Speck 30.1

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I didn’t trigger.

Kind of silly, really, that I’d expected to see something.  But this was the opposite.  A trigger event worked on the power end of things.  This was altering me.

I felt the range of my power halve, as though a guillotine blade had dropped down, cutting it off.

My control began to slip.  It wasn’t so severe as the effect on my range, but I could feel it degrading.  I was aware of my bugs in a general sense, and they were moving in reaction to my subconscious thoughts, but the end result wasn’t precise.  I moved them, but getting them to stop had a fraction of a second’s delay.

Slipping out of my control.  Slipping…

Tattletale was nearby, but I was trying not to focus on her.  I had to focus on the swarm, I needed to be perfectly aware of what was going on.

An echo of an event from years ago, only this time, Tattletale was one of the ones in the dark.  I felt a pang of guilt,and I was surprised at how intense it was.  Guilt, shame, a kind of intense loneliness…

This way lies madness, I thought.  But the thought itself had an oddly disconnected quality to it.  The emotions persisted, and I was aware of the memories.  Walking away from the people I cared about, feeling horrible about it, knowing it was the best thing in the end.

Too many would be calling it an error in judgement, stupidity.  Why go to such an extreme, especially when there was no guarantee it was the right path in the end?

But it had allowed me to reunite with my father, in a fashion.

I could remember jail too, the way the guilt and shame had manifested as a maddening restlessness, worse than the confinement.  The fears that had haunted me, dealing with the other prisoners, the kind of peace that had come with surrendering to my then-current circumstances…

Would this decision lead to something in the same vein?  Would I be confined, following a monumental decision that was so selfish and selfless at the same time?

I was altering something biological and mental.  I felt my heart skip a beat as my mind momentarily touched on what that kind of confinement might entail.

I was hyperaware of my own body, every movement, the flow of blood in my veins.  I was focused on the beating of my heart and my breathing, both picking up speed with every moment.

The sky behind me was bright blue, almost taunting me.  Blue was the color I wore when I became a hero.  A failure.  It made for long shadows, extending down the length of the cave in the direction of the others, in the direction of Doormaker’s portal to Earth Gimel.

No, focus on the swarm.

My range was dwindling with every passing second, and so was my control.

That trace of fear I’d experienced swelled as I realized just how much I wanted that control.  I needed to be able to use my mind, to put things into motion when I had an idea.

I need control, I thought.

I tried to open my mouth to tell Panacea, and I couldn’t.  I’d pushed my focus out towards my swarm, and I couldn’t reel it back in to my body.

I was still aware of my body, but it felt piecemeal, now.  My fist was shaking, I had my head bowed, my teeth clenched so hard against one another it hurt.  My heart was pounding, my breath coming out in inconsistent huffs through my nose, pushing just a bit of mucus free.  My eyes were wet with tears, but I hadn’t blinked, causing them to build up on the surface of my eyeballs.

All of these things were normal, but I didn’t feel like they were all intuitive parts of a whole.  My concept of my body as a connected thing had shattered, the ties broken.

If this continued, I’d be on autopilot from here on out, if I could even put the individual components together to walk.

I need control, I thought.

A moment passed, and I could feel Panacea working to give me that control, changing what she was focusing on.  I felt the swarm moving more in sync with what I was thinking and wanting.  But this… I could sense what was happening, feel my range plummeting yet again, the guillotine coming down.  My range had been cut down further.

Take an inch in one department, lose several inches in another.  Lose a whole foot.

Everything was piecemeal now, slipping away.

If this continued, I’d have nothing left.  A net loss operation.

Stop, Panacea, I thought.  Stop, stop, stop, stop…

My swarm attacked her, and it wasn’t because of any conscious command on my part.  The attack was crude, more the swarming behavior of wasps drunk on attack pheromones than the calculated attack I was used to employing.

She stopped, pulling back and falling backwards in a clumsy way.

“Shit, shit, shit, fuck,” a young woman’s voice, from a distance away.  Not Panacea.


I raised my head, and Tattletale startled a little.  Why had she startled?  The way I’d moved?

“What did you do, Taylor?”  Tattletale asked.

What did I do?  I wanted the answer to that question, myself.

I looked at Amy, realizing the bugs were still approaching her.  I pulled the swarm away, and I felt how hard it was to move them.

I was left with the ruins of my power.  My range was maybe a third of what it might otherwise be, the control rough-edged at best.  There were bugs in my swarm that I couldn’t control, too small.

There were too many things to concentrate on.  The swarm, the nuances of my power, my state of near-panic, and the fact that I no longer felt like a complete, connected human being.  The other stuff, it wasn’t that it wasn’t important, but it was so secondary.

Someone large, with flames swirling around his hands, stalking towards me… didn’t matter.  My power – was my inability to get a complete picture due to a loss of my multitasking ability?

It was Lung who was approaching, Lung who stopped a short distance away, his breathing hot, muscles tensed, flames rolling over his clawed hands and forearms.

He stared at me, his eyes a molten orange-red behind his mask, his breath hot enough it shimmered in the air.  Waiting to see if I was a danger?

“Taylor…” Tattletale said, as if from very far away.

But she didn’t say anything else.  She stared for long seconds, and then she paced, walking the perimeter, as if she could get different perspectives on me from the edges of the room.  Bonesaw, a little distance away, was half-crouched, tensed, between me, Doormaker and the clairvoyant.  She looked less like a child and more like a wild animal.  Reverting to habit, maybe, only without the veneer of the innocent, cutesy, perky child this time.

The stillness of it all was eerie, not helping the growing sense of panic I was experiencing.  Everyone’s eyes were on me, and I felt like I might be having a panic attack.  I couldn’t regulate my breathing because focusing on that meant my body was getting tenser, my one fist clenched so hard it hurt.  Paying attention to my hand meant my breathing started to spiral out of control again.  All the while, my heart was pounding.  Nothing I could do to fix that.

I closed my eyes, in an effort to shut out the external stimuli, and I felt the moisture running down to the point where my lenses met my cheekbones, settling there.  I raised my head to look at the cave roof.

As if that was some kind of cue, Bonesaw dashed through the doorway.

Why was I crying?  It didn’t fit.  I was scared, my hand was shaking and I couldn’t be sure how much was fear and how much was because of what Panacea had done.  I was angry, inexplicably, frustrated, and I couldn’t shake the phantom memories of being in jail.

Trapped in an uncooperative body?  No.  The emotions and the thoughts didn’t match with that.  Why was I thinking about it, all of a sudden?

I felt almost nauseous, now, on top of the sense of panic and the conflicting, nonsensical emotions I was experiencing.  Or because of them, maybe.  I felt myself tip over as if I were physically reeling from it all.  When my leg moved to catch me, it wasn’t because I gave it the order.  It wasn’t a reflexive response either.  A third party.

Passenger, I thought.  I guess we’re going to have to learn to work together here.

My breathing eased a notch.  I had no way of telling if it was the passenger reacting or if it was my own reaction to the realization that the passenger was there.

“Weaver?”  A girl’s voice.

I wasn’t sure I trusted my control over my bugs to get a good sense of where she was or what she was doing.  I turned my head to see Canary standing by the portal.

“Don’t,” Tattletale said.  “Don’t bother her.  Leave her alone for long enough that she can get her bearings.  Wait.”

“What happened, Weaver?”  Canary asked, ignoring Tattletale.

Someone answer that question for me, I thought.

Tattletale?  No, she was silent.

Bonesaw was gone.

Canary wouldn’t know.

Passenger?  I thought.  Any clues?

It was easier to talk to my passenger than it was to speak up and answer the question.  Speaking up meant voicing everything that was wrong, my confusion, the fears, the worries, the fact that my body, my mind and my emotions all felt entirely unhinged.  Speaking meant trying to talk around the growing lump in my throat.

“You never learned to ask for help when you needed it,” Tattletale said.  Her voice was almost accusatory.  “I mean, you ask when you approach other groups, and it’s like you’re holding a gun to their heads as you ask, or you ask at a time when it’s hard for them to say no, because all hell’s about to break loose.”

I glanced down at Panacea.  She wasn’t moving, aside from rocking a bit back and forth as she breathed, her head slumped, eyes on the ground.

Was it me?  Something grotesque?  Horrible?  Had I changed?

No.  I had taken stock of myself, I’d seen myself, and I was still the same, as far as I could tell.  Two arms, two legs, two eyes, a working nose, ears and mouth.  One missing hand, but that was to be expected.

“Yeah, you asked Panacea.  You asked me to play along and arrange stuff, when you went to go turn yourself in.  Your handling of the school thing… well, I don’t want to get into a pattern and start cutting too deep.  Let’s just say you make a decision by yourself, and then you use others to get help carrying it out.  That’s not really you asking for help, is it?”

I didn’t need this, not now.  But I looked up, meeting Tattletale’s eyes.  She was standing behind Lung, now.  He was changing.  Was he biding his time?

“While I’m saying all this, kiddo, you gotta know I love you.  I adore you, warts and all.  You saved me, as much as I like to think I saved you.  All this stuff I’m bitching about, it’s the same stuff that got us through some pretty hairy shit, and I love you for it as much as I groan about it.  You’re brilliant and you’re reckless and you care too much about people in general when I really wish you’d leave things well enough alone and be selfish.  But this?”


“Shit,” Tattletale said.  “You gotta forgive me, just this once.  Because seeing this and knowing what you pulled hurts enough that I gotta say this.  This makes me feel really sorry for your dad, because I’m starting to get a sense of what you put him through.”

She might as well have slapped me full-force.  Worse, I deserved it.

So this is what it’s like to be on the opposite end of a Tattletale attack.

“There,” she said.  She smiled a little, but it wasn’t a grin, exactly.  If it was an attempt at being reassuring, it wasn’t something she had a lot of practice in.  “I’ve said what I needed to say.  I do have your back, here.  Now we need to figure out how we’re going to fix this.”

Which I was okay with, except I wasn’t sure what this was.

This isn’t easily reversed,” Bonesaw said.

She had returned, and she’d brought others.

Marquis, and two of Marquis’ lieutenants.  They’d been delivering wounded up until a bit ago, but their hands were empty now.  Marquis was a little dusty, but still elegant and elaborately dressed without being feminine, his hair tied back into a ponytail.  He was accompanied by the hyper-neat guy and the guy with arms black from fingertip to elbow.  All three looked like they were in full on business mode.

“I’m open to trying,” Tattletale said.

Marquis surveyed the situation with a cool gaze.

“I’m not hearing a resounding yes here,” Tattletale said.

Marquis strode forwards.

“Careful!” Tattletale called out.

I might have dodged if I’d had full control over my own body.  I might have dodged if I’d been a little more focused.  Hell, I probably would’ve dodged if it wasn’t for the realization that Tattletale was warning Marquis instead of warning me.

I thought she had my back, I thought, as Marquis’ shaft of bone caught me dead center in the chest.  I couldn’t have dodged if I’d had full control over my body and my flight suit.  It hit me in the sternum, broad and flat, and shoved me back and away.

The bone changed as it pushed me, splaying out in two branches.  The backwards momentum made it impossible to get my feet under me, which meant I hit the ground, rump first, then a heavy hit with the hard shell of the flight pack, and finally a crack of my skull against the hard stone floor of the cave.

I came to a stop, and was just beginning to get my bearings when Marquis continued extending the pole.  I was shoved further back until my back was against a stone, five feet from the cave mouth, five and a half feet away from the sheer rock ledge above a sheer drop I couldn’t measure with my bugs.  The two branches of bone sat on either side of my neck, like the arms of a dowsing rod, pinning me in place.

The skin of his other hand had ripped and torn as the bones of a massive skeletal hand had erupted from his wrist.  Judging by its position around Lung and Panacea, he’d apparently used the hand to push or slide them back away from me.

“Oh god,” Panacea was saying, “Oh shit, oh god.”

A sudden display of emotion, as confusing to me as everything else here.

And here they were, Marquis, his men, Lung, Panacea, Canary, Tattletale and the portal duo from Cauldron, staring me down.

“Sixteen feet,” Tattletale said, her voice quiet.  “Fifteen point nine-eight feet, to be exact, but we can ballpark it.”

Marquis nodded.  “Parahuman abilities wax and wane depending on one’s mental state.  Given how volatile she may be…”

“It’s not going to change,” Panacea said, not making eye contact with anyone.  She was staring at the backs of her hands, which were flat against the cave floor, or staring at the tattoos that covered them.  “I felt how it changed…  Not connected to her emotions or those parts of her brain.  Not anymore.”

“I see.  Good to know, thank you,” Marquis said.  He approached three paces, and the bone shaft that extended between his arm and the branches that pinned my neck shrunk a corresponding amount.

He was keeping a distance, a good twenty or twenty five feet away from me.

Why did Tattletale say sixteen feet?

“What are you guys talking about?” Canary asked.

“I would have burned her,” Lung growled the words, ignoring her.  “But I thought you would be upset if I burned Amelia in the process.”

“Quite right,” Marquis said.  He didn’t take his eyes off me.

“Oh god,” Panacea was saying, her hands moving to her head, her fingers in her hair, inadvertently pulling it from the ponytail.  “Oh fuck me, oh god.”

“Hush,” Marquis said.  He laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Well, this is a step forward for you, Ames,” Tattletale commented.

Don’t,” Panacea hissed the word.  “Don’t you fucking dare.”

“…This time you got consent before you screwed someone up beyond your ability to fix it.”

“I’ll fucking kill you,” Panacea snarled.

There was a distant rumble, intense enough it could be both heard and felt through the doorway that Doormaker had open between us and Earth Gimel.  The fight was ongoing, and it sounded like maybe they were leading Scion away from the settlement.

My friends were out there.  Rachel, Aisha.  Here I was, doing nothing.

My hand slid on the stone beneath me as my body tried to push itself to a standing position, only to meet the ‘v’ of bone at my neck.  Why had I done that?  I hadn’t actually made the decision.

Passenger?  I thought.

Was it making decisions with my body, too?

Not a question I could answer definitively.  I turned my mind to a question I could focus on.

Sixteen feet. 

I saw how the others were spreading out, forming a line behind Marquis, their attention on me.  I saw the length of the column of bone.

It belatedly clicked.  Sixteen feet was the distance they needed to keep from me.

“I’d like to say I’m sorry for being a little rough,” Marquis said.  “I was in a hurry, trying to get my daughter to safety.”


It took me long seconds to wrap my head around the fact that the sound had come out of my mouth.  Not the right syllables, not even something that sounded like words.  My hand flew to my mouth.  My fingertips dug through the thick spidersilk fabric for some purchase on my lips, as if I could somehow manually get them to start working again.  Even the movement of my hand was clumsy.

I was a puppeteer trying to make the puppet move by tugging the strings from some remote place.  Something as complex as speech was beyond me.

I tried to form words with the swarm, to speak or to spell.  I failed.

Far, far beyond me.

I could see Tattletale reacting too, her entire body going rigid.  She took a half-step back.

I lowered my eyes to the cave floor.  My fingers were moving, grasping, and it wasn’t me doing it.

“Ah,” Marquis said.  “Shame.  A communication problem makes it harder to gauge how much we can trust her.”

Trust her, he’d said, instead of trust you.  Like there was no point to saying it to me directly.  Marquis was talking to Tattletale to refer to me in the same way someone might talk to the family member or companion of a mentally disabled individual or small child, instead of the diminutive individual themselves.

As though I was so fucked up I apparently needed a guardian to act as a translator or advocate.

“I can tell you how she is,” Tattletale said.

“You’re biased, to be frank,” Marquis said.  “I’m not willing to put myself, my family, or my underlings in a dangerous position because you have a sentimental spot for Weaver.  And before you launch into a spiel, I should warn you that Amelia here has filled me in on you.  I’m aware of how convincing you can be.  Spruce, Cinderhands, Lung?  You have my permission to mutiny if you think she’s gaming me.  I even recommend it.”

“Hardly fair,” Tattletale said.

“It’s rather fair, all things considered,” Marquis said.  “If you can convince all of us, then it must be a legitimate and sound argument.”

“I think you’re underestimating how eager Lung is for an excuse to hurt something,” Tattletale said.

“Maybe so,” Marquis said.  He glanced at Lung.

“You are too soft with women and children,” Lung said.  “If she starts something, I will break your rule for you and immolate her.”

“I suppose that’ll do,” Marquis said, sighing a little, he gave Tattletale a look, and she nodded a little.

There was another distant rumble.  A sound like a thousand men screaming in unison.  I felt a chill.

“Let’s put this issue to rest,” Marquis said.  “A compromise.”

“Sure.  I’m open to compromise,” Tattletale said.  “Beats being immolated.”

Marquis turned.  “Doormaker?  Another portal, please.  We’ll change locations and set up a triage unit somewhere else.  We link it to Gimel, and we close all doors leading to and from this cave.”

“I’m not sure I like this compromise,” Tattletale said.

“Weaver is an unknown quantity.  We’ll leave her here, as safe as anyone on any Earth is, and we conclude this fight against Scion, win or lose.  When all’s said and done, we come back and we see what we can do for her.”

There was a long pause.

Stay here?  Not participating?

I tensed.  My bugs stirred.

Right.  I still had my bugs.  My control was down, but only just.  Anything I touched or manipulated would be like I was using my left hand instead of my right.

Problem was, I didn’t exactly have a wealth of bugs to work with.

“It’s… sorta hard to argue with,” Tattletale said.  “But I don’t like it.”

“Nature of a compromise is that it leaves everyone more or less equally unhappy,” Marquis said.  “I’d feel happier if she was under secure restraints, but I’m content to break this rod and leave her free to forage and look after herself while we’re gone.”

No thread left.  I’d used too much of it when we’d made the platform back at the Cauldron base.

There was a new dimension to my power, at a cost to everything else.  Sixteen feet of range.

I just needed to figure out how to use it.

Tattletale shook her head.  “If Doormaker dies, she’s stranded here, all alone, more than a little borked in the head and in the heart.  Possibly for the rest of her life.”

“If Doormaker dies, I think we’re all in dire straits,” Marquis said.  “This is the fairest solution.  I think you realize that.”

I raised my hand, fingertips going vertical, moving my stump in that general direction, knowing she could draw the conclusion.  Best I could do in terms of a pleading gesture, with only one hand to work with.

Tattletale stared.  “…Yeah.  Except for one thing.”

“There’s a snag,” Marquis concluded, sounding a little defeated.

“Sure.  Life isn’t fair, and I’ve got a hell of a lot of faith in that girl.  Besides, we agreed not so long ago that we wouldn’t leave each other behind.”

“Unfortunate.  Lung, Cinderhands?  Make Tattletale leave.  Drag her if you have to, but don’t hurt her.”

“You test my patience with this gentleness of yours,” Lung growled, but he took hold of Tattletale’s arm with one claw.  Cinderhands took her other arm.

“Watch for her gun.  If she gets a hand free, she’ll use it on one of us,” Panacea said.  She followed the trio.

I struggled to reach my feet, but the ‘v’ of bone at my throat held me.  I slumped back down to the ground, staring at the ones who remained.

“Stop struggling, Weaver,” Marquis said.  “Please relax.  You took a gamble and you lost.  You sit this one out.”

I narrowed my eyes behind the lenses of my mask.

“Spruce?  Can you use your power?  Not too much.  Enough she can break free before too long?”

The tidy man shook his head.  He turned his hand over, and a little sphere swirled in it, looking like a cabbage made of stone.  He closed his hand, and it winked out of existence.  “Ten years ago?  Sure.  Right now?  I don’t trust my accuracy.  I’d be worried about the structure of the cave if my power touched anything to either side or behind her.”

Marquis nodded.  “Go look after the others, then.  Be ready to shut the door the moment I’m through.”

Spruce turned to leave, ushering Doormaker and the clairvoyant out.

“I know you have tricks up your sleeve.  You have bugs, you have the pepper spray.  You have other tools I probably don’t know about.  I’m going to assume you’re in a state of mind to use those tricks.  I’m going to hope you’re in a state of mind to listen when I ask you not to use them.  Stay here, pull yourself together, and we’ll come for you when we can.  If we can.  I give you my oath that I’ll do my utmost to keep Tattletale safe in the meantime.”

My hands were clenching and unclenching.  Not by my own volition.

Eeeeuunnh,” I growled.

“I’m very optimistically going to take that as a reluctant yes,” he said.

It took me a moment to get the motions in order, but I managed to shake my head very slowly from side to side.

“Alright,” he said.  He put an arm on Canary’s armored shoulder.  “Canary?  Please step through.  I’ll be right behind you.”

She started to obey, then stopped.  “I… I really know how you feel, Weaver.  Sort of.  I took Cauldron’s stuff, it messed me up, physically.  I felt horrible, I went a little crazy.  And maybe three years after I picked myself up and pulled it all together, everything went to shit.  Like life was reminding me of the mistake I made.  So I- I know what you’re feeling.  But you can make peace with it.  So… don’t beat yourself up too hard?  Take it from someone that’s done that too much.”

“It was kind of you to say that,” Marquis said.  “Please step through?”

Canary nodded.

He was watching her go.

I heaved myself sideways, freeing my left arm to reach to my right hip.  In the process, I managed to move the branch of bone a little to one side.  Not enough to get my head free of it, but enough to get some elbow room.

“Heads up!” Marquis called out.

My hand fumbled for my gun, and I pulled it free.  I raised it to the point where the branch split in two and fired.  The thickest point.

Perhaps a little insane, to fire upwards, at something as hard as bone, inches from my face and throat.

But the bone shattered and splintered.

I was free, and Marquis was already taking action.  Armor of bone surrounded him, ornate, decorative, but with enough coverage that the bugs near him were either crushed against his skin or they failed to find a way through.  I didn’t have any bugs small enough to fit through the vertical slits around the eyes and mouth.

The spear of bone began branching out, becoming a veritable tree, filling the cave between myself and Marquis with forking and dividing limbs.  He was backing away, creating more bone to stay connected to the base of the tree.  He knew what I’d try to do next.

I didn’t stand.  I couldn’t afford to take the time.  I used the flight pack, extending the wings with the thrusters, and launched myself at the wall of the cave.  I hit it a little harder than I might have liked, one wing bending, and then scraped against it, flying in Marquis’ general direction, moving along the cave ceiling where there were less branches.

The amount of space I had to maneuver in was rapidly closing. My dangling leg caught a branch, and I nearly lost all of my momentum.  I was forced to put the thrusters away, but one didn’t fold away properly where it had bent in the collision.

Tree branches of bone closed around me.  I activated the thruster on the remaining wing, and I opened fire, blind, in the hopes of clearing a route.

Marquis moved to the side, creating a shield of bone in front of himself and Canary.  The bullets weren’t really on course for them, but it worked out in my favor.  He’d broken the shaft of bone to free himself to move, and the ‘tree’ was no longer growing.  I flew through the biggest available gaps, snapping the thinner spears and spines of bone on my way through.

Twenty feet away from Marquis.  He moved back, and then grabbed the ‘tree’.

A disc of bone unfolded in front of me, as though the tree were a parasol.  A wall, a barrier.

I shot at the edge, and a chunk broke off.

But more flowed free before I could wedge myself into the resulting gap.  It sealed the cave off.  I shot again, but it was too thick.  The trigger clicked as I pulled it again and again, fruitlessly.  The movement was so frantic and jerky that the gun fell from my clumsy grip.

“Terribly sorry,” Marquis murmured.

Panic and fear welled up inside me.

I don’t want to stay behind.  I can’t.  You don’t understand.  I’ll lose my mind, more than it already feels a little lost.

Gorrugh,” I hissed.  The armor of my mask clicked against the bone as I rested my head against it.

The fear, the panic, no…

I felt it, but it wasn’t mine.  Neither was the fear and paralysis I’d felt before, or the anger.

I was so used to my power being automatic, I wasn’t used to having to exert any kind of will.

I tapped into the feeling, I focused all of my attention on my ability.

Sixteen feet.  Marquis was out of my range, but Canary had been slower to move, her reflexes not as good.  She’d been caught up in watching, maybe not wanting to turn her back on a fight in progress, and she hadn’t moved as quickly.

I was touching the wall of bone, and Canary was fifteen or so feet away, on the other side.

Now that I was taking the time to look, to sense, I was aware of Canary’s body in the same way I’d been aware of Lung’s.  As Panacea’s, to a lesser degree.  Her steady, measured breathing, the complete lack of movement.

Just like Lung and Panacea had been frozen.

Waiting for instructions.

I couldn’t move her closer to Marquis without putting her outside of my range.  Instead, I turned her around.

“Ah… damnation,” Marquis said.

Her movements weren’t much more fluid than my own ones here.  A drawback, among many.  She marched towards me and the wall Marquis had created.

He snared her, throwing out shafts of bone and surrounding her upper body with a cage of the stuff, interlocking the two pieces.

But she wore the Dragonslayer’s armored suit.  She bent her legs at my order, and then lunged forward.  She broke the bone that surrounded her, and with her fist free she struck the wall of bone.

Two, three, four times.

Marquis stepped forward, very carefully, and planted a foot on the base of the shaft of bone.  The wall began to thicken, faster than Canary could smash it.

Her power…

I looked, and I had enough of a sense of her inner workings to get a sense of her general state of well being, where she was sore, her fitness, and her power.

She began to sing.

Bring him closer.  Bring him in.

The song changed.  The relentless, almost machinelike drum against the wall of bone continued, cracking it with the power of the suit, and I could sense Marquis wavering.  He lowered his foot from the shaft of bone and began to approach Canary.

I was so used to a buzzing, to a dull roar of power in my ears.  This was so much more complex.  Complex and seductive, the emotions I was tapping into.  Linking myself to Canary on some level.

I could remember being in Dragon and Defiant’s grip, being hauled along on the way to the roof, so soon after killing Alexandria and Director Tagg.  Struggling, futile, hopeless.

I could look beyond that surface memory, and I could see what was beneath it, a general sensation, a recollection of a feeling.  Canary, struggling, helpless and bound, terrified and panicking, with a dull sense of guilt over what she’d done, a reality that she hadn’t quite processed and might not fully process for weeks or months.

She was me and I was her.  Shared experience.  She was an extension of myself.

There was no way to know if that was a good thing.  I was starting to feel a little unhinged again.  A little disconnected from me.

The only thing scarier than that fact was the knowledge that it was only going to get worse.  This was my tool.  This was what I’d sacrificed my mind, body, range, and control to obtain.  Sixteen paltry feet of range.  Sixteen feet of range that, according to Panacea, I wouldn’t be able to increase through my emotions.

I made myself climb to my feet, pushing my way through the smaller branches of bone, reaching up with my hand to grab a larger branch for balance.  My legs were shaky beneath me, my head a little lopsided, and if I hadn’t been holding on to something, I suspected my arm would have hung utterly limp at my side.  I couldn’t… I couldn’t dig for that knowledge of how my body was supposed to be in a resting state.

I saw the first crack spread on my side of the wall.

Better yet, Marquis was getting closer.  One or two more reluctant steps our way, and-

-And I never got to find out if I’d be able to leverage his power.  Lung stepped into the hallway, and he filled it with fire.

Canary was armored, though her hair was set on fire where it flowed beneath the helmet.  Marquis, too, was armored.  Neither was positioned to be turned into a crisp.

But the fire drowned out the singing.  The fire stopped, and Canary could hear Marquis’ footsteps as he ran, hands pressed to where his ears were covered by his helmet.

I had Canary punch through the wall.  She reached through the wall and grabbed me by the straps of my flight pack, hauling me through.

The doorway was closing.  Canary, it seemed, was being left behind.

I had her throw me, and I used my flight pack to get extra speed.

I slid through the doorway two seconds before it was too narrow to pass through.  I lay there, the group staring down at me.

Coohugggah,” I mumbled, with more than a little anger in my voice, as I slowly made my way to my feet.  Nobody offered me a hand, but that was my choice, not theirs.

My stump of an arm was throbbing, and the rest of me felt alien.  My movements weren’t all my own choice, with the passenger apparently doing something to help me manage.

I looked through the other portal, beside us.  Gimel.

I left the others alone, not controlling them.  When Spruce was in my way, I pushed him aside with physical strength.

I’m fighting, I thought.  I’m fighting Scion.  Somehow.

I could see myself through their eyes.  Each image was slightly distorted, just different enough to be uncanny and out of sync.  I had more awareness of myself through them than I had with my own eyes.

I stepped into the damaged fast food restaurant, and over the rubble at the front where one attack or another had clipped the building.  As I made my way to the front, the others behind me found themselves out of my reach, free to move of their own volition again.

Free to attack me if they wanted.

Marquis, Panacea, Bonesaw… not so dangerous.

Lung?  No.  If he was going to kill me, he’d let me know just before he did it.

Spruce?  Cinderhands?  They were maybe the type to attack me, because of pride and the fact that I’d momentarily seized control of them.

Tattletale was freed.  She dashed forward, hopping over rubble and debris to get closer to me.  She stopped three or four paces from me.

A fraction more than sixteen feet away.

But she didn’t say a word.

Scion was there.  Tearing through people with a ferocity, this time.  People were scrambling for cover that did so very little against Scion, trying to erect defenses, hiding and fleeing.

Had we already lost?

A collection of capes, many carrying wounded, headed our way.  Rachel, Imp and Bastard were among them.

I moved to the side, but I failed to anticipate their path.  I’d expected them to head into the sandwich-place-turned-hospital, but they moved straight towards me.

I backed away, taking flight, while Tattletale rushed forward, her footfalls tracing a curved path around a bubble that only she seemed to be conscious of.  She stopped in their way, arms outstretched, shouting, “Go around!  Dangerous power!”

Most of them listened.  Only one, looking over his shoulder at Scion, stumbled past Tattletale, into my range.  I was looking for it this time, and I could feel his being snap into my mind’s eye.  He froze in place.

No sooner did I have control than Tattletale grabbed the guy by the back of the collar and hauled him out.

“The fuck?” Imp asked.

Tattletale let the guy go, and he fled.

I couldn’t reply, so I focused on gathering my bugs.  No use dismissing a resource that had once been vital.

Someone volunteered herself for noninvasive brain surgery from the lunatic with a sister complex.  Or, just as likely, she asked the lunatic psychopath for invasive brain surgery and the other lunatic stepped in.  Now Skitter’s broken.”

“That didn’t look broken,” Imp said.  “That guy…”

“Hrrrrrn,” I said.

“Hrrrrn,” Imp replied, nodding sagely.  “Now I understand.”

“She can’t talk,” Rachel said, more a statement than a question.

I shook my head.  Can’t move as fast or as well as before…

I belatedly realized that Rachel had hopped off of Bastard.  She reached her hand forward, as if feeling her way.

I backed away, but she stepped forward faster.

A conception of Rachel’s entire being bloomed in my consciousness.

I made her step back away.

“Mm,” Rachel grunted.

“Why the fuck would you do that?” Tattletale asked.

Because she trusts me far too much, I thought.

“She’s smarter than I am,” Rachel said.  “Let her do what she needs to.”

I shook my head, backing away with my flight pack.

Controlling Rachel wouldn’t achieve anything.  I wouldn’t get any special knowledge of her whistles or commands, or her instinctive understanding of the dogs.

But I needed to do something.

Marquis and the others were approaching, on guard, looking tense.

I was a wild card, now, something they couldn’t wholly trust.  A little unhinged, a little unpredictable, and my power would be more dangerous and debilitating in their minds than it was useful.

“You’re going?”  Tattletale asked, almost realizing it before I had.

I nodded.

“Good luck,” she said.  “You know where to find us.”

I nodded again, taking to the air with my damaged flight pack, but it was with a heavy heart.

I’d told myself, not so long ago, that I’d know the route to victory when I saw it.  I had an idea of what I needed to do now.

Maybe it was good I couldn’t speak, because I would’ve said the words if I’d had the ability, and we’d sworn not to.  I had to think it instead, and this way, they didn’t need to hear it.

Goodbye, Undersiders.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

472 thoughts on “Speck 30.1

  1. In the process of updating the Worm Statistics Spreadsheet, I glimpsed both the first and last sentences of this chapter. Based on those alone Wildbow, my fan fury burns with the strength of a thousand suns.

  2. A brutal compromise. They jailbroke her power from the flesh and blood end of things. Now she can administer all the things but only within that paltry range. Let’s see what happens next.

    • “I didn’t stand. I couldn’t afford to take the time. I used the flight pack, extending the wings with the thrusters, and launched myself at the wall of the cave. I hit it a little harder than I might have liked, one wing bending, and then scraped against it, flying in Marquis’ general direction, moving along the cave ceiling where

      The amount of space I had to maneuver in was rapidly closing. My dangling leg caught a branch, and I nearly lost all of my momentum. I was forced to put the thrusters away, and felt the bent wing keep one from folding in completely.”
      Something wrong there.

  3. Oh fuckity, fuck, fuck. She can CONTROL PARAHUMANS. ALL PARAHUMANS in her range of 16 feet. Maybe EVERY LIVING THING in range. She can’t move, or speak anymore though. Oh no wonder Teacher is scared, if Taylor gets close he loses. All his minions becomes hers/he loses control. What else can she control? Endbringers, passengers, can she edit their powers while in control? What happens when she gets close to Scion? Awesome chapter Wildbow. Shit like this is why I think you’ll be famous down the line.

      • That reminds me about my favorite villain Mannequin. Okay so strategy ideas.
        1. Drive Scion off- Either she communicates/forces him to share her pain or emotions/becomes his new handler or partner/just creeps him out.
        2. Get a working body or means of movement. She can take control of Bonesaw, in a moment of delicious irony for Riley, and get her to operate to see what she can do. There should be a few Mannequin clones left to take control and have them work together to give her a new means of moving. Worse comes to worse maybe cyborg up with Riley/Mannequin/Dragon helping to rebuild her. Eventually she is going to run out of juice for the jetback and she needs to be able to move around. Again she has the 9 clones she can take control over with no guilt. Any chuckles clones left that she can have him carry her?
        3. New powers: Take control of the Yangban and have them divide a few powers into her/limit how many there are so she has more powerful abilities. Priorities are Flight/Regeneration or healing/some kind of Brute status.
        4. Deal with Teacher and Brainwashed armies. Take over or free his students, and case 53 armies. Possibly talk to Contessa/Dinah about options.
        5. Endbringers: Find out what else they can do, and possibly make more of them. There were 20 of the damn things in Eden’s vision.
        6. Find the other realities that Eden’s body touched on and see if you can control the other choice shards she never intended to give up.
        7. Future: Death? Live out rest of days being taken care of by Rachel and others? Rule/Protect Brockton Bay? Join the Protectorate?

        • Given this is the last arc only options 1, 5, and 6 seem like they have any chance of ending the story fast enough, and 6 feels unlikely given we’ve just gone through the arc investigating Eden.
          As for Taylor’s future for the last few arcs I’ve been convinced that Taylor’s not making it out of this alive. I’m expecting some sort of merge / turn into another entity along with scion.

        • Can’t wait to see what happens with Scion. She can control their powers/shards now? What are the Entities made from?

        • 8. The Simurgh sticks her in that glass tube and rigs up some kind of broadcaster? We already know there’s a way to artificially recreate and broadcast Taylor’s power, like with that famine engine thing.

    • Thats not that. A cape with a not even 5 m “death-radius” isn’t that scary. Even Mantelum had a higher range and was nearly as deadly as Taylor. I can’t see him running scared about somone who could not walk and is “easyly killed” from someone with a larger range … like a preteen with a gun. The big question is, what can she do to “not-humans”. And why does the Simurgh hide a pretty Taylor-sized glass tube?

  4. Wow. Looks like we were right about her gaining the ability to control other shards, But what a cost. 16 feet. Also, reading through this again, I love how the relationship with rachel has grown and changed over the series. And now, since I’ve always wanted to do this:


          • I noticed that it said she lost control of et smaller bugs, so it seems like her range (of living things) was bumped up. Previously she theorised that she could control incredibly simple-minded things (i.e bugs/crustaceans) now it’s higher brain functioned things. I do wonder if this night include general animals, being a step up from bugs and a step down from humans. Or they’re too different.
            Apologies if someone has addresses/disproved any of this in the comments, haven’t managed to scroll through all the comments yet.

              • The titel got a good german grin onto my face.

                The chapter itself turned it upside down, drowned it, shot it with a minigun and threw it into the sun.

              • > The titel got a good german grin onto my face.

                > The chapter itself turned it upside down, drowned it, shot it with a minigun and threw it into the sun.

                Worm, shooting grinning Germans in the face since 2011. 😀

      • Well we finally know why Canary was so important. Her entire purpose was to keep Taylor in play. Also it’s cute to leave her in a mine.

        For whatever reason I was thinking that Taylor was still missing an arm. Reading this chapter she comments on two arms two legs etc, so I’ll have to see if she did get that fixed before Panacea went to work on her head, but that is a very minor issue really.

        Predictions for the future.

        I can see two paths for her to take on the get close to Scion path.

        1. Go grab Grue. He has a power that might be useful against Scion, and with her new power won’t be able to say no to helping. I’m less inclined towards this path.

        2. Play nice with Imp. WAAAY back we read that Imp’s power has a second stage. One that she cannot activate, or allow to activate on her own because she notices it and then it cuts off. In theory she holds the shard that allows Worm’s to hide from each other. If she gets within Taylor’s aura it is possible that Taylor could make use of that second stage, overriding Imp’s ability to stop using her power’s second stage and with that actually get close enough to Scion to make use of her own power on him.

        The really sad thing is of course what might become of Taylor at the end. I am thinking she will need to go under the knife again. Possibly losing her mind, possibly just her powers but people will realize by now that while incredibly dangerous and messed up she isn’t a mad nightmare out of control. Just unable to communicate her need to continue to face Scion and not have her sacrifice made useless.

        I do hope that Amy is able to help in the end. That she can help Taylor, and from there perhaps face up to and help Glory Girl. It’s hard to imagine it might happen but it could. Or if not Amy that Bonesaw will do that for her.

        As for Lisa tearing into Amy again I think that’s really easy to understand. She’s hurt and afraid and her friend is right there suffering. So no she can’t attack Taylor and has to settle for another. Yes she’s a thinker but of all the really smart one’s she’s also one of the most human.

        • Hm…for some reason I’m inclined towards the Grue plan.

          And I really do hope that Panacea can at least partly un-break Taylor, maybe make it so she can control her body without using her power again.
          And on that note: I wonder how many people want to kill Tatletale now.

          • I have to agree with you in saying that I sort of hope Grue stays away. I would rather not see him coming back at the end. I would MUCH prefer the Imp solution, or of course there’s the unspoken one of the Simurgh plot. But much like the nameless one perhaps its better not to repeat that name thrice.

          • Yes, Grue seems like a nobody now. However, think back to the alternate future foreseen by Eden. The heroes’ counter to an army of enemy capes was someone called Black Knight, who couldn’t be defeated by parahumans but was scary/risky enough the heroes didn’t want to use him. There’s really only two people that could be. The first is Jack Slash in a suit of power armor. The second, also in a suit of power armor, is Grue, with his clouds of darkness blanketing the battlefield and shutting off powers. A threat that can’t be seen, heard, or smelt, who renders you helpless and then strikes you down with your own powers or those of your strongest champions.

            Unfortunately, yeah he’s pretty much useless right now because he can’t steal Scion’s powers (tested), and Scion can also see through his darkness. That combined with his ‘I will fight no more forever’ attitude means we probably won’t be seeing him again until maybe the epilogues.

  5. Goodbye, Skitter. Goodbye, Weaver. Taylor, may you finish this war and save the world, and die a gentle death, though that may be too much to hope for.

  6. I forget, are the Yangban still alive at this point? Short of jacking Scion I am not sure who else she will be using her power on.

    • Jacking Zion, even at this late date, would be too easy. I ran things through my “how could this get worse” filter, and came up with:

      She gets close to him and he sees that she has opened herself completely to her shard and that it has messed her up. He gets his first ever burst of humor; he thinks it’s hysterical and fixes her shard. Now crazy mixed-up broken Taylor has range, and the shard is in control. Taylor becomes the passenger for the Queen Administrator now running the show.

      • Or she communicates with him. Honestly communicates with him in a way no being has ever done except for Eden. What he does afterward…your guess is as good as mine. It seems too easy, and he has killed so many, that I can’t see it ending just from that.

          • Yeah, but Cauldron admits that Jack simply moved the timeline forward. I mean he sees us as a weird combination as insignificant insects, and according to Tattletale, fellow human beings. She might pull a Jack and sort of control him through emotional manipulation for a while/force him to feel her fears or emotions etc. I don’t think it will be so easy but I think Zion will consider her a significant something in the next few minutes.

            • Scion tends to pause to consider things that he doesn’t expect. When he’s bumped into Eidolon, Contessa, and the Case 53s, he’s always been at least momentarily confused or off-put. I imagine he’d see Taylor’s altered shard in front of him and probably try to puzzle out what exactly happened. If he figures out that someone pulled the limiters off a shard, it might end up being a complete “oh crap” moment. He put the limits on the shards in place so that it would be effectively impossible for parahumans to fight back against him (well, also so that the shards don’t cause horrific things to their hosts). Being omnipotent, it would most likely occur to him that the humans have figured out a way around his greatest defensive measure and can probably repeat this process.

  7. Well I think taylor will probably die now. Also what exactly did Pancea do? She removed restrictions which allowed Taylor to control all biological beings, but also cut her power range way down? Did she remove restrictions or just change what the power did like Echinda did with her clones?

    • Im guessing removing the restrictions caused her shard to overload her mind.
      Which is one reason why there were restrictions, she probably couldnt handle a larger range without becoming braindead.

    • I think she was probably forced to play a sort of balance with the qualities of Taylor’s power since she cannot directly alter the shard itself. Bumped the complexity of what Taylor can control way up, but had to trade a ton of range, and maybe more things that aren’t as obvious, in order to do it.

        • I dunno, controlling all living things is great, but at the cost of almost all of her range plus fine control plus possibly senses, I don’t think it was worth it.

          • I think the lack of control probably has more to do with her shards lack of knowledge about how to operate humans than anything else. She did lose some control over her bugs, but she doesn’t seem to think it was enough of a loss to matter, and the shard not only got to do it’s “scan” for knowledge about bugs when she triggered, but it’s also been learning more bug control from Taylor’s experiences, it doesn’t have the same advantages with humans.

            • It was pretty clear that Taylor lost a lot of control with bugs. Most clear-cut example: She’s been able to “speak” with her bugs to varying degrees for years now, and suddenly she can’t manage anything more than a drone.

              • Well there is also the possible problem of feedback. Taylor seems to be both under the control of her own power, and in control of that power. Who knows what sort of merry hell this would play with commands she gives.

                It’s possible that making the insects buzz in synch with her own voice won’t work because her shard doesn’t know how to make Taylor speak in the first place.

            • So, kinda like the time I tried to minmax a monk using Vow of Poverty?

              (It worked! …For about a level or two.)

              • Or minmaxing a wizard to maximise his arcane might… Then blundering into a trap due to low dexterity and being instantly killed due to terrible health!
                Anyone can minmax, but you do need to be careful, particually if you know it’s going to annoy the DM, as he/she can easily make it so that the stat you thought was unimportant was ironically the thing that would have saved your life.
                I do love the idea of an adventurer taking a vow of poverty, though I’d get around it by generously offering to carry other party members’ gear for them, since you don’t have any of your own to carry, and if it should happen that the best way to carry it is by wearing it… Remember, letter not spirit!

              • Pretty sure that that is against the letter of the feat, actually.

                And for a level or two, if you’re a monk or something, the AC bonus and stuff makes up for it! Then you realize that you don’t have magic items of any kind. And that you are a monk.

          • In the immortal words of Portal, “think with portals”. If we can get Taylor close enough to Doormaker/the Clairvoyant and if he has fine enough control to open a mini portal than imagine the possibilities. Taylor could theoretically control everyone everywhere whenever she wanted assuming her multitasking is still working okay. Scary thought.

            • Relying on the Doormaker and Clairvoyant being OK, the Clairvoyant not screwing Taylor too much, and the lack of control not screwing things up.

              • True there are a lot of potential problems but I love that the possibility exists. It’s the sort of out of the box thinking that our hero excels at.

    • Probably because the human mind and body has an upper limit to what it can manage, and what Panacea is doing is basically trying to change the operation of a computer program by modifying the motherboard. She has very little control over the specifics and it’s quite amazing how it worked at all to begin with.

      • I’d like to donate, but I’m halfway across the planet from wildbow residence, and paypal doesn’t help it anyway

        yes, i think donation could be used to enhance quality of his life, and therefore his creativity. Maslow’s pyramid of needs stated that

        But if his physical book somehow land in local bookstore, I WILL buy it, no matter how ridiculously thick it would be

    • Her power it’s brain networking with her brain as admin. Tayor’s computer is lagging. She needs to shutdown and reformat. Sleep won’t work. It needs to be a complete stop.
      Wouldn’t this make her the second telepath?

      • Does the Simurgh count as a telepath? Sure, she’s got offensive mindfuckery, but so do plenty of other capes. We now know her primary sense is based on super-duper prescience, she doesn’t read minds or anything. Cherish wasn’t classed as a telepath despite being able to read/manipulate emotions, which would be closer to telepathy (empathy) than the Simurgh. Taylor’s weird mind-meld thing is more like telepathy than either of those two, and probably the only true telepath power we’ve seen.

  8. And now we know what those relay bugs were for.

    The problem is, even if Taylor can control every cape individually, she doesn’t have the control to make them do a better job than they would have, already. (Unless they were previously incompetent.)

    Or, maybe, I shouldn’t underestimate her.

    I haven’t decided if I like the new Taylor. Her lack of control makes her seem sluggish, while she was so precise before. I could see it become frustrating very quickly.

    • With a single mind running the whole show, she can probably come up with some nice power combinations. It mentions that her mind sort of melds with the people she controls so she may be able to get good enough control while controlling a significant number of people.

    • If she can control people the way she can control bugs then the result will be almost certainly better than the sum of its part.

    • I am reminded of Ender’s Game. The Formics had an advantage in coordination because of their (very minor spoiler) hive mind, but their individual ships lacked initiative. Mazer Rackham managed to defeat the Second Invasion due to this kind of initiative.

      Taylor’s closer to Rackham in the initiative/planning department than most, but I think that it won’t help for the most part.

  9. I thought this might be an option for a power, but I didn’t think it would come at so high a price. I waited for this in the edge of my chair…and I still feel that way. Only feels partially resolved. Looking forward to seeing what’s next, of course. Thanks for the chapter.

    Oh yes, almost forgot.

    “Goodbye, Undersiders.”


    Because we all remember how well that turned out last time.

  10. The most interesting thing of all is that we still haven’t seen what made Teacher afraid, what made Contessa fail to recognize Taylor initially.

    There are a handful of people who guess at what this power is, and how deep it goes. No one knows, Taylor most assuredly included, possible exception for Scion.

    She’s presently in her costume and mask – that’s as recognizable as it gets.

    There’s at least one more shoe waiting to drop.

    • Perhaps something to do with the way she isn’t fully in control of her body? Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if she’s wearing her costume though.

      • Given a comment she made to herself, I’m imagining that she and everyone under her control are kind of hanging like marionettes, limp except the parts she’s consciously controlling. She said that Amy’s head was lowered, which would fit with that, and she mentioned that her own head was sort of lolling to the side. That’s the sort of thing that would be pretty obvious to anyone but Taylor, since she’s lost her ability to form a cohesive mental image of a person in return for control over every component of every person in 16 feet… including her own body.

      • No, that makes perfect sense to me – Skitter and Weaver both had an extraordinary physical presence, so a Taylor Mk. 2 that’s moving like a stroke victim is going to look completely different in how she holds herself.

        • I can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but somewhere around “moves like a stroke victim” I lost my shit. Had me in tears.

          Also, while I’m commenting (doing it via phone which is a TASK), Marionette is hella appropriate. That’s the title I’ll refer to Jailbroken!Taylor as. Its just so good.

          Also also, it appears that Mari jailbreaks other parahumans within her range, which remains to be confirmed, but it’s fairly neat speculation.

          • Jailbreaks as in “she uses the unlimited version of the power instead of the limited version”? Because I doubt Rachel noticed any change to her power after she left the field.

            That said, that really would make her new power hax enough to have a chance of doing what was needful.

    • Taylor is aware of her body in a way she never has been before, but she doesn’t have shit all control of it. She’d have noticed if she was all mutated. Chances are she just looks really disturbed/like she’s having a stroke.

    • Maybe it’s the context, not the form. For example, if something truly bizarre happened, like she was holding hands with Zion, then it might take people a moment to possess who “not Zion” is.

    • Based on what she said there, she still has a humanoid form, but given that she hadn’t actually looked at herself, her body might be badly Case 53’ed

      • 1. Case 53’s are only from Eden shards, maybe only from “processed” Eden shards.
        2. This is not a trigger event in any way, shape, or form.
        3. If Taylor had changed, she would probably have noticed. She has a terrible level of control over her body, but she’s aware of it in a whole new way.
        4. If Taylor looked different, you’d better believe that Bitch or Imp, at least, would have said something.

  11. And so she goes from Skitter and Weaver to Trapdoor. Unless that name’s taken.

    Yep, poor little broken Taylor. You can see the way she lacks an appropriate emotional response to the first stuff that she’s not quite understood it all yet. I just have to wonder how much of it is controlling the person and how much controls through the shard.

    Controlling shards could be extremely useful against Scion.

    Thing is, with her screwed up emotions and the way she’s already made some hard decisions, I have a feeling this is about to get very, very bloody.

    Now then, it seems somebody new showed up that I didn’t have an opportunity to welcome because I didn’t hang around all day yesterday.

    “grinvader on October 14, 2013 at 2:57 PM said:

    Done catching up.
    At a loss for words, and most of those I can reach are expletives.

    Thank you for being awesome, wildbow”

    Not nearly done enough, Darth Smiley. And not nearly enough expletives. There aren’t enough expletives in the world. Seriously, you could do an appropriate response to Worm that was like those “Where in the world is what’s his name dancing?” videos on youtube, but instead have it be people cussing all over the world, including overly stoic guards at the Korean DMZ.

    Me, I favor the F-bomb. I’ve even built and used one on a major city. I also invested in glass and window companies just prior to it. That’s what we evildoers call a Win-Win. Unless, of course, your second in command is a racial stereotype. Then you call him or her Win-Win. Win-Win, fetch me some Thunderbird!

    No, the expletive is not nearly enough, grinvader. Especially not now that you have been welcomed, grinvader, to the comments!

    • I approve of Trapdoor until a suitable non-arachnid (Skitter to Weaver to…) name is come up with. Preferably following the -er lineup.

        • Snare has replaced Trapdoor, definitely. I’m willing to be content with this, if no suitable -er titles pop up. It’s really neat with nuances as well.

            • We’ve seen Taylor come to the end of herself before, not that long ago when they were fighting Scion on the oil rig. Remember, cut in half? Blood and organs leaking into the ocean? Or what about the blindness? She’ll manage with this.

              Also, didn’t they say specifically that she doesn’t look different? Expression, yes, but she’s not outwardly mutated.

              Yeah, the power doesn’t look earthshattering right now. But the highest-powered capes currently around (idle thought: wonder where Miss Militia has gotten to?) are reacting in more fear than it seems to warrant, so maybe they see something we don’t. I mean, she’s dangerous in that she can’t turn it off, that (and range) is the main difference between her and Regent right now, as far as I can see. But they’re scared enough to find Contessa, whom no one trusts at this point, to help with Weaver. So there must be something we’re not seeing. Maybe when she controls someone the limiters are off? That’s not necessarily something she’d realize at first. I’d be interested to see what she does with an unfamiliar parahuman, someone whose power she has no existing expectation for.

              Relay bugs are an intriguing idea. But still, even if she gets a much bigger range and can control all the powers in her larger vicinity just as well as the individual capes (big if), that’s still just the equivalent of really good tactics and communication, not an order of magnitude upgrade to Team Humanity. And we need that upgrade.

              • Well, she did just do something odd with Canary’s power. When Canary used it, she only knew how to make people suggestible and obey given commands. When Taylor used it, the song itself compelled Marquis to do things.

              • I think Teacher is acting solely from self preservation here.

                He has the ability to boost powers, or give new powers.

                Taylor’s range is currently only 16 feet. So, who do you think Taylor is likely to seek out to improve her abilities…

                But Taylor knows that Teacher can control or at least exert strong influence over those who he has granted power to, and Teacher knows she knows this.

                So Teacher knows that the only way for Taylor to be able to trust him not to try to control her after his power has effected her, is if she controls him. And Teacher definitely will fight with every last bit of his being to avoid being made into a mental thrall, because he would never trust anyone enough to believe they would release him.

                Contessa can get answers to questions she asks that aren’t about Scion. After a few questions, she will certainly know enough about Taylor’s new abilities to know why Teacher is running from her. And I would be highly surprised if Contessa doesn’t frog march Teacher straight back to Taylor and give him to her, and possibly even offer herself as well.

                Remember, the blocks on Contessa’s power are direct blocks. If Taylor is asking the questions, Contessa’s passenger might give her straight answers…

                Lots of fun places this might go.

              • I think you are on an interesting track here Aname.

                What if anyone Taylor controls.. has no limits O.O , that would make everyone shit their pants.

                ..Which begs the question what happens with unrestricted tinker/thinker powers.

      • As for names, I was thinking of how her body is basically ‘bait on a hook’ now, but “Hooker” wouldn’t really be appropriate. Guess we’ll have to make do with… Worm?

    • For a new name, I’d say Web is the best one. She both traps and connects.

      Plus, what does the Weaver make, if not a web?

      • I nominate Dominion, as she could probably drop the bug shtick now that she controls every friggin’ animal within a sixteen foot radius.

        Still curious as to how Scion fits into this. Is there even a Kingdom that his race/species could fit under?

        • Biologically a copy of human. Just with weird dimensional folding. Or, at least, that’s what the Avatar is.

          And Dominion is good. Better than my “Snare” suggestion.

          Although- honestly- her ACTUAL name- Taylor (hehe, very punny, Wildbow) is a viable cape name at this point.

    • If I had to guess, Taylor can now control every animal life form, and potentially other kingdoms, I’m not sure yet. She was a pretty high master before, like Regent but going for quantity over quality. Now that I think about it, seeing how Regent and Grue’s powers would work on Taylor would be cool, except Wildbow wrote both of them out of thr damn story.

      As for names, aside from the gender connotations, King would have been good (as in the chess piece). Queen might suffice, but if Brockton Bay was still a thing and the Usiders still ruled it, then as a villain Despot would work better.

    • Taylor already has an apt and suitably badass name – Queen Administrator, so if anything i would vote for that.
      Then again names dont really matter anymore, no secret identity left to protect, no media left to promote the name.
      Also im guessing her name doesnt matter to other parahumans much anymore, Its not like anyone is going to call “hey Skitter/Weaver/Taylor/Spy want to go get a coffee” more like they are going to call her “oh shit, run for your lives”

  12. Pretty sure she’s not fully in control of her body because Panacea cut out the self-protection parts. She’s within her own range, her power usurped control of her body, so she now has to control herself at one remove (and she’s lost a lot of precision with her power, so she can’t control herself that well). And of course her passenger, which is capable of at least partially independent action, has access to her body.

    • But her shard is also missing a bunch of “how to control humans” knowledge that It would have normally picked up during a trigger event or through Taylor’s experiences. This more than anything is probably why her control over people seems like a bit of a mess.

      • -my thoughts exactly
        I don’t think we’re reading this from Taylor’s perspective anymore, maybe haven’t been for a while now. I think the ‘I’ in this story is now Taylor’s passenger, shard, whatever, and the actions she credits to her passenger are actually those made by Taylor, trapped in her own body. It has the same memories and such, but none of the linked skills or emotional responses – they’re distant because they’re felt by Taylor, who is under Weaver(passenger)’s control.

        • It’s not really that, it’s more that Taylor doesn’t have any protection from her own shards power at this point. So she’s both controlling and being controlled by her shard, which is a real problem when the shard doesn’t really know how to control a person in the first place. And that’s not even getting into possible feedback loops in commands.

          Thankfully as we saw over the course of the story, with her shards control over bugs while Taylor was incapable of using her power, the shard will learn this control given time and experience.

          Sadly, Taylor and the human race simply don’t have the time for the shard to learn how to do this stuff properly, so things are going to be a bit of a mess.

  13. Hi all. Been reading Worm for a long time now (caught up around leviathon) but never posted before. Let me start by saying well done Wildbow. Your story and writing style are truly amazing. I always look forward to sun and fri nights and have never been disappointed. As much as i hate it, i know that Worm does have to end somewhere and i am looking forward to the way you wrap it all up. I will definitely follow your future endeavors and i hope that you publish Worm as a hard copy(ies) so that i can be proud to have it on my shelf.

    The community here in the comments section is wonderful. I have never seen a more active, insightful, and funny group of fans. Reading the comments bring me almost as much pleasure as the story itself and never fails to point out the little things i missed and give me new insights and new ways of looking at the story. So a big thank you to all of the people who post comments here. It is a testament to Wildbows writing that he can engage and delight so many different people and keep them engaged for so long.

    I probably dont deserve it, but I will be awaiting my formal welcome from the communities self appointed ambassador and madman…. Love your insane welcomes!

    • Pardon the delay. I had to step out momentarily. It was time to have an epic dance-off rematch with Stephen Hawking. I lost. Again.

      I put the “ass” in ambassador, but I wouldn’t say I’m a self-appointed madman at this point. Besides, the darn story’s trying to one-up me on that, too. Taylor just grabbed the green and white mushroom, as she’s become a person-enslaving, emotionless, ass-kicking, lass licking, jabroni-beating, pie-eating, stumbling, mumbling, Grue fucking, Marquis ducking, ridin’, stridin’, wearing a jetpack glidin’ daughter of a bitch.

      As for welcomes, if you think you don’t deserve one, then you’re in quite the pickle, Pikel. And IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII, will always welcooooooome, youuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!

      So, great, now you get to imagine Whitney Houston involved in this. Do you feel lucky, punk? Because if she’s here, you have to ask yourself one question…graverobbing or necromancy? Well? How’d I do it, punk?

      Trick question, it was all smoke and mirrors. As Leslie Vernon once said, a lot of what we do is CGI. Granted, he was more of a slasher villain and I’m just an insane guy in a mask who sometimes kills horny drunk teenagers, but I think it works both ways, like a Thai stripper named Boom Boom. (S)he is quite the groundpounder, you understand.

      And having your ass pounded into submission by a woman is something both Bangkok and this story has in common. There’s also the crazy guy who meets your eye, says hello, and just makes you feel awkward whenever you walk in, but that’s me in this instance.

      Just like Taylor at this point, you might be a little stumped. You weren’t before I showed up, but give me a hand; I sure know how to leave you facepalming and unable to put your finger on just what the hell went wrong in your life to attract my attention.

      Worm. Worm went wrong. And then everything went wrong. And then you didn’t trigger.

      I said you were in a pickle, Pikel, and no matter how cucumbersome this welcome got, I’m glad you got through it and are ready to join your appleause to ours in enjoyment of this story. Welcome, Pikel, to the comments section.

  14. So what’s our number 1 draft pick for Capes she should Control? Personally, I think which ever cape gives the Yang Ban power would be my first port of call. Not sure how the two would interact… but I’m hoping it would turn each cape she connects to into a broadcast tower for more capes, like the Relay Bugs.

    • The yangban keeps the very useful members ( Null powersharer, the power augment or etc) away from the combat zones and, thus, well beyond Taylor’s range.

      • Unless she gets Doormaker in her range… or maybe asks nicely. Would anyone really mourn Taylor going all Pokemon Master on the Yangban? Especially if she gave the unwilling recruits back.

        • The last interlude showed that not all powers work through portals. Though admittedly when she only controlled bugs Taylor could do it through the gates and the power is theoretically the same. We’ll have to wait and see.

      • Ooh. Sveta would probably be happy about the prospect of someone controlling her tentacles, but would she be willing to give up her independence for it? I have my doubts.

        However if Taylor gets to the point where she can actually reprogram shards, starting with her own, perhaps, and have the effect remain outside of her area of effect, well, that could be… interesting.

        • It’s mostly a question of trust, for instance, Bitch clearly trusts her sufficiently that she’s willing to risk it.

          • Yeah, if you don’t trust Taylor totally, she is now just terrifying. Remember back when Taylor was disturbed by Regent being able to control Imp? Not to mention she now has a very evil sounding power. And in-universe the fears she would be corrupted by it. And they don’t know if she isn’t already insane.

      • Sveta is dead.

        Being a Case-53 essentially alone in a collapsed laboratory with an angry Scion will do that, doncha know.

  15. Because not everyone got to see, I want to extend an especially big thank you to recent donators, Michael S in particular. Very much appreciated, and it made my month.

    As we speed towards Worm’s ending, I’m having to start thinking about a limit – only so many weeks and quite a few incentive chapters to offer. That in mind, I’m probably going to stop offering the rewards after a week or so, so I don’t get trapped in an endless stream of epilogue chapters. I will keep track of totals and try to maintain an open dialogue so you guys feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

    One thing I’ve been thinking about is possibly maybe doing Worm side-stories (or backstory) for characters you guys might be curious about, if the post-Worm work doesn’t have interludes (or maybe as a secondary option if it does). Give you guys your Worm fix in another fashion.

    Anyways, wanted to cover that stuff in a fairly visible place. As always, thank you for reading and thank you for your support. Let me say hi to the people who’ve just started visiting from Reddit, and thank you to the readers who’ve been piping up about Worm in places like Reddit or Facebook.

    Expect a chapter on Thursday, barring exceptional circumstance.

    • I was thinking of offering you a donation for bonus chapters on your next project, as a way to encourage you to actually do a next project. That would be up to you, of course, but that might relieve some of the current pressure … at the cost of future obligations.

    • “One thing I’ve been thinking about is possibly maybe doing Worm side-stories (or backstory) for characters you guys might be curious about, if the post-Worm work doesn’t have interludes (or maybe as a secondary option if it does). Give you guys your Worm fix in another fashion.”
      This sounds like an excellent idea. I heartily approve, and wish I could remember some of the characters/organizations/etc whose histories or whatnot I’d like to hear.

      • Oh, I have a laundry list of people I want to know what happened to, or how they’ll do after the end.

        Vista, Riley, Dinah, Ballistic Marissa and Genesis, Danny, Emma, Newter, Aidan, Eli, Skitter’s minions, WagTheDog, Glory Girl, Sveta and Weld, the ward with the glasses that had pen, peper and dice ready…

        But most importantly I want to know what happened to Duke!
        Duke! You cannot be dead! Duuuuuuke!
        *throws a tantrum*

        • Who’s Duke?

          Personally I really want to know what Assault is doing/how he is coping. He was built as this reasonably major confrontation (former super villain with mid-high power level who specialised in breaking out other dangerous super villains, come on!) out of his misguided need for revenge but then nothing came out of it.

        • Duke’s an old dog. I would be surprised if he lived to see Scion go nutso.

          And yeah, it’s easier to list the folks we wouldn’t care to see an epilogue for than the ones we would. But a prologue? That’s a more limited list.

  16. …Fuck.

    So I was right that Panacea’s tinkering had an effect similar to Ingenue’s power: powerup one part, weaken the rest.

    Lisa, I understand you’re upset at what happened to your best friend but man can you be a bitch sometime. Was it really necessary to whale on Amy? I did appreciate her pointing out Taylor’s penchant for manipulation and offering choices that aren’t really choices. Even though it was a sad scene.

    Marquis continues to be awesome every time he appears. And wait, did Lung just come back to rescue him? Dawwwww.

    Bitch willingly stepping inside Taylor’s range was both sweet and horrifying.

    And,hmm, hate to say it, but I’m pretty sure Taylor’s going to die now. :(.

    • Think about how at the beginning of the story Bitch hit her, and now she trusts Taylor so completely that she is willing to give her control of her body if asked.
      Lisa has a mask herself. When she is hurt she likes to lash out and hurt people, and the closest thing she has to a sister just did that to herself. So I can cut her some slack since she is in pain, and it is probably easier to blame Panacea than Taylor.

      • Well. Amy did do it, let’s not forget. There wasn’t even a “No uts too dangerous. You sir are mad!” Before she was talked into it.. Do irreversible brain surgery that’ll drive you insane. Okay, sure, whateva!

        • Taylor got off easy from Tattletale. I imagine Lisa could probably spend an entire arc picking at Taylor’s flaws.

          • What, only Taylor’s flaws? Give her her own book and Tattletale could pick apart the flaws of everyone in the story, a hundred thousand words at a time.

  17. So we need to add a HSQ to the tropes page with:
    1. Leviathan’s attack- when we realized how fucking powerful they were and that deaths will happen.
    2. When she murdered motherfucking Alexandria.
    3. When she became what I would call an absolute in the wormverse. Nothing can affect Siberian, nothing affects Grayboy’s fields, moves anything Clockblocker touches, Flechette’s arrow got through anything, and now nothing escapes her control.

      • You know what this means, don’t you? She takes over everyone who gets close, so now she can’t consensual sex now unless someone is outside that range. Nobody’s dick is that long, not even Long Dick Johnson, and he had a fucking long dick, thus the name.

        • Unless they have power immunity or somesuch. Wonder how many of those are left.. Hatchet Face is gone (and was horrible), Eidolon is gone (and was balding). Taylor’s amorous prospects are indeed looking downright gruesome.

          • Stupid Foil for killing the King/Hatchet Face hybrid.

            …What? Apparently King was the personification of “tall, blonde and handsome”.

            • Depends on your definitions.

              And I suppose Grue could use his power to turn hers off, at least partly, and to gain it, at least partially. So they would be mutually in control of each other, which should balance out if neither tries to stop the other from controlling him/herself.

        • Sure, like possibly being someone who can turn the tide against Scion who isn’t him. Or maye being a bump in the road to one of his schemes, or maybe hes using the fact she might be dangerous as a pretense to get control of her.

          Teacher is a shifty-eyed bullshit artist so let’s not take for granted that his fears are genuine.

        • Maybe it’s not that he’s scared of Taylor, maybe he’s honestly trying to find someone to help her. If anyone could figure out how to put Taylor back together it’d be Contessa.

          Not saying for a second that I think this is Teacher’s angle, but I feel like it’s worth keeping just what Contessa’s power is capable of in mind.

      • Relay bugs, other mind controllers with greater range, telekinetics and other capes who can bring people inside her range. Then nab that Thanda cape and make sure everybody is locked within her 16 ft range. Etc etc.

        Taylor is a master munchkin after all.

  18. Regent: I’m up next! I’d die for a power like that.
    *sobs for a moment*
    I loved this. Showed off exactly why Marquis used to run BB (and is my favorite) and also saw Taylor being punished for her particular form of conflict resolution. This was eerie and only grew more unsettling as the chapter went on.
    Sidenote : re: Contessa seeing Taylor : the chick is filthy, in a torn costume, with only one arm. If that isn’t something that’d throw you off, I don’t know what is.

  19. More than ever, this makes me want to see more about Sleeper. If the tidbits we’ve gotten about him mean what I think they do, I think the new-and-improved-and-broken Taylor would make a very interesting comparison or even interaction.

    • I’m curious. Would you be willing to share your conclusions? Because from the tidbits we got the only things I can say about Sleeper is that he sleeps/is dormant a lot, people don’t seem to really understand him and he can take control of a world by himself.

        • I think that’s a bit of a misunderstanding. Later, I believe in 29.9, Taylor comments that people have migrated to Earth Zayin but due to the Sleeper’s presence they can’t be helped and must fend for themselves. So the Earth is still there.

          Though my completely unsupported theory is that he makes his dreams manifest in reality. Because it would be cool.

          • “Dreams manifesting in reality” sounds a lot like Genesis’ power. Was Sleeper a Cauldron cape too? (he’d have a Deus formula, possibly as a Case 53)

  20. “Walking away from the people I cared about, feeling horrible about it, knowing it was the best thing in the end. […] I was altering something biological and mental.”
    That moment when I realize that whole section applies equally to Taylor and Amy.
    Oh, Administrator…

  21. Yikes. By the looks of it, Taylor’s new power isn’t just a “body puppeteer” deal, it’s a full-on merging of minds – only it seems like it’s one-sided, the people she’s controlling don’t feed back into Taylor so much while she totally subsumes them. Now I’m morbidly curious as to what it feels like for the people on the receiving end – no wonder Panacea freaked the fuck out.

    • Maybe it’s something like the “mirror in front of mirror” effect: perpetuating feedback. Seeing Amy through Taylor through Amy throug- anywho, I’m sure that would be sufficiently horrifying for the living Passenger she has become.

  22. DM: “You’re sure sure you want to do this?”
    Taylor: “Yeah, why not? Only other S-class mind controller is the Simurgh right? I get something bird or angel themed when the mutations kick in.. maybe butterfly wings, or a bunch of iridescent dragonfly wings.”
    DM: “Well, actually, the last human who had powers like these was more like a giant slug.”
    Taylor turns head, throws dice reflexively, “Wait, what?”
    DM: “Bug-slug it is!”

    Supposing they all live through this, is anyone really gonna believe that Taylor took out Alexandria with bugs? Or that the Protectorate really had any say in letting her play heroine?

      • Took me until you explained it to realize he meant Dungeon Master. Then again, I only waited about 15 seconds before going onto the next comments.

    • That would actually be pretty interesting. I’d be more than happy to see an interlude/epilogue with various historians giving their take on her and the various propaganda pieces her existance almost necessitates.

      • That would be absolutely fascinating. I would love to see interviews too.

        Tattletale would lie through her teeth and at the same time reveal the most. Grue would focus singlemindedly on the work aspects of her personality. Imp would sympathize with her human side, but not really understand her. And Bitch. Bitch would know her perfectly. But she would never be able to put it in a manner that other people would listen to.

  23. I listened to “Dearly Beloved’ – by Kaoru Wada while reading the end of this.

    I cried.

    Might I make a request? I don’t have any money, but I would like to see an idealistic kid who wants to be a superhero. A kid, maybe a little shy, maybe like Taylor. Who, for his or her first day of school, proudly displays an ‘Undersiders: the Golden Years’ lunchbox. Or something like that, in echo…

    There are many things I would love to see. Weaver’s ‘wiki’ entry. Heck- the Undersiders’ wiki entry. Many stories, many characters that we love.

    I see that… however this ends Taylor won’t be getting an ending we would wish on someone we have come to know. To understand. Even love, a little.

    I don’t think it will be only tears.

    Perhapse that sad fool, Contessta, discovers that she can show faith in the midst of uncertinty, and dosen’t kill our heroine. Perhapse Weaver, Skitter, Taylor, is killed after showing Scion that he is not alone, and Scion heals her. Perhapse Weaver will give Scion pause, and he will look into her mind and find a kindred spirit. So many things. Perhapse.

    But things will never be the same.

    Wildbow. I got involved in this late in the game. But I enjoyed it. I want to see you get this made into a series of movies and become a worldwide sensation. You deserve a tv series and comic books and action figures. You deserve it.

    Good luck, make us weep. If you must. But please, make us laugh as well… Give us reason to feel joy in an ending.

    Until then,


    • This isn’t really the story for being made laugh, actually. That’s elsewhere.

      And I wouldn’t get your hopes up on having something nice and light show up. In this story, people just Kill the Lights youtube.com/watch?v=HzhLj8UMOkE

      • Mm. However, I don’t think that all those hopes are doomed to a Shallow Grave. Don’t be too Blue- just because this story spends a lot of time In The Dark, even verging on a Horror Show, I’m sure the ending will be To Die For.
        And in the meantime, Wildbow keeps us on Pins And Needles with the cliffhangers.

    • A television show and stuff would be fitting for Worm. I’d definitely watch it, even knowing how it would end.

      And then I would complain about the changes online.

  24. I’m equally enthusiastic and curious to see how this develops further, and opposed to seeing this end. If that makes any sense at all.

    What a wonderful story. Thanks Wildbow.

    I don’t have a paypal account, I don’t trust them with my money. Is there any other way I could donate? (I live in Europe..)

      • I’ve been sending my sister gifts, she lives in a different country in Europe. More than half of them misteriously disappeared. I have as little trust of paypal as of postal services…

        I was thinking about transfering money through online banking but I don’t have enough information for that. In the first screen it wants a bankaccountnumber and name, and it then mentions that it will need additional information aftewards. I won’t find out what information until I fill in the acc. no and name. You could e-mail me that information unless you are not comfortable about that (which I would totally understand.)

        Alternatively, will you eventually publish this series? Because if you do, then I’ll pay my ‘donation’ by just buying the books for everyone I know 😉

        • There’s the Moneygram option. But it actually costs a bit to buy one to send. i’ll let the rest of you loyal readers google that. Don’t know how it works outside the UK though.

          Again, Not too brilliant an option though.

  25. Pretty frightening, but I’m seeing an awful lot of similarity to Regent’s power, which wasn’t particularly above the curve. Scion has little cause to be more afraid of the new Skitter than the old.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting applications of her new power, but from a writing standpoint, I don’t see why her having mediocre control over other people’s powers is especially different from her having a simple leadership position. If it were precise control, that’d be one thing. She could pull off power combos that individuals simply couldn’t. If it were larger range, that’d be one thing. She could gather up a bunch of capes who would be reluctant to work together and make something happen. If she had intuitive understanding of the shards, that’d be one thing. She could improve on individuals’ ability use and apply things more creatively.

    With all of those things expressly denied to her in this chapter, she seems like a strict downgrade of Glaistig Uaine’s power, in an earthbound, crippled body.

    The one ray of hope I see for this power being unique in any interesting way is the mind-mingling thing. She lacks the ability to communicate in any conventional way, but if she can use her power to communicate her motives and tactics precisely, then maybe nothing else really matters? If she can people to trust her, like Rachel did here, then a lot of the problems she’s been crying about since the beginning of the story could be overcome.

    • She doesn’t control *shards*. She controls *life*. All of it. She was effecting their bodies. Their feelings.

      She may not be able to control the Zion Entity. But the Avatar? THAT she might be able to take. Either to meld her mind into it and… calm it? Talk to it?

      Or control it more directly. Force it to attack itself? Sever its bond to the Entity?

      All kind of possible options here. Don’t know if any of them will work. Or even CAN work. But it’s not just shard control. It’s a whole lot deeper than that.

  26. What if her range ends up growing and her control over self comes back over time? Don’t know if it might happen, but if it does then Taylor only gets more scarier.

    • One thing to consider about her control over herself is that…well, it’s basically gone. She can move because her power lets her control herself, but if it wasn’t for that she’d have nothing.

      She should avoid power-nullifiers from now on.

      • Pretty sure a power nullifier would restore her normal self-control. It’s her power stopping her from controlling herself normally.

        • I don’t think we’ll know for sure unless Grue sticks her in darkness or Bonesaw makes another Hatchet Face clone or something.

  27. Imagine for a moment you’re the notably uncreative Zion. You put safeguards in all the shards just to preserve the testing environment/make sure the hosts actually survived carrying them. Now one of them, and a big one, no less, has taken it upon themselves to remove all the safeguards you put in place. This isn’t good. Especially if the conjecture is correct and he won’t be able to do anything to her/runs the risk of being suborned by Taylor.

    So much for nigh-omnipotence.

  28. Oh, this is good. We finally get to see how stuff that was hinted at since… uh, since the very first fight skitter was in pan out.

    She always was annoyed by people being dumb users and not doing what the admin thought they should do. Now she has direct access to the users themselves, that’s the dream of every admin ever. The scary devil monastery should take her as mascot or something.

    I was actually hoping for something more deus ex machina actually, after so many denied ones I thought it would have been an unexpected surprise.

    Instead we see a lot of stuff finally coming to a resolution, and something possibly coming to. And we still have enough hints around to wonder, ah, Wildbow is spoiling me 🙂

    Oh, and the main characters reacting in a very human way, and exactly how you expected them to, it’s a really nice touch. IMO Wildbow got better by a large margin in characterization since she started.

    The admin shard can not only take control of a human, but analyze the power he possesses and his memories. This explains how she knew so much about the bugs she controlled.
    And it still does not confirm or deny she uses other brains for actual processing, even if there are some hints in that direction now.
    (I -am- familiar with the arguments against that theory, and I find them extremely weak btw)

    Storywise there are several interesting things up in the air. The relay bugs, the Smurf’s airgun, Noelle having a “core” (does Taylor have one too now? Will she become Lolth?), a lot of possible synergies… and most importantly Scion making a human brain for himself.

    Eh, he crippled the shard that could control human brains right? Even if the shardbearer got near it would only have 4.5m range, plenty of time to kill it.
    It’s not like there’s a perfect precog around that, while not being able to scry scion itself, -can- scry other people and what will happen to them.
    And it’s not like it built an inertial dampener to telekine the admin shardbearer around, dodgin Scion attacks right?

    • Why would Taylor have a “core”? That was where Echidna was pulling the matter to fuel the regeneration from. Taylor didn’t gett regeneration or anything like that.

      And yeah, Simurgh is probably gliding over to Taylor as we comment.

      • Because she was being invaded by her shard, and the parallel with the endbringers mostly.
        One is a poor reference pool, but still I’m curious.

        • The Endbringers aren’t remotely para/human, and Echidna was a unique happenstance caused by a number of factors working together to amplify the physical modification that the Eden shards sometimes have. Also, Echidna’s core was tied directly to one of her major powers (the regeneration); Taylor has no such power, nor is there any reason to think she gained one.

    • Re: this being foreshadowed for the entire story: Her line “I almost wondered if I’d had a second trigger event, if I was controlling them, the image was so bizarre.” from her being outed as Skitter becomes quite chilling on a second (well, nth at this point) read.

  29. Having a pet endbringer makes you to scary to live.

    Contessa is looking at a photo of Weaver sitting on Scions shoulders xD.

        • Now that I think of it did Clockblocker see the Echidna Taylors smiling?

          Or does Taylor really have that mad a smile^^.

          • It’s a reference to the chapter where Dragon and Defiant out Taylor as Skitter. Despite being trapped, surrounded and outnumbered Skitter smiles and Clockblocker almost craps himself.

            • Yeah, but in my eyes this was always a kind of sad smile.. not the “I have you now Mr. Bond”.
              mmh rereading it I guess I misinterpreted that scene, but then why use smile and not grin.

              • I always took it to mean that when ever the Wards, or anyone else was fighting her, she was probably smiling while kicking their asses. He saw her smile, and remembered LOTS of bugs.

              • @Tom_D: Taylor wore a face-covering mask for her whole career as Skitter. And as Weaver, for that matter.

                @dpara: Looking up the actual text again:

                It dawned on me. Defiant and Dragon were playing it safe because they thought I might have a trick up my sleeve, like I had at the fundraiser. I’d disabled Sere, despite the fact that he was supposed to counter my power, and I hadn’t even made a big deal of it. They knew what I’d done to Echidna, and several other events besides.

                They were worried I’d pull something.

                Defiant had a grasp on my powers, Dragon had a grasp on me as a person, and they’d gauged that I wasn’t a risk to the others in the room. Which, if I was being honest with myself, I wasn’t. They had the upper hand, they lost nothing by letting this play out, and so they weren’t making a move. They’d talk me down, so to speak, and if I did something, they’d use one of their gadgets or tricks to counter my play.

                One of the worst possible things had just happened to me, with my secret identity becoming public knowledge, and here I was, unarmed without a single idea on how to get out of this… and the good guys were playing it safe. I smiled; I couldn’t help it.

                …I can see why you might argue that Taylor’s smile would be sad, but I think “amused” is much more likely. Not laugh-out-loud amused – the joke isn’t that funny – but something like a one-sided wry smirk would seem entirely plausible.

                Or it might be a full-out grin. Hey, we only have Taylor’s word for it – she might not have been narrating very precisely.

              • When you realize that the enemy that has you outnumbered, outgunned, and surrounded isn’t making a move because they’re afraid of you… that’s a really heady feeling.

  30. I caught up to Worm two days ago and was hit with the big cliffhanger. And now here it is. And all I have to say is…
    …Goddamnit Wildbow.
    Once again you’ve successfully surprised me.
    Once again, you’ve successfully pulled off a big Wham Moment.
    Once again, you’ve left me craving for the next update.

    Once again, you’ve proven yourself to be a god-tier writer.
    Thank you for this wonderful, wonderful story.

    I don’t think many people expected it would turn out like this. I mean, yeah, a lot of people kinda figured Taylor would get People Powers, but not at quite this cost. Passenger getting a lot more influence on her? Everyone in fear of her? Being forced to cut ties, yet again? Losing the ability to speak normally?

    Please see the first part of this comment again for my thoughts.

    • *points* ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

      You have to wait a mere two days and then get hit with your first of these cliffhangers. You know, I’ve heard that some of us from near the beginning go mad. Wouldn’t know any of those myself. I’ve been this way. Personally, I suspect somebody’s comments may have contributed to the entire group having a slightly more distant relationship with reality. No clue who it might be, but I’m leaning toward Wildbow. Oh Wildbow, you so crazy.

      But don’t fret. We, the proud and stalwart members of the comments section, are all here for you. We’ll stick to you like white on rice. Like jazz to a car (I don’t expect you to get that one). Like Wildbow to a a decision to end updates with cliffhangers.

      We’ll enfold you in our embrace, like how a giant mutant octopus hugs all its favorite fishes/Japanese women/furry anthropomorphic wolves.

      Once again, we wait.
      Once again, we ramble inanely.
      Once again, ultima333, I welcome someone to the comments section.

      • > You know, I’ve heard that some of us from near the beginning go mad. Wouldn’t know any of those myself.

        Oh, yeah, the voices in my head sometimes say that too.
        Good thing we’re both sane then… but I’m not really sure about Wildbow, can boars actually get insane?
        Or if they do, is it any different from their usual attitude of solving problems by charging snout-first into them and/or trying to gore things?

  31. For everyone now certain that Taylor is going to die, I’d like to remind you that she’s narrating the story in first person.

    Obviously, in a universe with powers like Glaistig Ulaine, there are ways around that, but I suspect she’s going to live in some fashion.

    I’m not sure we have enough information to really figure out Taylor’s plan to use her new abilities, and we have no good way of working out how they will affect Endbringers or Scion, but I can certainly think of some pretty amazing combos of para humans who could all fit in a 32 foot diameter sphere…

    • Narrators have died in other stories. MId-bok/film nonetheless! Besides we know that Worm will conclude with third-person epilogues in interlude-style. Taylor can die, or lay dying or, to be cliché, mutter how everything is becoming dark in the last “proper” chapter of Worm. Then Lisa, Brian, Dragon etc narrate the aftermath.

        • No, Dinah said that no matter the other variables Taylor would be there at the End of the World and she would be changed. Taylor has been/is ( depending on when you think the EotW started) at the EotW and now she has changed. There. The prophecy is fulfilled. What happens next is up in the air.

    • What AMR said. There are interludes and we even had two arcs that were from the point of view of other characters.

      That said, I’m truly hoping Taylor doesn’t die, but this is the Wormverse. There are no true happy endings.

      • Taylor deserves a moderately happy ending, at least, though. She actually deserves a lot more, but I’m not going to be getting my hopes up.

        • She deserves any consequences her actions bring.

          On the one hand, she’s been working tirelessly for the past two years to prepare a defence against the return of Jask Clash and whatever brings about the End of the World. She’s been doing good, and for good reasons. Her efforts should be acknowledged, narratively speaking.

          On the other hand, she makes reckless decisions, without telling anyone, that tend to screw herself and other people over. These, combined with her personality, isolate her from her teammates. Her effectiveness is balanced out by her uncooperative nature.

          Taylor will get what she wants, a safe Earth. But she’ll end up alone, probably dying so.

  32. My goodness… I love this story. 🙂

    Part of me wishes I could’ve started it up later then I did so I don’t have to wait for the end. I loved this chapter though.

  33. Sadly I don’t see Taylor ever getting to just hang with her friends when this is all over. Hell, I’m not too sure a lot of people will properly appreciate all she sacrificed when this is all over.

    • But…but we have eye-witnesses in the form of a mind-games player extraordinaire, a ruthless gangleader and his underlings, a psychotic dragon-man, a girl who mind-raped her sister and voluntarily asked to be locked up and one of the greates boogeymen of the parahuman world. Why should people doubt them? 🙂 .

    • honestly?

      considering wormverse nature, Taylor (if she survived) has high probability to end up being another list of S-Class Threat, probably on the same line with Sleeper… (little we know of him/her)

      So, i wouldn’t be surprised if second iteration of wormverse, starts with people skedaddling whenever the new Taylor drop-by to their neighborhood

  34. Here’s a horrifying thought:
    Taylor grabs Jack Slash. Coerces or convinces Glaistig Uaine to release Jack from the time loop using Glaistig’s version of Gray Boy. Uses Jack’s communication ability, with or without block removal, to extend her power. With Taylor + Jack we have command and communication. Possible further additions:
    Contessa for tactics.
    Glaistig Uaine so that fallen capes can still be used, plus a fu**load of current power.
    Panacea or Bonesaw for medical.
    Frankly, the list goes on and on. Taylor is now effectively the seed of a new Worm-like entity. No wonder Teacher is scared.

    • Unless I misinterpreted what GB told Purity, not even Gray Boy can cancel the time wells. The most he can do is slow/speed the loop. So, no biscuit.

        • Not sure I’m following you. Once you’re in the loop you can’t get out unless you’re Scion. Even Foil and her überhax power could only beat Gray Boy’s self-looping immortality but bounced against the grey zone of the time wells.

          • That explanation doesn’t make any sense, as Foil herself was caught in a time loop, yet was still around to make Canary feel awkward after Scion. To quote 26.b:

            Foil’s screams continued, and were soon joined by Jack’s, as Gray Boy started using his knife, reaching within the field.
            Up until the moment Foil, still screaming, using her augmented sense of timing to measure the length of each scream, stepped around the monochrome field he’d cast just in front of her. She threw a handful of darts through the Siberian and Gray Boy’s head as his back was turned.
            The Siberian flickered out of existence as Gray Boy collapsed.
            Neither reappeared, healthy or otherwise.

            And GB’s loops don’t vanish when he dies, as evidenced by something he said as well as Jack still being looped while chatting to Scion.

            • Please not this again. Foil was NEVER caught in the loop. She was just behind it, faking the looped screams with her enhanced sense of timing ( one of her many secondary powers as noted in her interlude) to lull GB in a false sense of security. You may notice a scene before that where Foil throws her darts and they bounce against an area of looped air.

              • That makes sense, but it also makes things more boring. My theory was that she measured how long each loop was using her uberstopwatch, then made her great escape in the short gap when she was able to react but before the loop reset, kinda like how Jack managed to talk to Scion.

                This conversation makes me ask how the fields work in the first place, though. Not the looped time bit, but how he sets them up in the first place. Does he shoot them out of himself like Grue’s darkness before they settle in place, do they just blink into existence, do they have to be within line of sight or a certain radius, and if so, how the hell did he miss Foil in the first place?

                Now that I think about it, I’m glad there was only one Gray Boy clone, and that he’s dead now.

              • The only thing we know about the mechanics of his power is that people believed he needed line of sight to make it work, hence the standard tactic being to obscure his view up until he revealed he only needed it to aim ACCURATELY. Hence all those random spots of empty grey space filled with looped air.

              • After reading over 16.b again scrutinizing it, I can’t help but think Gray Boy is an idiot. He was aiming for Foil and gauged his “hit” based on her repetitive screaming. Given that GB can adjust the length of his loops, Foil either had to be pretty lucky to be screaming at the right length of the field that missed, or actually caught in one in order to know the reset time of the loop. I’m willing to accept this as a grey area though, as GB could have used the exact same reset times for each of his generic offensive loops.
                The real problem, though, is that I can’t see the reason Foil would scream in the first place. When GB froze Jack, Jack was silent until GB used the knife on him. Even if she was incapacitated, Foil wasn’t being actively harmed the moment she was frozen unless coincidence. GB should have known this, and therefore divined that Foil was faking being hit. Also, why didn’t he just freeze the whole freakin’ alley on the other side of the bugs? He clearly doesn’t care about the collateral damage of his power, so why not just carpet time-bomb his enemies?

                There are a few more instances of Fridge Logic involving Gray Boy’s power specifically, so I’m just going to paraphrase Grue and say that I freaking hate people that mess with time and therefore will never include a person like that in anything I write aside from the character adjusting his/her watch.

  35. This was not the instant total power-up many were expecting. It was more of a power-sideways than a power-up.

    Taylor lost fine-control of both her power and herself, she lost most of her range and her ability to control smaller insects. She gained the ability to control parahumans (or humans or larger animals).

    Her power works differently. Insects did not suddenly stop moving when they came into her range like people now seem to do. (Her trying to tell Panacea to stop might be responsible for that bit)

    16 feet of controlling people with powers very badly doesn’t seem like much. It doesn’t seem like enough. So what can be done to improve Taylor’s ability from here on?

    She could learn better control. It took her month to be able to speak and hear through her swarm the first time around. They don’t have months.

    If the repeater bugs that Panacea made are still around and still compatible with her current powers that would be one way to extend her range.

    Interesting things might come from certain synergy effects. If using different powers in concert might create an effect, it might be worse it.

    On a positive side we now know what the little seer meant with “You will be there but you will be different”. One armed, half-mad and with a strange new power.

    I wonder if there are any visible clues to her transformation. Antennas growing out of her head or other mutations?

    I also wonder if Panacea was really done with her operation or if Taylor stopped her before she could finish the job properly.

  36. You know, everyone here seems to focus on the control aspect of the power, but it seems to me there’s another, even more interesting part: the melding of minds. Taylor feels what the others feel. Perhaps that even goes in both directions.

    Imagine what she could do by linking several thinker minds. Contessa, Dinah and Tattletale. Glaistig Uaine and Chevalier’s power sight.

    • Taylor’s power always, from the start, gave her a full informational briefing on anything and everything she controlled. It’s the main thinker aspect of her power that no-one outside the Undersiders had a clue was there.

      …and I think that means that she will know the powers of everyone she meets better than they themselves do. Which, of course, gives one hope.

      • Not exactly. It didn’t give her a full briefing on bugs Panacea had edited; it seemed to be restricted to natural bugs, as if her power had scanned the world and built itself an encyclopedia. She always got input, of course, just not an intuitive understanding.

        • Not entirely correct. Taylor had some idea of what the bugs could do, but she noted that she didn’t know what species of spiders she was using on Lung, although she got the general idea. That’s the opposite of that your idea would imply.

          • No, actually, that’s what I meant. She was given the information, not the words. Names of species aren’t actually a part of the creature’s physiology, and what her power gave her was the creature’s actual physiology.

            • I’m not sure how “full” it was, though. I got the impression that she knew the gist on the bugs–venomous? how deadly? how big? how strong? etc?–but most of the details were absent.

              I suppose that either one is possible, though.

      • That’s an interesting thought. Since the limits on what a parahuman can do appear to be confined to their own brain, I wonder if those limits apply if being controlled from a remote brain without those limits applied. Maybe she could ignore things like the Manton effect in this manner?

    • Well, we know from Scion’s interlude that Taylor’s shard was the last shard he sent to Earth. Apparently because he needed it to modify and distribute other shards. When he manifested on Earth as Scion, he never fixed any shards that I saw, only destroyed some that had not yet found hosts that he saw coming to Earth in a damaged state.

      I don’t think Scion CAN fix shards, because that ability is held in Taylor’s shard.

      I’ll let others take that and run with it 🙂

      • Of course, if Taylor’s shard is damaged enough, by trying to replicate it Zion might have crippled himself…

        • The below quote indicates Scion aimed a shard at Danny Hebert. Shards have leeway in who they choose though, and apparently the administrator shard liked Taylor trapped in a locker more than Danny getting drunk.

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

          In a haste to decide matters before it enters the stratosphere of that barren planet, the entity casts it off to a similar location as the future-sight ability. A similar time, thirty-one revolutions from now. The destination is a male, thin, in the company of strong males and females, drinking.”

  37. Do the shards (passengers?) have autonomy separate from Scion/Eden? The line where Taylor realizes her leg moved without her conscious directive would seem to corroborate that. Maybe that’s already been said and I missed it.

    • I believe that’s because her body is inside the range (duh) and so her passenger is controlling it. It’s a borderline “And I must Scream” situation.

      • I agree, but does the passenger have intelligence, or does it act mechanically? I remember speculation by bonesaw or tattletale that parahumans were connected to their passenger by the thinnest of threads, and that connection allowed the processing and energy production that allowed powers to function. My question is, do the passengers, even being splinters of a former whole, have some volition or intelligence they exert on their human? Skitter mentioned that shadow stalker became markedly more aggressive after her trigger. Skitter saw herself performing maneuvers in the video Glen showed her that she never consciously used. It was at least implied that jack slash survived as long as he did because he was “in sync” with his passenger. Echidna gave herself completely over to her passenger when pressed by eidolon. If the passengers are responsible for these actions, does this mean they have some degree of sentience? And if they do, how does that even make sense, seeing as the entities are conglomerations of these shards? Like I said before, maybe I’ve missed a critical info-dump and I’m way off track.

        • Maybe not every passenger is, but some are at least somewhat intelligent. See Noelle’s, (presumably) the endbringers’ and the fairy queen’s ghosts.

          • I don’t think the Endbringers have shards, unless somehow they’re extensions of Eidolon’s? Actually, that’s a really weird consideration… since he made them because his shard provides him with what he needs, and he needed worthy opponents, do they have part of his shard or are they just creations?

        • The info dump you missed, is that in the per-evolutionary form worms were each a single shard. It was only through the evolution where each worm began eating others and adding them to themselves that the worms became conglomerations of shards instead of individual entities.

        • I’m pretty sure Taylor’s shard has been doing a sizable chunk of her thinking for her for years. All that parallel processing power she needs to handle her swarm has to come from somewhere, and merely human brain-meats aren’t up to it. And she’s not limiting the stuff she’s offloading onto the extradimensional entity linked to her brain to just driving the swarm – see the bit after Killington where she’s parallelizing reading and taking notes through her bugs.

    • Taylor’s shard has been displaying a certain degree of independent action or autonomy for a while now, right back to packing up money while she focused on carving out Lung’s eyes (she gave it a basic instruction which it carried out while she wasn’t paying attention). It can act while she’s unconscious or otherwise unable to control herself (Standstill’s attack). She was just never sure how much of it is subconscious and how much of it is truly an independent consciousness (or how much of that independent consciousness is inherited/copied). And now she has to control her body through her shard.

  38. Taylor to evil dungeon master: – I wish to control everything, not only bugs.
    Evil dungeon master, with a sarcastic smile: – Done.

    Awesome chapter as always Wildbow.

        • I’m not that evil. I DM like I write, putting the pieces on the board and letting them come to life, telling a story. Only in a pen & paper game, the players are key pieces.

          The only ‘evil’ there is that I tend to throw my players into situations with no idea of how they’re going to survive. Sort of like I do with Taylor & the others. I don’t go in thinking, “Teleported into a surrounded building, point-blank bullet to chest with cracked ribs, set on fire, with soldiers surrounding the structure, outside a chain link fence, but the obvious solution is…”

          I just think, you know, “You have the tools. You can probably figure it out.” I write Taylor into the situation, put myself into a corner as a writer, and I figure she gets out if she gets out. If not, then maybe she picks herself up out of the ashes to find that her friends have been hurt/maimed/killed, Coil secure in his position of power and her father being held hostage. I expect my players to handle the same (especially since there’s four+ of them).

          It’s not malice or evil. It’s storytelling and verisimilitude. I don’t like the whole, ‘If they don’t figure their way out of this deathtrap then I’m going to hint very strongly about the three gems on the wall’ style thinking.

          Plus I prefer fewer, harder, more violent and risky fights over a long stream of ‘you kill kobolds, and then you kill more’.

          • I said you’d be an evil DM, WB, not that I wouldn’t want to play in one of your games. Gaming with you would be awesome, if a bit nerve-wracking.

      • Yes. But his characters can also call him an evil God of irony and despair.
        Seriously, I would be afraid to play with him. But the game would be interesting for sure, during the little time that my character survived.

        • Personally I think that I would love being in a game with Wildbow, as GM or as a Player. I mean think about it. Either I get to play in as wild and wonderful a world as Worm, OR I get to see a character like Skitter working to come up with sideways solutions to all the things I put in his path!

        • I’d be interested to play a game GM’d by wildbow.

          …Think she’d be willing to run a PBP one in the comments section?

        • Always wanted to try gaming, but don’t have anybody to do it with. So as awesome it would be to game with Wildbow, Taylor got a three month grace period, at least, right?

          • It’s a game where everyone is a normal human, from a secret society, and they are given tasks that normally require at least a little suicide. Your character says what you do, as a general rule, unless you specifically take a time out, so using unfortunate phrases can be… bad. Oh, and there is a Big Brother computer system, and nuclear hand grenades. And the Cold War is still around, but worse.

            I played a few sessions of it when I was in college. Very fun with a good GM, and people who enjoy each other’s company. Add a poor GM or people that take offense at you trying to kill their characters? Well, things can go downhill. Which CAN be fun in a mean sort of way, but that leads to less fun in the long term 🙂

            Paranoia, in general, has very, very few rules.

  39. Wow, that was a lot sadder than I expected with how desperate Taylor is to be fight against Scion, Tattletale’s little spiel and refusal to leave Taylor, Rachel just walking into Taylor’s field, and that goodbye. Jesus.

    If Grue was here, I’d bet his head would explode.

      • “Wait, we won?”
        “…What do you mean, technically?”
        “It’s a long story, you might want to sit down.”
        “But I–”
        “If you had been there, I wouldn’t need to eat into your schedule–and mine, incidentally–to catch you up. So sit down and shut up.”

    • We both know this is going to end with Taylor turning her circumstances around and kicking so much ass she’ll need new shoes.

      Besides, I’m no Dinah, but Grue got Put on a Bus and I’m 80% certain he won’t come back (until necessary, of course). It bugs me that Wildbow doesn’t know how to handle his fuckawesome romance subplots (see also: Battery and to a far lesser extent Chevy/MM), but this series has made me a jaded enough individual that I’ve lost all feeling in that department.

      • Chev/MM (which only existed Ina flashback anyway) was dropped in favor of the even more awesome Chev/Ingenue. I do agree that after being built up as the lover in need of revenge Assault’s abrupt disappearance from the story was a bit weird, though.

        • Chevy/Ingenue was never even a thing. It was amusing, but Ingenue/Narwhal is far more likely. I’d also prefer that because it’d require Narwhal to become a character, instead of a Canadian forcefielder.

          • Chevalier/Ingenue was a thing. It was a ship.

            Also, Ingenue/Narwhal? Neither of them have been indicated as…well, to “swing that way”.

            • Actually she implies she seduced a female PRT to get private info on Chevalier. No idea on Narwhal.

              But, anyway, Chev/Ingenue is definitely a thing. Their scene in Dr Mother’s interlude was basically Ingenue proclaiming her love (albeit a rather possessive and almost stalkerish one) and Chevalier admitting that one of the reasons he keeps her at a distance is because he knows he’d eventually fall for her even if it’s a very bad idea. Some serious Batman/Catwoman vibes there.

              Surely more solid than a ship based on a bonding flashback when they were kids and a throwaway mention of a shortlived fling in high school.

              …My god I’ve become a shipper. What is Worm doing to me!?

              • The final sentence there should have been an indication that the above was written half in jest. The serious half is less because I believe it’s the OTP and more because from a purely narrative point it makes sense that, after spending some time building a (twisted) relationship between the two, something will happen in the end. Even if it’s just Ingenue dying and Chevalier mourning by shedding a single tear (or viceversa).

                By the way I though lava was viscous, not fluid :P.

              • Embrace it. Embrace your inner shipper!!

                Anyways, I always thought Ingenue was trying to get into Chev’s pants so she could commandeer what’s left of the Protectorate. Her power could explain both her attitude and Chev’s reaction.

                I already explained the reasons for a Chevy/MM epilogue in the last real chapter of Venom, but I’ll repeat the main points: The original relationship is an artifact from the first Wards team, back when the Wards were alloewd to be people instead of heroes. This changed over time, though, and now the two are good people stuck in a system actively hindering their attempts at virtue. An epilogue that brings that back would be a great way of giving relief and happiness to the world after Scion is resolved, assuming Wildbow doesnt go completely nihilist in the meantime.

      • Well…timeskips do that, I guess. What, was Grue going to wait two years in case Skitter returned to the dark side?

        • I don’t care if Grue stopped caring about Taylor during her time with the Wards, but neither Brian, Aisha, nor Taylor’s actions make sense, and Cozen is less of a character and more of an excuse to stop shipping Taylor and Brian. See the link directly above your comment for more.

          • See my reply to that comment for more. Short version: A lot happened in two years, and we don’t know enough about Cozen to really say anything for certain about how much Brian, Aisha, and to an extent Taylor’s actions make sense. They’re just not in focus.

          • Taylor basically dumped Brian because saving the world was more important. As Taylor herself said Brian was at that point a very fragile individual ( courtesy of Bonesaw)who needed someone/something to make him feel steady and he saw in Taylor that someone/something. Taylor acknowledged(and seemed okay with )that but decided that saving the world was more important ( this is not an accusation or a judgement). As Lisa said in this chapter Taylor can sometimes be very unfair to the people that love her/ she loves.

            This said I find it very reasonable that Brian tried to forget her ( and frankly he didn’t seem very successful) and build a new life in her absence.

            • I also understand (and somewhat support) Brian moving on with Cozen, but there are too many unanswered questions for such a change to be logical. Bear in mind that when Taylor left, Tattletale described the effect on Brian being similar to his experience with Bonesaw. I can see him getting over that with Cozen as a substitute as Taylor, but as evidenced by the chapter(s) immediately after, Cozen is almost the opposite of Taylor. This begs the questions “What did Brian see in Taylor?” and “What does Brian see in Cozen?”. Until those questions (and others that sadly no longer exist) are answered, I will assume that Brian hooked up with Cozen because he loves large tits and didn’t realize this fact about himself until Taylor left and he asked himself why he didn’t try to keep their relationship going.

              • Maybe he was trying to prove to himself (and others) that he could get over Taylor. He seems to have failed and Cozen seems to have noticed (and to be fair apart for some passive-aggressive shit when they meet,Taylor was sniping at Cozen more than viceversa).

                Also your repeated mention of Cozen’s big tits as if it’s something bad and horrible has some unfortunate implications. Especially, since, as you pointed out, we know nothing about her. Nothing stops her from having big tits AND being smart, resourceful and interesting.

              • Cozen isn’t resourceful, though. When she isn’t in a familiar situation, she runs the hell away. Now, she isn’t interesting either, but that’s for different reasons, so I’ll give examples*. Also, saying “Maybe Grue X” is not a substitute for Wildbow filling in the holes in the story. The Grue/Taylor/Cozen relationship was one thing before the timeskip and a different thing after, so as a result we’ve been given a significant character change “just because”. That is bad storytelling.

                *Mannequin is a former tinker who was on the verge of doing a shitton of good with his powers. However, his family is killed and he falls into a well of despair and nihilism. While in said metaphorical well, he semi-literally cuts himself off from the world and becomes a machine of destruction, unable to cope with his failures to the extent that he can’t stand hearing his former name or seeing anyone at all trying to make the world a better place. Hell, they don’t even need to be that complicated. Bonesaw’s interesting because of the dissonance between her innocence and her actions. When the Nine is gone, she becomes a bitter cynic while trying to redeem herself and do good. Nothing like that exists for Cozen, because she’s a mere bundle of characteristics, rather than an actual character.

              • See, being resourceful and avoiding unfamiliar situations aren’t mutually exclusive. If you want an in universe example: Grue. Cozen is (from the very little that we’ve seen of her, I want to remind you) a parallel to how Grue has (or tried) reacted to situations during his tenure as the defacto Undersiders’ leader. Uncomfortable in situations she doesn’t fully grasp/is unsure she/her team can handle: Grue. Ever since he was first introduced. That doesn’t make either of them unresourceful. Makes them cautious. Pragmatic, even, depending on how you’ve read the story.

              • The first definition I found while googling ‘resourceful’ is “having the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties”. So far, we have Cozen failing to be resourceful in 100% of the difficult situations we see her in. The first two instances that come to mind when I think of Taylor being resourceful are the bank robbery and her first Mannequin fight. Both times, she was pressed into a situation where she had the undeniable disadvantage. Both times, she tackled the problem from a different angle that nobody expected and emerged victorious.

                I feel like you’re shooting your argument in the foot twice here. First, you say we don’t see Cozen much and that we don’t know much about her. I completely agree, but that is a reason Cozen is a shallow character, if she is a character at all. She isn’t ambiguous or mysterious; she’s just mostly blank.
                Your second point, that Cozen is a parallel to Grue, is similar to your first: I mostly agree with your point, but I disagree with you. Sure, Cozen is like Grue, but she is shallow whereas Grue had some nuance about him. Brian was a villain committing dastardly deeds for truly noble goals. He was defensive and protective, and this not only led him to retain, train, and support Taylor during the first part of her tenure with the Usiders (also when she was on the fence about being a cape or not), but it was also what allowed Taylor to unintentionally commandeer the position of “big boss leader” from him. Brian’s relationship with Taylor in the beginning was platonic, he thought of her as a close companion to protect, guide, and mentor. After his second trigger and Taylor kinda takes over, the relationship between Taylor and Brian changes. Taylor becomes the leader, she helps Brian when he’s struggling to go on, and their relationship eventually becomes a romance. Now, how much of what I just described relates to Cozen? Sure, she’s similar to Grue, but when it comes down to it, she’s a store brand knockoff because she doesn’t have the extra details that make Brian such a compelling character.

              • I’ve pointed out elsewhere in the comments (long after you wrote this) that Worm is a first person work. Obviously Wildbow was kind enough to throw in some interludes to flesh things out, but we’re mostly limited as an audience to experiencing what Taylor experiences as the narrator. We know next to nothing about Cozen because *Taylor* knows next to nothing about Cozen, and because Cozen isn’t important enough to the story to merit an interlude.

                We *know* what Brian saw in Taylor and frankly I find it weird that a lot of people ship Taylor and Brian as some great romance. Their breakup made it perfectly clear that their relationship was one of convenience/need. Brian needed emotional support after his abuse at the hands of Bonesaw, and Taylor needed some human comfort with all the shit she was dealing with. When it became clear the relationship would never become more than that, they parted ways.

                We *don’t* know what Brian sees in Cozen because we know nothing about her. But we do know a fair bit about Brian. We know that he values family. We know that one of the reasons he and Taylor ended things is that they saw no hope of being able to settle down together in future. In part because Taylor’s mission is always going to come first to her. Brian is essentially just a guy who got powers. He used them to make enough money to take care of his family, which was basically all he ever wanted. He doesn’t want to be fighting gods for the fate of the earth, he just wants to take care of his own.

                I’m guessing that Cozen shared that outlook. Again, we don’t really know much about Cozen but we *do* know that when Grue went “let’s blow off the end of the world and go live in a cabin in the woods” she went “Okay”. So that’s suggestive at least.

                Honestly, I don’t think it’s a flaw in the writing that this stuff isn’t spelt out. Wildbow has always left some peripheral details vague so that the audience has room to come to their own conclusions (*cough*Sleeper*cough*) and because it would just dilute the narrative too much to cover it all. BTW, this is actually a very effective and deliberate technique for conveying that there’s a lot more depth to the setting than you see on the page.

  40. Okay, so what exactly would Taylor class as now?
    I’m guessing something like Master 12, Thinker 4. Maybe even throw a Trump class in there as well.

    • I’d imagine the Thinker bit would be dropped, as the only reason it existed was as a Required Secondary Power to facilitate all the multitasking she had to do. At this point, I’d say her Thinking is overloaded to the point of not even being worth assigning a number to. As to the Master ranking, I would take Regent’s rank and add 4.

      Hey Wildbow, what the hell do the number rankings measure, anyway? I love the power categories, but the numbers seem arbitrary and optional.

      • The numbers (and categories) were designed as threat-and-broad-tactics assessment of villains. If he’s a Brute don’t let him hit you, etc. Pretty sure the numbers get re-evaluated if people prove themselves more dangerous than originally thought. I don’t think we ever told Regent’s exact number, except that it was the “highest rated Master in the city” during the Sentinel/Parasite arc, and there was at least one other Master 6, so he’s a 7+. Canary is an 8. Skitter was a 5 during the Leviathan hospital scene.

        • My main issue with the numbers is that they don’t seem to say anything relevant. Regent is a higher ranking master than Taylor, yet she manages to disable the freaking BBPRTHQ almost single-handedly, which is something Regent probably isn’t capable of. What I believe would be more interesting is if the numbers represented a subtype of power, like if number ranks for master capes represented controlling humans, nonhumans, emotions, telepathy, mind control, etc.

          • No. Ratings are pretty much just a “threat level” thing.

            One thing that puts Regent higher is the possibility that he could control the agent next to you from across the city. Another is that Skitter hadn’t used (or discovered) the full limits of her ability; I daresay she hadn’t before she underwent invasive brain surgery just now.

            And, of course, ratings change. I think she was rated as a Master 8 when she got captured by the PRT.

            • That still begs the question of how a power is measured. The difference between a 7 and an 8 is woefully obscure, and even if we’re going by threat level, powers are too diverse and too situational for a mere measurement of magnitude.

              As an example, Tattletale is shown to be capable of completely wrecking New Wave as a family by exposing Amy’s feelings for Victoria, yet when she confronts then-Director Piggot, she’s about as useful as a wet noodle.

              • And what makes one telekinetic a Mover and one a Shaker, one a Master and one a Blaster?

                It isn’t an objective measurement, it’s subjective.

              • Jesus Christ, nobody on the internet knows the difference between objective and subjective. A subjective measurement is fundamentally impossible (unless human bias enters the equation, but that’s not the point here).

                A telekenetic (TK) mover is one that uses tk to move themselves in an abnormal way (super-speed, flight, etc). A tk blaster is a cape that is capable of tking objects at a distance without contact. While I won’t rule them out as a possibility, I can’t imagine how tk could fit into the shaker or master category.

                The power categories in Worm work because each one is a difference in kind and they all are fundamentally distinct from each other in some fashion (there’s a gray area around tinkers and thinkers, but it’s distinct enough it doesn’t bother me). The power measurements, on the other hand, are arcane guesswork that is never properly defined and probably pretty nebulous to begin with. That’s some shitty measurements, and I believe that the system would be better off if the numbers representing magnitude/threat level/power mastery were either scrapped entirely or replaced with a set of subcategories.

              • I won’t tackle the measurements (but I will point out that Brutes at least start with Behemoth at 10 and everybody else scales down).

                As for a telekinetic master Parian is one. Her power is telekinesis of light object like thread and needles and she uses to move puppets. Yeah it’s a weird system.

              • I don’t even know anymore. Master-ism specifically relates to the control of people (like Heartbreaker/Regent/Cherish) or constructs (like Nilbog/Mockshow/Parian). Parian’s cloth creations certainly fall under mastery, but the needle/thread tk doesn’t and needs another category. I assume she had two triggers in short succession.

              • Hmm,no. She didn’t trigger twice. She uses her telekinesis to weave cloth in puppets and then telekinetically pushes the woven cloth so that it looks as if she’s animating puppets. If she used the same exact power to give people the death of a thousand cuts via storm of needles she’d probably be classified as a blaster or maybe shaker. The PRT classifies effect not cause. Or something. Maybe wildbow or even another, more able than me, poster can help?

              • Your friendly neighborhood Panda has appeared, to act superior and pretentious with his Worm knowledge: Parian has two distinct powers 1) *fills* objects (vague, but I basically describe it as *with her influence*) which she is then able to manipulate (obvious Master power; minions) and 2) telekinetic control over small objects. She uses this to work with the first (very smart, btw) but the fact that it’s an indiscriminate manipulation makes it Master first, any other classification after. She uses it for glass shards (Shatterbird mimickry) she would be Master/Shaker and probably Blaster too. Uses it like Cuff does (augments her metallic costume with her control over metal) with her outfit somehow, it’d probably get a Brute rating until someone realized what she was doing, and then Master would be added. General function + applications. Ex: Taylor; general function is control and sensory extension through insects. Master. Applications: speaking through them, bug clones, flight (Atlas), sight/hearing through them, general area mapping plus more. Stranger, Thinker, Mover, also Shaker considering what she managed with the Behemoth fight.

                Thank you for listening, pardon the block, I’m on my phone and things are difficult. *Ends display of superiority complex and teleports elsewhere*

            • She was rated as everything when she got captured, just to keep from underestimating her. And guess what? They underestimated her.

  41. Oh Taylor… What have you done? Dammit kiddo…

    …Her story couldn’t end any other way, though. And it’s not quite yet done…

    • Dinah told wildbow, there is ninety point nine nine six seven eight probability the record will go past 50k comment after the ending chapter, there will be one thousand comments saying some lines like “thanks” another thousand comments stating fans weeping endlessly for a week after the release of aforementioned chapter

    • Any chance of an estimated wordcount on the comments? Reading it seems to me that the comments dwarf the actual webserial for size by a factor of about 4 or 5 (to be fair, they have a FEW more authors than the serial itself. :P). It’d be interesting to have that confirmed or not…

  42. You know, Taylor is being so fatalistic here, I wonder if there’s a chance she’ll be rescued the moment she thing she’s going to die.

    Don’t know for you guys but as far as I saw in stories, going in and ending everything before the final fight with the idea that you’re going to die usually doesn’t end with a death. And damn, I do want Taylor to survive.

        • Oh c’mon death is hardly the only thing that can happen! She might end up having to spend the rest of her days in a body she can barely control, in a special holding facility on an otherwise empty earth because she has evolved into some horrible, terrifying threat that can control anyone. Or she becomes a cosmic tapeworm! Or she becomes a diety that mercy kills parahumans before their powers grow too much and turn them into Endbringers!

          • Merges with Scion, has to stay close at all times, in order to hold him in check. The sequel to Worm references her (after Wildbow has done his other book) breifly.

            The final part of the Worm trilogy is Rachael and Lisa’s rescue mission. The one that Bitch comes up with.

        • Ha! One thing I’ll say for Wildbow (okay, there are a lot of things I’ll say for him) is that he has never given any indication that he will change his trajectory based on fan requests. He has, a few times taken input under consideration re: the *way* things are written, but in terms of plot? Nopenope.

      • You should be less mainstream. Try giving every Worm character a beanie and lumberjack beard. It’ll be so ironic!

          • Atlas already died, though. Weaver could feel him dying during the press conference when she joined the white hats.

            • Am I the only one who was horribly sad when Atlas died? Then again, I actually keep bugs as pets, so I’m kind of predisposed to those feelings.

              • It did lend a tragic note to the entire thing, but I think Rachel’s dogs howling did the same but better, so it was slightly distracting. Either way it was a good “end of an era” feel to the scene.

              • You were definitely not the only one. For an insect that was clearly described as having little more autonomy than a biological robot Atlas did somehow manage to tug the heartstrings. 😦

              • No, you’re not. I really liked Atlas and was very sad when he died too. I know he didn’t really have any sort of feelings or instincts or anything but I looked at him as a giant dog basically.

            • I was referring to the “Everyone,” not specifically the Atlas.

              …I did not consciously capitalize “Everyone.” This is creepy. What if my fingers are the fingers are good the fingers are your friend kill the toes.

  43. Wow. I marathoned all the way from Gestation 1.1 this past week (was referred here by Eliezer Yudkowski’s recommendation on HPMOR, as I’m sure some others have), and this whole series has been completely mindblowing for me.

    I feel so sorry for Taylor, how fate just keeps twisting her intentions and morals against her, how she keeps trying against worse and worse odds. Now, Taylor has to live with the likely sacrifice of the emotional connections she’s worked so hard to build – perhaps the sacrifice of all emotional connections whatsoever. ASOIAF readers and GoT watchers will know what I say when I see this moment of final evolution as equivalent to the RW in terms of tragedy, but such well-written tragedy! A cruel irony that this happens to be the place where I need to wait!

    Anyways, this is my first post here, and hopefully not my last! I’ll join the masses in thanking Wildbow for pouring his/her heart and soul into this multiverse. And I’ll certainly be sharing this far and wide (including to fans of Fallout: Equestria, which this may even surpass in my book) – the question is, share now or when it’s finished?

  44. So. Let’s consider my Worm RP for a sec.

    Things are starting to fall in place, with a big fight right at the PRT HQ. Selina has a sadomachoistic alternate personality, which has just killed two PRT officers and stabbed Kevin rather bleedingly. Steven joined the fight on her side, while Elena (Delphinium), a few other Wards, and a Protectorate member on-site joined five PRT officers. In a display of sheer competence, one officer managed to fire containment foam upward, which lead to the Protectorate member (a Brute) getting caught and incidentally to the door being blocked off. Also, another PRT officer tripped into it. Lovely what terrible rolls do to excellent agents, isn’t it? Anyways, Selina and her other personality fought for control, with the sometimes-help of Delphinium, and has leaped into the containment foam. Steven is still up, but since another Protectorate member just arrived…it might not take much longer. And we will see what happens then.

    And now for an important question: What should I name the game?

    • It’s hard to advise without knowing what you actually intend to use the name for.

      Something as pedestrian as “Worm: Toronto” could suffice. Alternately, if you have some idea of themes or where the story was going, you could base it on that. “Darkness rising” or “Noble Demons” or whatever. It’s not immediately clear from the thread even whether your characters are designated heroes or villians…

  45. Now, imagine if Taylor ends up controlling Vista. Trying to evade that 16 foot range gets pretty difficult when you have someone who can alter the distance between objects like that. There would pretty much be no escape.

      • She is crippled only when there is a person within that distance. It does not matter if she is altering the distance between two people. She’s used that ability several times, only to generally make the gap between people larger.


  47. I really enjoyed these lines:

    “Hrrrrrn,” I said.
    “Hrrrrn,” Imp replied, nodding sagely. “Now I understand.”

    To me it is the funniest line Imp has delivered.

    After reading this chapter I have a sad vision of the main naration of this story ending with a disabled Taylor lying in a heap. Dinah is nearby and Taylor can just make out Dinah saying “I am so sorry”. Taylor desperately wants to act, to say something, but all she can manage is a single tear which rolls down her cheek as her life is ended.

  48. Oh damn. Just damn. Talk about breaking the hardware when upgrading the software.

    So the passenger/shard seems to be either merging or overwriting Taylor. Sad but interesting and potentially extremely useful.

    I like how Lung has essentially completely decided that Marquis is his friend. Otherwise I doubt he really would’ve bothered keeping Amy safe. Also it was rather funny how Marquis recommended mutiny to his underlings.

    “Now Skitter’s broken.” Yup that pretty much sums up the situation in an albeit hilarious sort of way.

    So much for my Queen of the Swarm Planet. A Sarah Kerrigan we do not have. Darn, those breeding relay bugs had such promise!

  49. Some really discordant and difficult to follow writing on this one. It’s particularly jarring that everyone suddenly knows that Taylor can control people without anyone saying so, or even Taylor herself figuring it out.

  50. ““Hrrrrn,” Imp replied, nodding sagely. “Now I understand.””

    Again, with the “Imp does everything sagely” thing. Seriously, Wildbow, this is becoming some painfully juvenile writing here. It’s as if you learned the word or decided it sounded nice, so now you’re wholly incapable of letting it go.

    Get your shit together or this will never be published.

    • You aggressively commented on a single word out of 1.6 million multiple times, multiple years after the work was released and when it is clearly not edited for publication yet, and you want to talk about people being “juvenlie”?

      Doubt you’ll see this either since I’m about a year late myself, but if such a minor issue gets so deep under your skin that you have to make personal attacks on the writer, after presumably having read their entire work for months, free of charge… Then you really do need to grow up / get your shit together, Anon.

  51. That… Was not the god power I imagined but I’ll buy it!

    Does she get to sit on an Endbringer and control them if she does that would be fuckin awesome

  52. 1. Panacea can fix it. Riley can fix it. Scion can fix it.
    2. No! No, no, no, no, no! Wildbow, you put that back right now!
    4. 😦
    5. Fine. Can’t do much to change it, anyway.

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