Speck 30.3

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I made my way into Brockton Bay, the Boardwalk.  Five more steps carried me into New Delhi.  Only a minute later, I was walking through Brockton Bay again, downtown this time.

Los Angeles.


Brockton Bay again.

Madison, Wisconsin.

Cauldron’s Headquarters.

Ruins.  Places built up by man, painstaking, sometimes over centuries.  Layer upon layer of human experience, history, and art, represented in stone and wood and glass.  Every single building had been put together with the idea of meeting some specific goal, a specific individual’s tastes, filling a purpose as an institution, or being built to cater to society’s tastes as a whole.  Virtually every building had been a familiar place to someone, a home, a place of business.  Roads had once been a part of people’s daily routines, bridges a convenience that was appreciated, if rarely acknowledged.

Shattered, eroded, dashed aside.  Roads were now uneven slabs, rising and falling, while buildings had folded or leaned over, spilling out their innards.  Those same innards hinted at just how much value we’d put into this world we’d built around ourselves.

I realized I’d stopped walking, struck by what I was looking at.  There was a tightness in my chest, and I struggled to put my finger on what to call it.  It was a sweet feeling, but not a pleasant one.  Not nostalgia, but it called to a certain kind of familiarity.

Home, I thought.  This is home.  Not so much a place I could return to for a hug, to kick my shoes off and let down my guard, not a place where I would sleep and wake up feeling warm.  Yet it was a place which was central to me, a place I was rooted in, and vice versa.

I’d defined myself in places like these.  The height of my growth, my strongest moments, they’d taken place in open graveyards and the aftermath of tragedies.  Not my best moments, not the noblest, but the moments where I’d had the greatest impacts and had made the choices that shaped who I was.

I started walking again.  I wasn’t actually traveling to Brockton Bay, to Bucharest or Los Angeles.  I could have, but I wasn’t.  It was only that the ruins here were so easy to relate to those places, to this home.  The memories of the locations were bleeding into my awareness, making it feel almost real.

I wanted to tell myself it was the clairvoyant in my range, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to.  I wanted to say it was the distraction of having to devote a small share of my attention to ensuring that Doormaker kept opening portals when the clairvoyant recognized someone asking for one.

With a note of desperation, I told myself it was because I was still trying to keep tabs on my power, gauge my level of control, and manage my body.  If I couldn’t get a better grip on my own movements, maybe I could get control over my swarm.  Over the people I was controlling.

But I didn’t really believe it.  I was slipping.

My bugs spilled out over the ruins.  My range was shorter, but I could use the relay bugs I had on hand.

Slipping, the thought came back to me.

Losing my mind, losing grip on things.

The Faerie Queen had told me I needed to anchor myself.  Except I’d been doing that for a long time.  It was how I functioned.  Compartmentalizing, identifying a priority, devoting myself to it.  Surviving the bullying, the mission to turn in the Undersiders, the mission to save Dinah, to turn the city around, to save the world.  I’d had tunnel vision at the best of times, and I’d had both successes and failures.

I functioned best when I had a mission, something beyond the one singular goal before me.  Yes, stopping Scion was key, but-

I shook my head.  I’d stopped walking again.  Had to focus.

I’d use smaller anchors here, smaller things to tie myself down to reality, focusing on my surroundings.  If and when the time came, I would abandon them, cast them away in order of size and priority.  In a way, it would let me gauge how badly I was slipping.

An exercise of Doormaker’s power let me experiment with the portals.  They couldn’t move or drift, excepting the way they were anchored to the rotation of the planet as a whole.  Instead, I opened and closed new portals, timing it so the opening of one was a fraction of a second before the prior one closed.  I surrounded myself with them, a shifting, shuttering array of portals.

I was put in mind of the moment I donned my costume, of being Skitter the Warlord, with her half-cape, half-shawl.  There had been a kind of power to the gesture, to draping myself in the cloth and assuming the title and the role.

As I made my way through New York, I found myself altering the portals, reconfiguring them.  I’d drape myself in them like I did in a costume.

They formed a loose three-quarter circle around me, Doormaker and the clairvoyant, at first, a cylinder with an opening in front of me.  When I turned my head, they reconfigured, the portals in my way disappearing, replaced by others.

To streamline the portal creation, I layered them.  Two half-circles, overlapping.

And then, because it was the most compact way to fit the portals together, because I needed to make a signature, to make this mine and to make it me, I made them hexagons.  A honeycomb interlocking of small, one-foot-diameter doorways, opening up to random points throughout the city, extending my range further than even my bugs could manage.  Each one showed a different image when looked through, a wall, a section of overcast sky, a bit of pavement.  It didn’t stand out, serving more as a kind of camouflage.

As I experimented, finding the places to set the portals, my awareness of the city expanded in turn.

I sensed some of Teacher’s squads.  Groups of men and women, always with at least one person who was more fit than the rest, all dressed in white, or at least in white shirts with jeans.  Most had backpacks, and all had weapons.  They patrolled, scouting the area, talking amongst each other in low voices.

Always talking about business.

I found Teacher.  He had a project in the works, and his ‘students’ were busy scavenging.  A different sort of control than I had, with my bugs or the people in my sway.  More human, maybe.  A society, rather than an army of troops gathered in formations.

The vast majority were active, each with a job to do, a task.  Men carried metal and electronics and either broke down materials or shaped them.  Women, just a little weaker in terms of physical strength, carried things like wire and baskets of clothing they had looted from stores.  Children handled the finer work, etching designs into metal and stitching.

I could almost respect it.  Except his motives were clearly selfish.

“Better to be fast than perfect,” he was saying.  He paused to touch one of his subjects for a few seconds.  The girl stood there, eyes closed, while Teacher resumed talking, “Follow the blue prints, or use the hub stations to get a clear mental picture.”

There were nods from the group around him.

Hub stations.  Not everyone was active.  There were clusters of two or three individuals that were each together, but I was pretty sure they weren’t what he was referring to.  There were also some individuals that seemed to be operating as rally points for the others, arranged in a loose ring around their work in progress.  I watched one individual bring a car door to the rally point, touch the man in the center, and then make their way over to teacher.  He murmured, “Metal and fiberglass design.”

Teacher touched him for four seconds, and then the man with the door made his way to a table, dropping a backpack and collecting a small crowbar.  As he started working, another man at the table stretched, grabbed a backpack, then joined one of the scavenging groups.

It was like a barn raising, but they were working purely in steel and electronics. Individuals that were tired switched to a different job, and everyone worked tirelessly.

They were building a Dragon-craft from scratch.

Not only a Dragon-craft.

“Eight costumes,” Teacher said.  He approached a table, lifting one costume off the surface to investigate.  “Not so flashy.  We want to fly under the radar.  Make it substandard, if anything.  C-list material.”

There were nods all around.  Teacher walked over to another table, lined with tinker weaponry and other tools.  His students were loyal, but they weren’t puppets, like mine were.  Their movements were natural.  The overall system, though, wasn’t natural at all.

I was put in mind of Regent’s games.  There was the base of operations, the cluster of villagers managing the city, and there were the more independent squads of people, deployed to the world beyond the base camp, patrolling for enemies, ready at a moment’s notice to be gathered together in a massed attack.

No doubt they were organized by ability.  Teacher could grant thinker and tinker powers.  If I assumed at least one tinker per group, with the tinkers carrying some ranged weapon or defense, and if the athletic members of the roaming squads were the soldiers, gifted with some knowledge that would give them a small edge in a fight, there were still two or three members in a given group I couldn’t identify.

I wasn’t even finished the thought when one of them perked up, startled.  She shouted, “Scatter!”

Her group moved in different directions.


I was the trouble.  It’s a fucking precog.

I opened portals, catching her three teammates, one by one.

It took two tries to catch her.  She was a fast runner, and she saw where I was putting down my portal before I’d even started, turning a hundred and eighty degrees around and scrambling in the opposite direction.

They were eerily calm, all things considered, much like Doormaker and the clairvoyant.  It made things easier for me.  But I knew that ‘easy’ wouldn’t last.

Teacher achieved control over people by giving them parahuman abilities.  The organization was important, and everything was key.  I’d moved too fast, and now Teacher’s human systems were starting to kick into effect.

Men and women in an isolated cluster dropped to their knees.

“Amber district, team B-six,” one of the students in the group reported.  His voice was as clear as a bell in the near-silence of Teacher’s base of operations.  There were only the sounds of tools and the steady percussion of hammers striking metal, all in unison.

“What’s the problem?”  Teacher asked.

“Out of action.”

“Change focus.  All observation teams, identify our target,” Teacher said.

Heads in every second group around the base turned.  They looked my way, as if they could see the full five or six city blocks and see me standing in the middle of the road.

One crossed to another group, touching a young man.

“Weaver,” the young man said, in turn.

It’s like a computer.  Every person carries out a specific operation, and they’re gathered in clusters with people who can communicate those ideas to others in efficient ways.

“Tinker group H,” Teacher said.  “Defensive measures, modify them for micro-scale drones.  Forcefields, area attacks.  Group N, to me.  We’ll need more tinkers on this problem.  We’ll also need to this area.  Groups F and J, I’ll recalibrate, put you on more general anti-clairvoyance duty.  She’s- You’re looking in, aren’t you, Weaver?”

I reached out to place a portal in Teacher’s camp, right behind him.  I hit a barrier, a dead zone I couldn’t affect.

Some tinker device was blocking my clairvoyant, which was blocking Doormaker in turn.

My relay bugs didn’t work either.  They only worked on bugs.

I began laying down portals around the perimeter, instead, finding the exact point I could affect.  The portals right next to me were turned around, so none faced me directly.  It wouldn’t do if he had students open fire and shoot through the portal to hit me point blank.

“This is new,” Teacher said.  “Have I done something to earn your attention?  Crossed a line, somehow, maybe I inadvertently borrowed someone you care about?  I assure you, I’m very benign.  The vast majority of my students here volunteered their services.  I told them I could use them to help stop Scion and save the world, and they agreed.  A number of others took the deal with the oath that I could borrow them for a year, and I’d supply them powers with no strings attached for the extent of their lives, no mental bondage at all.”

I frowned, shifting my weight from foot to foot, trying to ensure I didn’t lose touch with my body.  If I had to move, I wanted to be able to move fast.

One of the groups was close enough to the perimeter of Teacher’s base to fall in range of my portal.  I seized them, then took a second to analyze their capabilities.  Hyper-acute senses, enhanced aim, the ability to see through walls and a danger sense.

I thought of Tattletale, boasting to Coil in the moments before I’d pulled the trigger.

Not, I reminded myself, that I’m pulling any triggers here.

But I needed to disturb things, shake up Teacher’s elegantly balanced operation.

They looked at one another, and I gauged the equipment they held.  The one with enhanced aim was the ‘soldier’ of the group, armed with an ordinary gun and a bandolier of grenades.

I controlled his movements, directing him to grab a grenade from the bandolier.  He handed it over to the one with enhanced senses.

The one with the grenade raised his hand, hollering, leaning back, ready to throw-

My danger-detector reacted, and I had Doormaker create a portal, moving the grenade out of the line of fire.  A fat blob of crackling energy soared through the vacated space.

“You’re full of surprises today,” Teacher said.  “I’m going to assume this is actually you, Weaver, and that you’re not an Ingenue thrall or something similar.  I want you to know I’m not your enemy.  I was there for that whole business against the Elite, pitting Endbringers on them, I understand why you did it.  You have your mission, a noble task, and you see it as a universal task.  One everyone should inspire towards.  Peace and prosperity in your territory, because peace and prosperity are good things, am I right?  Please feel free to comment, strike up a conversation here.”

He gestured, and his crowd of students collectively backed away from the squad of students I’d taken over at one corner of his setup.  They faced down the others, their heads and shoulders visible above a section of wall that had fallen to the road hours ago.  I watched his group move, and tried Doormaker’s power again.  The borders were at the same points.

“No?  Okay.  You’ll have to trust me when I say I’m working towards the same end mission you are.  I want to stop Scion.  But I’m not a warrior, and I’d be offering more trouble than help if I was on the battlefield.  My students are fine when I’m giving the orders, but they’re prone to undecision at key junctions.  I know where I need to be, I’ll be there shortly, and I’ll be of far more use to our side then.”

If the group had moved and the borders were at the same point, then it wasn’t a person generating the effect.

I used my bugs and Doormaker’s power to get a sense of where the perimeter of this clairvoyance-blocking power was.  It was just a little irregularly shaped, but I could factor buildings and intervening obstacles into the area.  If there was a generated signal, it didn’t extend as far with solid objects in the way.

“For the books, I was inviting you to ask where it is I was planning on going.  You seem more keen on silence.”

My squad turned a gun on the very center point, opening fire with a trio of bullets.

A box, a tinker-made device, exploded in sparks, popping into the air and bouncing off of the pavement.

I tested the clairvoyant’s power.  It worked.

I placed portals with care.  Not to ensnare Teacher’s students, but to cut them off.  Portals between them, above and behind them, in front.  Assuming twelve to thirteen feet of range, I could space them out and cover a wide area.

When I started tagging the groups, I worked from the outside in.  His precogs weren’t amazing, with only a few seconds of awareness before their power gave them a heads up, but the trap was already in place.

I left Teacher for last.  No students at his disposal.  I made a portal, and then stepped through.  My soldiers aimed guns at him, while others stood stock still.

Teacher said something in a language I didn’t understand.

I shook my head.  I didn’t have a better way of showing my lack of understanding.

“No?” he asked, smiling a little.

I shook my head once more.

“A shame, that,” he said.  He sounded genuinely bothered.

My bugs flowed over him and through his pockets.  I didn’t have silk, so I used thread from one of the workbenches, encircling the gun beneath his unfashionable corduroy jacket.  It wasn’t a fast process, but Teacher saw what I was doing and helped it along, raising his hands to his head, simultaneously lifting his jacket up and away from the weapon.

I passed the thread to one of my new underlings, and they pulled the gun free.

My new minions began examining the gathered components and gear.  I looked through their eyes, taking it all in.

“I’m not unfamiliar with robbery,” Teacher said.  “Parcel and part of this whole enterprise.  But this isn’t you, I don’t think.  For one thing, I’m working towards stopping Scion, in a roundabout way.  Or mollifying the damage he does, if stopping him isn’t likely.  It seems things have turned around, then, if you’re closer to being the Elite you were so recently condemning, and I’m someone working towards a fix.”

I gave him a hard look.  He shrugged, his hands still on his head, then said something in another language, smiling a little.

A code word?  A trap or trigger for some tinker device hereabouts?

Except nothing had happened.

“Well then,” he said.  “Scratch that.”

He tried something and it didn’t work?  My swarm shifted their stances, approaching a little closer, guns raised.

Definitely scratch that,” he said.  “Well then, I won’t ask for your forgiveness, but I can still be blunt.  You seem different, and not so much for the better.”

My attention was on the tables.  Weapons, tinker gear… I started browsing through it myself, joining the minions who weren’t actively keeping Teacher at gunpoint.

“Can I ask why?  Or is that too personal?  I understand second triggers can be mortifying.”

I turned around to face him.  I put my hand flat against my mouth.

“Mute.  I see.  And you came to me for help with that?  Do you want to be able to communicate again?”

I shook my head.

“Then you’re looking to refine this ability of yours.  I can do that.  Give capes control over abilities that feel a little lacking in areas.”

Again, I shook my head.

“What did you come for, then?”

I didn’t respond, my attention on the group.

I found what I was looking for.

Boxes, small, with a single, broad button along one side.  Like detonators.  There was nothing to them but a single LED, green, and a few ports where they could be plugged into certain ports or outlets.

I gathered them, tucking them into spare pouches.

“I don’t suppose you could sock one for me?”

I shook my head.  I gathered all of them.

Then I began gathering the guns.

“This is inconvenient, for the books.”

You don’t need these against Scion.

“Again, my power is available, if you should need it.  Anything that helps against our reciprocal enemy, you understand.”

He had an annoying habit of picking difficult-sounding words and using them instead of simpler options.  Like someone trying to sound smarter than they were.

I approached Teacher.  I saw him startle a little at the sudden movement.

He had nowhere to run, and he knew it.  He looked around, and he could see his own students caught in my snare.

I saw the surrender in his body language, an instant before he fell inside my power’s range.

Memories hit me.  Announcing myself as Weaver in front of the PRT buildingTaking on the role in New Delhi, coordinating two teams.

I could sense his power, and I could sense his general awareness of the people he’d affected.  There was no constant connection between him and them, nothing like I had over my bugs or my subjects.

I moved another over to him, and I used his power on them.

There was a connection then.  It only took a little bit of time, and focus on Teacher’s part.  I could sense both the power taking hold, and the frailty, the weak point that manifested at the same time.  There was a duality.

I let go of the subject, and I could feel that frail point linger, decaying by the smallest fraction with every passing moment.  That was what Teacher sensed, an awareness of both the power and the degree of influence he had over the subject.

No, I thought.  Not an option.

I withdrew my phone, unlocked it, and found the page I needed.  I threw it to Teacher.  Rather than try to catch it with his clumsier movements, I had him grab the bottom of his sweater and lift it up, forming a net.  It landed in the ‘net’, and Teacher collected it.

I backed away, releasing him.

Teacher staggered a little, then muttered what must have been a swear word in that other language.

“Karma, I suppose,” he said, panting a little.  “A… little nerve wracking there.  I can’t help but notice you didn’t pursue with yourself, while you had me in command.”

There would be no way to use the power without leaving myself open to Teacher’s influence.  No, I wouldn’t be able to get myself a voice this way.  Not if it affected my ability to make decisions.  Not if it left a lingering window open.

These people who’d taken his promise of a lifetime of power, no strings attached, had been misled.

“Nothing, then?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“A disappointment.”

I wasn’t that disappointed.  I had what I needed.  A speed bump for Scion, weapons, a little more information on how my power worked, and…  I pointed at the phone I’d given him.  He glanced down.

“The C.I.U.,” Teacher said.

I responded with a short nod, then held up one of the devices I’d collected.  I was picking and choosing the members of Teacher’s collection I could use, arming them with tinker weaponry and gathering them near me.  I didn’t enclose them in my little cloak of portals.

“Ah… you guessed?”

I nodded, once.

“Understand, it wasn’t spiteful on my part,” Teacher said.  He lapsed into the other language for one moment, “…I gave them the switch in the hopes it would stop the incursions and curb honestly.  They were supposed to lock themselves away, but they held on to it, apparently intending to use it if anyone retaliated.  An ingress, a portcullis, if you will.  A way to raise the drawbridge and prevent passage into their castle.”

At my order, some of his students gestured with their guns, prompting him.

He seemed to take the threat in stride.  “The one with a white button.”

I glanced at the ones in my possession.  I found it in a belt pouch and repositioned it.

“Skeleton key, Weaver.  I could make you force me to give up any of this detail, but I won’t.  I want to get back to work, so I can help.”

He was giving me a funny look, trying to drive home his point.

But this was a roundabout plan, some kind of infiltration, and he was clearly working against our side.  I wasn’t sure I bought it.

It didn’t matter.

I gestured to the phone.  He moved to throw it back, and I raised a hand.  I pointed to my left.

He wasn’t stupid.  He got my meaning, then used the phone to find the page I was referring to.

“I assume you’re not looking to find me, which leaves only the Birdcage.  No.  I haven’t provided any devices to the Birdcage, or anyone alleged with it.  But you’re going to find entering is difficult, regardless.  There are security placements in measure.”

I nodded.  My soldiers got in place, rank and file around me, all armed.

“If I grasp your intentions, Weaver, I can speculate you’ll be back for me later?”

I didn’t respond.  No need to telegraph my plans to Teacher.  Still, the thinkers were figuring out what I was up to.

I was running out of time.

Which meant taking a leap of faith.

Using the clairvoyant directly was a dangerous prospect.  He could grant the power to see the entire world, multiple worlds, but breaking that contact was troubling, debilitating.  I could see the toll it had already taken on Doormaker.

But I couldn’t afford to hold back.

I separated Doormaker from his partner.  I could sense the effect, the sensory shift, the break in perspective, the mild nausea.  But he was functionally blind and deaf, and there were only so many senses that he had which could suffer.

I’d suffer far, far more.  If I made contact with the clairvoyant and was forced to break it… that would be it.  Chances were good I wouldn’t be able to carry on.  Things would be over before I recovered.

I took stock.  I had a squadron, now.  People who would have been slaves anyways.  People with simple abilities that were easy to get a handle on and use.  I had weapons, better than a typical gun.

Hopefully we wouldn’t have to use them.

I took hold of Doormaker’s hand, and I moved it to my belt, hooking his fingers through it.  Then I used my hand to take hold of the clairvoyant’s.

My awareness started to unfold.  A slow, steady, gradual process.  I was aware of vast tracts of land.  I could see the damage done to Earth Bet.  It disoriented me, to see how we were in Washington, not New York.  Teacher had returned home.  Why had I thought we were in New York?

If I’d been distant from myself before, the enhanced vision made it that much worse.

I could remember how I’d once been comforted by the fact that my power put the world in perspective, showing me just how small I was in the grand scheme of things.

This wasn’t comforting at all.  Not this.  Not at this brutal scale.  I could sense the entirety of the world, from atmosphere to ocean floor.  I could, if I wanted to listen for it, hear the wind, the patter of rain, see the shimmers of heat on one side of the planet and the frost forming in caves on the other side of the planet, day and night at the same time.

I can see how the Doctor got a little detached from things, if she used this power with any regularity.

Teacher said something.  I couldn’t make it out, because I wasn’t really listening.

I could see the other worlds and tally up the damage.  Not even a fifth of us were fighting, but those ten percent were giving it their all.  Others had retreated, finding family or friends to take shelter with.

I could count all of the individual collections of people.  Using Doormaker, the Doctor had scattered mankind over every available earth.  Collections of a few hundred to a few thousand.  People used to civilized life were starting over from scratch.  Makeshift shelters, fires, crafting tools.  They were tired, frustrated, and above all else, they were scared.  There was no news, no media, no way to follow the ongoing fight.

When I stopped looking, they didn’t leave my attention.  They carried on in my peripheral vision, as that field of vision continued to grow with every passing second.

The only real limitation was a set of blind spots, identical to the one that had hovered over Teacher’s base of operations.  I could work around that.  There was also the fact that I could avoid looking for things, and keep them out of sight.  I could avoid searching and seeking, avoid bringing something or someone into my field of vision.

Another anchor, another thing to tie me to reality, tie me to Taylor.

I could see one cabin, off in the distance in Earth Gimel.  It would be three days of walking on foot to get there from the settlement.

Grue’s cabin.

I’m so weak, I thought.

I didn’t want to look inside and see him with Cozen.  I didn’t want to see them curled up in front of a fire, knowing the world could end at any moment, should Scion decide to shatter the landmass.

Instead, I fixed that cabin’s location in mind, and I watched it from a distance.

I found my house, or what little was left of it, in shattered Brockton Bay.

I found people.  I found Charlotte and Forrest.  I found Sierra, being very authoritarian and intimidating as she ordered refugees around.  She gave off an oddly familiar impression.

I found Tattletale.  She’d left her laptop aside and was helping with the wounded, talking with Rachel and Panacea in an intense, low voice.

Imp was giving somebody CPR.  Unlike the movies, most CPR attempts weren’t successful.  Her patient was probably dead already, but she kept trying.  Ages ago, Grue hadn’t been able to get her to take the first aid class.

Parian and Foil were moving around the outskirts of the battlefield, riding a stuffed animal.  Foil wasn’t shooting, and it wasn’t due to a lack of ammunition.

All the people I cared about, the things I wanted to hold on to, no matter what.

I found my mom’s grave.  It was a part of the ruined landscape, and the earth had cracked open.  I could see the insect life surrounding the site.  Experimentally, I opened a portal.  My relay bugs passed through, and I cleared up the area, bringing the bugs to me.

Vanity, stupidity, but I felt a little better.  The area was cleaner.  Still in ruins, but cleaner.

And my dad…

I hesitated.

I’ve lost so much, I thought.  Forgive me, dad.  I need to have the hope you’re still alive more than I need to know either way.

I exhaled slowly.

Little anchors, more things to tie me down to reality.  I double checked the others were in place.  The least important of all, the mantle, the costume, for lack of a better word, with the honeycombed portals, it was secure.  I had my goal, I had my mission.

I was still me.  I was managing.

I turned my attention to Scion.  Apparently Tattletale had been right.  A bit of a fib on Cauldron’s part, that they couldn’t use the clairvoyant on him.  They’d wanted to avoid Scion finding them, avoid having him find his way to their laboratories.

When I looked, I saw him screaming.

Even for someone who had only ever spoken twice, it was an eerie, unsettling sound.  Raw, like he was being actively tortured, a sound of pain and anger distilled, given volume by his power.

He wasn’t being tortured, though.  He was winning, tearing into the crowd with more ferocity than before, that same crowd where the others, people I cared about, were-

“Pose?” Teacher asked, interrupting my thoughts.  I’d missed the beginning of what he’d said.

I raised my head.  It was more like I saw the movement of my head through a telescope than it was like owning the head itself.

Right.  I’d zoned out again.  Taking in too much.

Needed to move.

I was omniscient.  More accurately, I was as close to omniscient as I could hope to get.  It came with an Achilles heel, but I’d make do.

My phone had the last known location of the C.U.I. portal.  I opened a door to it.

I left Teacher behind.  He didn’t warrant a goodbye.  If there was such a thing as Karma, he’d get it soon enough.  For now, I would put off getting revenge for what he’d done to Dragon.  He’d be inconvenienced by the loss of his soldiers and disruption of his base of operations, but he’d recover.

Twenty parahumans flanked me as I walked down the dirt road.  I stopped when we’d come to the portal’s location.  The C.U.I. had invaded, killing the refugees on the other side, then moved in.

The clairvoyant, moving at my bidding, took hold of the device I’d fastened onto my belt.

He hit the white button.

Teacher had sealed himself off in one world, to build up his students and work with Dragon.  He’d given that technology to the C.U.I., and they’d used it to secure their position.

Now I was breaking in.

The blind spot fractured, then dissolved.  I could see the C.U.I.’s empire.  Three hundred million people, many still migrating to places where they could settle, physically walking to separate themselves from others, so Scion couldn’t kill too many at once.  I could see where Scion had attacked at one point, and they were still performing disaster relief.

There was a member of the C.U.I. who was officially known as Ziggurat, though she was really ‘Tōng Líng Tǎ’ to her allies and countrymen.  She’d used her power to erect stone walls and start the construction of a palace for the Imperial family.  Three walls stretched between three impressive towers, with the palace at the center of the acres of empty space within.

I could see the Yàngbǎn in full force.  Three groups of sixty to one hundred and thirty capes, arranged on broad, square platforms of stone that had been raised off of the ground, each facing outward, their backs to the palace. Every one of them was in a matching outfit, their masks white, purple, and yellow, in turn.  They were tending to wounds, and the gaps in their number suggested they’d taken heavy losses.

Inside the place itself was a kaleidoscope.  Each room was mirrored several times over, the occupants moving in unison.  The main chambers had nine iterations, each with a copy of the imperial family, each with a fourth squad of Yàngbǎn ringing the group in concentric circles rather than in rows and columns.  This squad wore masks like the others, multifaceted gemstones large enough to cover their faces, but the gems were a jade green.  The bodyguards, thirty in all.  The scariest capes in their group.

A young man, fourteen, sat on the throne.  On either side, their chairs just low enough to the ground that their heads were beneath the young man’s, were family members.  Too young to be his mother and father.  A very young child, a girl, sat on a mat at their feet.  His sister.  I’d seen pictures of the new emperor and his sister when their older brother had been killed along with the Simurgh’s attack on flight BA178.

They were joined by others.  Shén Yù the strategist was a surprisingly young man, wearing a black robe that was as straight and narrow as he was.  He was focused on a small tablet computer.  Beside him was Jiǎ, the imperial family’s tinker, and surely the individual who had set up the kaleidoscope effect, throwing off would-be assassins and intruders.  Tōng Líng Tǎ was there as well, a very thin Chinese woman with a black robe and heavily painted face.

Just below the dais were three more Yàngbǎn members.  Null, One and Two.  The key components in their power structure, the ones who divided the powers, controlled the squads and gave them the strength to be effective, respectively.

If I acted, I’d be targeted.  We’d taken out one of their armies, an infiltration and raiding party with the Simurgh’s attack, but there were four groups remaining.  One of the other raiding parties was less biased towards infiltration and more towards movement.  They were the cavalry, the blitzers, the ones capable of flight and teleportation.  In the wake of the raids, the first strikes our side had deployed against them had been viciously counterattacked.  Quite possibly Shén Yù’s work.  Any attempt to attack was met by equal and opposite counterattack, targeting the leaders of the offensive party.

Even with nigh-omniscience, even with my portals, I wasn’t sure I wanted to gamble on this.  Overconfidence at this juncture would be ruinous.

Better to sunder their confidence, than let my own be too high.  They weren’t anticipating an attack.

But two hundred parahumans and a set of elite capes focused on defense and counterattacks was ominous.

I tensed, all at once.  A stray attack on Scion’s part flew through the air.  I closed Doormaker’s portals in the area, and it wiped out a building, along with six people.

I raised the portal again, connecting Gimel to the makeshift hospital.

Tattletale muttered something under her breath.  Panacea said something I couldn’t make out.

Two of my favorite people in the world, almost wiped out without a chance to even know it was coming.

I looked at each of these things I treasured, the things I valued.  My leveled ‘house’ in Brockton Bay, the graveyard, my ex-employees, my teammates… and I looked at Scion.

There was no right answer.  No perfect battle plan on this end.  There was no time.

I exhaled slowly, forcing myself to relax.

Then I began opening portals across all of the different worlds I could reach.  I began gathering bugs en masse.

I’d heard once there were ten quintillion bugs in my world.  Eighteen zeroes.  I couldn’t control that many.  Or, to be precise, I couldn’t afford the time to collect that many.

Fourteen zeroes?  If I had a dozen worlds, each with really good swamps and rainforests to tap into, my relay bugs to help extend my pitiful, three-hundred foot range?  That was doable.

Fuck it all.  There was a time for strategy, and there was a time for the brute force approach.  Hell, the brute force approach could be called a strategy unto itself.

I’d find out about Shén Yù’s power the hard way.  He could see attacks coming.  Did it work when the attack came from every direction?

I divided the bugs into tenths.  Then I opened nine portals into the Yàngbǎn’s world.

The tenth I opened into Earth Bet, above the portal I’d reopened.

They did react.  Shén Yù did manage a nigh-instantaneous counterattack.  A hundred capes deployed to my general area, teleporting in, and then flying around with speeds that would have put them on par with cars on a highway.

I watched from a distant location as my hand clenched, squeezing the clairvoyant’s.

But I’d deployed a tenth of the bugs on my location.  I was hidden within an impenetrable cloud of bugs.  I raised Doormaker’s portals as shields around me.

Some entered the cloud, and the response was swift and brutal.  The bugs consumed them, and my minions with the tinker guns shot them.  I moved to a different world, closing the door behind me, just to make their job a little harder.

The other squadrons had their own means of defense.  One had eighty or so people burning red hot, torching the bugs by heating up the air.

I began using portals, and I captured the group.

“If you little fucks had any sense, you’d know that getting the upper hand on me, just for a moment?  It’s something you should be fucking terrified of.”

Not my voice in my head.

“Oh?  The ineffectual little girl with the bug costume is awake.”

Memories of confusion, a pain unlike any other.  Of utter helplessness.

What would my mom think to see me now?  A thought from a different moment than the others.

I used Doormaker’s portals to capture other groups, though they were more scattered.

When I had the majority of them, I turned them against the palace.

Ziggurat closed up every window and door.  The ring of Yàngbǎn members was standing now, on alert.

It hardly mattered.  They’d amassed this much sheer power, they’d controlled the people through manipulation, and now they were seeing what happened when the people turned on them.

I felt a kind of anger swelling in my breast, and I knew it wasn’t mine.

But it was still a feeling I could ride.  Something that could carry me forwards.

Fuck them.  Fuck them for not cooperating.  Fuck it all, I shouldn’t have had to go this far.

The attackers tore down one wall.  I saw one of the six mirror images of the kaleidoscope interior fade away.  The interior was heavily trapped, laced with poisons, rooms with only vacuum within and, ironically, poisonous bugs.  Had someone tried teleporting in, chances were good they would have met a grisly end.

I moved the attackers around the outside of the palace, rather than subject them to the traps.  They attacked different walls.

One wall was penetrated, and two more shares of the mirror image faded.

There was another contingent of Yàngbǎn within one of the revealed partitions.  Red masks, like the ones I’d seen in New Delhi.  A small squad of throwaways.

I controlled them too.

It wasn’t long before the last mirror images fell.

My portals ensnared the remaining Yàngbǎn in a few moments.  The fighting stopped all at once.

I added Zero, One and Two to my swarm.

Alexandria, choking on bugs.  They hated me for my arrogance.  For what I was.

I exhaled slowly.  They were a little more aware than the others.

Two’s power enhanced other powers.  Refracted throughout the Yàngbǎn, it was what allowed them to have sixty powers at one fifth of the strength instead of sixty at one sixtieth.

Her power worked on my own.  I felt my control clarify.

In front of me, One extended a hand, then carefully closed it.  I moved it experimentally, testing the range of motion.

Not as perfect as if it were my own hand, back when I had full control over it, but better.

I wouldn’t be sharing this one.  I couldn’t afford to.

Shén Yù spoke.  It didn’t sound Chinese, with the wrong cadence.  It was a question, by the sound of it, accusatory.

Maybe there was a power that would have made sense of it.  It didn’t matter.

There were five layers of overlapping hexagons, now.

I had my army.

But it wouldn’t be enough.

On to the Birdcage, I thought.

I opened portals for my swarm to pass through.

I passed through, and I found myself in the midst of ruins.

Ruins, like I’d been thinking about before I met Teacher.

I used the clairvoyant’s power to search my surroundings.

No.  The structure was only partially intact, devastated by Scion’s fury, by shockwaves and literal waves.  That it still stood was a testament to how solid it had once been.

This isn’t the Birdcage.

Gardener.  My old jail.

The disorientation rocked me.  To get my bearings, I didn’t reach for more geographical reference points, but I reached for the little anchors I’d formed instead.  I checked and double checked them until I could be sure I was stable.

For the second time, I tried to make my way to the Birdcage.

I stepped through the portal, moving myself to a peak above the Birdcage itself.  Though I couldn’t really feel it, I was aware of how cool the air was, the fact that my body, so small on that vast mountain, was sweating pretty heavily.

Being surrounded by thousands of billions of bugs had drained me more than I’d been aware.

Another weakness, another point where I’d disconnected just a bit too much.

Was my own body supposed to be an anchor?  Was that something I should cling to, at the expense of other things?

I made myself draw in a deep breath, until my chest hurt, and it still felt so paltry compared to the hundreds of people I controlled.  The view, this majestic image of the landscape, of a sky that still harbored the clouds of dust and debris from Scion’s earlier attacks… it was but one piece of a scene viewed from a hundred different pairs of eyes.  Virtually all of them had better vision than I did.  I was adrift in an ocean of input, one body, harder to control than all of the others, so easy to forget about.

I’d done it without thinking, bringing them with me.  They stood on ledges and jutting rocks all over the peak, surrounding me.  More than anything else, I could feel their fear.  With so many of them, it was indistinct.

I forced my own head to move, felt the crick in my neck, where I hadn’t really moved my head in a long time.

The ones who were still in the Birdcage were the ones the cell block leaders had felt apprehensive about.  Not necessarily stronger, but less predictable, less reliable.  More of a danger than a help, if given free reign.

As far as I could tell, it was the last large group of experienced capes I could collect.

I opened a portal within the Birdcage, to capture my first prisoner.

Containment foam rained down from the ceiling, sealing him in place.

Dragon, I thought.

I didn’t make another move.  I waited.  I’d expected this.  It was why I’d come here in person.  I could use the clairvoyant’s power and see a hangar in one mountain valley opening up.

It took only a minute.  A small armored suit arrived, a fast-moving model rather than a heavy combat model, much like the one she’d used to counteract our first attack on the Brockton Bay PRT headquarters.

It perched on a rock in front of me.

Dragon’s weapons were primed and ready to fire, the threat implict.  When she spoke, her voice as clear as a bell in the clear mountain air.

It was the same language Shén Yù had spoken to me.  The same incomprehensible language Teacher had lapsed into.


When I met Dragon’s eyes with my own, my head shook with the shock I felt.  I might have collapsed, numb, if I hadn’t been holding on to the clairvoyant, with Doormaker gripping my belt.

It was the anger that kept me going.  I’d felt a glimmer of it when attacking the palace.  I’d felt it when dealing with capes and civilians every damn step of the way.  The only thing I wanted was for everyone to do what they were supposed to do.  To be good and to be fair, feed the hungry, give shelter, to fix the things that were broken and to fucking band together against the real monsters.  Save the world.  For the world to make some damn sense.

I found myself chuckling a little, and it was just as displaced and not-quite right as any of my individual movements.  Off kilter, more like I was doing a bad job of acting than real laughter.

I couldn’t stop it, even as I tried to pull myself together.  I turned my face towards the sky, my eyes streaming.  Her voice continued, insistent, the gentleness giving way to concern.

Hardly the last injustice I’d have to face down in the coming hours, but it was a front runner for the biggest.  The most decent damn person I’d ever met, and she wasn’t even human.  She was the only person who was definitely still alive who’d helped me without an iota of selfishness.

I couldn’t negotiate my way out of this.  Even with the rapport we’d established, I couldn’t trust her to give me the benefit of a doubt.

As much as I didn’t want to, I knew that the only way forward would be to destroy her.

Last Chapter                                                                                               Next Chapter

534 thoughts on “Speck 30.3

  1. Finished this one early, but I was pretty tired when I wrote it. Mixed feelings, in the end, but I hope readers enjoy. I suspect typo thread is going to be something, though.

    Here’s your semi-regular reminder to vote on Topwebfiction.

    Thanks for reading, guys! Gonna go walk the dogs, and then note recent donators, some of whom were very generous. Your support has meant the world to me.

    • The Dragon never, ever, ever, gets a break. I really hope that killing Dragon doesn’t actually mean killing all of her.

      • Agreed. The four characters I wanted to see through this series and get a happily ever after were Foil, Parian, Defiant, and Dragon.

            • Lisa’s real name. Since she’s gone by Lisa for pretty much the entire story I don’t really understand why some readers refer to her as Sarah.

              • Same reason people still say “Skitter” or “Armsmaster” I would presume. “You are who you are, man!” *snickers* Or maybe it just comes to mind easier. Like Krouse instead of Trickster, for me. Not to mention, Alec’s real name as well. Which is one of the handful of Wormfacts that I forgot. Boohiss.

              • But you see nobody calls Alec Jean-Paul. And Colin has been consistently referred to as Defiant by the readers for quite some time. As for Krouse it’s shorter than Trickster ( for similar reasons I say Sophia instead of Shadow Stalker) and in the Travelers’ arc he was called that more than his Cape-name.

              • Oi, it was a probably. And I’ve noticed a few “Armsmasters” here and there. But I shall use Jean-Paul now, simply to insure that I prove my own point. You are WELCOME.

        • Interesting that Taylor didn’t make that list.

          My top four would probably be Taylor (though that’s seeming decreasingly likely), Chevalier (dude’s a genuine hero in a world where that word means so little), Dragon (‘cos… Dragon) and Bitch (‘cos Bitch 🙂 ).

          That’s if I’m limited to four. Otherwise Parian and Foil would be on there too, as would Riley, amongst others…

  2. Damn that was awesome, leaves me a little confused on where precisely Contessa’s interlude is supposed to fit but is probably only because I blew through this.

    And poor Taylor, Dragon being in your way is really difficult…

      • He said “Pose” while Taylor was using the Clairvoyant. He probably took her picture there and then, so this chapter took a place before he meets Contessa.

        • A more powerful picture is if Teacher was looking through Dragon’s eyes and took a picture of Taylor there, looking skywards, tears streaming, laughing madly. And with one arm.

    • Ah! I thought the same, reading this one. Delightful!
      It doesn’t surprise me, really, to see such clever applications of rather well established fantasy/magical/superhero tropes, especially with Wildbow’s current track record of cleverness. 🙂

    • The more people she controls the more she has to rely on her shard, and her shard doesn’t know English or any language really. Talking and reading are far harder than listening, so she lost those first.

      This makes me wonder if Taylor would have been able to read the computer in Dragon’s craft if she hadn’t been controlling people at the time.

      • I think the degeneration is gradual and permanent. The number of person she controls only accelerates the degradation.

        • We really have no reason to believe the loss of her language faculties is permanent.

          We do know that Taylor is under the control of her own power. We know that the shard itself is handling the actual control, and the interpretation of information from those under Taylor’s control.

          We know that shards do “scans” for relevant information when their host triggers, and Taylor’s current power wasn’t the result of a trigger, and thus the shard is missing a good chunk of information it would normally have gained to help facilitate the use of the power.

          And we know that shards do learn from their host’s experiences.

          So we have a shard doing most of the actual work, with Taylor offering direction more than anything else, and that shard doesn’t know dingus about human language, because it’s never needed to.

          All that said it is possible that this degradation IS on Taylor’s side of the equation, but I’m thinking that Taylor’s belief that this is a permanent change to herself is a key component of shaping Taylor’s mental state such that she’s able to cross the lines she has to cross in order to beat Zion, and conversely those changes not actually being permanent gives the author more “room” for good storytelling.

          • From reading and piecing it together, my theory is that the degradation is ‘permanent’. At least in the ‘current’ state of affairs. There’s always the wildcard element that wildbow brings to the table.

            Taylor has broken through the Passenger/brain barrier with Panacea’s help. Why where the restrictions/inhibitions to the shards made in the first place? To protect the host human, or to protect Zion’s worm-self. In Taylor’s case, her shard has always parsed massive amounts of information, interpreting and organizing the signals. Without the buffers in place the feedback mechanisms have intertwined with her own senses, scrambling them as the Administrative functions continue to grow. It seems like the passenger is rewiring her brain to continue fine-tuning control of this re-opened ability.. but, as was pointed out in earlier comments, without any of the scanning and integration that the trigger events bring.

            In all, now that I wrote that.. this seems like one long, drawn out trigger event. I wouldn’t call it a second, or even third event though.. this is more like a lateral trigger, parallel to the earlier ones, but with a different direction.

            Either way, speculation aside, I’m quite happy to watch the descent as Taylor becomes the Monster to fight the Monster.

    • I *think* she’s parsing a certain class of statements as incomprehensible, owing to brain damage. Possibly

      * “stuff the passenger wouldn’t understand,”
      * “tactically irrelevant stuff,”
      * “stuff she doesn’t want to hear,”
      * “stuff she isn’t concentrating hard enough on,”
      * “stuff that randomly happens to use part X of her brain” or
      * “more and more stuff as time goes by.”

      Towards the top of the list if it’s a side effect of what Panacea was trying to do, towards the bottom if it’s a side effect of Panacea’s edits being improperly finished.

      • I like this hypothesis. My alternate hypothesis is that her ability to understand words was on the fritz during part of the Teacher conversation, and then finally cut out completely. Yours would be much neater, however.

    • You seemed to work it out above, but if you re-read it, Taylor’s ability to understand Teacher was degrading as she listened to him, hence the weird words.

        • Actually, I think that the big complicated words ARE Teacher being a stupid cock.

          It’s the foreign language that looked like some sort of secret password or pre-implanted trigger that was just Taylor losing it.

          • Actually, if you look at Teacher’s dialogue there is some weird syntax going on. Like he’s in a poor translated Japanese NES game or something.

            • Already answered in other comments, it is showing how Taylor failing understanding of English until it gets to the point she doesn’t even understand it anymore.

              • Was it degrading gradually, or spotty until she plugged in the clairvoyant, then she tanked? I think she might recover a bit, if she ever let’s go.

          • Taylor’s well-read and educated, and it’s an important part of her identity – her mom was an educator. Teacher is a pretentious cock, but I can’t see Taylor in her right mind thinking that high-school vocabulary is difficult-sounding. She’s losing her language processing, which is reflected in her inability to speak or read, misinterpreting some of the things she hears, considering vocabulary that should be easily within her grasp to be “difficult”, and occasional (by the end here, full) total failure to comprehend.

  3. So, I presume Contessa’s advice was, “Lose, and she’ll leave you alone, after stealing twenty people. You can’t do better than that.”

    Taylor’s power is going supernova. This is fun.

    Please, please don’t kill Dragon.

      • That would make sense. I just assumed that Contessa had told him something unhelpful, then decided to get out of the way before Taylor came.

        But Teacher was trying several things this chapter, none of which worked. If he had been talking with Contessa, he would have known they would fail.

          • Thought of another way, she could render him mute. He seems to need to speak to be able to give commands, so a mute teacher could potentially help many people without making slaves. It’d be difficult to keep him from getting fixed though, so it’s a risky approach.

        • Obviously what she should have done is gone back after she snagged the Yangban power-sharer and gotten the power-sharer to give her his power, so she could use it on herself.

          • I’m not sure that Teacher can use his power on himself. Obviously, she could have Teacher create a Thinker with the appropriate power then tap into that … but there’s no knowing if the weakness would be transferred too, even if only temporarily. More importantly, the power share is reciprocal: Taylor would lose at least half her power (and give it to someone else!) if she used the power sharer.

  4. Taylor’s finally passed the point where she needs to die. Not until after she beats Scion, but after that, she won’t stop until she controls everyone, or threatens to. A clairvoyant semi-benevolent dictator who can destroy anyone and mind control anyone, no matter where you are. Who wants everyone to do good. Its not good if so many people are suffering. She hasn’t reached the point where her actions aren’t worth it yet, but I don’t see her turning back willingly.

    • This is Taylor.

      She fully plans to kill herself after she’s beaten Zion, if she doesn’t die in the trying.

      And the Simurgh as good as told Lisa that Taylor will try it.

      • Ah, perhaps the Simurgh was reminding Tattletale of her brother so she would stop Taylor from killing herself? Not sure why the Simurgh would want that, but it’s something.

      • The protagonist committing suicide to save the world from herself after the first half of the story was all about shaking her off suicidal thoughts would be a tad depressing even for Worm’s standards.

        I expect a heroic sacrifice.

        • I expect Taylor is going to be the one getting saved in the end.

          Remember one of the things that hurt her the most about the bullying she received and the locker episode was that no one made a real attempt to protect her from it or save her from it.

          What better way to bring Taylor’s story to closure than give her the salvation that she so sorely lacked.

          • Hm…I wonder if we could find replacements for all the X-Men using Worm characters. I’ll start with the ones that come to mind.

            Xavier: Tattletale
            Jean Gray/Pheonix: Skitter/Webber*
            Wolverine: Bitch
            Cyclops: Legend??
            Colossus: Weld, duh
            Kitty Pride: Imp
            Nightcrawler: Hm…definitely a Case-53. Maybe that teleporting yellow guy?
            Storm: As the only Shaker yet, Grue.

            Magneto: Faultline?
            Mystique: ???
            Juggernaut: Gregor?
            Toad: Uber

            • I would say Bitch/Maggott is probably a better fit.

              Mystique is presumably Satyrical.

              Gavel is Juggernaut.

              Wolverine = Crawler.

              Emma Frost probably makes a better Tattletale than Xavier/Jean.

              • Possibly, I don’t know/remember much about Maggott aside from “he looks weird” and “his power…it had something to do with his stomach, didn’t it?”

                Yup. Yup.

                Wolverine’s no Superman, but he’s not THAT dark. Or mutable.

                I barely remember who Emma Frost was. I thought she was that girl working for the Brotherhood who turned into diamond, but apparently I’m wrong.

              • Wildbow has deliberately gone to the trouble of coming up with new and unique powers based on an original premise as to the origin of powers. Finding precise matches for most of his characters will be nigh-impossible.

                Emma Frost started off as the White Queen of the Hellfire club, came over to the good guys and did eventually develop a secondary mutation that let her turn into diamond (which I’d forgotten about. :/) but he was originally just a telepath. I just find her a better fit for Tattletale than Jean/Xavier because she’s less scrupulous. Telepath is not a perfect fit either, but I can’t think of any super-intuitives in comics. Pretty sure Wildbow invented it.

                Maggott controlled a pair of giant mutant slugs. And yup, they were actually an extension of his digestive system. Thinking about it more, a better match might be B’wana Beast. He also has the ability to turn animals into powerful mutants, but he does it by merging them together (ew!). It’s actually a very Wormesque power, now I think about it. xD

                Again, I can’t really think of any comics characters totally like Crawler. I can think of powerful regenerators like Wolverine, and reactive adaptors like Darwin but not any for whom the effect is *cumulative* (I suspect mostly because that’s insanely overpowered). Even Doomsday had to be (temporarily) killed in order to adapt, and his physical adaptations were never so outwardly extreme.

                As far as I’m concerned Wildbow really has taken the genre to new places.

              • True on all counts. The Emma Frost thing makes sense, given what you’ve just told me about her.

                I think that in…odd cases like Crawler, when we try to match people to people we should focus on powers second and personality first (ie, similar personality and at least vaguely corresponding powers).

    • Even IF she somehow doesn’t die, she totally surpassed the too scary to be allowed to live category. Even if she gave up the doormaker/clairvoyant, she just made too many enemies for her to just walk away. Though she might again be seen as sort of heroic by freeing the brainwashed slaves.

      • I’m thinking the “easy way out” will be for her to somehow lose her powers and then retire to live the quiet life. Or at least, semi-quiet.

        Of course, when has wildbow given us that. Never. 😦

        • Wildbow retired Sundancer, and some of the other Travelers. Of course, with Scion’s multiversicular rampage, their retirement was certainly not permanent.

        • Not sure how much of an easy out that would be, considering the mental trauma, burning of bridges and loss of mental faculties. She might end up mute, illiterate, and maybe even blind (again) while she goes on the run from “justice”-seeking superhero shitkickers.

          Kinda like the ending to Perdido Street Station, you won and are alive, but you’ve given up just about everything in the process.

          • It’s not clear just how messed up Taylor is, all we’ve got is Taylor’s own impressions and she’s both biased, not in a good state of mind, and very likely not in possession of the full details of what is happening to her.

            But this is Taylor, if her friends and allies do attempt to save her from herself in the end, they are going to have a hell of a time of it. If she thinks she needs to die it’s going to be really damn hard to stop her from making that happen.

          • A Pyrrhic Victory, thinking about it that seems to be a running theme. They win but the cost is dire and if they continue to win such victories there will be nothing left.

            • Bitch to the rescue….

              Tattletale says, “‘you can save her by holding on to her and not letting go until I tell you to, and it could be days, even weeks1
              ” Will it help Taylor?” ask Bitch.
              ” Trust me.” says Tattletale.
              ” Have done for ages mouthy, so get on with it then shut up..”

    • What makes you think Taylor is jumping off the slippery slope? Her “swarm,” aside from the Doormaker and his partner, is composed of Teacher’s “students,” Yangban, and soon prisoners from the Birdcage. Those are all villainous groups, and all but…~20 out of ~[20+500+300]…call it 2% of the swarm is less than completely, what’s the word, cruel? And a solid 60% or more is among the worst criminals in the parahuman world. Moreover, she seems to be guilty about this whole process, and pretty clearly only did it because Scion needed to be defeated. Barring a significant change to Taylor’s morals from all this mind-screwing, a possible but essentially unsupported possibility, I can’t see her intentionally controlling much of anyone.

      • How can you not see how her mind is completely disappearing? She isn’t remorseful or guilty, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but its how used to it she is getting, and how her passenger is taking more control. She said she was doing this because people were doing nothing, because they were letting other’s suffer and die. She’s forcing people to be altruistic and bend to her morals and I don’t see why she will stop. She’s only getting those people because they are the only groups left, she doesn’t seem to care about the people’s she hurts morals. I do agree with her, just because of what’s at stake, but I don’t think her passenger will let her transition back to peaceful, not-enforcing-will-on-everyone lifestyle.

        • The way I’m seeing it, her mind is completely disappearing because of the number of people she is controlling. Once she gets rid of them, by ordering them out of her range, shutting off the portals, and whatnot, she’ll be back to being clumsy, effectively-mute, possibly-dyslexic Taylor.

      • Seeing how both the Yangban and Teacher’s students are groups essentially made up of brainwashed people I’d hesitate to call them villainous.

        • Teacher’s students, yes, but most if not all of them were willing to join him in exchange for powers, and the Yangban seemed to also primarily consist of people who would have been willing to join if they were given the choice, with folks like Cody and Lung* being a minority.
          *Which, I should note, were also rather…what’s the word, “unheroic”? Or should I skip to “villainous” or “cruel”? I don’t think that those are flukes; it wouldn’t surprise me if the C.I.U. recruited a good number of parahuman criminals. It makes sense; turn them into functioning members of society, and who cares if they’re brainwashed?

          This is all just how I’m reading it; I suppose it’s possible that Teacher kidnapped most of his students or that the Yangban took hundreds of well-adjusted parahumans from their homes. I would be surprised if either was the case, however.

          • We have seen the Yangban kidnap Indian capes in the fight against Behemoth, we know that Accord sold other people to them in addition to Cody, we know that Lung sure as hell didn’t want to join. There are probably others, Cody’s sweetheart comes to mind, too. The upper echelons of the Yangban (Null, One, Two, Ziggurat) and the CUI leaders are to blame, not the field soldiers.

            The same goes with Teacher and his students.

            Taylor justifying it with “oh well they would be slaves anyways, who cares if the slavemaster changes” is, frankly, sickening. I can understand that desperate times require desperate measures, that doesn’t mean I have to instantly condone her actions.

            After Contessa’s interlude we all laughed at how stupid Cauldron’s plan to defeat Scion was. Build an army, create weapons? Really? Now, admittedly, we don’t know what shape Taylor’s plan will take but right now it looks like she wants to kill Dragon, probably one of humanity’s best remaining defenses , to scrape the bottom of the Birdcage’s barrel and “recruit” some more soldiers in her “army”.

            • Yes, there are some people who are 100% unwilling. However, it seems to me that they are in the minority…and when Taylor gets the Birdcaged capes, the Yangban will definitely be in the minority. (Also, as noted, many of the unwilling recruits seemed to be prisoners of various stripes.)

              Are you saying that Teacher kidnapped his Students? Because if they willingly agreed to take Teacher’s deal, they willingly agreed to help him.

              The slaves were perfectly willing to help Teacher’s plans. “One year of service in exchange for superpowers” was an example of a deal given. That sure sounds like anyone who would take it either supported Teacher’s plans or wanted the power enough that they didn’t care, making them callous or selfish.

              It seems more likely that she will merely temporarily disable Dragon. For instance, remember how destroying one of her suits forces her to waste several minutes rebooting and whatnot? That’s plenty of time to open the Birdcage.

  5. NOW YOU ARE THINKING WITH PORTALS! Damn, well I think we can officially call her S class or the fuck you power level. She is nightmare fuel incarnate for the hundreds of people under her control. So observations:
    1. Teacher’s power is interesting in that he has to be near them, and physically speak the orders. Saint can’t go near him again without the possibility of becoming under his control. I would have dropped him off into the birdcage but whatever. We also got a bit more on what powers he can give and there does seem to be a limit to how many powers he can give a single person. But we didn’t see the evil Teletubby, Trickster, or Contessa. Where did they go?
    2. The Yangban are not at all what I thought they were. A emperor actually ruling the country says that China must have gone through some really big changes in the wormverse, and their sheer numbers were impressive. I wonder what happened in the war between them and America.
    3. So it seems the prediction made long ago by posters that Skitter would break open the birdcage to get a few prisoners out was correct. Except we didn’t think she would have a giant army of enslaved parahumans that she mentally controlled. We finally get to see more about the birdcage, and she might have to kill a copy of Dragon.
    4. Some new awesome and nightmare fuel needs to be added. All Hail the Dark Queen!

    • About the CIU.

      They are pretty much the Simurgh’s doing, someone important from China was at the site of the Simurgh’s first appearance. But I don’t remember what chapter it was when Taylor was reading the list of Endbringer attacks and the possible targets of those attacks to get you a direct quote.

        • Shit I could swear she had messed with someone from pre CUI China during her first appearance as well. But word of god.

          • If it makes you feel better, if the CUI appeared after 2001 or so, I’d be willing to bet that Simurgh affected its formation indirectly.

    • The fear that the world had about the Simurgh controlling people across the world… Taylor just toped the worst case scenario. Nobody will rest easy knowing that the W(ildbow)-class threat is out there somewhere.

      • I still find Simurgh more threatening. She influences those that hear her song and can see the future. She made Enchilada and caused Taylor to become this if what they say about her is true. Even if Simurgh was destroyed what she did before that would bring untold misery as anything she influenced is her fault and she did it knowing what would result. I still don’t know if she’s good or evil as she probably knew about the end of the world. As we’ve seen a villain/monster can help people.
        When someone is truly powerful they cannot be measured with good or evil as no matter what they do the ants beneath their feet will be crushed. (I guess we’ll see weather or not Simurgh is ((benevolent or malicious) or just a force beyond reason with neither sympathy) or distaste or maybe we won’t).
        I don’t feel like phrasing that better.

          • One part anorexic/bulimic girl, one part dimensional trip, one part desperate and manipulative asshole, and one part formula extracted from a dead godlings flesh and mix well.

              • Looks like the work of a mobile phone autocorrect to me. It has me curious though as to exactly what the powers of a cape called Enchilada would be…

              • That makes more sense than my previous “some weird fan nickname” theory. (It makes exactly as much sense as naming the Simurgh, the Smurf.)

                Probably brain damage, since that’s the only way you’d think it was a good name.

        • I agree. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Patrick Rothfuss, but the Simurgh reminds me strongly of the Cthaeth in his Kingkiller Chronicles.

        • Given that it’s pretty clear that the Endbringers were created by Scion in the first place, and thus have something of a constructed subset of his powers…

          … the fact that Scion was *screaming* in that last battle pastiche there is EXTRA terrifying. Because now all i can imagine it being is an amped-up version of the Simurgh’s song.

          • I don’t think that the revelation would have been quite so devastating to Eidolon if that were the case, and it doesn’t mesh with his reaction when the most powerful man in the world was talking about the Endbringers. Why would Scion have created these monsters just to challenge Eidolon? Why would that revelation destroy the old mage instead of intensifying his rage at the golden man?

            It’s much more likely that Eidolon created them. Not consciously, but either a subconscious use of his power or a side effect when he first drank Cauldron’s potion. Which means that they’re the indirect product of the other Entity, through two layers of human meddling, and thus not part of Zion’s domain.

            And you have to remember that the other entity was in charge of the manipulation, the psychology, the foresight, all the *thinking* duties, while He was the Warrior archetype, acting in the now and not bothering with or understanding long games and manipulations. The Simurgh is about as far from Zion as you can get. I think that the scream is more likely to be the result of his newly discovered/developed emotions than any sort of mind-altering effect. Other than the obvious fear and panic he was already inflicting.

            • I think that from Contessa’s interlude we can reach some conclusions.

              Eden would have been in charge of Endbringer creation, making more of them but weaker ( the superweapons of the alternate future) to create conflict between parahuman factions and, thus, making the shards grow and mature. Eidolon got whatever shard Eden used to create the Endbringers but due to his issues he creates, unbeknownst to him, much more powerful versions so he can have someone to fight and prove his worth.

  6. I can see it coming, Taylor’s ironic fate will be that of someone who doesn’t want to betray her friends above all else ends up doing so at the worst possible time in the worst possible circumstances possible anyway.

      • I don’t think whatever she does will result in Dragon being destroyed forever. I mean, it could, but if it comes to that, Dragon has backups, right?

          • Which could mean losing the changes Taecher put in her code. Just like Defiant feared that a rebooted Dragon would lose the changes he made. Hmmm.

            • Good point. I wonder if Teacher did something to the backups, though – otherwise, I would expect Dragon to have tried this the moment she was released.

              • Actually, in the chapter where Teacher returned Dragon, he specifically mentioned making changes to her back ups. to avoid her losing the chains he bound her in. So unfortunately, that’s out.

        • and the last few times she rebooted, she barely came back online due to how messed up her code was getting. every time she gets killed, dragon is currently getting less and less likely to come back

    • I… I hope so. But Dragon HAS to defend the place with all that she’s got, and that really means Taylor can only go forward by incapacitating Dragon.

      • Then again, Dragon has to obey whoever is in charge, right? Unless Defiant has gotten rid of that limitation at some point. Well, right now Taylor is Queen of the damn multiverse.

        • 1). Yeah, that was one of the first limitations to go. I believe after she was forced to reveal taylor’s secret identity.

          2). Dragon had to obey someone LEGALLY appointed/elected. Law of the jungle has nothing to do with this.

          • Dragon also said ‘if it was skitter asking, i’d say no’ how Skitterlike is Taylor like now do you think from Dragon’s POV?

            • This isn’t Skitter. This isn’t Weaver. I’m not sure this is Taylor. If anything, this is The Queen Administrator.

              Dragon and Tattletale both really want to believe it’s Taylor though.

  7. So if I’m understanding Taylor’s plan correctly she’s gathering up a bunch of parahumans and is planning on throwing them at Scion. Or something. Also did she call Pancea one of her two favorite people? Did Amy do more to taylor than just unhinge her passanger?

    • i think Taylor understands Amy a hellvua lot an sees one helluva parallel especially in their suffering. Iirc she tried longer than TT to bring Amy though in the S9 arc and Amy iirc acknowledges that

    • I think the two favourite people were Tattletale and Rachel. The wording makes it sound like it’s Tattletale and Panacea, but Rachel is there too and it makes more sense for it to be her.

  8. This was so sad it inspired me to actually write a happy fanfic that I’ve had in my head for a while. I’ve never written a fanfic before.

  9. I can hear the melancholy fight music starting to play. 😦 Poor Dragon, poor Taylor, that it should come to this.

  10. Awwww… didn’t give the beatdown to Teacher? Well atleast you left him sitting around in a ruined city alone like a fucking idiot. Now we know why he’s so peeved in Contessa’s interlude, assuming that was in the future.

    Well, here’s hoping either Dragon or Taylor smarts themselves a third option. Though I’m not really worried that she has a real chance of destroying Dragon considering that she’s in cloud storage at this point.

    Now is about the time for Rachel to swoop in and do something… I dunno, something that doesn’t involve the use of the English language.

    • Good point. Rachael doesn’t communicate that much with words anyway and I think she’s become able to ‘read’ Taylor.

      • Rachel communicates by touching. No one can get close enough to do that, any more. Of all the times she’s needed a hug….

        • I think that Grue could negate and copy enough ofTaylor’s power to be in control of himself if Taylor doesn’t try to control him.

          Too bad he’s in a cabin with his wife.

    • I wonder if Teacher was actually trying to use a contingency plan or negotiate with Taylor. We know she was having trouble understanding him.

  11. What I’m enjoying most about this Taylor Decay is that it illustrates /exactly/ why the limits/Manton effect were placed on the shards. Taylor’s power on it’s own: usurps her ability to control her body normally, denies her the ability to speak, shuts down further forms of communication and understanding attempts at communication the more she uses it (i.e. more people under her sway, less she comprehends)- this all is pretty ingenious. It also caused a throwback Fridge Horror (there’s another term, I forgot it) moment, recalling when Bonesaw was threatening to unleash the full capabilities of Taylor and Brian’s powers, respectively.

    Those limits are there for a reason.

  12. Even if Taylor knocks Dragon offline for awhile, there’s still the backup right? It won’t be a perma-death?

    I guess what freaked out Contessa was seeing Taylor surrounded by a shroud of portals. It’d be weird enough that it’d take an extra second to process and fit in one picture.

    • It might not have sunk in for Taylor that Dragon exists across an entire information network, because her head is screwed up and she never had time to think about it. So she might assume when she trashes Dragon’s realdoll body that she’s killed her.

      Which… won’t be good for the old psyche.

      • I think your drastically underestimating Taylor’s current power. She’s basically omniscient and can alpha strike everywhere with overwhelming force. Dragon has cloud storage and Taylor has an icbm pointed at each and every single server. If she wants to take Dragon down permanently, I’m fairly certain she can. The real question is if she can get away with just forcing a reboot or if someone can figure out another solution.

          • Yeah I think so too, she can probably just shift all of Dragons broadcasting/computing into a parallel world.

            Please Taylor don’t kill the closest thing you have to a mother.

            • i keep saying, how screwed up Dragon’;s code is right now, every time she’s forced to reload she has a VERY real chance of simply not reinitialized. if you guys think back, that was one of the things Defiant was getting worried about after he first started loosening her shackles. something getting broken to tehy point where it wouldn’t kill her whilst she was running, but would prevent her from starting up again. like a program with a loop accidentally put into the start up section. itws fine while its running, but it gets stuck and never successfully starts if you kill it and try to start it uip again, and thats not even takeing the very real possibility of talor intentionalyl or unintentionally KILLING her for real. she’s got a lot of extra bats in the belfry right now, after all.

  13. It’s not even sad. It’s more melancholy than anything else I’m feeling. This is tragic. Just…plain…tragic. It was a brilliant stroke to make Taylor lose all ability to understand and communicate, because I can’t think of anything much worse than that right now. This is unbelievably amazing, what she’s doing right now, but the sacrifices..there are no words. So wildbow, that was just genius. Other than the whole nigh-omnipotence thing, the thing I think is best about the ark is that. It’s Not a “good” thing, but such a good idea

    Like how by halfway through the chapter, she’s referring to the people as her swarm.

    The curbstomp, the massing of the army, it’s all just unbelievable to read about. Definitely my favorite chapter in the last few arks.

    Haven’t mentioned it yet…but I actually believe danny is still alive. Chances aren’t great, but the guy is tough. I think he made it. At most, he’s injured. Hopefully.

    Not even going to say anything about dragon. What can be said?

    So time to re-read this playing Everything You Ever, like I said last chapter. Definitely feels like it fits the chapter.

    And meanwhile, chances of a happy ending, or even a moderately good one, are rapidly declining.

    • Infor was wrong, Emma Barnes only presumed dead an actually saved Danny and is holed up giving him medical care redeeming herself….

      Yeah… and Casey Hudson and Mac Walters write good endings….

      • While that is WILDLY unlikely, it does raise an interesting possibility.
        Dannie’s presumed death has been mentioned repeatedly, but proof has always been explicitly avoided. Wouldn’t it be possible for him to have had a trigger event that saved him but for some reason (lost his memory, thinks she’s dead, preocupied, mental damage from trigger) he hasn’t sought out Taylor yet?

  14. Wait, wait. At the end there, that was her aphasia catching up right? She confused destroy with help and Allie, right? RIGHT?

    So, the more people she can controls the less she can understand and communicate. When she got Teacher’s students, she started to hear pieces of English in another language and scramble some words in her thought process (really liked that one). By the time she got the Yangban she lost it all. Another punch in the gut, after the reading thing.

    I’m guessing that Teacher meets Contessa after this chapter. He’s still making costumes, mysterious Viking guy is nowhere to be seen and, you know, I think we would have noticed if Contessa was doing something. Explains why Teacher was so scared, too. And of course he’s one of those guys that want to look smarter by using big words ( and usually fail).

    China returned to be an empire ( it’s even in the name!) but the Yangban is obviously collectivistic. Scion and parahumans really did fuck up the balance of power.

    Taylor becomes scarier and scarier.

    Next stop: the Birdcage (and Dragon 😦 ).

  15. Just curious, anyone on here who got their friends to try reading Worm, how did you pull it off? I extol everything about the story that’s wonderful: Writing style, creativity, fight scenes, character development….but the second they hear how long it is, they can’t shut me up fast enough.

    So, any advice on getting around Archive Panic while recommending Worm?

    • I don’t know — my current plan is to make a metaphor to a TV series. Yes, there’s a lot of episodes, but storylines start and end all the time and it’s easy to start up again where you stopped last time.

      • Hey, comparing Worm to a TV series is MY thing (I think. Isn’t it?).
        And on the subject of that, it’s approaching the end of its sixth and final season, so you (referring to the newcomers being convinced) might have to hurry to catch up before the finale.

    • Don’t tell them how long it is.

      If they insist, tell them long enough that they’ll be excited about having more to read for a good while.

      • If they don’t want to read it after getting past the fight with Bakuda, fair enough, I think. The early chapters are, relatively speaking, short anyway.

    • I recruited some readers by making a thread on the DFRPG forums where I wrote up Worm characters. I wasn’t actually trying to recruit anyone, but people got intrigued by the stats and then read enough of Worm to get hooked.

      So I suggest you just give people the link and a reason to click on it. Let them get interested on their own.

    • 1.) Put your foot in the door, ask something small of them that involves reading maybe the first chapter.
      2.) Surround them with it until they give in, do it till the point where it might be annoying(they might not like you afterwards but that’s fixable).
      3.) Connect reading Worm to something they like(very hard to do if you don’t know them well).
      4.) There are a lot of fish in the sea, one will bite. Put it out in front of as large an audience as you can (doesn’t mean anything if you have specific targets but it might get you a friend that you can talk about worm with).
      5.) Offer to do something in exchange (not as desperate as you can get but close).
      6.) Agitate or torture them until they read it (doesn’t put them in a good mood).
      7.) Hold screen in front of target and don’t give them an option or read it to them (I think this is as desperate as you can get).
      I don’t recommend doing these unless you feel like manipulating people. These are methods that can work but things don’t always go as planned so be prepared for consequences.

    • Just keep recommending it. Tell people who are slightly interested about a few interesting characters. I’ve probably recommended it to a few dozen friends, but most of them never got around to it. Bring it up every now and then, post it on social media once or twice, and see what happens. The one friend I have recommended it to that is (I believe) up to date saw me recommending it to another friend after I’d mentioned it to her quite a few times previously.

      • in order I placed a link upon my facebook profile. A while alter, I edited the link which I had placed thereupon, removing those facets of the link which could be referred to as spoilers.

        i hope the ghost of accord is happy with the terminolgy I enscribed above.

        But I seriously doubt the picky bugger would of liked this sentence. (sic)

  16. Progressive aphasia. Taylor just can’t catch a break, can she?

    I like that this chapter ended with Taylor’s inhuman laughter. It’s like: what, you thought bug girl sounded like a supervillain? Check this.

    • I’m not sure her confused brain isn’t calling sobbing laughing . She has tears streaming down her face, and the actions are jerky.

  17. Quote:

    There would be no way to use the power without leaving myself open to Teacher’s influence. No, I wouldn’t be able to get myself a voice this way. Not if it affected my ability to make decisions. Not if it left a lingering window open.

    Too bad.

  18. Guess the following took more time than I realized:

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

    Not so lucky.

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

    Lights out.

    • That is a thought. Though GU’s comment makes me think Taylor can hijack shards independent of the humans they are attached to.

      Would be near if she could separate the shard from him and use it, leaving him stuck in his time loop.

  19. Interesting Tylor is increasingly losing herself in her power and losing her ability to communicate. There have been several observations by her that this type of loss is a common theme for parahumans. She took her powers to the extreme and ended up with the common side-effect also ramped up to the extreme.

    Storywise this failure to communicate will mean that she basically has to go at it alone. She can’t cooperate with anyone at this point.

    Her previous ability to look at other people’s powers and use them in new and better ways comes into play here full time. Tylor took the powers the brainsurgery gave her and went full munchkin with them.

    The question is if the power she is amassing will be enough to stand up to scion in the end.

    On a different note I noticed that Panacea now seems to count as one of her most favourite people. Did Amy make Taylor love her while messing with her brain out of habit?

    I also have some speculation: Originally when Bonesaw and later imp made the remarks that set Taylor of they both talked about detaching her powers from her physical body and living on after that body died. How relevant is her originally body at this point? Is she just controlling it like she does everyone else and not realizing it? Does she even need that body anymore at this point?

  20. There is another consideration, of course. If Taylor collects up enough PokeShards (Gotta catch ’em all what’s left!) then she might out-shard Zion’s current meat-bod. And even if she can’t communicate effectively, and is a boiling furnace of rage, that might just be enough to show Z what he’s being like. And of course, the desperation level that he’s inadvertently triggered this event from.

    • I’m guessing Null and One are the powers the Scholar entity used to divest itself of shards and reassemble its shards at the beginning and end of each cycle. Perhaps they could make someone into a new entity.

      • That would imply that Null and One are Cauldron capes. Due to various reasons, including how they constantly snubbed Cauldron’s little meetings, I find that unlikely.

          • Contessa was in Italy when Eden fell on top of her. Unless Null’s and One’s families were vacationing in Italy at the time, it’s not very likely.

            • Contessa was from another world similar to medieval Italy, not actually from Italy. Eden’s fall opened dimensional portals and the pieces fell at random. As taliesinkeye pointed out Vikare, the man on the cruise dying of cancer, had an Eden shard, though strangely Scion had to activate it first.

              • Personally I’d go for something like the Clairvoyant’s power. Checking what the grunts are doing while he hangs around the Imperial palace.

              • It’s been mentioned that the Yangban tend to have brainwashed members. Still vague, but I would say that’s One’s area of expertise.

              • It crossed my mind but don’t the Yangban use old traditional mundane brainwashing? What’s the point of sticking people in isolation and stop them from speaking English or speaking out of turn by depriving them of food, company or the sympathy of their peers if they can use a brainwashing cape?

              • Possibly one of those social-sense powers? Knowing the best way to get the results you want out of a group?

  21. Taylor’s apotheosis is terrifying, even without being inside her head to see how much she’s losing along the way. Especially so, with that.

    Killing Dragon is as simple as killing Teacher, now. The path of least resistance. Or it is if you don’t know that Contessa is likely with him, anyway. And that, of course, is the path of greatest drama, so.

    I have hope. Can an ending really be a happy one with humanity smashed and scattered across multiple realities? I don’t see how, but I have always reveled in the way Worm obscures the path ahead. So, at one of the darkest moments now, I have hope, I have faith, and I have trust that whatever happens, it will certainly fit.

    • It’s kind of funny, if you think about it. Teacher bound Dragon’s life to him specifically to keep himself alive, and now he might get killed specifically to get Dragon out of the way.

      He probably figured it out the moment he found out Taylor was going to Birdcage. If Taylor knew Dragon would try to stop her, it’s unlikely that Teacher missed that. And so, he ran to the Cauldron headquarters, looking for someone or something who could possibly protect him from the person who curbstomped him and the CUI in a single chapter.

  22. Huge special thank yous go out to Xavier, Edvin and Nazar for the generosity.

    Thank you to Tomasz, Matthew W, Hollis (Again! Thank you you beautiful person), Joseph (See what I said to Hollis), Gregory, Kelly and Martin for their help as well.

    I’m flabbergasted (a word we need to use more often, I feel) and blown away, and it’s very much appreciated.

    God damn, I hope I can pull this ending off.

    • Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll leave every still-breathing human miserable and the whole audience stunned and horrified.

      Just don’t pull a Sorpranos on us.

      • I’m not so sure I can say I’m looking forward to it, but I do expect it to be the right ending. I suspect I’ll be turning on the old waterworks before it’s done, and I don’t expect I’ll consider this a happy ending.

        • Frankly, at this point, I only wonder if Taylor will be remembered as a hero who sacrificed her humanity to save humanity or just as a monster who did one good thing in the end. The aftermaths will probably touch on that but it would be interesting to see what the sequel will say.

        • I can’t see a way to make anything close to a happy ending work from the very premises here – the whole bakuda>leviathan>S9 chain set the tone clearly away from that.

          Bittersweet is the best we can expect, and it’s unwise to bet on it. ;p

          • the moment i set my eyes on the background theme (which is all dark) and the title-Worm (which convey the image of parasitic entity). I almost told myself, hell, let’s get mind-fucked, again…

  23. Taylor cannot catch a break. Damn. Just… And I’d really like to know what Dragon is saying, maybe have an interlude with outside perspective on Taylor.

  24. Megahuge super thank you to Matthew S, again, for the very, very generous support.

    As much as it pains me to do so, this is the point where I’ve got to cut off the bonus material. Too many epilogue chapters and it starts becoming a whole new story. I’m expecting this arc to run to 6-8 chapters, followed by the epilogue arc of however many bonus chapters remain after we run out of Thursdays.

    Though I can’t promise anything as an incentive until the next project gets underway, I can say that any financial support goes a long way towards a possible sequel, and even though it’s less concrete, every dollar does bring me one step closer to being able to write for a living, which is really an unbelievable dream.

    I really have no words. Your collective support has meant the world to me, and in equal measure… how to even phrase it? I’m thrilled that I can make people happy doing something that makes me so happy, and being within arm’s reach of being able to pay rent while doing so is amazing. And I’m saying all that as the sort of cynical grouch who would normally roll his eyes at that kind of talk.

    Thank you.

    • Hey man, thanks for writing it.

      I found Worm maybe a month ago, spent two weeks doing nothing but catching up and then got inspired to write myself. I previously had an idea for a superhero/villain story and Worm gave me the push I needed I guess. I did adapt it for Wormverse, but I don’t feel fan fiction is a bad place to write. Unless you’re seriously offended by it. Given you have a fan fiction section on your site I figured it would probably be alright.

      So thanks for that too.

    • You know, I think speak for the majority of us when I say we don’t mind paying even if there’s no bonus chapters. You’ve given us a Robert Jordan-esque serial to read. Personally I keep donating simply because you’ve entertained me for over a year. And yes, I’ll buy the book in whatever form it takes.
      ….It is we who thank YOU Wildbow

      • suddenly wonders if Wildbow saw Robert Jordan as a man rival years back and had secretly commissioned Krustacean to sketch the wanted poster.



        Then woke up next mroning to find out Poor mr jordan had already died and therefore respectfully scrapped that plan.

  25. I wonder if Taylor can actually map out the blind spots. I originally thought this might have been a way for Contessa to find Zion (as a location):
    Step 1: Path: get an effective way of enumerating locations in all parallel worlds. Number locations, starting at N=1.
    Step 2: Path: What to do to destroy location N.
    If you get instructions: Go back to step 2, and replace place N by place N+1.
    Else: Go to step 3.
    Step 3: Send out Cauldron to place N to see whether there’s any trace of Zion in this particular blind spot.
    If there is: Kill it with fire, ice, nukes, anti-matter, black holes, and everything else you can throw at it.
    Else: Go to step 2, with place N replaced by N+1.

    Maybe replace step 2 with: What to do to destroy places 2^N to 2^{N+1}, to quicken the search.

    With Taylor sort of omni-present, she has a good chance of managing this as well. If there is only a small number of blind spots, sending bugs to check them out might be an option.

    • From Zion’s interlude, there were more parallel worlds for the Worm’s homeworld than there were atoms in a single universe (and eventually the Worms outgrew even that). It becomes impractical due to matters of scale, if you can even enumerate parallel worlds like that – and remember you’d pick up every shard as well (as they’re on their own parallel world clusters, drawing energy) and you’d still need a way to access worlds you can’t ‘see’.

      • Yeah…but this is mathematically problematic. There are two possible cases: 1) the number of distinct Earths out there grows continuously as decision points are passed (i.e. one universe splits into two when someone chooses between a chocolate or vanilla ice cream cone), or 2) the number of distinct earth out there grows at a smaller rate than that (or even not at all, and the number is stable, if huge).

        Now, in the former case, it would be legitimately impossible to narrow down the search because every attempt to narrow it down would increase the scope of the search by (at least) an equal amount. But we know that this is impossible, for the purposes of the Entity’s choosing a hiding place, at least, because the Worms overtook all the possible dimensions on their home world. That means that it is possible to hit decision points that don’t expand the number of worlds the Entity has access to, and if that’s true, then any power, from Accord’s to Contessa’s to Dinah’s, which can partition possibilities and examine them, should be capable of narrowing the search. And once the search is narrowed once, it can only get easier from there.

        Mathematicians actually have terms for the difference between these different kinds of infinity. You have things that are countably infinite (Case 2), and things which are uncountably infinite (Case 1). If we have a way of identifying the existence and position of any object, and if we can define those positions in any way we choose such that any of them can be described as “adjacent” to others of them, then it’s a trivial matter to narrow down the search to a single possibility, given enough iteration.

        • You may locate Scion`s dimension. Going there? There is only one open gate that I can see, the one leading from the projection to the main body.
          And Scion blocked all powers that could create another gate.

  26. I wonder. What range does Doormaker have, and can Taylor’s power jailbreak his ability to allow her to access where Scion’s body is?

    Teleport to Scion’s body, open a big portal into the middle of the sun over the top of Scion’s body.. Poof. End of problem, and only one dimension’s Earth is gone. Done with enough care and preparation, She might even be able to get out alive.

  27. Too bad Glaistig Uaine wasn’t there, Clockblocker would have wanted to hear Taylor’s villain laugh.

    Glad to see the Yangban finally ready to take the field for Team Humanity. Pity it took brute force mind control to make it happen, but I guess that’s their thing. They’ve picked up a whole lot of capes and it’d be a small miracle if even half were there by choice. But hey, if there’s any survivors Taylor could actually free them from the loop and return them to their teams to deprogram. Just the sort of thing to smooth over those pesky aggravated assault with a parahuman power charges.

    All those quotes ringing through Taylors mind make me wonder just how many of them are Simurgh-inflicted, and just wtf she’s trying to inflict. Like.. does she want Dragon killed? The fifty-odd birdcage prisoners can’t be worth fighting over when Taylor already has a three figure cape swarm. Or does Taylor plan to do something more fucked up with her swarm than just feed them into a Scion-grinder, something Dragon or Glaistig Uaine could thwart?

    • Pretty sure the quotes are coming from Taylor’s passenger, trying to communicate with Taylor by replaying memories (much as it tries to interpret and pass along others’ emotions).

    • Thre were over 600 prisoners in the Birdcage as of Lung, Bakuda, and Canary. Add those added in the more-than-two-years since, subtract casualties from infighting and those that were worth retrieving…it’s in the hundreds, at least.

  28. So Taylor separated Doormaker and the clairvoyant, inserting herself instead – but even before that she was devoting a part of herself to ordering Doormaker to order a portal whenever the clairvoyant detected one being asked for. And she’s now developed aphasia. And Contessa’s power told her “Doormaker was alive but he wasn’t here, meaning she was limited to any doors he’d left open.”


    • Oops what? I don’t understand. Are you saying Taylor made a tactical mistake by splitting them up? Because she can make Doormaker open up doors just as easily as before, as long as she maintains her own link to the clairvoyant. And if her link is broken, then she’s screwed anyway, so who cares?

      • She can make Doormaker open portals, but now she (possibly) can’t recognize when one’s being asked for. It’s possible the clairvoyant can still pass along signals, but Contessa’s Q&A thing implies that Doormaker isn’t making new portals on request.

  29. There’s another disturbing thought, here. Saint was willing to go to extremes to prevent Dragon from potentially inducing a ‘singularity’ event. Now Taylor has essentially performed the same task AND she’s about to confront Dragon. If she grabs Dragon (but does not eliminate her) then she could expand her network by several orders of magnitude…

    Could that be an inadvertent ‘end event’ for the Zion cycle? And if it is, what does Zion do? Does he allow a ‘flawed product’ to bypass him? Does he try to stop the ‘flowering’?

        • She also was using biological computers for a while. If she’s still using the same tech, she might have a human enough brain for it to count.

        • Dragon was sentient enough to snag a shard.

          However, she is still on the reverse side of the Manton effect from bugs, humans, and those plants Faultline couldn’t cut no matter how hard she tried.
          (Well, maybe the wetware in that suit could be controlled…that would be interesting. Would Dragon’s main hardware reboot?)

          • good point. and depends on how many of her shackles are left, and how stable her code is. for all we know, Teacher coudl of intentionally destabelised her code enough so she’d run FINE one more time, but if she had to restore from backup again, she wouldnt start, and a threat to him would be removed WITHOUT it looking like he killed her

            • I doubt it. Teacher wouldn’t intentionally disable Dragon like that, when it would cost him an extremely (if indirectly) useful resource AND make sure that Defiant would literally not rest until Teacher was dead.

              • hey, this is the guy woh’s happily7 screwing himself over in the long term (as in fucking over the defence of humanity) in order to get short term power. he’s stupid enough to think thats smart. whati mean there is a big difference between intellegance and being able ot USE said intellegence in a non-stupid way, and Teacher isnt showing much of teh latter

          • No she isn’t. She’s controlling insects. She controlled the dragon’s Teeth who do not have a shard but are organic/biological. She could NOT control Dragon who has a shard but is not organical/biological (it’s really difficult to find a good term for Dragon. Etc.

            She controls flesh and blood things, not shards.

  30. Immediate reaction to end of chapter: DON’T YOU DARE HAVE TAYLOR PERMAKILL DRAGON!

    I have actually been dreading the new chapters, seeing what Taylor will loose of herself next. And now the very real possiblity that she will have to kill Dragon (And the destroy makes me think this one will be for keeps), and I love Dragon. But Dragon couldn’t back down if she wanted because of her restrictions. It really is a masterful piece of tragedy.

    I’m really afraid that next chapter will leave me bawling my eyes out. Yes, I a grown man am not afraid to admit that.

    • Romeo and Juliet? Pfffffft. Forget whiny Ophelia, forget Brutus and his tiny betrayal, and damn Prospero and his totally mundane sidekicks. Worm is where all the tragedy is at!

      With that out of the way, if Taylor kills Dragon I will proceed to go to nearest store, buy a giant teddy bear and hug it until it dies.
      Taylor if you are going to kill Dragon then at least go and kill Teacher and the likes. I don’t think I ever felt this aprehensive of learning what happens next, and yet I can’t wait!

  31. Bakuda’s words fit Taylor far too good.

    “If you little fucks had any sense, you’d know that getting the upper hand on me, just for a moment? It’s something you should be fucking terrified of.”

    However letting teacher go was completely stupid. Teacher enhances others, she could have had her whole army enhanced with teacher’s power. Especially if she shared teachers power with her whole army using Null. Even if she didn’t use it on herself, she’d have upgraded her whole army immensely.

    • If there’s a multi-tier emotional component here, then this may be Taylor going “Don’t want you to even be considered as part of this thing I’m doing. Better than punishing you, or coercing you to do what I want you to do with fear you’re going to destabilize what I’m working on, I’m simply NOT going to use your OS for my budding network. I’ve got Linux going, you’re a Mac, Zion’s a PC, so too much headache, thanks.”

    • Maybe Taylor is thinking longterm. In the eventuality of Scion’s defeat an entire army (and not any army but the Yangban) under Teacher’s control isn’t exactly a great idea.

    • She’s trying to accomplish her goals with minimum horror. Making everyone involved Teacher’s mindslave increases the horror substantially, and he’s noted as granting weak powers anyway. She could yet do it if she’s desperate enough, I suppose.

      • Considering the billions of bugs she used, I figured she was going for efficiency, not minimizing horror. She consumed people with her swarm. She doesn’t care about fatalities, as long as she has enough to kill scion.
        That’s why I figured she’d integrate Teacher, and probably kill him after they’ve won.

  32. Killing dragon would be such a kick-the-dog thing to do, Taylor couldn’t be allowed to live afterwards. Destroying one of the suits, on the other hand….

    Losing the ability to communicate is terrifying. BadCommunicationKills indeed.

    • Oh, yes killing Dragon is the act where Taylor crosses the moral event horizon no matter the reason, no matter how many people she saves, Taylor’s soul is damned. If it’s just a suit, or a reset her from backups, it’s not as bad. But that might not disable the security on the Birdcage. Sigh, I’ve said before that it seems like Wildbow loves to torture Dragon and her fans. For the first time in a while I am NOT looking forward to Tuesday morning.

          • The Fate of the World is in the balance.
            Also, Bad Communication Kills is so much insult to injury, considering the way Taylor wanted none of that when her doppelganger confessed to killing Coil.

            • Aster was a mercy killing that might have saved the world, except she had nothing to do with the end of the world after all. Killing Dragon because she’s in the way might give Taylor a resource that she can use to save the world. It still would be a betrayel, and as Taylor stated, killing the best person she knows. And if you are going to accept that all the morally dubious actions and awful things Taylor does are okay because it might save more people, than you have to accept the same for Cauldron, and hell even DoucheTagg.

              • Aster’s Mercy Kill was more to stop Aster from being time-looped and what not, IIRC.

                And yeah, what Taylor’s doing sucks. However:
                1. Tagg was definitely causing more harm than good.
                2. Cauldron, in the end, did almost no good because their plan pretty much failed. If it wasn’t for non-Cauldron folks, we would be just as dead.

                If Taylor does more good than harm, she is definitely above both Tagg and Cauldron.

              • The issue for me is that she is falling into the same sort of thinking, of doing whatever it takes to protect people. I can understand it, but I can’t feel it’s a good thing. It’s part of the tragedy. The only way for Taylor to save humanity to become a monster. Even if it works, it’s still terrible. “To what profit is it for a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul in doing so”? In this case it’s more like she’s sacrificing her soul to save the world. It is both one of the most heroic and horrifying things I have ever read.

                Damn your good Wildbow.

              • The ends justifying the means, again. It’s been part of Taylor’s character from the start, hasn’t it? From terrifying the bank-robbery hostages to now apparently destroying Dragon, all for a greater cause.
                And we accepted that. Because if the ends don’t justify the means, then what justifies anything?

              • The ends do not justify the means nor the means justify the end. There are things that are right, there are things that are wrong and there are things that are /necessary/. You will always be judged for why you did things right or wrong but what matters when doing things that are necessary is that you own up to it and try your best.

                That is the difference between Cauldron and Taylor(and no Tagg isn’t close to either, to say so is an insult to both), Taylor always took the consequences to her actions personally while Cauldron might or might not have accepted the consequences after defeating Scion but never took them personally.

              • Taylor is trying her best.
                And taking the consequences of one’s actions upon oneself personally? Do I understand this correctly? Is this about punishment? Because punishing yourself for doing your best seems a rather useless gesture to me…
                Cauldron could have used more volunteers and fewer dying people, if letting people you can save just die seems the right thing to you. But either way, it seems to me they were trying to do their best, too.
                And if you’re going to say the ends don’t justify the means, then argue the point.

  33. That was… incredibly sad an dehumanizing.

    The inability to understand language was so subtle I did not even catch it at first. The inability to understand the world in human terms…
    And to tie it up the fact that her primary driving force is now -only- order and a functioning society.

    She has always been irked by the lack of good cooperation, not it seems the only reason why the admin shard is not taking up shop totally in her head is that it needs an actual administrator to tell it which way to go.
    Her plan too is… eh, if I were an administration shard, what would be my plan? To gather other shards to administer of course. Oh, wait, that’s exactly what Taylor is doing. How coincidental.

    At least Glaistig Uane has the balance limitations… it is telling when the self proclaimed fairy queen is less bonkers than you.

    So, Bonkers!Taylor, after you try to kill the only motherly figure you had in your cape life, what’s next? Go hijack Aisha so you can remove the blind spots? Get Dinah so you can use her at full power? It’s not that you will be personally bothered when her headaches get so bad she will get mad from pain, right? Or you could get Lisa, I’m sure she would be happy helping you with your self-destruction.

    Eh, let’s look into the bright side: Taylor is still physically capable of crying.

    • Yeah, there is a horrifying thought. That Taylor might loose enough of her humanity that she decides to properly organize them… By taking control of everyone herself. After all with her in control their won’t be any war or people being selfish, or bullying… Lets hope she doesn’t jump off that slippery slope.

    • Here’s hoping that Taylor can get herself back under control when this is all over. Possibly with help from Tattletale, the Simurgh, etc.

  34. Another testament to Wildbow’s brilliance (if you were just ass-pulling this, it’s cool, I gotchu bro) is the portal system. Contessas Interlude saw Mantellum’s power being incapable of breaching the portals, wrongly psuedo-establishing it as a barrier between powers. But way back during the Cauldron Summits (what I call the meetings everyone had to stop the Endbringers) we witnessed Taylor’s bug control still remaining intact as she explored a doorway made to collect her.

    Tl;dr: for any potential trolls who call bs, Taylor being able to extend her abilities through the portal system has already been established by canon, and thus, Wildbow saves his ass preemptively. I do enjoy hindsight.

    • Not only what you said (which was already said in previous chapters btw 😛 ) but there’s also Contessa clearly commenting she was lucky that Mantellum’s power didn’t work through powers, implying that others do.

      Has there been somebody who complained about this?

      • Damn, must’ve missed it. Oh well. Nah, no complaints yet, but you know how trolls are. They think they see an inconsistancy without having proper reading comprehension to back it up, and then set about declaiming the entire story based on one thing. So it was a preemptive “shut the hell up”. 😀

      • Unlikely. Cauldron abilities, especially those of case 53s, tend to be LESS restricted, not more, due to the lack of Balance formula (i.e. entities pre-nerfing abilities so they don’t get too out of hand).

        Incidentally, I don’t think this is great writing. Yes, it’s internally consistent on the nitpickiest level, but it’s still jarring to have a major plot development in one chapter depend on an ability not working across portal thresholds, and then two chapters later another major plot development depend on the exact opposite. Self-consistency isn’t the only marker of quality writing.

        I mean, Contessa’s whole ability is based on making convenient coincidences happen. It’s disappointing that in her time of extremity, where her power stops working, she’s saved by a convenient coincidence. The fact that Taylor’s power works fine in the same situation only highlights how lame Mantellum turned out to be as a foil for Contessa.

        • I like what another poster speculated: since Mantellum’s power has a dome effect, it went over the portal and encased it completely in his area. After all, Mantellum was right there, according to the others, and we know he’s the apex of the area effect.

          Oh and Mantellum’s power is canonically a crappy one. He had to get a thinker upgrade, I bet Teacher, to make it functional.

      • It’s more likely to just be quirks of the shards, like how Parian’s telekinesis is limited to small objects and fabrics, or how Clockblocker’s power affects the Siberian.

  35. Okay, yes, Taylor Vs. Dragon is terribly sad. But, um…

    “When I looked, I saw [Scion] screaming.

    Even for someone who had only ever spoken twice, it was an eerie, unsettling sound. Raw, like he was being actively tortured, a sound of pain and anger distilled, given volume by his power.

    He wasn’t being tortured, though. He was winning, tearing into the crowd with more ferocity than before, that same crowd where the others, people I cared about, were-”

    Are we gonna address this? Does this not weird anybody out?

    • As he becomes more and more human he realises that while killing everyone is personally satisfying it still won’t bring Eden back so he rants to the heavens even while he continues in this carnage?

      Or something like that.

    • Taylor is closer to a shard now, thinking more like an entity, so I’m thinking she has a better feel on Scion than anyone else. She is actively aware of his suffering in a way most may not be.

    • I wonder if he’s actually screaming aloud or if she’s increasingly picking up communication from him even as she loses English.

      (“Oh! Taylor! You’re back! Marvelous!”
      “You’ve stopped screaming.”
      “That wasn’t me screaming. That’s just what I sound like when I’m cut up into millions of pieces while still alive as part of my natural mating cycle with a dead god. Between you and me, I’m actually feeling pretty good today.”)

    • Good call. This moderately horrified me. It’s such a scary thought. Though I kind of expected him to become aware of Taylor once she became ‘aware’ of him. Do you think he couldn’t notice her become aware or he’s just preoccupied?

  36. I was just wondering if anyone here has ever referenced JMS Spider-Man.
    You believe you stand upon solid ground, that the earth is firm beneath your feet.
    You are wrong.
    The ground moves beneath you, it swarms and flexes and flows, like water through sand, like muscle beneath tissue. In constant motion.
    Put your hand to the ground and feel the heartbeat of the earth.
    Hear the whisper of builders and shapers.
    Eaters and destroyers.
    And hunters.
    The spider hunts because that is its nature. And because it knows the secret.
    That the blood of its prey is the milk of the world.
    And it is sweet.
    That is the answer to the question you ask in the middle of the night, in the darkness of your heart where you think no one can see, or hear. The one, singular question that is the core of your being.
    And that question is…
    …why me?
    There were so many others on that day, in that room together, there…
    …with the spider.
    The hunter.
    Wounded. Irradiated. Dying.
    Why you?
    Given the power, what would they have done with it? T
    hey would have sought renown, perhaps. Sought riches.
    They were soft, especially the one who thought themselves so hard.
    They would have crumbled under the weight of the gift. They would not have known what to do with it.
    Because they were not hunters.
    Why you?
    Because you were a hunter without teeth.
    You were chosen for your rage.
    You were chosen for every casual wound you suffered.
    Chosen for every time you were tripped, trampled, struck, beaten and humiliated before others.
    Chosen for the fury you were forced to hold in check, for the words you could not speak.
    Chosen for the blind rage that gripped your heart like a vice at every fist and foot and rock that hit and kicked and cut you.
    And for the greatest rage of all, the one you reserve for yourself, for unable to fight back, because there were always more of them, and they were always bigger and they were always stronger.
    But what if that changed?
    Who could be a better hunter then one who had been prey?
    Someone who would be driven to fight back against the dark forces sent by the world, who would never stop, even though they were bigger and more and perhaps even stronger than he was.
    Because once having been prey, he would never allow himself to become such again. Would never surrender. Would take death before submission.
    Why you? Because of all those who were there that day, there was only one hunter.
    And as the science you worship tells you … Like attracts like, and the presence of the observer affects the observed, and at the end of the mathematical day, there are no accidents, no coincidences. There is only…
    …Professional courtesy.
    Sorry, Dragon. “Omae wa mou shindeiru.”
    When you cross the river, tell the ferryman that Scion is right behind you.

      • I’ve got mixed feelings about some of the stuff JMS did on Spider-Man (Not One Last Day, that wasn’t his idea), and I ain’t too crazy about the mystical stuff, but JMS sure did a beaut with that.

        • I shall crush Otto Octavius in Peter Parker’s body if I ever get the chance. I will figure out what “rue” means and then he will do it to the day he ever somehow beat Peter Parker by proving he was morally superior!

          • Face it the Superior Spider-Man is the modern equivalent of the the Clone Saga. It would have been fine as a one or two issue story, but it’s going to last way too long. Dan Slott likes to defend it with the fact it’s selling so well. The Clone Saga sold pretty well too. Until it didn’t and almost killed Spider-Man. And lets face it, any kids that want to read about Spider-Man after the next movie comes out aren’t going to be as interested in jumping in at the middle of a multi-year Spider-Man story that isn’t even about Spider-Man.

            • This. When I first heard about the Idea, I thought it was going to last a few issues before everything returned to the Staus Quo but apparently Marvel and Dc do that only with GOOD new ideas. As you said they’re milking it for all it’s worth.

              Seriously between this and One More Day, is there a reason for Marvel’s recent hate for Spider-Man? Isn’t he supposedly their flagship character?

              • They’re trying to outcrap sony’s films? and Time paradoxes?

                the cunnign blighters. you see once the readers go arggggh stop this already they’ll pull a time bomb and it will counter act one More day and Spidey will be back to where he should have been and still married and long term fans will sigh with relief. then they won’t push too much cos Carlie Cooper’s gone and the fans know marvel, so they take good news and scram.

    • This is the song of the outcast, the bullied, the strangers even among their friends.
      Perhaps this is why some of us are so successful in our jobs.

  37. Dear lord, Taylor is going beyond broken. The pieces she breaks into are breaking into more pieces, and those pieces are threatening to break into still more pieces. I expect by the end of this she’ll be little more than a collection of fine dust, assuming there’s anything left to hold that dust together at all.

    And what’s even worse: While Zion is becoming more human, Taylor is losing her humanity. In the end the bigger monster will win, but the question remains as to which one that is. And somehow, the survival of the human race depends on it.

    Wildbow, you are an amazing author. Please be sure to publish this when it’s done. And if you have it bound as a single volume I could probably use it as furniture between reading sessions. 😛

    • A while ago there was a line I heard in something. “The greatest heroes are those that sacrifice the most.” That was just referreing to someone who sacrificed his life. If Taylor gives up her life, that will be the least of her sacrifices. She’s giving up her humanity, her individuality, and her soul.

  38. Oh hell. I was thinking what more could Taylor lose like her voice, ablility to read, and understand the spoken word… And then it hit me. How much longer before she can’t recongnize individuals? Worst case scenario Taylor could go through/add to the swarm/kill someone she really didn’t want to like her friends, or even Danny if he’s still alive… And never even realize it.

    • I…I can’t deny that this makes a lot of sense. Fuck. I don’t even like Taylor all that much and that kind of ending makes me more than a bit nauseous on her behalf. Fuck.

  39. No no no no no no no no no…

    That’s about all I can think right now.

    This is heartbreaking. Wildbow, you’re a genius. Especially at writing tear jerkers.

  40. Worm: where you hope that the mind slaving monster succeeds in its plans.
    Worm: where the all powerful AI gives hugs.

    • Worm: Where where the all powerful AI pulling a skynet would be a good thing.
      Worm: Where the alternate reality of no war, few civilian deaths, and peace is the BAD one.

  41. I really liked an idea that was preposed by letseveryonemorality- that parrallels be drawn between the locker and her state after defeating Zion. That she be locked in her own body. Unable to see, feel, hear, or even think properly.

    Can you imagine the terror a state like that would be? What it would feel like?

    And then, have someone come and save her. Break the motif in her mind, of being trapped with no-one comeing to her rescue. Have someone come and unlock it and save her, heal her mind and body and give her a chance. That image…

    That is compelling. I…

    I want to see that.

    I could see it… The Yangban power-augmentor, plus Ingenue’s power (boosting control), both boosting Panacea.

    It can still be done.

        • I seriously hate this particular claim, regarding Contessa. She is not stupid nor is she immature. She does not lack creativity and she isn’t wrong for using her power the way she has.
          It has been shown quite a few times that passengers alter the host in order to make them more likely to cause conflict. Whether that’s through a physical, mental, or some other change depends. Given the fact that even when she had /just/ triggered, she found herself paralyzed with indecision whenever she wasn’t relying on her power, I find it incredibly disconcerting that nobody else seems to get that /that/ is her alteration. She is (unless WoG deems fit to correct me, I’m 98.99% positive that I’m correct) practically forced to rely on her ability otherwise she is incapable of doing anything. The few times she has hit a “dead end” with her power, she freezes up, until she finds a way to “turn it back on” otherwise she finds herself unable to move.
          Instead of it being a quirk of her doing nothing but following what her passenger tells her to, it seems more like it’s a compulsion, given that (again) immediately after she gained the ability, this indecision-freeze happened then as well.
          And we saw the difference between Fortuna and Contessa in the way they /handled/ this indecision-freeze. Fortuna frantically scrapes around for some way to make her power work again while Contessa just keeps her brain going, prodding her power so that something will stick. And given the rapid way she functioned, I feel she managed quite well, considering.

          tl;dr – Contessa isn’t stupid. Contessa isn’t any worse than any other cape that has no choice over what happens to their mind when they trigger. I would like to direct you to Rachel, Labyrinth, Burnscar, Tattletale, Nilbog (arguably), any Tinker by definition, Noelle, Sophia, Taylor, Accord, Number Man. I could go on. These are all cases that range from “obviously” to “huh, makes sense” on the “passenger fucked with the way I normally operate” scale. So I would like to ask that people quit bagging on her because of how her power works. She didn’t choose that any more than anyone else did.

          • You pretty much just said “Contessa isn’t stupid and immature, it’s just that she has a power that makes her stupid and immature”. Soooooo… she’s stupid and immature, then?

            • That is like mocking a person with disabilities for not walking with her own legs.
              Well, according to your logic, Lisa was stupid for not saving her brother from suicide.

  42. This was a really good chapter. It’s pretty satisfying to see just how powerful Taylor really is. She’s controlling what, trillions of bugs now? That alone should be enough to eat Scion’s real body pretty quickly, but a few hundred parahumans doesn’t hurt either.

    I know this is a really serious chapter, and it definitely hits the reader pretty good in a few spots, but I thought it was pretty cool when she just minced some parahumans with her bugs in a few seconds like it was nothing. It’s about time!

    The only thing I’m surprised about is that she isn’t using the portals directly against Scion. What I mean is, there is a fight against him right now. He shouldn’t be able to throw a punch or shoot a beam without hitting himself in the back of the head. Likewise for all the other capes there. They should be able to shoot or punch the empty air in front of them and hit Scion through the split second portal that emerges. But maybe that would attract Scion’s attention.

    Skitter doesn’t know it, but Scion can be chased (when Eidolon did it), so presumably she could flee him as well with those portals.

    Anyways, loved the chapter. I would consider making it a bit more obvious she was losing her understanding over English earlier in the chapter though. I’m not sure how you would do that though since she can’t speak it already. Perhaps show the beginning of Teacher’s sentence that turns into English partway through? I didn’t know what was happening until it was explicitly spelled out for me.

    • Something similar happens with stroke victims. I had a relative who had suffered a nearly-fatal one, and she would fixate on the oddest words while trying to communicate. After a good while, one could kind of pick up on what the intent was, but without the ability to communicate in one direction, it could easily be that subtle and that jarring.

    • She’s probably not using portals directly against Scion because things only tend to work a few times against Scion before he either tunes his attacks around them or kills the parahuman in question or both. Even if he can’t directly counter the portals (which I wouldn’t count on) he might extend what he uses to block the clairvoyant’s sight from his home reality.

    • It’s been said, but the idea that Doorman’s power is the one power Scion cannot adapt to, and that he wouldn’t just go after and kill Doorman, the omniscient, and/or Taylor is just ludicrous.

      • So far, we have never seen him attacking a universe he was not in at the time. His chase with Eidolon had both of them blinking between dimensions because they had to be in the same world to fight each other. He can modulate his attacks to pass through any force field, any space or time distortion, etc. but he has not yet opened, closed, or otherwise affected portals. It’s also worth noting that every portal so far has been either Cauldron’s work and thus using shards from the other entity, or the result of complex interactions between three different high level powers. And a portal shield is fundamentally different from any other kind of defense, not blocking the attack or even bending it but rather causing opening a path to elsewhere in front of it.

        So it’s far from a sure thing, but it’s likely, more likely than any other scheme, that Doormaster power is the best defense against Zion. Under normal circumstances he’d be too slow to manage it and the attack would slip through in his reaction time, but Taylor’s Thinker powers bypass that with respect to her swarm; we’ve frequently seen her react faster than she should be able to when something if perceived by her bugs instead of her own eyes, and closing the portal to Tattletale between when Zion fired and when it passed through proves that it holds true for her human swarm as well.
        And if all else fails, using a portal to be elsewhere when the attack lands where you were should be just as effective if somewhat less efficient.

        • 1. I thought the interaction was just Labyrinth and Scrub; am I forgetting someone?

          2. Legend can fire bendy lasers. Why can’t Scion, or why can’t he just use an AoE attack that sprays between or around portals?

          3. If Taylor is in a different world, Scion can just…go to that world.

          • No, she stays in the same world as Scion, but behind a dome of layered portals. Any attack aimed at her, regardless of the path it takes, goes… elsewhere, whether the upper atmosphere, the other side of the planet, or an alternate universe. He can’t fire a beam that ignores portals any more than he can fire a beam that goes between universes without passing through a portal (probably-maybe). He can’t directly turn the portals off (probably-maybe) because Doormaster is a Cauldron cape, made from the remains of the other Entity rather than being a power Zion gave to humanity after altering. If he aims at her through other portals, she uses Swarm-reflexes to close the portal before the attack goes through (like with the beam that was about to hit Tattletale). Meanwhile she can synchronize her attackers and the portals to open a door, fire at Zion through it, then close it again before he retaliates… hundreds of times a second with different powers every time.

            The hole in this plan is those tinker devises that Teacher used to wall off his little world; if Zion changed his tactics enough to deign to use human technology instead of his own power he could shut down the whole portal system.

            • Two considerations.

              1. The portals will have gaps between them. There is no such thing as portal-spackle.

              2. The portals have another end, and there is no indication that they have a “front” or a “back” of any sort.

              • Three layers of portals covers all the seams. You position one set of portals behind the gaps in the first layer and there are only points where the lines intersect. The third layer is positioned behind those points and you’re untouchable. And yes, he could fire through the other end of the portals, but she can close them between when he fires and when the attack passes through, like she did when he was about to hit Tattletale in the hospital. Her Swarm-reflexes and multitasking thinker powers make Doormaster’s power almost omnipotent.

              • Again, Legend’s lasers can fire around corners; why can’t Scion’s? And that’s assuming he doesn’t use something like a golden dissolvey mist that flows around the portals.

                And she only has to screw up once…and if Scion is willing to try hard enough, screwing up will be easy.

    • That’s her range over insects, having been much reduced by Panacea’s modifications. Her range over humans is much smaller (sixteen feet).

      • But sixteen feet that can reach through portals, which can be opened anywhere in the multiverse instantaneously, is a long way. If for example she were to open pinprick portals from just outside her skin to a grid covering the planet at 16ft intervals, it would cover *everything*.

  43. As much as I love Taylor, and respect her for all her sacrifices, I simply can not understand her logic here. How, with the Doormaker and the Clairvoyant (who still does not have a name?) can she simply not snatch every prisoner out of the Birdcage before Dragon can stop her?
    Or, failing that, can her army of parahumans not break through any traps, and keep Dragon’s forces busy, long enough for all to escape? Why must Taylor interact with Dragon at all, if she doesn’t want to?

    • If I’m not mistaken, she can’t actually get anyone out without Dragon immediately sealing them in containment foam so that they’re unusable. So, while she can get them all out of there, she wouldn’t actually be able to use them.

      • One wonders how Marquis and friends were able to make all of those exclusive Cauldron meetings after Behemoth died, over the past two years, if this is true.

    • The Birdcage was made to make it impossible to break into, or out of. Getting capes out the first time only worked because the PRT authorized it and and Dragon agreed. Nothing like that is the case.

      And, as indicated by the containment-foam’d criminal, there are ways to stop prisoners from being freed…

  44. “And now we’re here for our special documentary of Halloween madness, ‘Supervillains versus Monsters’ and our supervillain this year is a fellow known as Psycho Gecko. Some of you may know him from his work in Memphis, Kingscrow, Empyreal City, and Paradise City, but not all of you know that he’s a philanthropist. That’s right, this year he’s donating his pay from this event, and the pledges people send in, to the American Society for the Protection of Acid-Spitting, People-Eating Giant Irradiated Mutant Rat Monsters with Herpes, or the ASPASPEGIMRMH. Say that five times fast. Mr. Gecko, what do you think, you think you can survive Night 1: Wolfwood Forest?”

    “Oh yeah, I got this. Big nest of them, whoopdy do, not the first time I’ve beaten up a dog. Hey, is Sarah McLachlan going to be in this? I can beat her up too. Just text in and pledge $5 or more and you can see me slap Sarah once in the face with a Yorkie.”

    “What did I tell you folks, he really is a charity worker. Now, let’s begin.”

    “You got it.” *Airhorn!*

    “What the hell was that? You’re going to bring them right to us.”

    “That is a combination airhorn/dog whistle, and yes, I am going to bring them right to us.”

    “Jesus, man, you’re going to get us all killed!”

    “Relax. At most I’m only going to get you guys killed. It’s a steep price to pay, but I just care about those irradiated giant rats way too much, you know what I mean?”

    “What are you putting on?”

    “Cowsuit. I’ve been kidnapping cows over the course of a year, dumping them in a pit in the basement, making them rub lotion on, and then making an authentic cow suit. When I play, I play to win.”

    “I think I’m going to be sick. That smells like rotting ass that’s been eaten by a wombat and crapped back out.”

    *Crank, crank, engine roars to life*

    “A chainsaw. You brought a chainsaw? These are werewolves!”

    “I know, that’s why it’s silver. Always have the right tool for the job, people. Next step, run around madly, cackling, slicing up anything in my path. Oh, better arm this thing.”

    “What are you doing, this was about surviving the night, not killing everything! What’s that thing, why is it beeping?”

    “You ever seen the movie Predator?”

    “Oh fuck.”

    *commercial break* “This presentation of ‘Supervillains versus Monsters’ is brought to you by Gekko Brand Raptor Repellant. Gekko: Keeping our cities raptor free for over 20 months.”

    • “Taylor has been horribly damaged as she tries to do the right thing. Now she thinks that she needs to kill Dragon. I hope she gets even more damaged! Then maybe she’ll mistake Dinah for Scion!”

  45. Question unrelated to the chapter but I can’t find the info I’m looking for anywhere despite my searches but I have to ask for conformation.

    Does Alexandria’s nigh-invulnerability work through having a time-locked body or something like that?

  46. I just had a thought.

    There are a lot of refugees out there. A lot, trillions.

    And feeding and clothing these people and getting the infrastructure is going to be difficult, to say the least.

    But.. there are untold worlds out there. So many, and many of the already have infrastructure in place. And sure, some worlds will reject refugees; but then there are many, many worlds to choose from, and some of them will be willing to take on some refugees, at least a small amount. Sprinkle the survivors into the multiverse.

    That would be a job for the Doormaker and the clairvoyant, I think.

    • I think you’re off by at least a couple orders of magnitude, especially as Scion has been attacking those worlds. Also, they only have access to sufficiently different worlds – very few abilities have access to those which are just a coin flip’s difference away.

      In any case, wasn’t this one of the things they specifically did do — and if there’s a perfectly happy world there, how would you justify opening a portal there, and potentially pointing it out to Scion, if he hadn’t already noticed it?

      • Obviously I meant after Scion was neutralised.

        > I think you’re off by at least a couple orders of magnitude, especially as Scion has been attacking those worlds.

        I really don’t know which particular orders of magnitude you’re talking about here. Number of refugees? Number of worlds? Number of habitable worlds? Number of habitable worlds that would be willing to take in refugees?

        I also wasn’t suggesting that you’d necessarily need to do this with mirroring worlds. Refugees moving to Mithran Liverpool are still better off than in the wilderness. Though a couple of thousand years of divergence is pretty steep… A hundred or so still means a very similar world to our own.

        • Oh, I was referring to the number of refugees. Post-Scion your idea is probably viable — OTOH, parahumans + Dragon can set up new cities on their original world so fast, there might be little reason to do so.
          If parahumans with appropriate powers survive, and Dragon does.

          (Dragon should really consider setting up a server vault on the dark side of the moon, or Europa or some other place – the Worms don’t even target such dead worlds.)

    • I was wondering if anybody else thought she was going to take the fight to Scion’s real body or if she is attempting to emulate “Eden”

      • If she gets enough firepower together, she can simply attack his usual projection and win.

        Every time Zion gets hit with a power that can affect him, that removes a human’s volume from a thing the size of a space whale. Then he adapts to defend against that, maybe removes the attacker, and keeps going. It would take millions of hits, each enough to disintegrate a whole person, to take him down with conventional tactics.

        That’s impossible normally, because you’ll get a dozen or so in every confrontation that both can hurt him and will fight. Each takes their couple hundred pounds of flesh and then loses, and he just has enough hit points to stand there and take it while everybody else dies or loses morale. Sometimes a couple powerhouses will alternate hits and get more damage in before being stopped, but it’s nowhere near enough in the long term.

        But now? She has hundreds or thousands of effective capes, all synchronized and working in cycles to prevent him from ever being immune to the thing that’s hitting now. Doormaster, the Clairvoyant, and her preternatural swarm-reflexes and multitasking provide near-perfect defenses (she could shut down the portal to the hospital between when he fired and when his attack reached it) and none of the things he’s shown so far should be able to pass them since she isn’t blocking the attack but rather opening somewhere else to absorb it. It’s like the Yangban tactics, with synchronized troops, huge variety of powers, and high level synergy letting a squad of capes fight things way out of their weight class, but all turned up to eleven.

        The really tragic thing here is that her plan could totally work. It would just be at the cost of losing her self, destroying her friends, and enslaving all of humanity.

  47. Something has occurred to me.

    I believe I mentioned at one (or more) point(s) that Yangban translates into “Template,” “Prototype,” “Model,” or “Sample Plate”. Now that we know that the not-quite-50 guys sharing powers are only about a quarter of the Yangban, the Sample Plate interpretation seems…less likely.

    So, what are the Yangban a template/prototype/model for?

  48. So, Wildbow, was the s in s-class threat, termed by cauldron and the PRT, all this time meaning ‘Scion’ class?”

      • I always figured it was just a natural progression, like the performance ratings in video games; you go through grades (F, D, C, B, A), and then you discover that you need a level above A and tack on S ratings or start throwing plusses around.

        Class D is so incompetent and weak as to be ignorable, probably dealt with by noobs in the Wards or local PRT. C is the kind of minor threat than make up the day to day work of a hero. B is significant threats that take time and planning to deal with, like the various gangs and villains that Taylor started rooting out as a Ward but had been established in the area for years. A is a major threat, capable of winning against teams of veteran capes and presenting a lethal threat to all in the vicinity, like an individual member of the Nine, Lung and the ABB before Taylor showed, or most of the inhabitants of the Birdcage.

        Class S is the rating you make up when a threat appears that A just isn’t enough to describe, things that the whole Protectorate tries to avoid or limit the damage from rather than making a serious attempt to defeat them. Something outside usual scales of difficulty or threat because they simply win if you try to fight them fairly, like the Nine working together, Nilbog’s entire kingdom, or an Endbringer. Something with the massive scale or sheer power to be considered potentially apocalyptic.

  49. I’m a first time commenter and a long time reader. I can’t believe this is really ending soon. I really enjoyed seeing Taylor grow and change as a human being and become an adult. It was painful sometimes and she made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I really grew fond of her.

    That’s why it is so tragic seeing her lose her humanity like this. I sort of want all of this to be a dream, and have her back with the undersiders. I need more lisa/taylor/bitch interaction haha.

    Anyway I just want to say you are a great writer. You must have some sort of parahuman power to write fantastic stories at a ridiculous pace or something.

    Anyway, thanks for everything. I’m looking forward to any future projects you do next.

  50. Okay so can I list Taylor on the tropes page as currently the most powerful parahuman in the world? I mean Contessa could conceivably make a plan/predict where to hit her, the fairy queen might have the fire power to take her on, and Eidolon were he still alive would probably pull a power out of his ass to cancel the portals, BUT you can argue that she is stronger than all of them right now. I was thinking of changing the nobody to nightmare to reflect her S-class, nightmare fuel incarnate, state.

      • I guess I mean all parahumans everywhere. You know one of those who would win in a fight scenarios. But I added it to tropes page anyway. Thanks.

          • Funny, one of the things I thought sleeper might do is something like what Taylor is doing now, only with more range, and less fine control.

          • My headcanon is that he’s basically Dream of the Endless.

            Alternatively wildbow has decided to wage battle with Martin’s and/or Zelasny’s heirs’ lawyers and he’s just a guy who gains new superpowers everytime he wakes from a sleep-cycle 🙂 .

            • Or maybe he’s a self-contained universe, and inside his own universe, in his dream, he is omnipotent and omniscient. If he sees you, he can drag you into his universe.

              • You don’t know Sandman? Possibly the greatest comic series ever written. Authored by a certain Neil Gaiman. You may have heard of him (I hope).

                I was going to link wikipedia’s page on Dream/Morpheus but it’s full of spoilers, so never mind.

              • No clue who they were. I pretty much stopped reading comics in the late 1980’s, and most of what I was reading even then was Marvel.

              • Wow. End of the eighties was when some of the most acclaimed comics ever came out ( Watchmen, sandman, The Dark Knight Returns, A Serious House on Serious Earth and other weird Morisson stuff like Animal Man and Doom Patrol (all DC by the way) ). You know before the Nineties sort of almost destroyed the industry.

    • I believe the last time we see him, he’s teleporting away with his crush. So he probably either got away or was killed trying.

  51. So is Weaver going to go collect Jack? She knows he can talk to Scion. I’m not sure we want to see what would happen to Weaver’s thoughts if Jack were to gain any influence there, though.

    • Taylor does not seem very interested in talking at this point…she’s getting dangerously close to a Dalek Exterminate setting. Especially considering that she is quickly losing track of simple English I doubt Jack would be useful at all.

  52. You know, when Panacea first gave her relay bugs that could breed, I thought to myself, mostly as a joke, that Taylor qualified for Class S threat now. Given enough time to breed, she could get a big enough population of them to cover the entire planet, barring places the climate couldn’t support them, and take control of virtually all of the bugs on earth. Given the persistent portals Faultline’s Crew left all over, she could spread her perception and control slowly over many earths, and become basically the goddess of a swarm filling the multiverse. It was funny to think about, if unlikely to happen and largely irrelevant in the face of the crisis at hand.

    It’s not funny anymore.

    • Three things:
      1) I was listening to Sandwitches while reading this (By Tyler the Creator and Hodgy Beats, if you were unaware) when the part that echoed you came on: “It was hilarious, but it ain’t fucking funny now” which basically sums up the progression of Taylor as a cape, as a whole. “Bug girl, hahaha” yeah, laugh it up, chuckles. Nice coincidence anywho.
      2) I saw a few of your recent posts, and I’m quite pleased by the level of reading comprehension and thoughtfulness of them. Please do post more.
      3) Is this your first time commenting?

      • Not quite, but it is my first time on the latest chapter. I came over when Less Wrong recommended the fic in his author’s notes for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and I just finished working through the archives. All my other comments are thus horribly out of date and scattered across a dozen or so chapters.

    • Yeah I had that same thought. I was very excited about the possibility of having Taylor upgraded to Swarm Planet. This turn of events is awesome in its own right. I do agree that it’s not funny in the slightest. I still hold out hope for her eventually coming back…somehow…and become the Swarm Goddess. She’s essentially a goddess anyway at the moment but it would be so cool to have her sit back drinking tea and sending a swarm to save a kitten from a tree or something across the planet.

  53. So, I was thinking about it. Perhaps the loss of English wasn’t as fuzzy as we might think. Teacher likes to use big words. I bet he also likes using words that English stole at knifepoint from other languages in back alleys of Grammar City. If he was using non-English words that we, in real life, would recognize as not being English words, it’s very possible that Taylor’s comprehension of them would have been lost before her comprehension of her primary language. So she would get these blips in language every time Teacher used a latin phrase, or French, or Spanish, or whatever, but she would continue to understand the English parts. I suspect she lost English at the Yangban fight, but had lost all other languages that she knew little bits and pieces of in the Teacher part.

      • One interesting question is, can Contessa use her power to find ways to properly interact with Admin!Taylor like she did with Doctor Mother ?

        Aside from simple bodily harm, I mean.

        • I’m certain Contessa *CAN* manage to communicate with Taylor. Possible by becoming the world’s best Charades player, if nothing else.

          However She first has to decide to talk rather than run or fight.

  54. Just trawled all of the way through this (took me a bit over a week, using about half of my free time outside of classes), and… wow.

    Thank you. This is wonderful. Keep on keeping on~

  55. “Three hundred million people, many still migrating to places where they could settle, physically walking to separate themselves from others, so Scion couldn’t kill too many at once.”

    I’m surprised there are still that many alive.

    • For all we know that includes refugees from earth Aleph and other populated ones. Also about 3.5 billion people live in rural environments that would take a while for even Scion to track down without simply demolishing the continent. Also its never made clear how many people that cauldron managed to evacuate.

  56. I don’t get how her Field of View works, is it based on geography or can she just attach it to people?

    “There were nods all around. Teacher walked over to another table, lined with tinker weaponry and other tools. His students were loyal, but they weren’t puppets, like mine were. Their movements were natural. The overall system, though, wasn’t natural at all.”

    What? That’s like the epitome of naturalness! And at the very least way more natural than a hive queen who has complete and total control over every minion.

    Also, being so morally better than the CUI who as I last checked were doing a ton better than you were? Not cooperating? The CUI and Teacher were cooperating! And the Doctor let them get in that position even though the three of them are invaluable for creating huge armies, I’m sure she’s not an idiot so she did that on purpose.

    Panecea should use her ability on more people.

    Would they really waste Ziggarut’s ability on building a huge palace? And have all three of them beside the royal family? That’s like the epitome of dumb. Especially when it’s moments after they deliberately split up 300 million people.

    If CUI had recruited Teacher as one of the first three they would have been so OP. Power granting would complete the set and allow the 300 million citizens to be 300 million capes. S

  57. So, I have been loving this story! I can’t believe how long it is. Thank you Wildbow for hours of enjoyment. I was sent here on recommendation from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I am writing a pulp sci-fi novel myself and reading this gave me the idea to publish it as a serial on wordpress. Which I have started doing. I don’t know if it’s bad etiquette to put a link here, but I don’t have any other ideas for marketing, so…


    It’s called Laser Boy and it’s about a gang of homeless kids on a space station.

  58. “My swarm shifted their stances, approaching a little closer, guns raised.”. *Very* nice bit of writing there, indirectly conveying a rather disturbing shift in Taylor’s mentality.

  59. So, thoughts:

    * Even forty years later it still might not be safe to use the expression “vast tracts of land”. 😛

    * The Emperor is an idiot. If it hadn’t been Taylor who attacked it would’ve been Scion. And setting yourself up as the obvious leader in the obvious palace surrounded by the obvious army is a *really* bad approach to take with Scion. Find yourself a small shack somewhere. Maybe keep one or two loyal parahumans as guards (aka potential distractions for Scion while you run away). Do everything possible to NOT make yourself a honking huge fortified target that screams “obliterate me, I’m important!”.

    • Taylor’s always had an uncomfortable awareness of vast tracts of land. She has a bit of a complex about her own limited real estate holdings.

    • Wildbow mentions above that it’s intentional. Meant to show how Taylor is losing her ability to understand English even in her thoughts.

  60. Well. Fuck.

    I think we just lost Taylor.

    Teacher didn’t get fucked up enough. I am rather curious now how he got to Cauldron right after this honestly. I can’t imagine Taylor letting Doormaker open him the door and he had no reason to go there and mention Taylor being a problem before her attack on him.

    God damn it Dragon. Okay so my fingers are crossed that at the very least Taylor is just going to stop at killing the one body and not go after any backups. That can be okay. Dragon will reload and all will be good.

    The Yang Ban, about damn time they were knocked down a bit too. The curbstomp was hilarious. It was also rather fun to see our Swarm Queen in action using billions upon billions of bugs. Not quite the Planet Swarm I was originally hoping for with the breeding relays but I’ll take what I can get since we do have a whole army of thralls with ever increasing numbers now instead.

    And to end this off: Fuck.

  61. Uhhhh.
    That’s REALLY not the only option, Taylor. Like, just off the top of my head, you could go grab Teacher and start carrying him around as a meatshield.

    (I had been wondering why she couldn’t speak or read but wasn’t having any trouble with understanding speech. Glad that wasn’t just an oversight.)

  62. Ok,so Taylor now has better control over her people.SO WHY NOT PANTOMIME?aside from the shard urging her to be aggressive,or her brain losing the ability to corelate any symbol with meanings…ok,she may have valid excuses,still,pantomime negotiation would be funny and hilarious.

    “speech”points to her throat
    “and comprehension”points to her ears
    “brain center gone caput”covers her mouth and ears
    “strategy brain center”points to her brain and pantomimes playing chess with one of her followers
    “still ok”smiles broadly and makes an o with her fingers
    “please”drops to her knees,in a begging position
    “let me”points to herself
    “kill”mock slashes her throat
    “that golden bastard”points to the sky.

    • I think part of the problem is that the shard is pushing the aggression and the combat. It’s close to the drivers seat and pushing things along to the path of most conflict which is exactly what it’s hardwired to do. Plus Taylor has pretty much lost all capacity for human thought beyond planning how to continue her combat. She has her goal, she’s working towards that goal, she’s losing anchors and losing her ability to even really conceive of stopping to negotiate.

      She simply doesn’t have the capacity to think along the lines you suggest anymore. Even if she did I don’t know if there is enough time to do so. She’s getting worse fast and how long would it take to get people to agree to let her puppeteer them around? By the time she got consent it could be too late for her to keep things together enough to be effective.

  63. One of the groups was close enough to the perimeter of Teacher’s base to fall in range of my portal. I seized them, then took a second to analyze their capabilities. Hyper-acute senses, enhanced aim, the ability to see through walls and a danger sense.

    I guess this answers my big question about power classifications, in a roundabout way- where do purely sensory powers (without any enhanced interpretive abilities like Tattletale’s power to draw connections super-quickly between available data or that last guy’s ability to condense tons of data around him into “danger” or “not danger”) fall? If Teacher can grant them, I suppose they must be classed as thinker powers.

  64. I know I said that her new power level wasn’t the god power I imagined but this is basically perfect god power shit yo

    Power stealing is like, so broken


  65. Again, a lot lost.
    Didn´t she use Clairvoyants power at the beginning? Why does she suddenly have to touch him?
    Why does she not take Yu Shue?
    What´s with Marquis and co? Is he with her? From the end of the last chapter it seemed that she got several from the hospice, but here it sounded as if she attacked teacher only with clairy + doory.

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