Queen 18.5: Last Warning

Source material: Worm, Queen 18.5

Blogged: Night to September 29, 2020


It’s roughly midnight. Let’s read some Worm!

Let’s see, where were we… ah, yes, Noelle just confirmed she killed Vista and demanded the extradition of the Undersiders.

[end of 18.4]

Next up… the remaining heroes and the Undersiders process what just happened. That’s the chapter. It’ll be Noelle saying “okay bye” and then six thousand words of everyone just sitting there in stunned silence. Then someone breaks the silence by saying “Bruh.” and the chapter ends.

More seriously, I think we’re in for the Undersiders and Protectorate discussing how to deal with this, possibly while relocating seeing as Noelle seems to know they’re together. I don’t believe that Miss Militia, as much as the Undersiders are a thorn in her side, would seriously consider giving in to Noelle’s demands unless Tattletale actually did far too good a job convincing her of Noelle’s threat level.

Kind of a shame, really, that Clockblocker didn’t remain. I think he actually might speak in favor of giving the Undersiders up (not fervently — he’s just hostile, not evil), causing some further sparks. He’s good at that.

Assault might take that role, perhaps.

Let’s jump in and find out!


The television screen went dark.

Transmission over.  Damage done.

Now for your regularly scheduled 6000 words of stunned silence.

“Well,” Tattletale said, “Funny thing is, that was only the second worst thing she could have done to screw us over.”

Hah. So what would the worst be? Tell the Protectorate exactly who the Undersiders removed from the equation?

“That so?” asked one male cape I couldn’t identify.

Oh yeah, that’s right, I forgot there were a bunch out out-of-towner capes in the room. Even though I did remember Eidolon was here.

Some of them might be willing to sell out the Undersiders.

“Oh yeah.  I was worried she’d disappear for a few days or weeks, leave us to go looking for help.  Then we’d look crazy when she didn’t show, and whatever concessions we’d made to get you on board would cost us… like how you have us in custody right now.  Either she’s not as smart as Ballistic implied, or she’s feeling some kind of pressure.  I’d lay odds she’s losing the inner struggle for self-control.”

Hm, good point. Though I don’t think she’ll settle for you being in custody.

Someone slammed his hands down on the end of the table, interrupting her.  I sent bugs in that direction to identify the speaker.  “Does it fucking matter?”

My bugs traced his armor.  Assault.

Yeah, this dude’s gonna be a problem.

“It matters,” Miss Militia said.

“This monster killed one of the good guys.  One of our best.  We let it slide when the Undersiders took Shadow Stalker.  We accepted it when the Nine got to Glory Girl and Panacea.  When they killed Battery.

Right, you “let it slide”. It’s not that you totally failed to stop them.

At least he seems to attribute Glory Girl, Panacea and maybe Battery to the Nine now, rather than to the Undersiders. That’s progress.

We let the Undersiders take the Director, and they may have taken the man who’s replacing her.  Are we really going to ignore the most obvious option here?”

“You’re saying you want to turn the Undersiders in.”

Honestly it might just be worthwhile to tell them what was up with Coil. Though that’d be admitting to murder, still. Also there’s the teensy issue of probably not being believed even without taking into account Coil’s rather public “death”.

“They broke the code.  They’ll break it again.”

“And now we’re effectively on trial,” Tattletale said, “When we should be hunting her down.”

Well, I guess I know what I’m probably doing after this chapter, if I remember to.

He even did the desk slam.

“Which may be exactly what she wanted,” Grue added.

“You may be giving her too much credit,” someone said.  I was having trouble keeping track of who was talking.  There were too many people in the room, and gathering more bugs would potentially give someone cause to think I was massing a swarm in anticipation of a fight.

Yeeah, it’s not a perfect replacement for your eyes.

Not to say I wasn’t.  I’d been collecting a swarm, hiding them in shadows and beneath cars.  I drew them closer to the building, as surreptitiously as possible.

Nice. Good to be prepared if this gets nasty.

It was strange, to have more awareness of the world beyond the local PRT headquarters than I had of the room I was currently in.

“Did you miss the part where there were six Vistas?”  Tattletale asked.  “She’s a pain to deal with, trust me.  If anything, you’re underestimating Noelle.”

And it’s just the beginning.

“I’m forced to agree.  Let’s not underestimate any opponent,” Miss Militia said.  “I’m going to put in my recommendation right here, with full knowledge that there are several people present who outrank me, and I will extend my full cooperation if they should decide on a different route.  I think we should put old issues aside and accept any assistance the Undersiders are willing to offer.  With what happened with Vista, it’s all too apparent how this situation could get out of control, with each of us fighting friends.”

I really like Miss Militia, have I made that clear yet?

She paused, and nobody cut in.

I speculated in 18.4 that Draconia Blaze, the Spinosaurus — the one that went to kill Vista’s family — might be especially deformed and/or powerful. But what if she’s actually the least deformed of the lot, looking and talking almost exactly like the original Vista? That’d really fuck with the Wards’ heads.

Miss Militia continued, “We treat this situation as we would an Endbringer attack.  Our side is smaller than we might hope for, but our enemy is more vulnerable.”

She’s a bit set in the good guys’ ways sometimes, but you can count on Miss Militia to see sense where it’s found.

She looked to one man, and I realized she was checking with the Deputy Director.  Her superior, so to speak.

He offered a single nod.

“I agree,” Triumph said.  My bugs were still on him, from earlier.  “But we’d need you on board, Assault.”

Only in the sense that Assault needs to play nice, right? It’s not a decision he can veto, surely. If anyone here can, it’s the Deputy Director (who just notably didn’t) or Eidolon. And I believe the Deputy Director still outranks even Eidolon.

Assault was standing, hands still on the table.  He didn’t respond.

“We can’t get the Undersiders on board if they’re wondering if we’ll backstab them,” Triumph said, calm.  He wasn’t someone I’d anticipated as an ally, here.

I like Triumph too.

“You mean like they backstabbed us during the Leviathan attack?” Assault asked, his voice a growl.  “Broke the truce?”

Um. About that. How much do you know about what actually happened there? About why Armsmaster was suddenly taken out of duty, aside from his transformation into Armmaster?

“What?” I couldn’t stop myself.  My voice sounded so small and feeble, between the recent spell of coughing and the lack of bugs to augment it.  I wished I could have conveyed more of a presence.  How to word it so it didn’t sound like feeble protests?  “I think you’ve beengrossly misinformed.”

There’s still the little incident with Taylor accidentally “using an Endbringer situation to learn the identity of another cape”, but d a m n if Armsmaster’s antics don’t overshadow that.

Flechette hadn’t been informed of that whole deal, but that makes sense. She’s on the junior team, and beyond that, she’s a technically-supposed-to-be-temporary loan from another division who arrived after Leviathan. Assault, on the other hand… you’d expect him to at least hear something.

Fuck me, I sounded like Coil.

First Dinah, now Taylor. The snakes in Coil’s mouth had to relocate after he stopped carrying them around.

“Would Battery want you to put your feelings and prejudices before duty and the safety of this city?”

Assault slowly turned to Miss Militia.  “You want to play that card?”

Yes, and she should.

“I’ll play it.  And if the Undersiders decide to play it fast and loose with the rules again, I’ll be right there beside you, ready to see them answer for it.”

“We’ve talked about that before.  Nothing came of it,” Assault said.

…because they didn’t?

“This time,” Miss Militia said, “Given precedent, the stakes and the dangers posed by villains unwilling to follow the written and unwritten rules of the cape community, I’d be willing to argue and testify for a kill order.”

Ooof. “Last warning or you get the banhammer.”

I felt a chill.

A kill order.  It was what they had in place for the Slaughterhouse Nine.  No holds barred, official heroes would be allowed to shoot us on sight.  Any villain or vigilante that came after us would be allowed to go free with only a brief questioning for the paperwork after killing one of us.  To top it off, anyone would be able to donate or post amounts for our heads; amounts would be added to running totals.  We’d be waiting jackpots for any bounty hunter or assassin looking for a big score.

Damn, that’s a lot more intense than I was expecting.

I wondered if any of Coil’s wealthier investors or contacts would hold a grudge.

There were any number of arguments against her statement.  We’d done good.  Even Clockblocker had been willing to argue that the calls I’d made weren’t entirely without merit.  I could have pointed out that any number of people in my territory would argue I was a force for good, and that it was ludicrous that we were the ones being held to this standard when they’d been at fault for Armsmaster’s breaking of the truce.

Hmm. How much does Taylor know about Armsmaster’s situation after that? She was told Mannequin went after him, at least, so she’d know he was still in the city by the time of Plague, implying he hadn’t been given the same treatment she would have gotten for breaking the truce in an Endbringer situation.

(Also this paragraph is blatantly building up to a “but”.)

Armsmaster, who had gone free because of hero’s prerogative.

Okay, she has pieced that together.

But that same bias meant things had been twisted around, and apparently popular sentiment held us at fault for the breaking of the truce.  It was an unpleasant surprise.

Hell, to give us the ‘one last chance’ line with a situation where there was every possibility of friendly fire?  It was tying our hands, putting us at mortal risk one way or another.

This makes any high-fidelity copies especially dangerous, yeah.

“I’m… willing to accept that,” I said, suppressing every argument and every bit of indignation I was feeling.  I looked in the general direction of my teammates.  “If my team is.”

That’s one hell of a compromise.

“You’re the boss,” Tattletale said.  She was quick enough on the draw that I suspected there was a reason she’d said it.

Hmm? Why the reaffirmation that Taylor is in charge in front of the heroes?

“Yeah,” Grue said.  My bugs caught Imp and Regent nodding.

Or maybe she was trying to tell the others to go along with it?

Rachel’s response was last.  “Whatever.”

That’s such a Rachel response to the idea of being put on a list of acceptable targets.

“Well then,” Tattletale said.  “Now that that’s settled, in the spirit of being allies, I have some news.”

Huh?

Is she about to drop the Coil bomb.

“News?”  One of the unfamiliar capes asked.  A woman with a deeper voice.  “Good news?”

“Oh, it’s terrible news,” Tattletale said.  “Noelle’s lying.”

About what? About having killed Vista? About the Spinosaurus? About accepting the Undersiders as sacrificial lambs?

“About what?” Miss Militia asked.

“About Vista being dead.”

“That’s terrible news?  Is she in danger?”  Triumph asked.  I sensed him leaning forward to get a better view of Tattletale, past the crush of bodies at the end of the room.

I mean… if she’s not dead and not “fully spent”, there’s the risk of Noelle creating even more Draconia Blazes. Which is truly terrible news, because I’m going to run out of ways to destroy spines and bad spine puns.

“No.  I can’t say how Vista’s doing, because I don’t know the specifics on Noelle’s power, but she was trying to mislead us, talking about how she’d use us up.  Too much stress on it.  If she’d only said it the first time, I’d be more inclined to think it was part of her stream of consciousness, but then she hammered it in, used it to threaten us.  It felt forced.  Didn’t ring true.”

Yeah. No limit. Endless Vistas.

Normally that would be a good thing for a travel agency to be able to advertise with, but “Come visit Brockton Bay, the half-sunken, criminal-controlled city filled with endless Vistas!” doesn’t sound that inviting.

“Can we believe her?”  This from another unfamiliar cape, a man.  It was apparently directed at Miss Militia.

“She’s… frequently correct,” Miss Militia said.

Disturbingly so, sometimes.

“Vista’s alive and Noelle’s trying to keep that secret?  What’s so terrible about it?”  Triumph asked.

“Because it means she’s capable of producing more clones.  She’s capable of keeping Vista captive somewhere, continually producing agents to sow destruction and apply the kind of pressure she was talking about, and she’s lucid enough to recognize that fact.”

Way to jerk around the Vista fans, Noelle.

“How the hell do you keep Vista captive?”

“People,” Tattletale said.

Which… implies a large number of civilians forced into this.

“Then let’s wrap this up fast.  Essential details only,” Miss Militia said.  “Any objection to me taking point?  Eidolon’s not usually comfortable with it, and I’m the ranking parahuman in Brockton Bay.”

Eidolon doesn’t like taking point… because of the unreliability of his powers, or is it a personality thing, or…?

There was no dissent.

“Then we’re splitting up into teams.  Stick with the teams you arrived with.  Best to fight alongside people you know.  Standard stranger countermeasures are in effect with the clones.  I’ll assume they retain the memories of the original, based on what she said about the clone going after Vista’s family?”

Yeah, that tracks with both that little detail and what we saw with Perdition.

“They do,” Tattletale said.

“Then we’re restricted to visual ID checks only.  No passwords.  I already got in contact with Dragon.  She’s on a mission and will only deploy here if it’s absolutely essential-”

Does Tattle know Dragon’s nature?

And alas, we’ll not have any klutzy draconequuses here.

I caught a sigh from Tattletale.

“-But she’s set the armbands up for the coming conflict.  They’ll display a green screen up until you remove them, and the screens will flash and identify other armband wearers at a range of fifty meters.  Be vigilant.  Keep track of every one of your teammates, maintain a visual, no splitting up.

Judging by the Draconia Blazes, the copying likely won’t create additional armbands.

“Chevalier, take your team, follow after my Wards.  If she can detect capes, we’ll need to assign her a thinker classification, and we’ll need to assume that any isolated groups are at risk.  Undersiders?  Take Myrddin’s Wards and pursue Flechette and Parian.  Ensure they aren’t intercepted.  The rest of us will track down Noelle.  Any indications about her location from the video?”

Ooh, we get to play with the Chicago Wards.

Parian getting copied would be bad news, considering her creations are strong enough to give Leviathan a struggle without a Draconia Blaze to make them bigger or denser.

“Yes, but there’s no point,” Tattletale said.

“You know her location?”

Sounds like Tattle believes she’ll have left it, likely because Noelle knows Tattle’s power would be able to identify it.

“I know her location as of the time of the call, but she’ll be moving already.”

“Where?”

“The west end.  By the mountains.”

“She went from just east of Downtown to the west end?” Miss Militia asked.

Nyoom?

“I’d stake money on it.  But again, it’s no use.”

“It doesn’t make sense in terms of timeline,” someone said.  He sounded slightly nasal.  “The distance covered-”

“Think about it,” Tattletale said.

Right. Noelle is pretty much running around with 5+ alcubierre drives at her beck and call.

“Vista,” Miss Militia supplied.  “She had Vista’s power.  And she will have that power at her disposal for the duration of this conflict.”

“And Noelle’s fast,” Tattletale said.  “Put those points together and she’s highly mobile.  Ergo, she isn’t going to be anywhere near where she was.”

“Good intel.  In the interest of finding her, I’d like you to accompany my group, Tattletale.”

As much as it’s a shame to have Lisa continually pulled away from the POV, it makes sense. She could probably do more good in helping the tracking team than the “make sure Parian and Flechette don’t get nommed” team.

(Parian’s creations made tougher through spatial warping and given temporary reprieves from physics…)

“No can do.”

No?”

“I was just about to say I was wanting to stop by my headquarters.  I have a few theories on how we could handle this situation, and one off-the-wall idea that needs some verification before I do anything about it.”

Oh boy, Tattletale’s got something. This reminds me a bit of Monarch and her off-screen solution. I do hope what she’s going for this time will be a little more satisfying than that was.

“Nothing that puts any of us at risk?”

“No.  It mostly involves the other Travelers.  But I think it’s worth pursuing.”

“If she comes after you-”

Tattletale cut her off.  “She will.  I’ll join the Undersiders and the Chicago Wards as far as going to Ballistic’s territory to fill him in, ensure he knows that she may come after him.  I’ll see if I can’t bribe him into coming with me.  It’ll be a narrow window of time where it’s just me, him and hopefully his flunkies.”

They were never going to be kept out of this situation entirely, so I suppose sending Tattletale to deal with that and maybe turn it into a victory is better than some other alternatives.

Just. Kinda wishing that’d be more of an on-screen thing?

“You make a high value target,” I said, “Especially with Ballistic in tow.  She wants you dead, and she wants his power.”

Not!Ballistic sending something flying towards you and Draconia Blaze making sure you have no time to react…

“I have ideas.  Don’t worry about me.” Tattletale turned.  “Miss Militia, I’ll be in touch by phone, so you know where you’re going.”

Okay, yeah, that’s an option now.

“Fine.  I’m ordering more capes to patrol the area around you, then, if you’re sure you’ll be a target.  Are there any other isolated parahumans in the city that we aren’t aware of?”

Circus? Or are they among Tattletale’s subordinates now?

Scrub, if Ballistic hasn’t successfully recruited him. Now that’s one that could be a huge issue if Noelle got to him.

“Scrub,” I said.

“He’s working under Ballistic,” Tattletale said.  “I’ll get him on board by any means.  He’s one of the few people, short of Flechette, who can deal guaranteed damage to an Endbringer or Endbringer-Lite, and I have ideas about him and how I could use him.”

Yeah, just make sure you get there first.

“Scrub?” one of the visiting capes asked.  The deeper-voiced woman.

“Uncontrolled matter-annihilation bursts in his immediate vicinity,” I said.  “Ex-member of the Merchants, a local gang of dealers and users.”

“Blaster-eight, easy, if not a straight ten, despite his relatively short range,” Tattletale supplied, “But I’m not sure he does what Skitter thinks he does, and that’s why I want to talk to him.”

They were uncontrolled when Taylor first saw him, but I think he might have managed more control since then. And then there’s “matter-annihilation”, which is effectively what the result is but not necessarily the technical explanation. He could, like, send the matter to another dimension or something. For most local intents and purposes that’s the same thing, but– oh my cod he could straight up be able to send Noelle and the other Travelers home if he’s got control of it.

“See to it,” Miss Militia said.  “Anyone else?”

“Circus, Leet, Uber,” Grue said.  “They were leaving, but-”

Uh oh. Grue! The Protectorate thinks they’re dead! You’re inadvertently steering the topic onto Coil!

That said, they are a risk.

“They’re dead,” Assault said.

“They’re very much alive,” Tattletale retorted.  “And they would have gone west to leave the city.  The same direction Noelle went after targeting Vista.  I think that speaks for itself.”

“If they’re alive, what about Coil?”

Miss Militia nodded.  “It does.  If anyone has any questions, communicate them while on the move.  Go!”

The capes began flowing out of the room.  We had seated ourselves at the furthest point from the door, so we were stuck inside until the way was clear.

Masters of the getaway, everybody, seating themselves in the least convenient position for a quick getaway if needed.

Granted, they didn’t have that much choice.

A small group of younger capes hung back.  Miss Militia had left us a contingent of out-of-town Wards.  I couldn’t get much of a sense of them just with what my bugs could give me on their costumes.  They probably weren’t a full team from a city as big as Chicago; they’d be limited to the ones who’d agreed to fight an unknown, A-class threat.  Three boys and a girl.  They were watching us, and I couldn’t even guess at their expressions without the ability to see or feel things out with my bugs.

Nice to meet you all.

I was getting tired of this, and my fatigue was wearing on my already thin patience.

“Bitch,” I said.  “Do me a favor and clear that window?”

…Taylor, what? Are you leaving the fast way?

She didn’t respond, but she didn’t hesitate either.  She was on her feet as soon as she’d lifted Bastard off of her lap, and kicked the plywood free of the frame before anyone could protest.

I mean, the obvious reason for this would be to let the swarm in… oh, I see, she was getting tired of not being able to “see”.

But to the Chicago Wards, this’ll easily look like an attack the moment the backup left.

I brought every bug I’d had outside the building into the room.  They swirled around me, the Undersiders, and the handful of capes on the far end of the room.  I could sense three of the four Wards getting into fighting stances, noted how two of the boys and the girl shielded the one other boy, forming a loose triangle formation between him and us.

So they’ve got one who doesn’t fight physically and needs defending, likely due to a power that leaves him stationary.

The movements of the bugs gave me the ability to feel them out, drawing a complete map of what they were wearing and carrying.

The boy in the very front, the tallest and largest of them, would be a tinker.  The rods that supported his heavy gauntlets were oiled, suggesting they were pistons, and I noted the presence of blunt-tipped spikes inside his gauntlets.  The setup wasn’t unlike the blades in Mannequin’s arms, but these weren’t extending into his body, and I somehow got the impression they were intended for something very different.  His armor was heavy, supported more by engineering than by his own strength, and his helmet covered his face, but not the back of his head, with a single lens on a telescoping nozzle, dead center.

So… a punch mech tinker?

What’s with the helmet not covering the back? For Taylor that was because of her hair, but that doesn’t sound like the case here. I had a thought of this tinker literally pulling ideas out of his head, but that’s a bit silly.

The other boy in front was narrower, with flowing clothes.  He sported a surprising lack of equipment and weaponry.  It gave me the sense of someone who thought of their body as a weapon.

Aside from the shock scepter, Regent’s design is a lot like this, but he’s more prone to using others’ bodies as weapons.

The girl was similar, but I did note that her gloves were reinforced for striking, a framework of some sort of metal, with rivet-like bumps over each knuckle, each etched with a fine design I couldn’t make out and metal filigree feathers at the edges.  She had padding with a similar design and near-identical feathers.

For punching enemies that are allergic to feathers.

Okay so this sounds like some form of mechanical wing getup, except in very compact mode…?

The one in the back wasn’t in a fighting stance.  He stood with his legs together, heels touching, back straight, one palm extended toward us.  He wore a mask that covered one eye and put an oversized lens in front of the other, with spikes radiating from it like the rays of a sun.  His costume was a very lightweight covering of layered and interlocking metal plates, more stylized than functional, but there was a coat-tail length of cloth extending behind the back, hanging to his knees.

Fancy. Reminds me of Trickster with the fashion sense.

The extended palm suggests to me that he’s got a power that either shields or boosts the other three. Party buffer.

I was careful in how I condensed the bugs around me.  I kept my team obscured as I pulled the bugs away from the four wards, leaving enough bugs on them that I could covertly follow their movements.  They hadn’t been stung or bitten, and they didn’t have a clear shot as the bugs moved away from them.  It meant, at least, that they’d get a chance to realize they weren’t under attack.

I wonder to what extent the getting them to react as though they were under attack was on purpose, to gauge their tactics.

The bugs filled the necessary pockets of my costume, then carpeted the exterior, including my mask.  They connected to the ends of my hair, and moved beneath it, giving it more volume and helping it come little alive, the ‘ends’ moving in the absence of wind.  Where I had excess, they trailed several feet behind me like the hem of a royal gown.

Oh my cod Taylor uses her bugs to create the Badass Hair in the Wind With No Wind effect this is canon and I love it.

And a royal gown she’s really leaning into her majesty as the Queen of Bugs

“That’s better,” I said, augmenting my voice a touch.  It was.  I felt more centered, more secure and confident with the bugs close.  I’d just alarmed the people we’d be working with, but a small show of power would help ensure we got respect and cooperation.

Taylor’s sense of theatrics is wonderful every time it gets a chance to shine, even when it’s just a tiny performance like this.

“Your names and powers?” Tattletale asked the Chicago Wards.  She gestured toward the door and we started walking briskly toward the exit.

You realize they’re going to need the same from you, right? No more playing coy.

…well, no, she’s probably still going to play a little coy.

“Tecton,” said the power-armor wearer.  He had to raise his voice to be heard over his heavy footfalls and the rattle of furniture around him.  He indicated the boy to his right, then the girl, “This is Wanton and Grace.  Our ranged attacker here is Raymancer.”

Tecton… in reference to how he shakes the ground?

Tecton and Wanton. Related?

Raymancer, ranged attacker, presumably laser-style…

Grace, wearing fancy gloves and bits of tech, this feels familiar. Tell me, Grace, have you ever been on an otherworldly train?

“Isn’t Wonton a kind of noodle?” Regent asked.

Pfft. You’re one to talk.

“And Raymancer?” Imp asked.  “They’re really running out of stuff to call superheroes.”

Ahahaha they’re just tearing into the names

I wonder if Wildbow’s calling himself out here.

“Play nice,” Grue warned.

“Yeah,” Tattletale said, “A wonton is a kind of dumpling, not a noodle.  Get it right.”

Beautiful.

Wanton,” Tecton said, stressing the pronounciation, “Is a breaker-stranger class cape.  He can turn into a localized telekinetic storm.  Raymancer is our long-range fighter.  The three of us are more close-combat types, but Raymancer manages to make it work.

I do note you’re being pretty vague about what sort of “ranged attacker” Raymancer is. I mean, the name and stance implies things, but I get the feeling you’re trying to make them not think too hard about it.

A localized telekinetic storm sounds fun. And indiscriminate. And a disaster for Noelle to get access to.

“Grace is a martial artist.  She’s got a power spread.  Faster perception of time, enhanced agility, and a striker-class enhancement for select body parts at a time; invulnerability to both powers and general harm, as well as increased effect on contact.

Damn, that’s pretty solid!

“And you?  Tinker?” Grue asked.

“Tinker and thinker both.  Architecture and geology sense.  Armor lets me ‘ground’ kinetic energy like you might do with electricity.  These are piledriver gauntlets,” he patted one gauntlet, “For creating fissures, generating localized earthquakes and other controlled demolition.”

Oooh, that’s fun. And a cool example of a hero whose power would be well suited for rogue work if he wanted to take it that direction.

“Having tinkers against Noelle is probably our safest bet,” Tattletale said.

Makes sense. Tinkers need resources, after all.

“Because she won’t copy their gear,” I said.

Tattletale nodded.

“Good.  Thank you, by the way, for sharing,” Grue spoke to the Wards.  Tecton nodded. Our groups had reached the door that led into the stairwell.  There were officers handing out armbands, and the elevator was in use, forcing us to wait as people got their armbands and hurried downstairs.

There’s little reason for the Chicago Wards to have studied up on the Undersiders, but I suppose some of them might have read the files out of interest given the situation in Brockton Bay. Still, they might as well ask.

“You need our info?”

“No,” Grace said.  Her voice was hard.  “We know who you are.”

“A bunch of nulls.”

Okay but what if you don’t know who they are as well as you think you do?

Imp cackled, “We’re famous!”

I hung back a second as one officer held an armband and my armor compartment out to me.  I gripped it, but he didn’t let go.

Dude.

He wanted to play it that way?

I let my bugs drift away from my armor to surround it.  He acted as if I’d set it on fire, letting go and backing away.  I handed it to Tattletale as we passed through the door to the stairs, then strapped on my armband.  I spoke into it, “Skitter.”

And the armband lights up with “HI TAYLOR”.

How had things gone with Leviathan?  My username would appear.  I held my armband to Tattletale, and she pressed a button.

“No trackers hidden in your stuff,” she said.  “Want help putting this on?”

“Please.  When we’re at the bottom.”

What would you do without a friend like Lisa?

We were at the tail end of the group, and consequently we were the last ones out the door.  The dogs were already mostly grown, and we paused as Bitch increased Bentley’s size to the point that we could ride him.

“We have too many people and not enough dogs,” Grue commented.

Would be great if there had been more, Parian 😛

“We’ll drive,” Tecton said.  “Just need to requisition a van.”

“I’ll ride,” I said.  “Rachel?”

She nodded.  She was up first, and she gave me a hand in getting up.  I had to fight coughing for a minute.

It’s nice to see how much Rachel and Taylor’s relationship has changed.

“Assault’s going to try to screw us over, if we cross paths,” Tattletale said.

Better try to avoid– yeah no who am I kidding

“I suspected,” I answered.

“And if this goes south, they will come after us.  The bit Miss Militia said about Battery?  That loses its cachet when people start to feel like the people of this city would be better protected if they turned us in than if we were helping.  We’re going to have to stay on top of this.  Turn around, I’ll help strap on your armor.”

Taylor, Lisa, strap on, I think we have the keywords of this scene

I nodded and turned around.  I moved my bugs out of the way as she fiddled with the straps, threading them through the appropriate areas.  I blinked a few times, looking towards the nearest light source to try to gauge if my vision was any better.  No improvement.  Short of a thorough check by an ophthalmologist, I wouldn’t find out if I’d regain my sight, or how much I’d recover if I did.

At this point the blindness feels like a feature that might stay, but if that’s the case, I expect she’ll eventually make some headway in interpreting visual input from bug eyes.

Everything I’d been through, and I got the long-term injury as a civilian.

Pfft, that is pretty ironic.

Within two minutes, the Wards had pulled a containment van up beside us, with Tecton behind the wheel and Raymancer sitting in the passenger-side window, holding the headrest of the chair inside to help maintain his position.  The back popped open, and Imp, Regent, Tattletale and Grue climbed in.

Not something the villains typically do willingly, yet this is like the third time we’ve seen it from Undersiders.

Ballistic as our first stop.  Then Parian.

Sure, okay. The more time Tattletale has to work things out, the better. Let’s just hope you’re not too late to Parian.

I winced at the pain in my side as Bentley started running.  And maybe collect Atlas while we’re in this area of town.

Oh hell yes, it’s been too long since we got to see Taylor use Atlas in combat.

He’d definitely be a boon against Noelle, too, as he’d help Taylor stay out of her reach.

Nothing’s out of her reach with Draconia Blazes on her side, but you know what I mean.

Tattletale was right.  This situation being classified as a level-A situation instead of a class-S situation wasn’t doing us any favors.  I just had to note how things were different from Leviathan’s attack.  There were no air raid sirens.  People weren’t being evacuated.

Great! Civilians in the line of fire is exactly what this situation needs!

Helicopters flew overhead.  I could hear them, even if my bugs didn’t reach that high.

Helicopters are freaking loud as hell.

I knew Miss Militia had assigned us capes, for the inevitable event of Noelle sniffing us out and coming after us.  I didn’t sense them on the ground, so I could only assume they were in the air.

That tracks. Presumably they’re ones who can deploy quickly from a helicopter without the thing landing.

Was it better that people weren’t being evacuated?  They weren’t on the streets, in the line of fire if the psycho-Vistas or Noelle came after them.  It meant we didn’t need to deal with unpowered clones.

Hm, yeah, I suppose the lack of evac does keep people inside at least.

That does limit Tecton a bit though, and Noelle likely won’t have qualms against blasting through buildings.

But it also meant that there were that many more people here if things went south.

There was a potential kill order on our heads, and there were innumerable heroes in the city who had reason to throw us to the wolves, or to Noelle if they thought the situation called for it.  The stakes were higher, and there was a lot more room to fail.  Noelle just needed one lucky maneuver to go from class-A to class-S threat in moments, and we weren’t getting half the backup this situation deserved.

And even if you did get more backup, each piece of backup would be another power Noelle might get access to.

Not to mention that I was worn out.  Physically, emotionally, I felt like I’d been pushed to the limit, wrung out and then pushed to the limit all over again, and that was just dealing with Coil and rescuing Dinah in the past twenty-four hours.

Frankly it’s a wonder you’re conscious.

If I got into the past few months, or how the very way I thought had changed-

I felt a touch dizzy just thinking about it.

Character development and experience can be dizzying sometimes, it’s true.

No.  It wasn’t dizziness.  My surroundings really were off kilter.  The buildings around us and ahead of us were stretching and shifting en-masse.

Oh. Yeah, that’s a problem.

Especially because the buildings shifting means we might have found a Draconia Blaze without her Manton limitation.

“Trouble!” I informed Bitch.  I used my bugs to notify the others in the containment van: Vistas.

I had to sweep my bugs over the area before I could find any of them.  One was perched on a rooftop, one block ahead.  She wasn’t in costume.

Presumably not all the Draconia Blazes are here, which means it’s anyone’s guess whether their presence implies Noelle is nearby too.

It had been dumb of me to expect them to be in costume.  I hadn’t even considered it, but Noelle wouldn’t spit out anything but the people themselves.  The bugs noted the hardness of her face, more like a mask than flesh, her angular, almost artificial chin, and the thin hair on top of her head.

Grue told you they were wearing borrowed clothes earlier, but that not really registering on top of everything else is totally fair.

The others… too many places to check… I found another, three blocks over, making a beeline towards us.  Noelle had ordered them to space out, to catch us if we crossed her perimeter.

Bastard yelped to my left, skidded to a stop.  Rachel seemed to read something in his response, because she pulled Bentley to a hard left, veering straight into the van’s path.

Hm? Did they almost drive into a trap?

She was going to hit it?  I had to adjust my grip, lifting my leg out of the way before she could follow through and have Bentley bodycheck the vehicle.  I sensed Raymancer dropping from the window to his seat as the dog hit, only an inch away from serious injury.  The van turned and skidded to a stop, and I fell, rolling.

Those Wards are having a rough day when it comes to deciding whether the Undersiders are on their side or not.

A block ahead of us, a building toppled.  I ducked my head low and covered it as dust and debris rolled past us as a thick cloud.  The building wouldn’t have hit us, but the debris and dust might have left us incapacitated long enough for the Vistas to act.

That could be Noelle, but I honestly hope it’s one of the Draconia Blazes because the idea of a false Vista toppling a building in an indirect attempt to kill someone (and consequently probably killing a number of people inside), after that one moment she had with Bastion in 8.3, appeals to me.

We’d ground to a halt, and sure enough, the pseudo-Vista on the rooftop was slowly starting to work on the buildings around us, thinning walls and twisting supports.  She was spreading out the work and laying the groundwork for future collapses, I realized.  The second psycho-Vista,

I like how Taylor is running through a variety of ways to refer to them, to distinguish them from the real deal.

busy trying to close the distance by folding the space between us and her and stepping across the shortened distances, was raising the street between two buildings, creating a steep incline that even Bitch’s dogs would struggle to climb, cutting off one avenue of retreat.

To put that in perspective, we’ve seen them use literal skyscrapers. Not strictly for ascent, perhaps, but the point is they’re not strangers to steep surfaces (or at least Angelica isn’t).

And I was aware of a third one.  The tall Vista Grue had described.

Ah yes, Draconia Blaze, the Spine.

She’d stretched like taffy, her bones curving to the point that each was more a crescent than straight.  Narrow, so thin it felt like she’d break, with a face twisted into a perpetual, distorted scream, she was picking her way through the rubble of the fallen building.  Her power was twisting the largest pieces of rubble around her until they were wisps, chunks of concrete slowly corkscrewing in space until they were nothing more than dust.

This one seems fond of curves.

It’s fitting that some of the distortions would appear as though her power had been used on herself.

Three of them.

And Noelle nowhere to be seen.  Not in my power’s range of four-ish city blocks.  She’d be going for the others.  For Ballistic, or Parian.  These troops were only to slow us down, buy her time to make another move, find another set of powers.

And every moment she gets, she comes closer to being even more of a threat.

Fuck me.  Noelle was employing the same basic tactics I did: sensing the opposition, strategically deploying the offensive troops, acting as the heavy hitter and problem solver in the center of the chaos her minions generated, working towards complementary or wholly different goals than the ‘swarm’.

Well, the good news is if you’re similar like that, you get to break out the “How would I break myself?”

Which is… extremely fitting, considering the circumstances.

Worse, she was better at it than I was.  She was faster, her senses reached further, and the individual at the center of her army was a nightmarish force unto herself.

All this time, Wildbow has been setting Noelle up as essentially “Skitter if she were an Endbringer”. And I didn’t even notice.

Well played.

We couldn’t afford to get caught fighting.  Not while Noelle hit our other allies.

Still flat on the ground, I choked back the next spell of coughs and touched the button on my armband, “We need reinforcements, fast.

Yeeah, three Draconia Blazes are no minor threat.


End of Queen 18.5

A relatively straightforward but definitely necessary chapter, and certainly not a bad one. No big surprises (Vista not being dead counts as a mild one) but we’ve got solid setup for the upcoming battles and the various hiccups that can come with them and after them.

Which means that next chapter, it’s finally time to rumble! We’ve got three space manipulators, each presumably with different boosts to the power, all working to slow down the Undersiders. But while they are the masters of the getaway, they may need to fight here, because how else do you get away from someone with Vista’s power? And fighting certainly isn’t going to be easy either.

Raymancer is probably going to be good to have here, but I can think of several ways for the Draconia Blazes to muck that up quickly.

Maybe Tecton’s architecture sense will come in handy given all the shit going on with the buildings around here.

It’s a safe bet, at least, that the next chapter will showcase a bit of how the Chicago Wards fight, but ultimately Taylor is the queen here. It’s probably her ingenuity that will really get them through this.

See you soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s