restraint. Killing the host doesn’t kill the shard, but they get better data from hosts fighting hosts. The Endbringers were being created by the Counterpart, with what was probably Eidolon’s shard.

    • “…as bad as the current situation is, things’d be much worse if the heroes were putting faith in the very architects of their ruin.”
      What’s the Hard-Target strategy for Endbringers, again?

      “I’d have liked to see more of that doomed world, possibly get some information on the Shepherds. Fodder for the denouement bonus chapters, perhaps?”
      Oh I hope so. That AU is so fascinating…

      “Also, twenty Endbringers. TWENTY.”
      They didn’t sound as powerful as the half-dozen we know.

      • I suspect that the Endbringers were just as strong, but less aggressive.

        After all, the Endbringers in general were known to take it easy on humanity. And these ones were there specifically to foment conflict, which wouldn’t work so well if they just wiped everything out.

  18. Seems Cauldron got almost all of its most powerful/useful capes out of that first run. Why didn’t they repeat that exactly? It’s got a pretty high failure rate, but Hero, Doormaker, Eidolon and Alexandria (and possibly Legend+2x unknowns) seem worth it…

    Also, couldn’t they theoretically make more vials from the ‘tainted’ food and water of Contessa’s world? Anything else the entity had touched?

    I am very glad for Contessa’s survival. She’s useful.

    • She’s useless. Her power only seems useful but it is vulnerable to unintended consequences and variable changes factors in the present, if it was useful, it wouldn’t have failed Eden in the first place.

      • It’s only useless in the narrative sense: it’s exactly as weak as the author needs it to be to make the plot work. Such an ability in reality would be far, far more powerful than it’s portrayed in Worm.

        • It’s useful for absolutely everything except for stuff involving Scion and the Endbringers. The trouble is those are the only things that matter in the long run.

        • She limited to human physical abilities and yet she’s taken out every cape we’ve ever seen her matched up against. The only people she loses to are ones with specific meta-power effects that basically shut her power down. I think she’s been portrayed as PLENTY powerful enough here.

      • Anyone is useless if you pair them against someone with a power that perfectly negates their strength. It’s like pitting Superman against Kryptonite Man, Merlin, and someone who teleports them to be under a red sun, and then calling him a wimp because he lost to opponents who used his only weaknesses.

        • Fun fact:Superman has won fights vs kryptonite men.Magicians too,I guess,and there must be a few red sun plots.

          • That’s because Superman’s existed for most of a century and been written by dozens of authors, many of which don’t give a flying crap about continuity. The principle remains.

            • No,such fighs existed precisely to have him fight his weakness.
              here,kryptonite man:

              Actually,none of his weaknesses are that debilerating.Kryptonite causes him extreme pain,but unless he is caughton a trap,or the kryptonite gets lodged inside him,he can still flee and snipe (nevermind the fact that he is uncreative)and he can still use his powers for a while (though writers are,indeed ,inconsistent about the exact effects)

              Magic is not really a weakness,more like a non strength.A magic sword and a magic shield would do litle vs a creative superman:sure,his flesh vs sword and his hand vs shield is like a normal humans,but he can punch faster,outside the protection of the shield,snipe and throw a mountain to you (which wouldn’t be effected since even if it was lifted with supernatural power,its core is still a mountain,it hasn’t changed,though your magic might negate the telekinesis making it crumble).More sophisticated magic is quite a predicament,but I think it would be more of a predicament for a slow,non flying,non sniping from their eyes/breath mortal.But at no point is he weaker to magic than a normal human would,most of the time he is indirectly stronger.At best,vs explicitly him,you have power nullification magic,but thats still just bringing him down to a normal human,or doing whatever effect it would also do to a normal human.

              Red sun is a strange story,as sometimes he retains his charge when exposed to a red sun,which makes him able to fight for a while,sometimes it doesn’t,but,again,it just turns him into a normal human,you can have plenty of adventures with that.

              • See you’ve touched on the main problem and the true thing that makes Skitter/Weaver/Taylor infinitely more powerful than Superman. He ISN’T creative. He isn’t innovative. He doesn’t think outside the box. True 999 times out of a hundred he has absolutely no need to. But that 1 time is when he gets his ass kicked because he is just too overpowered generally to bother thinking of creative ways to solve his problems which would come in handy the one time that he really needed something creative.

                Taylor has a rather lackluster power that’s only real power is in the massive amount of battlefield awareness she has. The true reason she becomes able to defeat people who are held as unstoppable just shy of Endbringers themselves are because she knows her ability is lame so she innovates to come up with massive hacks totally in keeping with her abilities. It elevates to tiers so far above what by all rights she should be in that she ends up one of the most overpowered people in the setting. Despite having a power set that in almost any other hands would be a joke.

                Taylor’s weakness breeds strength while Superman’s overpoweredness makes him weak.

              • I agree about Taylor vs Superman, but I’m convinced a lot of her intelligence, multitasking, calmness, and pain resistance are side effects of her power.

                Hm, Taylor vs Superman (a sort of composite “standard” version)…
                That could be almost balanced. She’d still lose because Superman’s real power is to win, but she’d put up a good fight. Let me explain. Assuming Taylor has time to prepare, plenty of resources, and no relevant allies:

                Taylor’s intelligence and Superman’s fame would ensure she was suitably equipped (kryptonite, which I’ll set aside for being boring) and knew all his powers in advance. Once she scaled up her webs they’d probably slow him down quite a lot, and I expect her bugs can overload his enhanced senses a little. Taylor has shown herself to be almost immune to pain but just as breakable as a human, which combined with Superman’s unwillingness to cripple will allow her to function through most things he’d be willing to hit her with. He’s predictable too, falling into any trap she’d set. She’d also track him in his civilian persona, so she’d have the option of exploiting that. However I expect she’d be reluctant to, both for the sake of the cape rules and because attacking his family and Lious would be all that would make him really TRY: at which point she’d get squashed with her bugs. He’s uninventive, and in normal circumstances won’t go anywhere near all out, whereas Taylor knows no other way to fight.

                If she has relay-bugs and kryptonite then it gets funny: kryptonite laced bug to the ear every time he tries to sleep in his home, or even in atmosphere depending on if her range covered the whole planet. Let’s see him fight after he hasn’t slept for two weeks.

                Actually, he’d be more dangerous then. Rather, let’s see him fight Taylor while explaining why his sleep deprivation caused deaths in some superhero court. Or just excessive damage, since we don’t want Taylor to cause innocent deaths intentionally.

  19. Contessta… It’s kind of sad. I wonder what would have happened if someone had told her ‘Do you think no one has ever tried that? Building an army?’

    It’s simply too easy. Too obvious. It’d never work.

    And it would be like Eidolon- she’d just give up. Just like that.

    I’m thinking that she’s going to get tricked into attacking Weaver just before victory is assured… It would fit the theme of futility and moral decay in her story thusfar.

  20. – how did Doctor Mother end up in that situation/reality in the first place especially not being a shard-bearer? Was Contessa born in Narnia or something?
    – Weld is so cool
    – so we were right: Contessa is a Third Entity shard-bearer, albeit she actually got said shard from the second entity (Counterpart, Eden, whatever)
    – right, so she kept Doctor Mother around as essentially the precog equivalent of a seeing-eye dog? Hilarious!
    – that alternate reality is interesting: Jack Slash as a fucking hero. Ain’t that somethin’?

    • With the Undersiders as the 9 equivalent? I mean Undersiders willing to kill, maim, torture, and destroy could easily be as dangerous as the 9. Hordes of rabid monster dogs tearing people apart, throats being cut all on their own, heroes being forced to kill their loved ones without control of their bodies, being beaten to death in the dark, every weakness seen/launch codes figured out, and pretty much the entire insect world killing everyone.

      • It had been noted a long while back that the Undersiders were basically the Halloween Town of villain teams(back before the Nine were introduced, of course) with their themes fitting into basic fears.

        Of course, now we have to wonder how much of a hand Cauldron and Contessa had in arranging it that way- we know that at least three of them were hand picked by Coil(and therefore Cauldron) but it is certainly possible that sending them on that particular mission would be in order to meet Skitter on her very first night in costume.

        • Cauldron was pretty hands-off with Coil, I believe. He (and subsequently the Undersiders/Skitter/Tattletale as a replacement) was an experiment in self-governance of parahumanity, and if that experiment failed they would then move into hands-on control and leadership of parahumanity.

    • DM got yanked there through the random portals that appeared when Eden crashed. She talks about all the “doors” around the crash site, getting people sent back to their home worlds, and so on. Apparently she showed up three days before Fortuna got her powers, so there may have been a bit of time-warping, too. Either that or it took three days for Eden to realize she’d crashed, since she was so focused on the future. She didn’t see a PLANET coming. A planet she was intentionally heading toward!

    • -That is an excellent question and the only character who can answer it is dead. Dammit Scion.
      -Isn’t he always?
      -From a certain point of view, you could argue both sides.
      -I suppose.
      -“Black Knight” sounds like a reformed villain.

      • Personally I imagine Good!Jack/Black Knight if not as the Punisher then as Wolverine. The way they mentioned him it seemed more like they were reluctantly unleashing a weapon on the Sheperds, rather than ask an ally for help.

        • The line between “Reformed Villain” and “Ruthless Antihero (on a good day)” is nonexistent. Exhibit A: Shadow Stalker.

  21. …Wow.

    Happy belated birthday to me. If this is my present for waiting a few more days, then I think we’re all willing to wait. Also, nobody ever guessed that Contessa was the boss. Again, wow. You really outdid yourself here, Wildbow.

  22. You know I just realized that Eden’s ideal world is similar to the Golden age of Comics. No wars, no large scale deaths, monsters that cause destruction but never seem to kill too many people/too destructive, etc. Only parahumans fighting and killing each other keeping things interesting to see how creative they are using their powers for Eden to copy. Then she died.

    • that’s actually more in tune with the silver age, as I said earlier.

      The golden age was all about WWII and then its aftermath, until the Comics Code killed it and necessitated the Silver Age, where no one died, there was constant conflict but no real progression, etc.

      • Yeah the Golden Age had the JSA fighting Nazi and Batman and Superman could kill. (With guns even in the former’s case!).

        The Silver Age was the one with the silly stuff, though admittedly, DC’s Silver Age was sillier than Marvel’s.

        • then again, Marvel as we know it was BORN in the silver age, and was not hit as hard by the comics code as DC, largely because the “Moral Guardians” were watching the latter like a hawk, but paid less attention, at least initially, to the new one.

          Just look at the list of titles that were censored/taken out of circulation up to about 1970. mostly DC works

          one could also make the argument that DC, having grown during the Golden Age, did not adapt well and overcompensated, while Marvel managed a better balance (still not perfect, but there)

          • Probably partly due to Marvel having to be published by Independent News Co., which was owned by National Periodical Publications, DC Comics’ parent company. In the late 1950s, Atlas Comics lost their distributors and had to turn to Independent News to distribute their books, but at a cost. They were stuck with maybe a dozen monthly titles they were allowed to do, so they obviously wanted to play nice with the Comics Code Authority.

            The main losses from the creation of the Comics Code Authority in 1954, were horror comics, Westerns, detective stories, and pretty much anything not superheroes. Atlas Comics, aka Marvel at the time, had focused on those in the postwar years but kinda had to stop due to the CCA and then further due to their distributor problems. Had to be as profitable as they could in those circumstances.

            Still, Marvel were the ones who published some Spider-man stories without the code that had to do with drug addiction, at the behest of the United States government. The stories sold well and since the government was behind it, the Code was revised.

            • Indeed. It was what revealed the idiocy of the CCA. It was a comic with an anti-drug message but the CCA protested because it was against the Code to show drugs in comics, ever. Marvel said “fuck you” and published anyway. This weakened the CCA so much that by the end only DC still followed them and even then it was a pretty much emasculated Code.

            • And it was finally abolished two years ago – though by that point, only Archie comics, who were tasked with upholding it in the first place, still paid any attention to it

              • And here is this immense code of idiocy:

                Damn. I haven’t violated all of them. Then again, my stuff is in prose, not comics.

                I know for a fact I hit on 7 for the brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife play, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime, pretty much all with the idea of shoving a laser potato peeler up a man’s ass and firing it. True story. That’s why I encourage everyone to take time away from attempting to kill me to brag to everyone about how you’re about to kill me. Yep, the ole blade to the butt. The stab and gag. The bum shanker.

              • That list actually made me smile. It’s a mix of idiocy and, I don’t know…naivety?

              • First time I’ve seen that list. I didn’t realize people were so naïve and just plain stupid back then.

              • @flame:

                You may thank a certain Dr Wertham and his book called the Seduction of the Innocent, which accused comics to “corrupt” children towards violence and homosexuality. Probably the first Batman/Robin slash writer ever 🙂 .

              • actually, Dr. Wertham spoke out AGAINST the comics code – he didn’t want censorship, in the end, but demanded proper age-labels on the comics, as well as a law that forbid comics that were for adults to be sold where children could see the covers and page through them.

                but the proponents of the code preferred to simply use him as a figurehead to promote said code

              • I think Wertham missed it, coming down on Wonder Woman for being a strong woman without a boyfriend, but she did have a darker side to her that would have been much more questionable back then. She was created by a psychiatrist as a kind of super bondage fantasy, since she loses her abilities when bound and likes to tie men up and force them to tell the truth.

                It’s like if Empowered was one of the big three alongside Batman and Superman.

      • I stand corrected. You out nerded me. Well according to Wildbow they never reached the bronze age in comics in the wormverse. I figure things might be similar to Watchmen where non superhero comics took off due to all the superheroes, and pirates were more popular instead. Figure they are like a dozen pirates of the Caribbean movies there.

  23. Wow, what an interlude.

    Of COURSE contessa’s name was Fortuna. And it seems that our speculation on Contessa’s power making her an automaton were more or less correct. Every time her power fails her she is incapable of making a choice. I feel sorry for her: she has been robbed of her life, essentially. Oh and she’s actually more sympathetic than Dr. Mother. I would have thought the opposite, actually.

    So, Eden wasn’t as fond of Scion as Scion was fond of Eden. Of course. It seems she was actually trying to find a way to ditch him in the near future, because this way of living would soon become unsustainable. The alternate future scene was interesting but has already been discussed by others. If I understand correctly, Eden switched her optimal-future shard with Abbadon’s but something broke, Eden shed Abbadon’s shard and Contessa got in another dimension due to Eden’s crash ripping a hole in reality. Cool.

    Aaaaaaggggghhh, Teacher. What a repugnant man. I hope that wizard costume makes him look like an idiot. And that Contessa turns on him, eventually. I guess the Viking guy is Satyr ( Contessa didn’t recognise him but he’s a shapeshifter). Is he a clone or the original? We know that his duplicates share a mind, so it would make sense for him to cheat death that way. We’ll see.

    Uhm, what happened to Taylor? 😦 .

    By the way, remember when I asked wildbow for an Italian Cape to appear? Well, one of the most powerful capes alive is from a faux-Italian civilisation in another dimension. Close enough for me 🙂 .

  24. Let’s see.

    So… Eden… I can see why the first dose was the strongest. It was the ones tore from around the entity’s “human” form.

    Eidolon got… the power to control other powers. I don’t think that makes sense- why would an Entity need THAT shard? Hmm.

    I’m *reasonably* sure his shard was the one designed to be the lifeline to the entity-body described in Zion’s chapter. THAT is how he did the Endbringers. He didn’t create them. Eden did. Possibly long before even choosing Earth as a destination world. But he was able to command them because she could. And with her dead- his shard was the only sapient link to the Eden Entity. Everything bound to it was his to access. If only he knew how. As they mined more of the entity… of COURSE he’d get weaker.

    Alexandria got all the physical mods that Scion has used. Invulnerability even to death. But not the repair mods. She was invulnerable to every kind of influence- good or bad.

    Contessa the future sight. Even if it was a third-party shard.

    Doormaker’s dimensional gateways.

    Mantellum’s power negation/immunity.

    These were the abilities being selected by Eden for her avatar-form. Abilities the Zion Avatar also has. Of course there were variations. That blaster power of Zion’s. The Thinker powers of Hero. They wouldn’t have been copies of one another.

    • An entity would absolutely require the ability to control or link to other shards, much in the way that a human requires a nervous system. Whether it’s an inherent capacity, another shard which itself connects to them, or a combination of both is up for debate.

      • No. The power to link/control shards is NOT the same thing as the ability to control powers. The former is pretty core. The latter doesn’t make sense. If they could do THAT… Zion would NOT be taking the hits he’s been taking. “Nope, your powers don’t work no more” button. And the entities themselves would never have need of such an ability.

        Which is why I’m sticking to Eidolon-as-Tether-Shard. It makes sense. His ability to tap into a hidden- but diminishing- well. He was using Eden’s energy directly.

        • But Eidolon’s shard seems to have been a shard similar to Glaistig: a shard that collects other shards, not a shard that controls powers. Except GU claims the shard of the dead, Eidolon those of the living and/or untapped shards ( hence why his powers shrank as more parahumans were created). If he indeed created the Endbringers without knowing he may have used his shard to reach for the shard that Eden would have used in that future, or he directly got the actual shard, which combining several other powers was capable if creating the Endbringers.

          • Not really. They didn’t seem similar at all as far as I was concerned. Sure, GU was collecting shards. But that’s just a gathering shard. An ability to get them all back together. It’s closer to Skitter than Eidolon.

            Eidolon… you just described his power as to tapping into the “untapped” shards… how is that NOT what I just described? He’s got the direct connection to the Eden Entity. His shard is that dimension-crossing-umbilical-cord.

            As the Entity lost mass, he lost power. Just that simple. The fact that shards seem to have singular enough functions… no… the most likely answer is he got the conduit shard. And all the other tricks were because the conduit was designed to be a two way street binding Entity and Avatar… and without an Entity around, the shards responded- poorly- to the crude human replacement.

              • Basically. Or Eden’s equivalent.

                Here’s a thought. Eidolon’s power steal was believed by him to be permanently damaging to the powers of the victims. Yet Taylor didn’t notice any loss of abilities… so either Eidolon was wrong (entirely probable). Or it only works on cauldron (aka- Eden) powers.

              • Eidolon didn’t tap Taylor’s shard. She was evacuated before that, after Eidolon flung Scion to the bottom of the ocean, apparently far enough that Cauldron felt save evacuating key players. At the end of Taylor’s chapter, Glaistig Uaine is watching her die underwater, right before a portal opens and saves her. At the start of Eidolon’s interlude, Glaistig Uaine is rising from the ocean while wet and warns Eidolon that Scion is returning.

                I can get behind the “Eidolon had the tether-shard” idea, or something similar.

              • Re-reading, this line jumped out at me:
                All energy it can spare goes towards the reorganization. Shards must be discarded, or it will dwarf the destination planet. It casts shards off, and it retains shards that will allow it to draw power from those shards.

                Probably relevant.

          • The way I see it, Eidolon got Eden’s version of Taylor’s Administration shard, but without the multi-tasking secondary powers Taylor has and the can’t-control-shards crippling that Scion put on her shard.

    • Additional Avatar-to-early-Cauldron power: Eden implants a mental block and memory edits Colin here. One of their early (#293, at least) and important case 53s was the memory wiper.

    • One of the interesting things we learnt from this interlude is that there would have still been Endbringers even if Eden hadn’t died. That makes the Eidolon thing make a *whole* lot more sense: Eidolon accidentally created powerful monsters because he inherited the Shard that was *intended* to create and control powerful monsters. His ability to tap into those powers for his own use seems to be a secondary function or even an accidental side-effect.

  25. Found myself rooting for a character I’d hoped to see get decked in the schnoz.
    I worry for her lack of initiative – her need for a sounding board, as it seemed with Doctor Mother – and how Teacher might take advantage of that.
    And we still don’t know who Doctor Mother was!

  26. That was interesting. Also slightly confusing but mostly interesting.

    It appears that Eden, the second entity, wasn’t really brought down by anything or anyone who might take down Scion/Zion/The Warrior. Eden was mostly a victim to its own overreach. Eden was running with scissors, stumbled and fell and than some insignificant bugs picked up one of the scissors it had dropped and stabbed it with it….

    The glimpse of the future that should have been according to the original plan is interesting.

    Several of the heroes who ended up first generation wards were there. It appears the warrior and the Entity took the place of the Triumvirate or rather the triumvirate took the place of the two entities. Defiant and Chevalier were always supposed to be were they are now.

    Curiously enough Taylor does not appear t have been a significant factor in the original plans despite having gotten her powers ‘naturally’.

    Most interestingly enough some analogues to the Endbringers seem to have been part of the original plan. How does that match with the theory that they were projections from Eidolon? Were they originally supposed to have been created by Eden and the power to make them was carved out of Eden and implanted into Eidolon? Did Cauldron create the Endbringers by accident or on purpose?

    If the Endbringers were some important contribution by Eden to the entities original plan why hasn’t Scion reacted to that before?

    It seems there is still more to these Endbringers than we know or think we now.

    On a different note it seems that Tylor finally has achieved her well deserved S-Class threat status by turning into some sort of monster scary enough to temporarily overshadow the greater threat from Scion.

    I am just wondering why it was emphasised at the end that Contessa should be especially familiar with her or at least more so than any other parahuman she has interacted with in the past. It is not like the two of them have closely worked together or even encountered each other much aside from some mass gatherings.

    • The most probable theories are that Eidolon got the shard Eden would have used to create them or that she had already created them and Eidolon got Eden’s brain center. Eden conscioudly created because she needed something to generate conflict, while Eidolon unconsciously crested them because he needed opponents to prove his worthiness.

      This is of course just speculation.

    • I covered a lot of that above on the nature of the Endbringers as a whole. And Eidolon’s power over them.

      Why WOULD Zion be alarmed by them? They were always part of the plan. The design. It actually implies that more would have/will spawn over time.

      As to Contessa’s familiarity. Weaver has *personally* destroyed half a dozen of Cauldron’s major interests. Including Alexandria. And then she helped get an Endbringer well and truly dead. Then she managed to succeed in diplomacy with two other Endbringers.

      Teacher has every reason to assume that Taylor has earned personal attention and scrutiny from Contessa.

      • Zion is alarmed because they are appearing out of schedule and killing massive numbers of parahumans. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go.

        • Except that Zion doesn’t care about that. Eden died. With it, hope for continuation of their lifecycle. His purpose was over and he was just waiting to die. He didn’t care that the Endbringers were destroying the world. He smacked the around for a while on the suggestion that it might make him feel better.

          Think of the reaction of a terminal patient. He was in the depression stage. Now he’s in the anger stage.

          Neither of those involve caring about the krill you’re feeding on.

          • Not yet, not at that point. He wasn’t absolutely sure his mate is gone at that point, because of the nature of their precognition, it’s necessarily limited when applied to another entity with the basic defenses and precognition in their own right. He was concerned because she’s missing, her shards are showing up damaged, and the megabeasts she has are being deployed haphazardly.

  27. Ah, poor, poor Contessa. She doesn’t realize there’s a flaw. Tunnel vision, like that, looking to the future.

    It doesn’t necessarily account for all of reality. If it did, it would have failed to show Eden in all this as she was paying too much attention to it. It never told her she needed to slow down. Relying on it too much, she crashed and burned.

    Same with Contessa. She thought the Case 53 attack was due to Scion, of all things.

    If you grasp at the shadow too much, you’ll miss the substance.

    Reminds me of a song:

    Reckless creatures,
    Always want another find.
    Stealing features,
    each a diamond to be mined.
    There are facets at stake,
    and crooks in our neck.
    We’re like moths to the flame,
    get ready and set,
    now tarry no longer,
    we’re one and one twain,
    now let’s play a game.

    Hello, hello, hello, beautiful stranger…

      • To quote WarGames: “The only way to win is not to play the game.”

        Contessa’s shard will inherently seek out conflict, as all shards do, but that still means she’s looking at victory involving conflict when she should instead be looking at victory not involving conflict.

  28. Also, everyone, due to some stuff I recently looked up and the emphasis on Scion being the Warrior in this interlude, I now think of Scion a certain way that I will share with you.

    And suddenly, Scion is scary no more:

  29. Eden shed most of her shards in order to keep herself from destroying the world when she landed, but she kept the shard that allowed her to access the shards she shed. I’m guessing that this is the shard Eidolon eventually got.

    Eden also got a whole bunch of shards from the Third Entity. They’d have different limitations compared to most shards, since Eden probably didn’t have enough time to modify them too much. I think the special vials were made from these shards.

  30. So, when Eden viewed herself in the ‘ideal world’ with Scion as her Warrior partner… did anyone else get flashbacks to Dragon and Defiant, or is it just me? Perhaps that is how Dragon got HER trigger event; through an unconscious memory of that ideal world. May explain why she cottoned on to Defiant too – she’s drawn to working with the same guy, that the alternate-world version of her creator worked with as well.

    As for that last line about Weaver? I’m picturing her face, outlined by the Swarm a la Imhotep.

  31. So, after thinking about Weaver’s shard, and what Panacea was going to do, and Teacher considering her to be such a danger…

    Here’s my SWAG. Probably more of a WAG, with little S involved.

    Panacea managed to unlock Weaver’s power fully, and that power allows Weaver to reassign and command shards.

    The very first thing she does when she realizes how close to Scion she is with her new ability is take every single shard from every cape anywhere near her and integrate it into herself, turning everyone into normal people again. This instantly gets Scion’s attention, and he starts to attack her, but she has Lung’s power of regeneration and the powers of all the other capes nearby, and she can use them simultaneously like Scion does. She also has Tattletale’s shard…

    Then she realized that Scion is made out of shards just like she is. And she can command and absorb shards. Weaver then starts stripping shards off Scion while Scion madly attempts to get away from her. But two of the shards that Weaver got first were Doormaker and his sensory helper, so he cannot escape easily.

    Maybe Weaver has completely consumed Scion. Maybe he got away into a dimension she can’t access yet, because she has no power to break the barriers he put in place guarding his dimension. Yet.

    So Weaver is now searching every dimension, stripping the shards from every cape, looking for the cape abilities that will let her find and finish Scion.

    Or maybe Weaver DID finish Scion, and she’s now working on absorbing every shard in all the dimensions, in order to prevent another entity from forming in the far distant future.

    Many capes that actually LIKE their powers would be rather dedicated to keeping their powers, especially if they can keep theirs while others lose their competing powers.

    But Weaver, if any bit of Taylor is still inside there, would be doing this for the greater good and not playing favorites. Everyone’s shard would be absorbed. Every power added to her own. Presumeably this includes Scion’s knowledge, since he is a being made of shards.

    But for what reason? She’s going to save Earth from the shards. Then she’s going to go hunt other Entities. Maybe she will put some effort into fixing shards so that they don’t make people agressive, and let the world have powers again?

    Love thinking about this stuff. Thanks Wildbow!

      • i’m going to stick with, gets admin rights, makes everyone left alive who does not already have powers, trigger.

        • She might do that, but if she does, without fixing the built in aggressiveness built into every shard, she’s just dooming civilization. Sure Scion won’t kill everyone, but if everyone is a cape and they all have an addiction to conflict, civilization won’t be worth beans in a few years. She would just be setting up humanity to become exactly what the Entities started as…

  32. Contessa survived.

    I was convinced that any way that Contessa hadn’t died would sound like a Deus (Diabolus?) Ex Machina, but wildbow managed to make it make sense. “Contessa got covered in lava, Weld. C’mon, let’s get this guy to a healer.”

    • Of course it’s easier to fall for one of the oldest tricks in the book when your opponent has the power to succeed. Poor Weld didn’t even have a chance.

  33. Does Eden ever communicate her plans to Scion? Does Scion even know what the Endbringers are and where they come from? I’m seeing any evidence from either of their interludes that he does. He most likely figures it out after killing Behemoth, but before that, why would he fight the Endbringers if he knew who created them?

    Once again, a lack of communication leads to an avoidable misfortune. Fortunately, this time, it’s the worms’ misfortune in humanity’s favor. Wildbow has used this theme over and over in Worm, but he does it a bit differently each time. I’m really liking how tightly woven everything is in this story.

    Scion doesn’t recognize Contessa’s shard when he sees her. A shard she got from Eden. That’s how out of touch he is with what Eden was doing.

    • To be fair, while Contessa’s shard came from Eden, it was originally from the Third Entity, of whom Scion knew little if not nothing: Eden and the Third switched their optimal-future shards, remember, and something in the new shard made Eden break down.

      • But that’s my whole point. Eden never tells Scion that she’s changing the plan. Because of this, Scion can’t help her or protect her and he has no idea where the Endbringers came from or what they are until he kills one of them. Although that last bit is pure speculation on my part.

        If Eden had simply asked for help, instead of telling Scion to stop bothering her, her plan might have succeeded. Which is something we see over and over through out the course of Worm.

        • I also want to posit that Scion is very much “mentally” impaired. Notice how he’s the “dumb brute” to any sufficiently vocal person. Eden, Norton, Jacob; all characters that he’s followed because he has no real thoughts of his own. Even when he was preparing for landing on Bet, he was verifying constantly with Eden to make sure he was doing the right thing. Part of the reason Eden kept so much from him (given her rather superior attitude [I’m thinking Simurgh’s power with TT’s characterization, seriously]) could quite possibly be due to her unwillingness to put up with his puppy-dog-esque attitude.

            • Yes, it’s all but stated in his interlude. Something about shedding much of what mage or what it was, about having the warrior role FOR THIS ITERATION OF THE CYCLE, and copying successful shards to the other; implying that between worlds the Entities are much the same.

    • Wildbow always enjoy his litlle metajokes :). Remember the shipping jokes or what Jack tells Taylor during the clones arc?

  34. You guys remember my Worm-based Bay12 RP?
    I’m encountering a bit of Worldbuilder’s Block.

    I’d be glad for clever cape ideas, but surprisingly that’s not the issue. The problem comes when I’m trying to make groups of parahumans, whilst being creative.
    I want to incorporate things like the Yangban or the Slaughterhouse 9 without just copy-pasting, then replacing the members. I’d appreciate it if anyone could help me by either suggesting ways I could modify groups to be less derivative, or else come up with “hooks” or “traits” or whatever to make groups of heroes or villains less generic.

    • One idea that’s been hinted at in the story (by such characters/groups as Coil and Cauldron, and even occasionally by Taylor herself if I remember correctly) but never thoroughly explored is parahuman-supremacist capes. What about a fringe villain group that believes they deserve respect because of their powers, or a group of well-intentioned extremists that believe the world would be better if civilian governments were controlled by parahumans? The second one might become a little bit too much like the post-Leviathan warlord Undersiders in practice, but they would have an actual political agenda rather than just thinking on the small scale.
      No idea if these would work, or if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for, but it hasn’t really been done (please correct me if I’m forgetting something). Hope you find them useful in one way or another. Good luck with your RP.

    • A bunch of terrorists/social activists who murder powerful people in grotesque ways.

      We’ve all heard horrible stories of powerful people doing terrible things and getting away with them. And most of us resent the wealthy and arrogant people who exploit the less fortunate for their own profit.

      The differences between us and these guys are that we’re not murderous vigilante sadists and that we don’t have superpowers.

      • Some religious fundamentalists would be a good bet, too. There are some Christian cults on the southern US, and some Muslim groups in the Middle East, which would be absolutely horrifying if they had superpowers.

        They’re pretty horrifying already what with their evil ideologies and the way they raise/brainwash their children to be like them, but with superpowers they’d be way worse.

        Continuing with the theme of “think of bad people and give them powers”, you could have a gang of superpowered internet trolls. I figure most trolls are pretty harmless really, but…if a hundred people send rape threats to a blogger I bet at least five would follow through given the power to do so.

        Corrupt corporate types with powers could be a dangerous villain group too. They’d blur the lines between rogue and villain, and try to appear respectable even when doing horrible things.

    • Well, there’s two very simple ways you can world build with capes I’d say, with lots of twists and turns depending on which you choose. You can create a world to match the types of capes you like to see, or you can create capes that match the world you have created.

      If you have a problem with the one, try the other.

      Remember that the shards, when they don’t have a clear and precise ability defined into them, will investigate their surroundings and make power related decisions based on what they find, so the capes really should match the world with few exceptions.

      So if you drop a shape-shifting shard into Victorian England, you are quite likely to get a Vampire, Werewolf, or Faerie shapeshifter, for example.

      But if you want a specific type of cape that has an ability like that of Richter, so he can make AI’s for your campaign, then you need a tech level at the very least in the era of vacuum tubes, but if you want to go steampunk, perhaps it might be possible to go as far back technologically as high pressure steam. Steampunk tech Dragon would actually be pretty cool 🙂

      Creativity is one of the hardest things to share. You might just want to have a brainstorming session with the folks who are interested in playing in the world you create, and see what you can come up with, as a group. After you get a few capes defined, making more could be easier, with or without brainstorming.

    • Here’s one idea, if it fits the RPG. A group of parahuman mercenaries who specialize in killing Badass Normals. If your setting is closer to normal Worm, make it less Badass Normals and more non-capes that try to compete with capes. A specific group of capes who require parahuman powers to really fight them, and who are designed to easily counter people who power through with determination, planning, and resources.

      The point of these people is to make it safer to be a cape, especially a villainous one, by taking down the people who are crazy and desperate enough to try and fight parahumans.

      Such a group might include Thinkers who can perfectly predict enemy plans, Strangers who cause people to get false memories about how to resolve a situation, Breakers who don’t have easily exploitable weaknesses, and things like that.

      • A group of parahuman mercenaries who specialize in killing Badass Normals.

        Oh that’s just cruel. I love it!!!

        Riffing loosely off that, I rather fancy the idea of a hacker/engineer/scientist collective of non-Tinkers who nonetheless make cool and useful shit.

        • Or a group of scientists who contact Tinkers and offer to mass-produce their various inventions to the right markets, who utilize the normal minds necessary to analyse and reproduce the plans to make their own inventions during the off season.

    • This reply is probably a bit late to do you any good, but…

      Seems to me that if you want to set your game in the Wormverse then the big, well-known groups *should* be copy-pasted. The S9 should be the S9 we know, etc.

      If you set a game in the DC Universe you’d expect stuff to be happening involving Superman, Batman etc. and the same should hold here. That means finding a not-too-mapped out corner of the Wormverse with as yet unseen heroes and villains and setting it there. The S9, Yanbang etc. would serve as ‘guest stars’ to root your campaign in the Wormverse. (Tho if the S9 are guest-starring, your campaign’s taken a dark turn…).

  35. Oh wow. I thought Cauldron was fucked and they didn’t really know what they were doing before. But it’s even worse than I thought. Contessa is pretty much an overgrown kid acting from a script handed to her by a power subject to error from blanks, poor questions and the fickle whims of fate. And the only reason Doctor Mother is in charge is because otherwise they’re playing thing completely blind.

    So yeah, I guess just about everything about them, from their technocratic aesthetic to their “You can’t handle the truth!” crap is a complete sham. Their only real success is unwittingly averting the bad future and making lots of really good capes that nonetheless end up dead.

    And now Contessa’s working with Teacher. But is she really naive enough to buy his transparent use car salesman act?

      • Mostly by taking a hacksaw to a giant god monster to make powers and relying on those people to solve the problems for them, and when their plans go Echidna on everyone, it’s again up to other people to clean up the mess.

        • Hey, what works. And you can hardly claim that they didn’t provide any support against Echidna and the like.

          • Wait what support did they provide for Echidna? Eidolon was there because of his issues and Legend and Alexandria came only when she was officially made a class-S threat. And that was arguably Protectorate business, not Cauldron.

            They only started to help when Khonsu appeared and it was still perfunctory at best, up to Scion’s rampage.

            • …Yeah, I was counting Eidolon, Alexandria, and Legend.

              So if you don’t think they count…well, we’re ar an impasse.

    • Actually, what I think is even worse than Contessa being,as you said, a kid that never managed to grow up, it’s that the only reason the Doctor managed to arrive at the position she arrived is because she was lucky/unlucky enough to fall through a random hole in reality and bond with said little girl over the killing of an eldritch abomination.

    • Ah, Contessa is probably about 40 years old now. She’s a first generation cape. I strongly doubt that she’s a kid anymore. However it’s very possible that her ability to think creatively is crap because all her answers get handed to her. Makes a whole lot of sense, actually.

      Contessa’s power is limited by her own creativity, and her creativity is limited by her power. So she really isn’t suited to lead, except in very specific situations, like direct combat.

      Contessa’s power is further limited by her background in a very low tech civilization, and her young age when she was infected. So she never really had to deal with a lot of complexity or decision making in her life before she got her abilities.

      I’m drawing a lot of similarities in my head between Contessa and Ender Wiggins.

      • We’re saying that Contessa is a kid in adult body because her power stopped her from growing up and maturing in any meaningful way.

        • Hrm, I’d say that Contessa is probably more adult than you think. She wrote off her entire family, even an uncle who had protected her, in order to try to defeat two gods that were going to destroy her world. She was very young, sure, but she sure piled that responsibility on mighty high for a child. Primitive society, low technology. Oh, and she did manage to kill one of the gods, the damaged one. And she knew that fighting the other was possible, though it would take a huge amount of time and preparation. She gave up everything to save the world.

          Sure, she had to become a terrible killer to do it. She had to perform atrocities. She is probably one of the most hated persons in existence.

          Kids, in general, don’t handle those types of decisions well – and very few children can deal with being disliked, or even hated, without trying to placate or at the very least doing a lot of pouting and whining. I have to reject the possibility that Contessa was ever a child, mentally, even before the got her cape power.

          She does have control over her choices. She just gets a clearer view of what will actually work, and what won’t.

          • Except every time her power doesn’t work (i.e. every time Scion does something) she flounders and is lost. Yes she suffered cultural shock and killed a god, which would make any kid grow up fast, but her power sheltered her from ever actually facing the after-shock of these monumental actions.

            • This is the main thing. Neither Contessa or Doctor Mother have at any point been directly affected by the blowback of their actions and they haven’t really seemed to learn how consequences work. When Doc Mom says that she can live with what she did it’s not because she’s made peace with the atrocities she’s committing but because she doesn’t truly understand what she’s been doing to people.

              And yeah, I’m counting DM in this too. Frankly I think she’s just a bonafide sociopath.

              • As I said, when we started getting more info on Cauldron I was betting on Dr Mother being the more sympathetic of the two. Boy, were I wrong.

              • Hell I made a list of biggest monsters a while back, and she tops the list. The number one monster in worm.

              • You are free to give any better idea on how to defeat two all-powerful alien entities. Go on, give one! Instead of just being a lazy idiot who only complains and do nothing.

            • From an adult point of view, I can say that given her ability, her limitations, and the knowledge of what Scion actually is, chances are that I would do things very much the same way she did. Remember that she KNOWS the path to victory, unlike us normal humans, and sometimes that path is going to lead her through some pretty shitty actions. But the stakes that she has on the table is the entire human race, across all dimensions, except, potentially, humans in some dimensions that are space travelers that can survive the destruction of Earth.

              When the best possible outcome for your race in a conflict with a god is a few% of the population surviving, you go for the best possible outcome.

              Check your white hats at the door as you leave the ivory tower please. Contessa has been living with knowledge of what Scion was capable of, and what he would eventually do for the last 30 years. Weaver was only dealing with the S9 threat for three years, two of which was basically just training. With in-book knowledge, they have both acted appropriately for their abilities and the threat they faced, with a few exceptions.

              When you are rolling the dice for the fate of all humanity, there is no “good” or “bad” there is only extinction or survival. The ones that survive are likely to have to do some pretty terrible things on the way to survival. Weaver and Contessa both understand this. It’s what this whole writing project is about, IMHO.

              • I wasn’t making moral accusations (though Reveen did), heck I even said she was way more sympathethic than Dr Mother nor was I looking up from my ivory thrower ( by the way, to quote “The Princess Bride”, I don’t think it means what you think it means). I was simply pointing out that her power became her crutch and her cocoon. It wasn’t even an accusation ( I agree with you that most people living with such a power for thirty years would have ended the same) simply a statement that is clearly supported in text.

                She doesn’t need to learn how to knot a tie because her power tells her so. It’s implied she never bothered learning English because her power is an automatic translator. She has no need to learn about social niceties and cultural mores (hence the culture shock is less severe than it would normally be) because her power can tell her how to act in any situation. So whenever her power stops working or can’t find a solution she’s crippled and doesn’t know what to do. That’s not a healthy, mature individual. And I think it’s a point that this interlude actually wanted to emphasize.

                Then again, everybody has its own read.

              • TOWER, not thrower. Otherwise I sort of undermine my (somewhat pedantic) point 🙂 .

              • Sorry for the double post. This comment system is a bit clunky.

                Just wanted to add this:

                This chapter made it clear that this isn’t the ABSOLUTE path to victory, because Contessa’s power can’t formulate such a path against Scion. This was a scared, culture-shocked seven year old asking an out-of-her-depth woman what hypothetically could defeat a monster and then formulating a path using the answer of said individual (“Weapons?Army?”).

                You’d think that after 30 years Contessa would have wondered if following step by step a path that a seven year old came up with when she still had limited information was really the BEST path to victory. But because she never really grew up, she never even thought about this.

              • I’ve been reading through to see if anyone had posted this already and yeah: AMR hit exactly what I wanted to say.

                Cauldron has been fundamentally misguided from the very beginning. Contessa’s “path to victory” is based on one major unfounded assumption: That forming a big enough army is the way to save everyone. I don’t know how Cauldron managed to maintain such supreme confidence when they knew their master plan of “One hundred and forty-three thousand, two hundred and twenty steps” was based on a freaking GUESS that the destination they picked was even in the right ballpark.

                I get that Contessa’s power is unable to give her a plan to defeat the entities. Even if Eden didn’t get a chance to cripple that shard, either it came crippled by default or doesn’t have the juice to overcome Scion’s own mojo. But Cauldron understood that too. They *knew* there were gaping holes in their plan and yet still somehow had no problem insisting to everyone that no no, they had everything completely handled and noone else’s input would be required, tyvm.

                Even their choice to guide events towards confronting Scion sooner than later was predicated on that same initial assumption that the best hope of beating Scion was to have enough firepower to throw at him. That’s a very very shaky assumption to start with. And an even shakier once you consider your best firepower consists of Team Scion’s castoffs.

                Le sigh.

  36. “I don’t have much of a role,” Contessa said. “I can’t do anything when Scion’s on the table.”
    “Scion is dead.”
    Her eyes bugged out. “What?”
    “Now we have to deal with what killed him,” he said. “A certain little lady I think you’re familiar with.”

  37. Just managed to read this and wow, so much information. Will have to re-read it a few times to get it all…

    For now very interesting to see things from Eden’s point of view and it answers a lot of questions. Also nice to see Contessa’s past and how Cauldron started, kinda happy that she survived since I wanted to see what she would do but Teacher showing up kinda soured me on that, I suppose it is too much to hope she won’t join him?

  38. Hmm, interesting that Contessa’s power seems to need sensory input (or at least data about the different variables) in order to work. You’d think Eden’s shards wouldn’t neutralize each other quite so effectively. Though Mantellum’s shard might actually come from the third entity (Xanadu? Shangri-la?) which would explain why they don’t mesh well together.

    Also, this made me laugh:
    “You were reported dead,” a man in a horned viking-styled helmet and heavy armor said.

    “Did anyone really believe it?”

    Welp, now I’m off to do nothing but obsess over my own theories until the next update. Cheers!

        • Also a location, to fit the theme of Zion and Eden.

          And if I’m reading this and all the other comments correctly, Contessa’s win power came from the third entity. The third entity crashed into Eden and they traded a bunch of shards between each other. One of them was Contessa’s power (which Eden noticed was flawed), which it misplaced (accidentally gave to Fortuna/Contessa) when it crash landed into Earth. It tried to get the power back and failed, but in the process did manage to put a limiter on the win shard so that Fortuna/Contessa couldn’t see victory paths against entities like Eden and Zion.

  39. Someone earlier had an idea of a worm graphic novel, and if you think about it worm would be perfect because you could see Skitter be all scary and badass and have her internal dialogue and rationalizations paint her completely different and have her costume evolve with her. Plus that whole inventing whole move sets and behaviors subconsciously. I think it would be really awesome.

  40. >She turned her attention to the subject. One step to minimize the pain.
    >Swearing was one of them.
    >“Wolf-fucking horseballs,” she muttered, groaning as she found her footing.

    This was up there. This was up there with the best of Worm.

  41. Wow. Check, the third entity was not a mugger. Exactly.

    Check, the war the India capes were drafted for was an illusion used to brainwash them as throwaway tools to attack Scion. I was afraid of that, especially since we are on the last arc.

    Check, Contessa is not a null. I’ll be. I’d wondered, but really had no idea.

    Check, she has a lot less arrogance than it appeared. Neat.

    In hind sight I would have brainwashed every case 53 to believe they were dying and chose the risk — like the first ones did. Otherwise blank them.

    “I would have been dead. I took a risk. I am alive. The rest is up to me.”

    So many plans. Hope she kills Teacher. Too bad he is so twisted. But, back to reality, the three long shot formulas never used. Ruins all about.

    Weaver as a class S threat.

    This interlude was perfect.

  42. anyone think Contessa is, frankly, stupid for even temporally allying with a cape who’s assisted in fucking over humanity once for his own ends, and who’s whole Schick is turning people into non-sapient thralls? or would non-sentient be a better word? can never remember which is which.
    ooh! additionally, as for saint, how about simply telling the world he assaulted and left dragon comatose/dieing whilst disabling her network in the process to prevent her form calling for help? if her nature as an AI isn’t yet common knowledge, could be Truthfully be described as a Personal Vendetta or somesuch? i mean, if pretty much everyone on the planet knows that he’s probably responsible for most of the worlds population/ their power-base being wiped out, it’d be open season for the rest of his life… also ,as for Eden, this is whay those Laptopholders they used to sell that you clipped to your steering wheel are a stupid idea! learn from Eden’s mistake, don’t check next weeks weather report and drive, kids!

    • Well, Contessa didn’t exactly seem to warm to Teacher’s presence until he showed her that photo of Weaver. Taylor must be in some deep shit indeed.

        • i mean, ill be honest im a little vague about the extent and limitations of Teachers powers, but i wouldn’t spend a nanosecond more then absolutely necessary withing a kilometer of someone capable of basically Coreing my mind, no matter WHAT the circumstances. better to be a bit paranoid then to be a fool. and someone with Abilities like COntessa’s would be an INVALUABLE slave.

          • Teacher’s power has been implied several time, if not outright stated, to work on a voluntary basis.At first he even kept the compulsion part secret because people would come to him with money, including other capes who wanted a thinker ability to better manage their power.

            And even though the entire point of this chapter was to show that Contessa’s power isn’t infallible, I’m confident she can manage Teacher.

            • Hopefully she manages him by punching his nose into his brain.

              But well.. then comes an interlude for Teacher and we’ll start rooting for him xD.

              • Seeing how the “eh, I can take you” joke suffered quite a decrease in popularity (only to return with a vengeance after Jack says it word for word in-story) after Contessa does indeed “take” Weaver, I think that’s actually a pefect analogy 😉 .

        • Umm, I have reason to believe that Teacher is probably smart enough to avoid lying to Contessa. And she’s probably smart enough to ask questions about the aftereffects of accepting gifts of power from him, and using her power to validate the answers.

          However, it’s quite possible that she would voluntarily allow him to give her power, if HER power indicates that it would be more useful. Imagine giving her a secondary thinker power to make her question-asking ability even more potent. Sure Teacher would be pulling the strings, but this is about survival.

          It’s all up in the air though, until we find out how Weaver has changed the equation.

  43. The timing of the interlude in the work as a whole was good. We got most answers, knew why Cauldron looked like a bunch of amateurs (they were), why they had a weird plan (precog), and why Contessa’s shard was from the Mugger.

    Nice touch on Contessa too, Fortuna means “good luck” in italian, but “destiny” in latin 🙂
    (it has the same meaning in italian, castilian and portuguese, but Ruggero is an italian name)

    For the first time ever I have a proposal on how to end the story:
    Write the last chapters like the migration arc, focusing on the various other groups, but most importantly timeskip some months ahead. Answer as many pending mysteries as possible, but do -not- directly answer what happened to Taylor, just give oblique references that leave up in the air what happened to her, or if she’s alive, dead, or whatever.

    It would be nice, I could almost imagine the explosive ball of rage it would unleash on the world over 😀

      • He already has if Worm is published as-is. But there’s so much bloat by the nature of the thing that after everything’s edited Proust will still hold the crown.

    • You mean the epilogue chapters, right? Because a whole bunch of chapters with characters going ” ‘Oh, thank God New!Taylor pulled the you know, whatever device out of her ass to kill Scion with.’ ” would indeed trigger an explosive ball of rage.

  44. Great stuff, as always.

    Something I just realised – Eden says that she only sees the Scion’s shards in her simulation future. This included Miss Militia, who I was under the impression was one of Eden’s shards (Mainly based on the fact that, during her trigger vision, she knew the entity she saw was dying).

    So… either Scion had an equivalent shard, or Miss Militia actually saw Scion breaking himself up and incorrectly interpreted that as dying, or it’s an honest inconsistency.

  45. Thank you to Jason, Andrew, Michael R, Christopher, Ero, Tanya, Joy, Zoe with the really awesome last name, Simon and David E for the financial support. Robert R was very generous, as well.

    To Matthew S, though, I’m left flabbergasted and speechless. My mind is so blown it’s dusting the walls.

    I’ve scheduled two additional chapters – one paid for by Matthew S, the rest pushed over the cusp by the other readers.

  46. I think Teacher is going to try to be unfair in the sense of using henchmen with guns. He’s not going to give Weaver a fair playing field, but somehow it’ll backfire or he’ll be outsmarted.

    • Well, guns aren’t that great against bugs, and guns are hardly the worst she’s beaten.

      I find this story’s degree of guns to be very convincing: largely replaced by powers, but very much still used.

  47. Done catching up.
    At a loss for words, and most of those I can reach are expletives.

    Thank you for being awesome, wildbow.

  48. 400 comments so far. Not bad, but what I’d expect from Contessa’s interlude.

    Incidently I named my Honedge in Pokemon X Chevalier. He has been a total boss. So now I have to wonder what could possibly be awesome enough to name Taylor.

  49. Decided to come back and read this again what with 30.7 coming out soon; assuming this takes place after 30.6, Teacher seems surprisingly laid back all things considering.

  50. Uh, so I really thought that the twist was going to be that this was actually the future ones plan all along. Killing itself and freaking out it’s partner for the greater good.

    • Yeah, I was leaning towards the “the other entity was more benevolent and had found a new way to advance it’s species by peacefully coexisting” theory myself. Guess not, hey. xD

  51. I had forgotten/not noticed that Eden had figured something out to possibly solve the long-term problem. That’s…kinda big.

    Once again, Contessa’s power seems…off. She can always find a path to victory, however improbable. She can find the weak point in a being that didn’t need to give itself one. Why did Eden do that? Why was something important in the head, and the connection able to be severed with a simple stab to the neck? Why didn’t it respond? The only explanation I see is that Eden used some other precognitive power(s) and figured that giving humanity all of this would let them find a long-term solution, but…I don’t buy it.
    And then there’s its function. It doesn’t work so well with things tied closely to the Entities, but this works exactly as well in Endbringers, Scion, and Eidolon despite working on everything else, save those protected by a power seemingly crafted specifically to negate hers. What the heck? Why isn’t there some fog over every parahuman?
    And how can she manage these impossible tasks? How does she fit her whole body through a toaster-sized space in midflight? How will she do that thing she is revealed to have done in the epilogue? Could she jump to the moon if she wanted to? Everything else in Worm makes more sense the more I know and the more I think about it, save inconsequential details, but this…this is the exact opposite.

        • “She can find the weak point in a being that didn’t need to give itself one. Why did Eden do that?”
          It wasn’t, like, deliberate.

          She was injured from the crash, healing. Weak. She was making an avatar, connecting some of her consciousness to that, and the connection was vulnerable. She didn’t “give herself” that weakness.

          • The weakness seems…specific and all-encompassing enough that it seems highly improbable to appear by chance. The Entities aren’t like normal organisms, with vital blood vessels and nerves criss-crossing in basically every corner of the body; they’re colonies of shards, each specialized in purpose but capable of some existence on their own. Not to mention that the avatars are heavily implied to just be projections, not actually part of the Entity’s body.
            It just doesn’t make sense that that sort of thing would arise by chance. But then, a lot of Contessa’s more “epic” moments are like that.

  52. For some reason the Table of Contents listed at the end of the page on mobile lists this interlude as being “29.9” (the chapter before it is listed as “29.09”). This is not an issue when viewing on PC.

  53. Oh good we have an official name for the counterpart. I was just about to switch to tvtropes to see if there was one to make this post easier. Now I can keep avoiding spoilers!

    Anyway, it’s interesting that Eden started to consider possibilities besides just conflict towards the end. Kind of a sad thing there. If it had survived a few more iterations who knows, maybe we could’ve had a good MDE instead of a chaotic world destroying one. Doubtful considering their method of moving across interstellar distances and her almost glee in insighting more chaos in the alternate future but hey it’s possible I guess. And honestly they have a worthy end goal of surviving the end of the universe. After consuming the universe that is…these things are starting to remind me of the Primes from Peter F. Hamilton’s Confederation series. They aren’t quite as xenophobic but they are far more dangerous and actually capable of consuming all of the multiverse too…God there is a scary thought. Even if humanity ends up winning here they will eventually have to come up with a way to exterminate this species. The MDEs really don’t strike me as things that stop halfway. Something has to be done about them on a universal scale if we want to have a chance of surviving super long term.

    And yeah at present Eden was a total and complete bitch. That potentiality with blocking Defiant from suspecting her and creating who over 20 Endbringers to engineer a war? Fuck her. You go Contessa taking that bitch out early!

    Wow so it got so darn distracted that it literally forgot about step one: pay attention to the landing. The entire plan goes to shit just because Eden was too focused on the future to pay attention to the minuscule possibility she’d have issues at the start when she is the most powerful. Amazing. Also I just want to quickly comment on how utterly terrifying it is that the MDEs are quite literally bigger than fucking planets even after losing a lot of themselves. That is bone numbingly terrifying. Terrifying on Cthulhu Great Old Ones levels. How the hell are you supposed to stop a whole race of things that look at planets like bites of candy?

    So little Contessa is fucking awesome. A young girl who immediately manages to save the world by killing a physical god with a pocket knife. Epicness. I can give some credit to Doctor Mother as well. Somewhere along the line she totally fell from grace but Contessa remains awesome.

    I find it rather funny how Defiant is the one who actually manages to figure out that Eden and Scion are bad guys. He really is a super perceptive guy which just keeps on coming through. I am so glad that Colin managed to redeem himself.

    I feel really bad for Contessa after finishing this. I can understand why nobody really sheds a tear over the Doc but Contessa was literally a child when she saw the end of the world and has been fighting nonstop to fix it. She was molded into who she is by the Doc and a crippling fear. It’s almost a parallel to Riley after a fashion. If the single most insane character in the entire story can be brought back to a somewhat stable, sad, working on redemption figure then Contessa should really have no issues. Fuck even Shadow Stalker is somewhat acceptable. I think tears would be shed for Contessa even if they are just meta tears from the readers. Only thing that really puts a bit of a dent into this is: allying with TEACHER!!!!! SOMEONE KILL THAT SONOFABITCH ALREADY! Please. Wipe that godawful smugness from his arrogant little face and kill the manipulative asshole. And where the fuck does Satyr get off surviving?! If you give a heartfelt death monologue and have a mostly pointless last fucking stand with your teammates who are as close family the polite fucking thing to do is to die with them asshole!!! Motherfucker is on my shit list now. Damn your mostly blank slate Contessa! Why couldn’t you have ran into Taylor instead of these assholes?!

    Contessa’s limitations are interesting. Her asking the right question comment from an earlier chapter makes so much more sense now. It’s funny but I think her given name sounds a hell of a lot more like an appropriate cape name than her chosen one.

    Love her metaness near the end by the way, asking if anyone actually believed she’d died. Weld was the only smart one in their group and he got distracted by the actual mission. Probably a good thing in the long run as long as someone takes out Teacher and gets Contessa back onto the good guys side.

    As a final aside. Knew she wasn’t dead. *Fistpump* What does it say about the state of things that I was rooting for the person with a literal “I win” button as her power?

  54. Man. “Partisan” is so much better as a description of Chevalier’s power. No contest.

    Based on the admittedly very sparse description, I feel like the Black Knight is probably Jack Slash. Maybe his shard went to a different person in this future, but the way they talk about using him- “lure them in… and then sic him on them” instead of something more like “have him ambush them”- suggests that the Black Knight is someone the Wardens don’t completely control. Less of a soldier, more of a weapon- aim, fire, avoid.

    Deeply scary scenario, in any case. The enforced absence of information about the whole world beyond your borders, as if it’s just vanished, layered on the certainty of hostility with the borders you can reach… >_< ("Watershed", Vienna Teng)
    katrikah nominated this song as a description of the setting, way back in 22.7, and it certainly works in that regard- the sense of futility, of repeating conflicts and attrition, of a nebulous enemy who has everything planned out on a level you can hardly imagine. But back before the end of Sting, the best fit we had for the narrator- the nebulous chessmaster enemy- was the Simurgh, who certainly didn't fit the "I've done this many times before you" refrain, since she's only twelve years old even now.
    After this chapter, though… the narrator of the song is clearly Eden (albeit pre-impact Eden), and it fits perfectly. "Confident," indeed.

  55. Oh man. Thinking about Contessa’s power and her blind spots reminded me of her appearance in Crushed, and I realized: the Endbringers never had their own unique ability to defeat thinker powers. They were immune to parahuman precognition because they were created by Eidolon, whose power was immune because it was never meant to be separated from its host entity. It has the same kind of passive anti-precog defenses that Scion does, for the same reason it’s so unbalanced in general- because it was meant to help keep the entities from ever being outmaneuvered by their hosts.

  56. >The expressions of the three men are grim. The other heroes, at the edges of the room, seem equally concerned. A woman with a great cannon that constantly changes, expanding and contracting like a living thing. A hulk of a man, laden with muscle, was muttering something to people around him.

    Breaks tense here. Goes from “are grim”, “seem equally concerned”, and “constantly changes” to “was muttering”.

  57. Not much to say, that hasn’t mentioned before. Isn’t that Ziggurat, among the first Cauldron capes? It might be how they placed that giant column above their panic room.

  58. oh my god, they are actually 20 endbringers, even if we only saw 6 in action (plus the glimpses of those 3 who may not have been created in the future that actually happened)…

  59. //
    “I can. I’ve been thinking about it. What is the key thing about the one we killed?”

    “It’s… broken. Something went wrong. It focused too much on the future, and lost sight of the present, it fell and the part that was supposed to guide it ended up inside me instead.”

    The Doctor pointed at the TV screen. “This golden man, he’s more or less on track. He didn’t break, he didn’t go wrong.”

    “Except… there’s a lot of power there, and he’s going to find out what we did, or he’s going to start acting more like the conqueror he’s meant to be, and he’s going to use that power at some point.”

    “Why?” the Doctor asked.

    “I felt the hostility. I felt how the one we killed, in the vision it had of the future, it almost enjoyed doing what it was doing. If the golden one is similar at all, then all it takes is an accident.”

    The Doctor nodded. “See? You’re doing okay.”

    “Easier when someone else takes point.”

    “So our solution… it’s going to take one of two forms. Either we break him, somehow, or we find something we can use in the broken parts of the one we killed.”
    I don’t follow this conversation. Each reply follows from the next but as a whole? I think the Doctor has a specific answer in mind when she asks “What is the key thing about the one we killed?” but the “broken” answer doesn’t connect to the start or the end or???
    also why doesn’t she have a name.

  60. This is an extreme necrocomment and I’m not sure Wildbow even follows these anymore but I have to ask: Is Contessa’s shard related to Accord’s? Originally the same power, developed differently?
    The way his power is described, giving him steps and solutions when fed information, allowing him to take “the slow, steady path to victory” (Interlude 20) — my respect for you is such that I fully believe this could have been deliberate.

  61. Interesting. I Just had a thought. They said that Gimel had humans WHO died to a plague. And the entities caused plages too, before They adjusted their shards. There is a connection probably.

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